Thursday, May 26, 2016

MY FATHER'S VIETNAM (CutPrintFilm)

Check out my latest review for CutPrintFilm on Soren Sorensen's latest documentary My Father's Vietnam (click the image below to go to the review)



Wednesday, May 25, 2016

FLIXWISE: THE CABLE GUY

It's always awesome to appear on a podcast that you listen to on a regular basis. I'm honored that I got the chance to appear on the flixwise podcast to try and defend what I consider to be one of the greatest comedies EVER - The Cable Guy (no...seriously).

Click the image below to listen to our conversation and be sure to listen to their back catalog.

enjoy...



also stay tuned as I will be making another appearance on a future flixwise episode...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOG-O-THON: FRANK (HALF NELSON)



In this particular blog-o-thon full of Darths, Hannibals & Jokers, I’m sure this character is bound to have some of you scratching your heads and questioning if this character is even a villain (he most certainly is). But just hear me out (I was close to picking Noah Cross form Chinatown but I thought this choice was more interesting). Despite my frustration & anger with some of Anthony Mackie’s semi-recent comments regarding (his own) race, I still have to give it up to him for his supporting role in Half Nelson which remains the best thing he’s done so far in terms of full-on acting (like most of you I enjoy his presence in the Marvel comic universe as Captain America’s sidekick Falcon but his role as Frank is pure acting). And sidenote – this wasn’t Mackie’s first foray in to playing a villain or a “bad guy”. He first gained notoriety as the main antagonist to Eminem’s “B. Rabbit” in 8 mile and he played a bully in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. So he had some practice at playing different types of bad guys before Half Nelson.

Half Nelson is the story of an unlikely friendship between high school freshman “Drey” (Shareeka Epps) & her drug addicted teacher/basketball coach “Dan” (Ryan Gosling). One of the many monkeywrenches in their relationship comes in the form of “Frank” (Anthony Mackie) – a shady friend of Drey’s older brother. I still hold this film in high regards because it not only showcased three incredible performances, but a story concerning the friendship between a teenage girl and her older male teacher could have easily veered off to an obvious path (especially within independent film) and director Ryan Fleck chose not to. Gosling would go on to earn an Oscar nomination for his performance in this film while Epps won an independent spirit award for hers. Some might say Half Nelson was the movie/performance that truly put Gosling “over” with audiences (I know The Notebook was a huge for him but this sleeper Oscar-nominated performance got him recognition beyond swooning young women, which, strangely enough, continues to be his primary fanbase).

If you don’t pay close enough attention to Anthony Mackie’s performance in Half Nelson you might forget that the character of “Frank” is kind of a scumbag. I know some of you who are familiar with this movie would argue that it’s not that simple and his intentions are a bit more complex & complicated (he does have a warped sense of care and/or brotherly protection towards Drey), but at the end of the day he’s not only a scumbag but he’s also a predator. Those two characteristics equate “villain” to me. And not only is he a predator & a scumbag, but he’s also spineless. In the film his character is responsible for Andrea’s brother going to prison because he couldn’t own up to the ambiguous/unspoken crime that he committed. Mackie’s performance in the film takes on an additional dimension because he not only tricks Drey in to thinking he’s a good guy, but he also has some of us, the audience, fooled in to thinking that as well. I can’t tell you how many time I’ve expressed my disdain towards Frank to my friends who have seen Half Nelson only for them to go; “huh? He wasn’t that bad.” Then I have to remind them that he’s a drug dealer that tries to recruit Drey to sell drugs (and at one point he puts her life in potential danger). But that’s the beauty of the performance. Frank/Mackie is charming, playful and kind of childlike. We never see him act violent or use a weapon. He doesn’t really raise his voice in anger (with the exception of one scene). The only time we see him use his presence for intimidation is to help Drey get her bike back that was stolen by a bigger kid (a typical/acceptable big brother move). Throughout most of the film he flashes this seemingly genuine smile and up until the final act of the movie you really feel like he’s concerned for Drey’s well-being. I mean, if you put aside the fact that Frank is a piece of shit, anyone would question and even try to intervene in the relationship between a young latchkey kid and her unstable older male teacher. But when Frank finally succeeds in (temporarily) dividing them, we see he really just wanted to use her (in the climax of Half Nelson we see Frank initiate Drey in to the world of drug dealing which immediately turns her off as her first client turns out to be Dan).


