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The Free Speech Apocalypse (2015)
Two and Two is Five (Fair and Balanced)
The whole film is just sophistry ("the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intention of deceiving") masquerading as insight.
To put Pastor Doug in front of a hostile crowd at the beginning of the film is a shrewd and canny move to make him appear as a sympathetic character, but ..... . Put his arguments in a different context-
"I live in a Christian community and we don't feel that it's proper to have a Jewish place of worship in our town. We pay taxes, and we're in the majority, so why is the government forcing me to do something that's against my morality".
"I'm a small business owner and my patrons don't want to sit next to Negroes. We pay taxes, and we're in the majority, so why is the government forcing me to do something that's against my morality".
To say that Christians are the arbitrators of some kind of 'celestial and special position in the ways of the lord' is ludicrous. Christians burned witches during the middle ages, stood silent in the genocidal treatment of native Americans, stood silent on Jim Crow racism, and I'll be willing to bet the farm that it was a Christian prayer that blessed the men who dropped the Big Ones on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The over zealous kids in the beginning were rude, but their behavior is far less reprehensible than the religious bigotry demonstrated by Pastor Doug and his ilk.
"In- DUH!- ca" !!!
The cinematography is very well-done, and that's it for the positives because overall the film is a very slow-moving Wannabe Art Film that's poorly written and slowly devolves into an overblown, confusing downer with little or no meaning. Kirsten Dunst is a tremendous actress, but there is absolutely nothing in this screenplay for her to work with.
Think- Indica, as in, "in-duh!-ca".
American Violence (2017)
Where's Jean-Claude van Damme?
AMERICAN VIOLENCE is so bad it makes BLOODSPORT seem worthy of consideration for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
None of the story-line of AMERICAN VIOLENCE is even remotely plausible. The film's biggest premise is that Dr. Amanda Tyler (Denise Richards), a college professor, would actually have some say about the outcome of a man sentenced to death in Texas. Good Luck!
The entire film is just a hamfisted and amateurish presentation of an anti-death penalty point of view backed up by weak and tired arguments that have been offered time and time again. What was desperately needed was a little fresh insight on 'The Facts'. And, the violent sequences to bolster the argument against violence were corny, poorly presented, and completely unbelievable.
The whole project made me wonder what it might be like to have a film where toddlers recite the dialog from GOODFELLAS, and even that wacky undertaking would probably be more realistic, credible, and dramatic than anything in AMERICAN VIOLENCE. The only reason that I gave it two stars instead of one, is that I like Bruce Dern- maybe he was hard-up for money.
Greedy Lying Bastards (2012)
Take The Power Back
GREEDY LYING BASTARDS (dir. Craig Scott Rosebraugh) The first section of the documentary examines the 'real time' effects of global warming, and then shows how the efforts to suppress the scientific links between cancer and cigarette smoking by the tobacco lobbyists in the early 1960's are eerily similar to the current campaign to squelch the facts about human induced climate change.
The film then shows that there is overwhelming consensus within the scientific community that global warming is inextricably tied to the burning of fossil fuels, i.e. coal, gas, and oil. The 'anti-global warming' voice is shown to be a motley collection of public relations flacks (many without any background in science) funded by rich and powerful titans within the energy industry. After watching the film, it is impossible to give any credence whatsoever to the controversy of whether or not global warming exists, and clearly this is one more undeniable example of Big Business's 'War on Science'.
Fun Fact- The Koch Brothers have given over $67,042,064 to groups denying climate change science since 1997.
Shepard & Dark (2012)
You've Got A Friend
SHEPARD & DARK (dir. Treva Wurmfeld) For over forty years American playwright, actor, film director, and Beat Generation apologist, Sam Shepard has been close friends with Johnny Dark, a man who chose to live a solitary life far from the limelight. In fact, Johnny Dark now works as a minimum wage clerk at a Hispanic deli in the backwater village of Deming, New Mexico, but for a time during the 70's the two men were related by marriage when Sam Shepard wed the daughter of Johnny's wife, and they, and their children, lived together in a ramshackle 'Hippie- style' commune.
