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“We Need To Talk About Kevin”: a film review

This movie is scary and unforgettable. Top 10 of 2011. A rare instance where the film is more haunting and affecting than the novel (by Lionel Shriver).

Gripping, heavy, sad, anxious, horrifying film. Incredibly well-planned and executed. Not entertaining to watch — psychologically brutal involving a f***ed up kid and a school shooting — but a prodigy of making film into true, devestating art. The pacing, the soundtrack, the flashback tool, the imagery and metaphors, the layers slowly peeled away, what is shown and what is not shown. Amazing.

Again, I’m not saying I liked this film’s content, and will probably never watch it again, but it does what film does very, very well, and it will be with me for a long, long time. I hated the first few minutes, then understood something about it, and was trapped in the film for almost two hours. You could talk about this film or book with a friend or a group for hours.

I can say no more. If you want a deeply unsettling story with masterfully crafted writing and photography and flow, watch this now. You’ve never seen anything like this: a family and social drama that is almost part of the horror genre.

Freaking Disturbing.

9.5/10

MH

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“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card: a book review

Gavin Hood, the director of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”, began filming an adaptation of the sci-fi classic “Ender’s Game” in February 2012. The film is slated to release November 1st, 2013, when I turn 28. It’s sure to be a better movie than book. This is my review:

ABOUT THE FILM ADAPTATION:

The first issue is the nature of science fiction: it has everything to do with other-worldly visuals and spectacles and deals with humanity and controversial ideas. All good science fiction films have these two elements. One of them – the ideas – comes across the best in the books. The other, by the very nature of our biological anatomy – the visual world of the story – will almost always be better realized in the film adaptations, no matter the descriptive powers of the book’s author. (Yes, being in a character’s head is always more achievable in books, not movies.) Even the weakest of set designers and directors of photography can plan out a visually comparable and interesting world with a mediocre director at the helm.

Furthermore, the reason why “Ender’s Game” will specifically translate better as a story on the big screen is because the book is slightly meandering in the middle and some of the vocabulary used in dialogue simply hasn’t aged well. Both of these elements will be improved by a modern, 21st Century, high-glossed special effects, Hollywood treatment. Why it’s taken decades to be made into a movie, I’ll never know, but I’m sure there’s some political or legal yarn worthy of its own 10-minute documentary when “Ender’s Game” surely comes to BluRay in 2014.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

So, the actual book. Why did it not blow me away? Maybe because I am 26. If I was 16, I’d probably orgasm over this, but the truth is, it does read a bit like a Z-flick, quarter-dollar comic from the fifties, or a barely polished radio serial. I think perhaps in telling such a simple story, it was overwritten, and ended up having long stretches of very cardboard dialogue. I know the point of these six-year old kids talking the way they did was to show how smart they were, but I still never bought they were six and seven and ten years old talking this way. Something struck unauthentic with me. Maybe too much time has passed since the late seventies when this came out. “Last One there bottles their own farts” to paraphrase. Yeah, that was in there.

Poo poo on you fart-mouth Magoo. I made that one up.

This book felt like this: soldier training, practice simulations, metaphors, naked little boys sleeping or showering.

And then: more Training, game simulations, blunt ideas, naked little boys again.

Then it got good after 300 pages. Then a simulation wasn’t a simulation, but was really Ender Battle Commanding, and poof, he killed the bad guys.

The middle of this book carried very little conflict and was exhausting, and I really disagreed with the choice to weigh the chapters how they were: less than 100 pages for the first seven chapters, and the following seven chapters were 200 pages. Could you have broken it up, Orson? Cut back on some dialogue? Made the training and jargon and repetition of the saggy middle more lively?

I do understand and appreciate the themes and societal/governmental statements proposed by “Ender’s Game” and Mr. Card, the author. I get it. Military is bad. War is terrible. Government shouldn’t control kids and monitor us from the womb. Liberty and blah blah. Kids play combat games like today’s “Call of Duty” franchise, don’t understand how serious war really is, and then you can put them at the controls, and they’ll probably do pretty good since their desensitized or indoctrinated. We make children fight our wars, in so many words. It speaks of innocence, the desire to be loved, compassion, friendship, honor , and asks if the ends justify the means to keep the human race alive.

Okay. But, just because the last five pages of chapter 14 were excellent in the conversation between Graff and Ender where all the shit is finally expose and Ender realized what really happened, doesn’t make the book a exceptionally well written. Graff’s speech is good though. Ideas = good. Flow = bad.

It does everything you’d expect in a basic sci-fi to do, and maybe “Ender’s Game” was once great for pioneering these ideas or doing it for a young adult audience first or perhaps it was really the best in its time, but over the past thirty years, it’s time to move over.

This is a book to respect but not love. One to read but not own. One that the obsessed fans of the genre will always praise however outdone it become by superior work.

This has never been a 5/5 novel.

Anything you tell me I missed, trust me, I didn’t. I liked the book, and I suppose it’s a classic, but so what? Graff’s ultimate deception and manipulation of Ender. Got it. The relationship between Ender and his siblings. Got it. What Ender ultimately wants to be and what he cannot be because of what other’s have made him into. Got it.

I didn’t get that awe-inspired impact from it, though the ending made up for the middle, and I like that Ender takes on the responsibility of attempting to right his wrongs and escape his demons by trying to find a suitable homeworld for the final Queen. If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, read the freaking book.

But I’ll tell ya what I’m not doing: reading the other 8-plus books in this series. There are too many better books out there right now. No one should commit to this series in this modern time we live in, a time of literary abundance.

I tip my hat to Orson Scott Card, but in the end I say: “Have a good day, sir. My farts need bottling.”