But the heart of this intriguing documentary concerns the thousands of letters, postcards, and photos that Johnny and Sam have archived which painstakingly chronicle their lasting relationship. I wish that the film had focused more on the content of these eloquently written letters, and less on the ultimately failed attempt to bring this appealing correspondence to an amenable publisher. Although the monetary implications of this venture did not end their rather unusual friendship, you can't help but sense that the financial aspects of this deal somehow tainted their relationship. Both men are truly magnetic and charismatic personalities, and to watch their interaction is a positive delight, and the film is a kind of a testament to 'male bonding' and the power of written correspondence over a lifetime. MUST SEE
La soga (2009)
LA SOGA (dir. Josh Crook) The film concerns government corruption in the Dominican Republic and Manny Perez plays Luisito (he also wrote the screenplay), the morally conflicted enforcer for a corrupt Dominican general who is illegally monitoring the island's criminal element. The central premise of the film is that it is easier and cheaper for US authorities to deport criminals back to the Dominican Republic rather than to try them in American courts, and this influx of criminality is threatening to destabilize the Dominican government. However, Luisito's boss gives the criminals an opportunity to buy back their freedom regardless of the ruthlessness of their crimes. Luisito's moral dilemma might be a bit cloying, but the action sequences shot in the barrios of Santiago are fairly riveting.
An Innocent Man
THE HUNT (dir. Thomas Vinterberg) Few offenses are so horrific that even the accusation of wrongdoing can destroy your life, yet Danish superstar, Mads Mikkelsen, stars in a brutally dramatic film about just such a crime. Mikkelsen plays a popular and much beloved kindergarten teacher assistant who is wrongfully accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students. The film shows how the confused statements by a five year old girl (who happens to be the daughter of his best friend), start a diabolical chain of events that turn the entire town against him, and escalate into a contemporary witch hunt. Mads Mikkelsen delivers an Academy Award winning performance in a film that will have you squirming in your seat rooting for an innocent man. Nominated for Best Foreign Film in the 2014 Academy Awards. ABSOLUTE MUST SEE
Garage Days (2002)
So You Want To Be A Rock'N' Roll Star
GARAGE DAYS (dir. Alex Proyas) A strange film because it's a rock'n'roll movie that does not embrace the clichéd rock'n'roll fairy tale, but aims for just the opposite. GARAGE DAYS is about learning to accept your limitations and struggling with something that is really important regardless of your degree of success. Set in Australia the film has a 'local' feel, although Alex Proyas, the director, makes the film as big in scope as a classic of the rock genre. The perennial romance of rock'n'roll is the belief that a small but influential voice can overcome overwhelming odds and attain massive popularity and success. But the message of GARAGE DAYS is that after all of their struggle, the band members don't come close to fulfilling their rock'n'roll fantasy, but are still satisfied with their lives.
LOVE IS THE DEVIL (dir. John Maybury) The film concerns the Irish born English figurative painter Francis Bacon, and focuses on his life in the early 1960's when he was one of the central figures in a group of dissipated and debauched intellectuals at the Colony Room, a private drinking club in London's Soho district. Bacon's portrait style during this period is reminiscent of the work of contemporary American artist, Ralph Steadman in that both artists render their subjects in a bloated or garishly distorted manner. And, John Maybury, the director of LOVE IS THE DEVIL conveys this aspect of Bacon's painting style by shooting parts of the film using curious time-lapsed techniques, odd camera angles, and blurred optical abnormalities that really highlight Francis Bacon's cracked artistic vision. Derek Jacobi is note perfect as the dissolute, alcoholic painter, and Daniel Craig is surprisingly convincing as Bacon's thuggish lover, George Dyer. And, Tilda Swinton is positively devastating as Muriel Belcher, the founder and proprietress of the Colony Room. MUST SEE
Ging bin (1996)
Your Cheatin' Heart
ALL OF A SUDDEN (dir. Herman Yau) Although the film delivers a fairly innovative storyline, the production values and stagecraft skills are abysmal. The film opens with a man drunk driving through a metropolitan area looking for women to pickup, and he rear-ends another automobile. Suddenly, and without warning, a naked woman falls from an upper floor of an adjacent apartment building and lands on the roof of his car. All of this occurs within the first five minutes of the movie. No one in this opening scene is important to the story except the naked and very dead woman. The plot becomes inexplicably convoluted and slightly far-fetched, but the film evolves into the story of a man who is seeking retaliation for his wife's infidelity. She (the naked woman) was having an affair with her boss, and her husband is looking for retribution. Unfortunately, the script is nearly unintelligible because the subtitles seem to be interpreted by someone with only a passing knowledge of the English language. These subtitles are ridiculously and absurdly inexact and provide an unintentional comedic subtext to the film. Also, the text is difficult to read, takes up far to much of the screen, and the Mandarin translation is presented first, and then the English . This might have been a passable 'Potboiler Noir', but the overall execution is just too clumsy and unconvincing to take the finished product very seriously.