MH

3.5/5

go here for info on the film: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1731141/

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Prometheus: a movie review

If you saw “Prometheus” and were let down, the link below delivers a few reasons why that could have been:

Click this if you want the movie spoiled or you’ve seen it already: Red Letter Media on YouTube

I gave it a charitable 7/10. I’m being generous, though you might twist my arm to a 6.75. Initially, when I just finished it, I liked it. But the more I thought about it, the bruises started to show. My 8 went to a 7 in the last third of the film. I did like it that the film was not paced like an action/fantasy, but more like a genuine sci-fi. I will likely continue to second guess my thoughts about how smart or not smart it was, but here are my thoughts right now.

I can understand people giving it a 6 or an 8, but anything higher or lower is too critical or too rewarding. There are problems on the most basic level of tension building and story-telling.

First the good: some amazing scenes are in here, and this is better than many films I’ve seen this year. It is the best shot Sci-Fi ever. Also, you don’t have to know or like the original Alien to enjoy this. But the trailer was so good, and I’m not a fan boy, and I still say this didn’t deliver how it “said” it would.

This movie was average at best, and the idiot writer from “LOST” the TV show should have never been hired to write this. It could have been legendary. It is forgettable. Beautifully rendered, but substantively illusive. The “LOST” screenwriter is not that smart, and delivered a faux-intellectual, psuedo-philosophical cheap gangbang.

The logic was weak, the likability of characters hollow, and general satisfaction was lacking. Very little was answered, and you can’t just say “well, there moght be a sequel.” F*** that argument. Give me a single good movie before you rope me into a long string of ’em I have to commit to just to get to the “real” ending. There were plot holes you couldn’t ignore, and simply put: while a few loose ends are great for sci-fi, too many leaves the audience mad and leaves the film directionless.

Thematically schizophrenic, “Prometheus” can honestly blame nearly all of its problems on the WRITING: direction, photography, special visual effects, costuming, make-up, and set design and acting where all great or better than great. The characters, motivations, and logic are all the writers fault. Ridley Scott, your biggest mistake was who you hired to write the screenplay. It is a movie that thinks it is brilliant while everyone watching knows it’s barely in its “Honors Classes.” It’s no genius.

Did not deliever on medium to medium-high expectations. More a thriller than a horror, not that it mattered to me, but it might to you. Just give me a good sci-fi. Please.
7/10
MH

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“A Devil Inside”: a movie review

Firstly, this cover is misleading. No one looks like this in the film. This character doesn’t exist. Strike one of eight. Making one of your letters in the title backwards doesn’t make you spooky, that makes you the 90s metal band “Korn.” Strike two.

God, Eff off, A Devil Inside, for serious.

When your film is in and out of the theaters and on DVD in under four months, hey, you got a problem of quality. Overall, this is how you do a bad “exorcist” movie. This is the kind of film that makes the public think horror is dumb and the sub-genre of exorcism is not scary.

To begin, this film is one hour and fifteen minutes of actual movie. Over seven minutes at the end of the film are the credits; the slow, slow credits—part of which ask you go online after the film for “more about the unsolved case.” Well, shit, glad I didn’t pay 12 bucks for a seventy-five minute film which then gave me enrichment study homework. What a crock. It’s like Downloadable content that XBOX360 games ask you to buy after you buy the 60 dollar game. Put it in one package please. Doing it in stagnated pieces is lazy. You’re wasting my time or money, and sometimes both.

This film had no style, rehashing everything that’s been done in the shaky-cam, mediocre-college-actor genre that better films like “Paranormal Activity” and “Cloverfield” have already done. Something here reminds me of “Insidious” and “The Last Exorcism”, but both of those films, regardless of your opinion of them, were at least more original and clever. This film was not clever. The mood was never quite right. The pacing was never quite right. It’s difficult to put your finger on it, but if you see it, which you shouldn’t, you’ll feel what I’m talking about. Something just wasn’t done correctly here and feels sloppy, inarticulate, uncrafted. Very few details are given about the plot, what made this situation “special” or this story worth telling, and the characters are given the bare minimum of backstory and dimensionality.

Only at the one hour mark the film become something fresh and inventive, and that lasts for about fifteen minutes. Whoopie.

Just when it gets good, when an additional 15-minutes could is almost expected to follow and could wrap-up with a stately denouement and resolution, we are left at the Climax, with no way to know who lived, who died, how the demons went from body to body, or what ever happened to Maria, the protagonists mother (whose acting was actually pretty good for being possessed). The actress playing Maria kept this Phoned-In Money Grabber from dying at the front door of the genre club it desperately wanted to be a part of.

Some of you may say that “realistic endings” where everything is not wrapped up is more real and better. While that’s left to debate, this doesn’t do it well. I like movies that don’t put a bow on everything. Most people in America today who what to be intellectually-challenged when enjoying a film would agree, but this film ends shockingly in spite of itself and just for the sake of “oh, that would be a crazy ending. Like, real life, where, ya know, you don’t know what happens.” Yeah. Okay. It can be done well when a theme or irony or metaphor is in place, but this had none of that.

When the best part of your movie is the tail end of the third act, and then you don’t FINISH your third act, well, you should be ashamed to call yourself a full-length picture. On top of all of this, pieces of the trailer were re-edited in the final cut, and really, the best movie of “A Devil Inside” is the freaking trailer.

Save yourself the trouble. Don’t even get this on REDBOX unless you are a die-hard horror fan or just HAVE to know how this film stacks up to the other of its sub-genre. Hint: in the bottom half.

Because the ending was better than the whole film, it gets a 5 instead of a 4.5

I would rewatch any, yes, any exorcist movie again before this one.

5/10

MH

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“The Hunger Games” by S. Collins: a quick reaction

“The Hunger Games” is a rare, unbalanced book for three big reasons:

1. The book is in three “acts”, as I assume each book might be. In this first installment, while starting slow in the first part, the second part is better, and the third part is great. While the editing job and breadth of vocabulary has room for improvement and expansion respectively, there is a great story here, complete with constant emotional climb that will likely have you wanting to read the next book a.s.a.p. — “Catching Fire.” I didn’t think I would wanna jump right into book two for nearly the whole time I read this, but I did once I got into part three “THE VICTOR.”

2. Me being picky about how it was marketed: — The novel, while being “young adult” is hardly for anybody under 16, and yet, given the gore and heavy subject matter, I’m surprised it didn’t go further. It was like some one really wanted this to be for kids just because there are kids in it (?), but that’s a weak reason. This artistic choice does a disservice to the potential of the series and it’s adult readers. Being edited “down” for teens (possibly), I’m left with is wanting more realism, blood, sex, and want questions answered (probably coming in book TWO). I felt like Katniss knew she was telling “us” a story and kept some of her emotions at bey. It’s one thing to keep her emotions from the other characters, and while she was honest with us, I wanted more. You cannot make this tale “children-friendly”, so why not market it as just a dark novel and have it aimed at everyone? There should have been sex in the cave scene, language all around, and more descriptive nightmares about what Katniss, the main character, has seen. We get a sense of these torments, but them seem “PG-13-ified.” Make it R-rated. Hell, make it X-rated.

3. There are some big set-ups in this book, and the unanswered questions the reader has at the end will make them curious to continue the series. As a stand alone book, it’s a solid start, but as part of a trilogy, this is only the beginning of (hopefully) a worthy series of all it’s insane buzz!!! While i respect the series right now, “Catching Fire” is going to be the “make it or break it” installment that needs to answer some questions and make me fall in love with Panem and the characters. The really interesting stuff is going to come after the games. I can tell. I just hope it’s written and edited well. Let’s get epic, please. Time to get political, and time to start that love triangle.

p.s. this is a visual story that can write itself as a movie. If you’re not a big reader, see the movie when it comes out. You’re not missing the book of the year or anything. If you like survival and paranoia and a bit of mystery, read this, but don’t expect Twilight or Harry Potter. This is neither.
My take on it: (7.9/10)

 

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Enter the Dragon: a movie review

stream rental for $2.99

Bruce Lee is a house hold name. Everyone knows him; the whooping, yelping, and shrieking Chinese martial artist. Thin, fast, and fierce. He was a force to be reckoned with in the martial arts community in the late 60s and early 70s, simply as a performer and combatant. His entry to the film world was more than welcomed since karate/kung fu had been inaccurately portrayed in most American films up until that point. (And later, the ninjas of the 80s… don’t get me started.) But the handsome, talented, charismatic Bruce Lee fused his art with the art of film to create the archetype “KUNG-FU” action film, which future films of all genres (karate films, action films, and thrillers, even comedies) would hearken back to for decades to come. The tragedy is that his biggest film would also be his last. He died the same year.

Lee: Teacher?
Shaolin Abbott: I see your talents have gone beyond the mere physical level. Your skills are now at the point of spiritual insight. I have several questions. What is the highest technique you hope to achieve ?
Lee: To have no technique.
Shaolin Abbott: Very good. What are your thoughts when facing an opponent ?
Lee: There is no opponent.
Shaolin Abbott: And why is that ?
Lee: Because the word “I” does not exist.
Shaolin Abbott: So, continue…
Lee: A good fight should be like a small play, but played seriously. A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready. Not thinking, yet not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come. When the opponent expands, I contract. When he contracts, I expand. And when there is an opportunity, I do not hit. It hits all by itself.

 

Like all films, it’s would be foolish to say that just because Bruce Lee starred in the film that it was good. That’s not true at all. Any well known star in Hollywood today has more than likely played their part in a poorly written or poorly directed film. Bruce Lee is no exception, having starred in several films taking place in different countries under several directors. However, most of his work was decent at worst. Enter the Dragon is one of the most prolific of his works. It is the “go to” title; the first film a buddy would probably recommend for the Bruce Lee new-comer.

The interesting thing about Enter the Dragon is its long-lasting success as a martial arts film, though the title hardly makes any sense when you think about it (but that’s neither here nor there). The truth is that much of the action comes in the last 20 minutes; and most of the movie is an underground/gang/espionage film that feels a bit more like a James Bond film than the kung fu most people think of when recalling wild, exploitative kung fu pictures that would come later in the 70s catering to ultra violence and geysers of blood. This film, unlike Sonny Chiba pictures, contains no shots of bones snapping – only the sound effects. And this only happens once or twice. There really is not that much gore.

It’s more about the story and the mystery of this island where a man named Han holds a fighting tournament every three years to recruit fighters to his personal protective entourage. The complication comes with the news that this “Han” was once part of Lee’s Shaolin temple, and has turned his back on the Philosophy and Spirituality which his teachers and community held so dear. Without fail, just to give Lee a solid reason to enter the tournament to help an undercover agent trying to bring Han’s illegal shit to an end, he is told by an elder the truth about how his sister died years ago – of course it was at the hands of Han’s gang. (She took her own life though. She’d rather die with her honor than be raped? I may have chosen differently, but that’s a cultural thing.) I suppose the elder didn’t tell Lee years ago because he was afraid Lee would have gone on some revenge trip, but it seems that with the first five minutes of the film having Lee spouting Buddhist and Taoist philosophies, Lee probably could have handled it. He is centered. He is one. There is no “I”. Blah, blah, blah.

“Don’t think… feel. It’s like a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all of that heavenly glory.”

I don’t know what all that means, and I’m not going to make some pretentious guess like I know more than you, but I’m glad this kind of writing—while interesting and not yet typical and clichéd—was kept in the beginning of this film and not woven throughout. Having Bruce Lee rattle off some “Confucius” phrases would have gravely diminished his believability as a character.