Spirits In The Material World
RESOLUTION (dir. Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead) A man chains his drug addicted friend to a pipe in a remote cabin in a desperate attempt to get him to stop taking drugs. That in itself might make an interesting film, but in this case, it's only a means to an end. THE RESOLUTION is more about where the cabin is located and what nefarious or unseen forces are in play. Although it's ironic that nothing is actually 'resolved' as to who or what is responsible for the ominous and creepy trajectory of the film, the movie compels you to deal with the film's delightfully warped reality. The film leaves you with the unsettling knowledge that under the right circumstances, no one is really able to differentiate between a ghost, a spirit, an alien, or a time traveler with one hundred percent accuracy. RESOLUTION is a terrific, thought-provoking, low budget Horror/Thriller that is very much,'Worth A Look'.
At Any Price (2012)
AT ANY PRICE (dir. Ramin Bahrani) If the film had just developed a single tangent, such as the troubled relationship between a father and son without all the other thematic distractions, it might have worked. Dennis Quaid turns in an exceptional performance as a GMO mega-farmer whose family has owned the land for four generations, yet no one in his family seems the slightest bit interested in continuing in the business of farming. However, because so many story angles are opened up and explored, the film loses focus. There's the story of the two sons- one is off climbing mountains in South America while the other aspires to excel on the NASCAR circuit, and then there is the sub-plot of the father's questionable dealings with genetically modified crop seeds, his sexual infidelity with one of his old high school cheerleader pals (by the way, they don't appear to have attended high school within two decades of each other), and the 'professional' relationship with his youngest son's teen-aged girlfriend (possibly the brightest point of the film). And finally there's that unfortunate second degree homicide that pops up out of the blue. It seems that the intent was to produce a film where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, but AT ANY PRICE flounders and struggles with a handful of disparate elements that don't add up to much of anything except a credible performance by Dennis Quaid. As Archie Bell and The Drells used to say, 'Do The Tighten Up!'
SUGISBALL(Autumn Ball) (dir. Veiko Ounpuu) The film is a series of interconnected stories of disparate characters who live in a dreary housing complex in Tallinn, Estonia where the ugly environs amplify the emotional separation. The film's tone is one of deadpan 'Black Comedy' that communicates histrionic sadness and pent-up romantic longing that at times comes across as mildly amusing. One extremely funny segment (that had nothing to do with the movie) was where an overweight, assistant doorman impersonates Michael Jackson's music video,'Beat It'. This can only be seen to be believed and is nothing short of hysterical. Overall, the film provides very little resolution, but the film's attitude and spirit are somewhat reminiscent of Baltic directors Ingmar Bergman and Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Hit and Run (2012)
On The Road Again
HIT & RUN (dir. David Palmer and Dax Shepard) A humorous, well-written romantic comedy 'road movie' about a guy who decides to leave the witness protection program and drive his girlfriend to LA where they will start a new life together. She most relocate because she has a doctorate in 'conflict resolution' and UCLA has offered her the directorship of the only program of its kind, and the movie's 'hook' is that they'll be driving a 1967 Lincoln Continental with a customized 700-hp engine from northern California to LA. The film is chock full of clever jokes lampooning race and sexual orientation, and 'redneck' characters are duly redressed by conscientious liberals. Dax Shepard wrote, starred, did stunt driving, co-directed, and even recruited his real- life girlfriend, Kristen Bell, to co-star in the picture. The movie took only 10 weeks from plot outline to the final shot.