That slight criticism aside (which some say is one of its strengths); the topic of the characters in this film is up next. They are damn good. For a movie that is not loaded with action and fighting, it does a very good job of keeping the plot engaging and the pace rolling by exploring all of the characters. And I mean “all” of the characters. Most films of the time (and especially the Enter the Dragon copy cats in the 70s) never spent any time with the secondary characters or the villains. Very little gets established, and then the film asks you to “just go with it. You get it.” But this film explores Lee, played by Bruce Lee; Williams, the black afro dude; and Roper, a white man with prominent brows with a classic handsomeness typical of the early 70s. He could have easily been a Bond. These two characters are accompanying Lee to the island and were Vietnam buddies. Williams, as a character, has not aged well and almost could come off as a racist interpretation of a black man in the 70s. Afro, sideburns, bell bottom pants, huge collar, smooth talking. At the time it probably wasn’t funny. In 2011, it is.

Getting back on point, we follow these characters as they land on the island, have a party, have sex with women, and begin sparing. With very little action, I’m surprised at how intriguing and visual this second act of the movie is and how much you can enjoy the characters. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the other Bruce Lee films. Partly due to good casting choices, these actors gave real personalities to their roles and seemed to enjoy shooting the film.

Enter the Dragon (click for rotten tomatoes rating) is a “must watch” for martial arts fans because though the genre did not begin with this film, this movie solidified the decades of hommage to come: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Fight Club, James Bond, Kung Fu Hustle, Kill Bill, and countless other action/adventure/martial arts films have made references (or borrowed lines/character traits) from Bruce Lee’s iconic movies. Don’t forget about Lu Kang from the Mortal Kombat videogame franchise. I mean, yeah, that is a direct character lift in almost every way.

The first act shows the audience some interesting flashbacks, cross-faded through wavy film transitions that really show what decade this film was made in. That’s not bad; just an observation. Actually I really enjoyed these sections of back story because they are informative and welcomed. They may not be completely necessary, but they are not superfluous either. They add to the characters and don’t take up too much of the film’s run time, so I say leave them in and pay attention. Emotional investment and believability are not in all films of this genre, so enjoy it in this one.

The film did have its weak elements and some unintentional funny moments. I’ll leave the individual viewer to judge whether these take away from the movie or add to it. It’s all about taste.

The first thing is the ADR. The dialogue replaced after the film is shot, usually in a sound studio. It’s very bad, particularly in the beginning of the film as all the philosophy is begin discussed between Lee and his elder. Once the action kicks in at an hour and 20 minutes, some of the funniest moments pop up. The stomping neck break Lee performs is a medium shot from his hips and up at 1 hour, 21 minutes and 36 seconds. It is slow motion and priceless. His high-pitched howl is mighty. This began one of Bruce Lee’s iconic moves, soon to become a stereotype. Again at 1 hour, 23 minutes and 2 seconds, he swings his chucks around like Michelangelo from the original TMNT movie of the early 90s (in April O’Neil’s apartment before the floor collapses). At 1 hour, 29 minutes and 4 seconds, Lee is kicking a guy three times in the face before he drops out of frame. Once he does, and the line of men behind him watch in a serious awe, there is one extra, probably about 19 years old, that is smiling like a doofus, probably unsure of how he ended up on the set of a film where his idol was kicking someone’s teeth in. The juxtaposition of the serious faces with his goofy-ass gaping mouth made me laugh, rewind, and watch a second time!

Finally, there’s the dummy kick. At 1hour, 24 minutes and 32 seconds, Lee lands an earth-shattering round house kick to the side of the villain Han’s head. The kick initially rises off the ground from a medium wide shot, from the side (profile) and it’s a two-shot of both fighters. There’s a sudden medium-close cut from over Han’s shoulder, which is clearly a dummy replacement, and the kick lands, launching this dummy in just two frames completely out of view. The dummy, or Han, would have his neck snapped after such a blow. Guess they forgot to add weight to the mannequin, because Han seemingly weighs 20 lbs!

The mirror sequence at the end was superbly disorienting. Very well done, though perhaps a minute too long. Over all, Enter the Dragon was film about a plot first and the martial arts second. That is something to be respected. These actors had to be able to act to a moderate degree, not just fight. Most films would do the opposite. His iconic whoops and “yaws!” were unlike anything heard at the time, and when people do these impressions today—you know it’s goddamn-Bruce-mother-fucking-Lee!

This epic, undercover, action film is more than the sum of its parts. It has that international feel of a Bond film while being its own entity; melding and meshing beautiful sets, locations, costuming, caves, nudity, blood, and underground tunnels with scaffolding and radio centers. What more could you ask for? I’m glad they seemed to have a comfortable budget and avoided B-movie stigma.

Even then, Enter the Dragon does have its slow parts and is not for all audiences today. People and critics, especially over at rotten tomatoes, get a little to wound up about how awesome this is and gives them too much praise in my opinion. This film is not a 9/10. They are getting their pleasure of Bruce Lee and this specific film’s global popularity confused with actual quality. While greatly respected for what it would begin in the film industry (setting paths for films stars Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Tony Ja) as a 38-year-old film, the grade must come at 7.5/10. I enjoy it more than this, but this is the fair rating. Though I love the hyper-reality of massive punch-and-kick sound effects, perhaps with better dialogue quality and more action, this respected classic would be an eight. Even then—it must be owned by fanatics of the fighting/action genre.

MH

IMDB site for this movie HERE.

BuyDVD  movie on Amazon HERE.

On Netflix.

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Run! Bitch Run!: a film review

Great title, right? Though maybe the first exclaimation mark should be after “bitch.” (I digress.) This is THE exploitation film of the 2000s. I dare you to find a crazier film between 2000-2010 of violence, rape, and and twisted sadism than RUN! BITCH RUN! from 2009, directed by Joeseph Guzman and produced by Freakshow Entertainment. You will, indeed, be entertained… and repulsed by this film. You may laugh and cry simultaneously.

WATCH THE TRAILER. CLICK HERE.

IMDB’s plot description:

“Catherine and Rebecca are two Catholic School girls going door-to-door selling Religious paraphernalia in order to pay for their books and education. Things go horribly wrong when they knock on the wrong door in the wrong neighborhood. “Run! Bitch Run!” is a throw back to the classic rape and revenge films like The Last House on the Left and Ms. 45.”

Four minutes into this movie, we have a full frontal nun, black girl breasts, white girl breast, a fat guy gyrating his fat, hairy ass while having sex, pot smoking, and a whore murdering her latest “lay.”

Holy Hell. This is gonna be good.

The aesthetic of the film grain is great. Nothing is totally in focus. Ever. If this is not shot on real film, whatever kind of filter the editor or director is using is incredible. Shot in 2009, it could easily be 1975. The lighting is great. The blacks are nice and dark. And the soundtrack was well thought out. All the songs are like beautiful south western accompaniments that Tarantino never used but should have. Where the musical selections could have been too over the top or “on-the-nose”, this film finds a good homage to its throwback without being a blatant rip-off. I applaud.

By around the seven minute mark there is again a wide shot. Full frontal. A beautiful girl that is clearly shameless. Funny thing is, she is having a normal conversation with her friend in a shady motel room. They are both also from a Catholic School. Hey, sign me up. I’ll take another crack at Christianity if girls who look like a cross between Rose McGowan and Anne Hathaway are thumping the good ol’ bible.

When the first ten pages of your script has more blood and nudity then plot—bing—you gotta exploitation flick on your hands.

So these two girls are “100 miles from St. Mary’s”—the buzz kill girl with her blonde hair in a bun is trying to do everything by the book, including having humility, shame, and a clean path straight to God’s work. The naked one, Rebecca, with her raven hair down around her shoulders is talking about having a little fun and essentially not being a good girl falling in line. The issue I have with this scene: I find it hard to believe that these two girls, presumably having been in a Catholic school all of their lives, could be so different. One would think a lifetime of indoctrination would leave no room for promiscuity in their pretty little heads. But, hey, conflict is what makes a movie go ‘round, so rationality and reality be damned! The script must be written, I guess. I also quickly found it implausible that two girls would be going around in Texas Chainsaw Massacre-land just to sell some religious junk completely on their own. They seem to be in the middle of nowhere and aimless as hell.

On another note—and yes, I suppose I am just a man—the young lady they cast as Rebecca was a lucky find. Her name is Christina Derosa and was in playboy magazines at the time. Her smile is infectious, and even when fully clothed, she is cute and can actually act. When she is crying and bleeding and being forced to suck toes though, prepare to be truly uncomfortable. I cannot imagine shooting this scene. It is truly terrible. You need to have a stomach for this movie the same way you have to for Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left.

For no other reason than having another “tit shot”—in a montage of the girls driving around from door to door at about 12-minutes in, we have a cut inside of the house they are knocking on to a 40-year old woman rubbing her breasts in the shower. Hearing the knocking, she towels her hair, puts on a robe but doesn’t tie it, and opens the door with her D-Cups just hanging out. One of the girls begins to say what they are selling, and the woman in the robe just scoffs and closes the door. That’s the whole scene. A full minute dedicated to middle age fun bags. Go figure. But what did you expect?

Hopefully the movie will be actually starting soon.

Maybe it will start after the girl pleasures herself on the toilet with the right end of the plunger. No, I am not joking. Ew.

Right after that, my favorite part is the dead black girl who is still breathing. Good job, director. It’s called a re-take. Use it when basic biology makes no sense, like a girl still breathing after a bullet to the throat. Then again, they made this for $25,000 — and that’s for all the effects and renting locations and paying the crew. So, Kudos, I guess.

In  their defense; I’m sure they knew what they were making. This is grindhouse. I’m actually not criticizing too hard. I know the title of the freakin’ movie is Run! Bitch Run!  for god’s sake!

I do agree: Tarantino and Rob Zombie would be proud of this one. Here’s a sample or a sickly funny scene that quickly turns to rotten disease:

LOBO:  “We’re gonna play a little game. Clint and I like to call it Find ‘Em and Fuck ‘Em. It’s kinda like Hide ‘n Seek, but not. It’s better. It’s a lot better. You’re gonna go run somewhere and pray I don’t find you. Cause when I find you, I’m gonna fuck you. I’m gonna spray my whipped cream all over that sundae.”

Here, the female takes off but doesn’t get too far. This quote has the audience laughing for about a minute until there is a long, single take, no-cut aways rape scene that was directly inspired by Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. The rape scenes in Run Bitch! and Last House are the only two rape scenes I have ever seen in films which are not tasteful and are hard-to-watch; successful in the sense that they are so disgustingly real. I can’t imagine taking multiple takes. It’s something you’ll only ever want to see once if you can fight turning away for a brief second of relief. I bet you can’t watch the screen the whole time. Like two girls one cup. The movie, at these parts anyway, stops being a funny, dark comedy and becomes a terrible exploitation film at a disturbing level. Maybe that was the intention; to show how disgusting rape really is and how most films soften it for their audiences. This film refuses to do that. You’re gonna watch like you were really there, so hold on tight… but, hey, you’ve been warned.

This rated R flick is almost NC-17, in my opinion. Probably why it was only released in theaters in Japan but came direct to DVD in the States!

There are tons of low-angle shots at about butt height. Wonder why. The cheesy shtick and sleazy residue will build up on your soul in this one. It is sex, revenge, and 2-dimensional characters you can’t help but love with. The good and the evil characters make you think “I wonder what lunch break was like on the set. Yikes.” It’s pure entertainment. If you like to laugh as much as be shocked, this one is for you. If you are easily offended or are made uncomfortable by rape scenes, even light ones, skip it. You can’t really put a rating system to this one with any “across-the-board” clarity, but I think most people would give this a 2-star out of 5: while that’s probably the proper rating giving the faults in pacing, editing, and some acting, the fun factor and ridiculousness feel like more than two-stars. It could have been an hour long film. It drags after 40-minutes.