A Place at the Table (2012)
A PLACE AT THE TABLE (dir. Kristi Jacobson, Lori Silverbush) A brilliant documentary that confronts America's perennial inability to deal with the widespread problem of hunger in our nation. Ronald Reagan slashed federal programs that were beginning to solve the issue by the late 1970's, however he cynically felt that the matter would best be solved by relying on good old fashioned Christian charity. And it didn't work then, and it doesn't work now. Millions of Americans struggle daily with 'food insecurity' (you don't know where your next meal is coming from), and it seems that our leaders are convinced that the poor have it far too easy, and are just too dependent on the largess of the American tax payer. However, the film does expose the pertinent fact that America's richest food corporations were able to continue to enjoy 100% of their lavish federal government subsidy, yet the food stamp budget was severely cut to pay for a program to end childhood hunger. So much for our so called 'Christian' policies, and the film provides yet another reason for me to continue to be a proud secular humanist.
Tony Manero (2008)
TONY MANERO (dir. Pablo Larraín) The film is set in Chile during the fascist reign of Augusto Pinochet, and focuses on a man who is obsessed with John Travolta's discotheque super-star character in Saturday NIGHT FEVER. This might have been played for laughs, but Pablo Larrain's film is an evil fantasy of disco glory that portrays an obsessive and twisted character who is willing to kill to to fulfill his grotesque vision of acclaim. The frenzied violence in this film is so sudden and inexplicable that it literally takes your breath away. The film seems to present a subtle metaphor that compares the highly stylized nature of disco to the uncompromising fascist posturing of totalitarianism. ABSOLUTE MUST SEE
Leader Of The Pack
MAMMUTH (dir. Gustave de Kervern and Benoit Delepine) Gerard Depardieu stars in this art house film about a man who has recently retired from a job at a slaughterhouse, but needs verification of his previous work history to receive a full pension. He takes his 1973 Munch Mammut 1200 motorcycle on a journey across France to visit his old job sites in hopes of obtaining the necessary paperwork, and along the way meets an interesting assortment of oddball characters. When he meets his niece he is introduced to the world of 'naive art', and her tiny cottage is an homage to this curious and strikingly odd brand of folk art. This is a strangely fascinating and unconventional film that was clearly made for aesthetic reasons rather than box office appeal. Nominated for the Golden Bear at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival.
The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (2012)
Suffer Little Children
THE JEFFERY DAHMER FILES (dir. Chris James Thompson) A startlingly original dramatization and documentary about infamous Milwaukee serial killer, Jeffery Dahmer. The film features conversations with three interviewees; the detective who had first contact with Dahmer, the middle- aged, Afro American woman who was Dahmer's neighbor in the apartment building where his crimes were committed, and the medical examiner on the case. The fictionalized sections of the film augment and enhance the interrogative segments, and make this an authentic dramatic production and not just a series of interviews with 'talking heads'. The film is not even eighty minutes, but it is superbly edited and a brilliant example of documentary film-making. Well Worth a Look.
Late Bloomers (2011)
Crime To Be Broke In America
LATE BLOOMERS (dir. Julie Gavras) A rather tepid film concerning the emotional problems of growing old. William Hurt and Isabella Rossellini play an extremely rich married couple who question what they have done with their lives, and now that they are approaching sixty, time is running out. I find it difficult to empathize with people who have so much money, influence, and power, but feel that something is lacking. They certainly have more than the vast majority of humanity, yet they continue to fret. Why should I care? Of course, many are anxiously concerned if Rob Kardashian will actually make a commercial success of his new line of socks.