Here’s a reason why you should watch this movie, but this is a huge SPOLIER ALERT: The man guy gets stabbed in the anus with a two foot machete. Repeatedly. That’s the ending. Blood is everywhere. I was laughing and clapping when I saw that because I have never seen anything like that. Good god!

I could go on and on telling you every scene and why it’s over-the-top, but if you just see this one for yourself with some friends, you’ll be finding you own favorite one-liners in no time flat.

“Lord, if I wasn’t such a righteous man, I’d pound them harder than the nails in the cross.”

RENT IT $2.99 — BUY IT for $9.99 — watch immediately on AMAZON’s INSTANT VIDEO service. Also on NETFLIX instant stream!

MH

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Captain America: The First Avenger Movie Review

Captain America: The First Avenger movie poster

Having waited to see Captain America: The First Avenger for three years, I was not let down in the slightest. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised that it went above my expectations. After the “average-at-best” Thor and Green Lantern (and I think that is putting it mildly) it was great to see a film that I put on par with this past Spring’s X-Men: First Class, 2008’s Iron Man, and 2009’s Watchmen. These have been among the best super hero films of the past five years, perhaps only topped by The Dark Knight.

What is so great about Captain America is that we’re given a protagonist and main character that we care about from the very beginning. We care about what happens to Steve Rogers and he is played perfectly by Chris Evans. If there are any doubters out there, don’t be. He shines.

This cast is also possibly the best ensemble cast of all the above films listed because it is balanced so well, and unconventional actors were given the chance to shine. Whenever a new face was on the screen or an old one came back, I was always entertained and enjoyed the characters. I was more than happy to see Stanley Tucci still performing magnificently into his old age, and Hugo Weaving never fails to disappoint, especially since he has been in two other movies I love (V for Vendetta and the Lord of the Rings Triliogy). The woman playing Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) was very good and extremely beautiful in that pin-up girl sort of way. I had never seen her before, but as a man, this brunette with dark red lipstick was more than welcome. She got plenty of face time too and was more than just eye-candy. Thanks, Marvel. Even Tommy Lee Jones was perfectly cast, and though I was hesitant at first to see the Men in Black and No Country for Old Men actor in a super hero film—guess what?—it was a great choice. Everybody played their parts straight and realistically. I felt depth in everyone, not hammy laughs and over-amped characters.

A brief word on sound design, editing, and action: Very good on all fronts, but not excellent. Pacing of editing and story development were perfect. Not rushed and also, never dragging. Some may feel that there was not enough action, but I felt that was not the case. Action was needed where it was needed and wasn’t super over the top. Just enough for it to be a superhero film. This isn’t supposed to be X-Men battlefront. It’s an origin story, and a damn good one at that. The only origin film I think I like more is Batman Begins (2004). I’m not even going to mention either of the HULK movies regarding butchered origin stories. Christ. What a shame.

The CGI was a little much for me however. I enjoyed the world that they created, as well as all of the colors template, the mis en scene, and costume design for the 1940s; however, the CGI was sometimes clearly a blue screen. I don’t know if this was because of too much budget or too little budget, but I wonder if some shots which tried to “flex muscle” could have been left out. Without the distraction of noticing overlayed backgrounds, the audience would have been kept in the “illusion” better. Some may not notice at all, of course. I wonder if some of the parts, (mainly Captain America chasing after the plane near the end and much earlier when he was talking with Red Skull in the fiery lab/hangar), could have been re-edited or given another camera angle so we didn’t have to see so much “fakeness” in the background.  This is a very “nit-picky” point I am making here, and I’m sure that if my ideas were implemented another viewer or critic would equally wonder why not enough was shown. They would say:

“Why can’t we see the background in this shot? It feels awkward. Did they run out of money?”

So, it is a lose-lose situation possibly, but again, it is a small thing. Hopefully it will age well and the scars of CGI here will smooth out, not become even more apparent (especially on Blu-Ray).

The last thing I’d like to mention is the time in which this film came out. Nearly ten years after 9/11. I am sure that Marvel Studios didn’t plan for this, but I am glad that if there were any plans to green-light this movie earlier—that they were pushed back. I don’t think that the public would have been in great support of a “Captain America movie” between 2005-2008 when Iraq and Iran were messes, Bush was still in office, and the housing bubble was popping its way into a long recession starting in 2009. It was wise to wait until somewhat better times, and arguably, it is now. Captain America, just that title comes with a pride for country and nationalism that is multi-faceted now, and unfortunately, complicated. In addition, while there isn’t a sparkling list of a thousand reasons to be proud of our country and it’s incompetence at present in both parties in Washington, the truth is this film came out at as good a time as it ever will. Many, many superhero films have been spilling through Hollywood these past eleven years with more on their way, and waiting to do Captain America and eventually, an Avengers film, was a good choice. We knew eventually they would do every comic franchise imaginable. For example, I never thought we’d get Ghost Rider or Daredevil – certainly not before the better known Iron Man and Captain America. How did they get made first? I don’t know.

A lot of the big, bad boys have been done an are out of the way (i.e. Spiderman and X-Men, and DC’s Batman almost done as of 2012) so with a new generation completely in love with comic book superheroes like never before, we can all learn about some of the lesser known ones without too much impediment. The problem recently, as in Thor and Green Lantern, is that they did not deliver. In fact, they were poor. Worth perhaps one viewing for free. In that regard, the very idea I’ve just put forward about lesser known heroes reaching out to new fans on the coat tails of the greats has failed us. Thor and Green Lantern and Fantastic Four’s Silver Surfer tragedy of a film were let downs. But I got to tell you, I had the lowest expectations for Iron Man years ago, and I suddenly became a huge Iron Man fan after I saw the film twice in theaters. Was not expecting that great origin story. Too bad Iron Man 2 was clearly more fun to make than watch.

Maybe there is opportunity for rectification. After all, with the Amazing Spiderman film set for next year already re-beginning Spiderman, who knows?—Maybe all of these films in the past ten years will get re-made in the next ten. Let’s freaking hope not.

In conclusion, Captain America is a surprisingly welcome dose of red, white and blue without shoving the flag down your throat. Bravo.

Grade: (A-)

God’s speed.

MH

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Blue Valentine: a film analysis

This is not a “review” per se. I am not attempting to give you plot points and tell you why you should or should not see a film. What I am trying to do with these blogs is “analyze.” I want to absorb my first reactions from the film and tell you about the characters and the story and relate it in some way to our lives. I do not want to focus on the camera movements and editing styles and mise-en-scene, though all of these things may pop up in a review or analysis if extradordinarily important or prominent in some way and must be mentioned to explain or explore the film properly. To really get the most from what is written below, see the film first. All of my blogs on movies are poised in a way which assumes the reader has already seen the film. Thiese blogs are enrichment and discussion.

So I begin by saying this: This film ripped my heart out. It’s fantastic to get to the end of a film and not even want to budge to pop out the DVD or go to the bathroom. Not just yet. It has to sink in for a minute longer. I had to reflect.

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling (Cindy and Dean)

“You always hurt the ones you love…”

Academy Award nominated Blue Valentine (starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling) is a tender, intense film which took the director (Derek Cianfrance) 12 years to complete from the writing phase to the final release date. Please see my last blog about how fiction can come from experience, because as I collected some information for this analysis, I learned that Cianfrance really put this film together out of experience. So much so that the “older” Gosling and his pattern baldness is directly copied from Cianfrance’s real head, and the younger Gosling’s aesthetic style and clothing style was mimicked after his own wardrobe from back in the day. Talk about having balls and putting yourself out there. (On another note: this is Ryan Gosling at his best.)

This is a film about unrequited affection, reciprocation, reconciliation, and the feeling that as good as a love can feel in the beginning (and as worth it as it may seem) it may end in a firestorm. You can never tell for sure if it will collapse or stay afloat, and there’s no way to see into the future to be sure. All you can do is hope and try to be a better partner everyday.

Like so many dark dramas similar in tone to Blue Valentine’s (exploring romance in the way of feature-length slow-motion train wrecks which you can’t look away from), Blue Valentine does it in a very honest way. It is by far the most emotionally poignant and honest film I have seen in a long time to take on these themes–especially considering this type of story has been done before.

Many films utilize the back-and-forth cross cutting between the current hellish prediciments where the love is utterly dying and the jumping back to scenes from years ago to tell of how these two came to fall in love. Though it has been done before, both well and poorly, this story seems to fit this mold well. Telling the story chronologically would have worked well enough for this film, and I would be curious to see it, but I do feel that delivering certain parts of the past at very specific and intentional times, when done well, does add something to the narritvie and to the emotional context of certain scenes. It also aids in a unique way the audiences progression of undersatnding these characters and their ambitions or short-comings. 

 So is Blue Valentine saying all love fleeting, doomed to flicker then fade; or were these two never supposed to be together and did they misread an evening long ago for the beginning of real love? This is a movie of despiration and ignornance — a misundersatnding that loving your spouse wholly or intensely is not the same as being a good spouse. It takes more than sweet sentiments and words. It takes actions.

I also felt while watching this movie that the direction (for obvious reasons) fell into the category of sympathy for Dean (Gosling) more so than Cindy (Williams). And while this may or may not have been intentional, I understand how the director with his life being so saturated into the film in one way or another impacted the audience’s ability to not “root” for Cindy the same way we do for Dean. We feel Dean, for all his fuck-ups, is at least rying and is gettign the short end of the stick from someone who is emotionally crippled in someway and it’s not fair for Dean. I don’t know if that line of thought is fair to Cindy’s character, and I just think a lot of the story makes Cindy out to be the one not fully trying to save the realtionship and therefore we all say: “Aw. Poor Dean.”

When Dean told Cindy all he really wanted to be was a husband and a father, it was the final nail in the coffin. The first nail was probably agreeing to raise another man’s child. His ambition was lost with his charisma and their newly discovered sexuality. Where Cindy desired both of them to reach for the stars, he was resigned to a life he settled for. He would never say this, but she knew, and because she knew that she was partially responsible for this talented, promising man to give-up on his aspirations, she hated him and herself.

 I would now like to talk about some things I did not see in other reviews and feel are important to explore. Not just in Blue Valentine, but in content of today’s films in general: Sex. Oral Sex.

Through disappointment and rejection, Dean is constantly trying to give what he can of himself to Cindy, and since he did not complete high school, he is limited in his offerings. These offereings often end up being in the form of physical affection, in both publicly acceptable kisses and more intimate endeavors. What I would like to discuss is the “Man” going down on girl multiple times in the film. It interested me as film and media studies graduate because too often in films it is the girl orally gratifying the man, and the truth is that in the real world it is often give and take. In the healthy relationships, anyway. However, perhaps that is not true of our culture anymore if we are so frequently exposed to the woman as an object. The internet and HBO and Rated-R films have shown audiences that it is always the female being subservient to the male. Maybe people in the world think that it is a one-way street in regards to certain foreplay, but I would bet that the reality is this: many would be shocked by the amount of satisfaction which both partners feel from certain reciprocations. Finally, I will say that it was interesting that Dean was the only one seen doing these actions; never Cindy. Furthermore, he always seemed more than happy. I thought that was counter-culture of the mold set by Hollywood and, for some strange reason, a lovely little thing to add. The truth is that men do this to women when being intimate, not all, but some, and why should we be so afraid of showing men doing it to women and so unafraid of showing  women doing it to men?: A great conversation that falls right along with female vs. male nudity in society/entertainment and which one has the majority. Take a wild guess.