La chispa de la vida (2011)
AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT (dir. Álex de la Iglesia) A weak Spanish satirical comedy about an unemployed advertising executive who suffers a horrific accident in which he falls at a construction site and is pierced through the skull by a piece of iron rebar, yet remains conscious during the entire ordeal. In the process of getting help he engages the service of a publicity agent, and attempts to exploit the situation for all it's worth. The film tries to make a philosophical statement about the nature of a society that would encourage or support such self-serving behavior, but the film doesn't take it far enough. This could have really been a powerful drama or a scathing black comedy, but just came off as a lackluster effort.
Sweet Painted Lady
THE ABDUCTION OF EDEN (dir. Megan Griffiths) The film is supposedly based on the true story of an American based prostitution ring run by a high- ranking police official. However, the film merely recycles the themes of lurid sexual fantasies and physical abuse found in the 'Women In Prison' sub-genre of exploitation films of the 1960's. THE ABDUCTION OF EDEN (this seems to be the title of the film at Netflix) is a competently made 'B-Movie' with a first rate cast that employs the 'damsel in distress' plot-line to emphasize the very real issue of human trafficking. If this film is actually based on a true incident, I would really like to find out where and when that it occurred. However, whether or not it really happened as portrayed in this film, it certainly makes for an engaging story.
6 Souls (2010)
Based on the text of Kurt Vonnegut's BOKONONISM ?
6 SOULS (dir. Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein) This could have been a tremendously eerie horror film, but unfortunately the plot is driven by a glaring factual error that cannot be overlooked. The central evil character of the film is a Christian faith healer who during the 1918 flu pandemic convinces a community of backwoods people that only their belief in god will save them from the plague. However, unbeknownst to the townspeople, he and his children took the flu vaccine, and when the townspeople learn of his deceit, they exact their revenge. This entire element of the plot is absolutely ridiculous because in 1918 there was no flu vaccine, in fact, medical technology had not even determined the existence of viruses. Because of this unforgivable factual error, all the classy sinister and foreboding atmosphere is wasted because the plot is driven by a complete lack of veracity.
Hearat Shulayim (2011)
Anything You Can Do
FOOTNOTE (dir. Joseph Cedar) An unusual father and son morality drama set in the (apparently?) highly competitive world of Israeli Talmudic studies. The father had been engaged in an obscure branch of study, and was scooped by another researcher, and never received his due. His son is also a philologist and seems to have effortlessly reaped acclaim for his classical scholarship. The moral dilemma of the film is that the father has been mistakenly awarded a coveted prize that should have gone to his son. The resolution of this predicament is not terribly clear because many plot issues are not resolved, yet I feel that the father did learn of the error, but nevertheless accepts the award he does not deserve. Results may vary, but after viewing the film, I would recommend a look at the discussion on the IMDb message board for FOOTNOTE to see many interesting interpretations of this absorbing film.
La teta asustada (2009)
Safe As Milk
THE MILK OF SORROW (dir. Claudia Llosa) The central conceit or literary metaphor of this mesmerizing film is that mothers who have experienced the horror of rape pass along this trauma to their daughters through breast feeding. Fausta is a Peruvian peasant who has been deeply affected by this abnormal syndrome, and when her mother dies, the film documents Fausta's journey to bury her mother, and then confront and heal the psychological damage done to her by her mother's tragic past. The film has the tone of a hypnotic yet horrifying folk tale that explores the pagan or atavistic undercurrents within lower-class Peruvian society. Nominated for numerous international awards. MUST SEE.
Joven y Alocada (2012)
Dept. Of False Hope
YOUNG AND WILD (dir. Marialy Rivas) A sexy and thought provoking film from Chile about a young woman's journey to sexual maturity and the problems posed by her domineering and overbearing family. Because Daniella receives nothing but banal Christian platitudes about her emerging sexuality, she shares her private anguish and confusion with friends on the Internet in her blog entitled, "Young & Wild". The film makes the point that evangelical acculturation is only psychological coercion sweetened with biblical aphorisms, and offers no real answers and only false comfort. Daniella comes to reject the relentless dogma of her parents, and learns to accept the undetermined nature of life. She seems to realize that it's healthier to embrace an uncertain existence without doctrine than to be conned with pious nonsense, and Daniella's family inadvertently prods her into an acceptance of a more secular humanistic world-view. MUST SEE