The whole abortion room scene was incredible to watch and certainly shows what it would really be like. I’m glad that a movie was bold enough to show the interations and jargon used in such situations to really let men and women know what it really is like to have to have such a procedure. Maybe they will think twice about contraception and safe sex when realizing what one of the real life outcomes can be. It was anxious for Cindy in the scene and conveyed equal anxiety to me. Truly affective and viceerally rendered. I never once doubted any of the characters spoken lines or faces. Not once.

Dean says near the beginning of the film to a co-worker in a furniture moving company something about love at first sight being like hearing a song and just having to dance. You don’t know why, you can’t explain it, but you just have to dance. I like that. And as far a worth remembering quote from Cindy, I leave you with this: “think about what you say instead of saying what you think all the time.” I think all realtionships could benefit from such adivce.

Love is messy. Love is complicated. Love is imperfect. That is love.

And it can’t be stagnant. We gotta grow. Both together and as people. Dean wasn’t. People are complicated. So was it worth it? If it ended like that, was the love worth it for the early times when it was good? Cindy ended it. Was it for the kid? Will it improve their lives in the long run? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s love. That’s life. There aren’t always answers. There are rarely answers. 

I’m out.

MH

(Movie here. Buy on Amazon.)

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“Lolita” by Vladmir Nabokov: an Essay

Intellectual, erogenous, controversial, and poetic: all inarguable descriptions of Nabokov’s Lolita. But a love story unlike any before or since? If anything, it can be conceded that this book “offers a depiction of love that is as patently original as it is brutally shocking” (NPR). It is not love in the American sense of equal reciprocation we have come to value and understand and expect in our society. This book is a single “depiction” of love. The idea of love as the majority of civilized cultures display it is not shared by Humbert. His idea of love and is highly reprehensible.

But this is already known to anyone who has read the book or the glowing reviews for Lolita. The issue brought up here is why so many claim it to be “one of the most beautiful love stories you’ll ever read” or go as far to say “it may be one of the only love stories you’ll ever read” (NPR). Through artful prose and detailed descriptions the reader is swayed to empathize with Humbert; it is not hard to do given the small amount of love (better described as “attention”) Lolita gives to him. But no reader walks away from having read this book honestly believing this is a true love story. True love is reciprocated. True love is understood by the parties involved. Not that true love always has a happy ending, but these emotions described by Humbert throughout the text are manipulative, complex accounts given to us by a man with an obsession who had been to mental institutions—nothing more; regardless of his aptitude, cleverness, and scholastic conquests.

True love is reciprocated equally and in the same manner. Let’s suppose that these two characters love each other equally quantitatively, and Lolita simply never wanted to show it or knew how to show it. Though loving each other deeply, these two characters, hypothetically, showed their love in two very different ways. Lolita saw a father and a source of cash; Humbert saw a body after which he lusted, and that was it until near the very end. He never liked how she treated him for the majority of the story, but thought he loved her anyway. Lolita did not have the capacity or interest to reciprocate qualitatively in the same way. Does Lolita have a physical attraction to Humbert like Humbert has an attraction to Lolita? No. Humbert certainly thinks this is love, but true love this is not. This is obsession and infatuation; an unfortunate consequence of unremitted love.

Humbert says “I would hold her against me three times a day, every day” talking about why he would pretend to love and possibly marry a poor woman he finds not attractive at all to be able to touch her daughter (pp 70). He continues: “All my troubles would be expelled, I would be a healthy man.” Most would disagree. There will always be troubles for everyone, even people with lives not as wild as Humbert’s.

The tragedy of the novel is that Humbert, while perhaps really loving Lolita, will never be able to stay with just her. Even if he stayed with her and she was the first nymphet he stayed with even though she grew up and Humbert did not go after another young one, one day Lolita will be old and die. Again, with the provocative language Humbert uses when writing his incredible story to us, it’s not hard to read passages like this and be fooled into having a heart swell of empathy and notions of true love:

“… she was with her ruined looks and her adult, rope-veined narrow hands and her goose-flesh white arms, and her shallow ears, and her unkempt arm-pits… hopelessly warns at seventeen… and I looked at her and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else (pp 277).”

This passage certainly supports this idea that Humbert must really love her. After all, the majority of the book must have had the forward thinking reader presuming that once Lolita grows out of her current body, Humbert will surely be moving along to the next little girl. But despite all of the pieces to the contrary, and despite her tired, unkempt, worn body, Humbert is willing to give up his life-long infatuation with the body type he was most obsessed with to stay with Lolita who will never look like a 12-year old again.

And there lies the problem with the whole notion of true love given to this text by critics and fans! Do not forget that she never showed him any real sweetness. She only had her hand out for sixty five cents and eventually thousands of dollars throughout the text. This is not true love. Especially considering Humbert said numerous times how difficult it was dealing with her moodiness and attitudes. How can this be anything but physical and psychological attraction? Humbert does not breakdown at the end of the story begging for Lolita to come with him out of lust for her body. That young body is clearly gone. So some would say it was for love. True love. But that is too idealistic and cliché and simple. Humbert—poor, permanently disturbed Humbert—cannot change that quickly. Even though he realizes the error of his ways, the truth is that Lolita is simply that last person that spent a large chunk of time with him and made memories with him. He is in love with the memories of having a sex buddy on a road trip, though he tries to tell us directly that “it was not that echo alone I worshipped” (pp. 278). He is trying to convince both himself and the reader this is the truth, but this is simply lip service by Humbert to appeal to our hearts so we see him as less of a monster and less of a fool. He cries and writes the passage on page 277 because he is lonely, lonely, lonely.

There is no happily ever after here.

Works Cited: 

NPR – National Public Radio. Ellen Silva, producer. “Why ‘Lolita’ Remains Shocking, and a Favorite.” July 7, 2006 http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5536855

Nabokov, Vladmir. Lolita. 1955. 50th Anniversary Edition. Random House, New York.

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