Frank isn’t a villain in the traditional sense like the other antagonists mentioned at the start of this piece (and the characters I encourage you to read about in other entries part of this blog-o-thon), but he is a villain – a drug dealer that preys on younger innocent kids to do his bidding because he’s too much of a coward to do it himself. He’s certainly more dangerous than any villain written about in this blog-o-thon (not to take anything away from all the great entries in this blog-o-thon). Frank isn’t based on anyone in particular but he does represent a type of human being that is very very real. That, in my opinion, makes him more frightening than any villain I could think to write about. A kid like Drey might potentially deal with or walk past a hundred Franks in this world and never come across a comic book supervillain or a heartless John Ford gunslinger. Is he a “Great Villain” on par with any of the other entries? Nope. But he’s certainly the most real.

This is one of the more complex/strangely-acted (strangely in a good way) villainous performances since Craig Berko in Long Kiss Goodnight (one of the most smiley/nicely spoken villains in modern film) or Paddy Considine in a Room For Romeo Brass (at the end of the day Considine’s “Morel” is a “bad guy” but given he is a developmentally disabled on some level, it isn’t all his fault which makes his character complicated). Given the hype surrounding the two lead performances (Gosling & Epps), it’s understandable that Mackie would go somewhat unnoticed. But now that it’s the 10th anniversary of Half Nelson maybe it’s time to go back and give his performance a reexamination.


don't forget to check out all the other entries in the Great Villain Blog-O-Thon over at Speakeasy (click on the image below)


Friday, May 13, 2016

SUPER



If you dislike the seriousness of the Christopher Nolan Batman films but still want a slightly more realistic comic book-based super hero film (that still retains a comic sensibility), Super is the perfect compromise. There are obvious jabs at the more serious & "gritty" superhero/comic/graphic novel-based films that have surfaced in the last decade, but James Gunn still holds no punches when it comes to the gruesome punishment of pedophiles, drug pushers & generic "thugs".
And if you're looking for a strong/memorable (and slightly unhinged) female character (something that's suddenly in high demand these days), then look no further than Ellen Page's "Boltie" (Crimson's sidekick). With projects like Mad Max: Fury Road (Princess Furiosa), The Fast & Furious Franchise, Haywire, Spy and the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, it's almost like Super just missed its target audience as it was released about a year or two before the surge of prominent/ass-kicking female characters. Boltie would have fit right in with the characters from the aforementioned films had Super been released in 2013 or 2014. But at the end of the day I guess everything worked for James Gunn. His 2014 superhero film Guardians of The Galaxy pushed what he tried to do with Super even further. The difference between then and now is Gunn has a much larger platform with Guardians being in the Marvel Comic Universe (it should be noted that Gunn is one of the only directors in the MCU with previous superhero/comic book movie experience).

Open-minded fans of Kickass and/or Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America would also appreciate this (Super is kind of like a guilt free version of Kickass). If you look below you'll see the color scheme of the outfits in both movies even match...


I can see how Super & Kickass being released less than a year apart from each other could raise some eyebrows but Gunn has a unique (less forced) brand of dark humor that cant be found in something like Kickass.
He also seemed to draw some serious subconscious inspiration from Daniel Johnston's artwork to more serious films like Hannibal...




In Super Rainn Wilson plays an average citizen ("Frank") who's pushed over the edge after his drug addicted wife leaves him for local drug kingpin: "Jacques" (played masterfully by Kevin Bacon). After a sign, from who he believes is god, Franks takes on the superhero alter ego of "The Crimson Bolt" (equip with an outfit that looks like a bastardized Daredevil costume). With the help of his sidekick "Boltie" (Page), Frank/Crimson Bolt works to not only rescue his wife, but to put an end to crime in their town. And the greatest thing about Crimson Bolt's brand of justice is that he treats everyone equally. From drug dealers & child molesters to people who cut in line at the movies -  they all get their faces beat in with the same monkey wrench (Crimson Bolt's weapon of choice).


This movie is more comedy than action but shouldn't be grouped in with stuff like Mystery Men  Meteor Man, Blank Man or other movies in that follow a similar blueprint. Besides the more adult themes & humor, Super has some surprise gut-wrenching moments.
*SPOILER ALERT*
Take Boltie/Ellen Paige's death scene for example. I honestly didn't see that coming. Not only had I grown attached to her character but I also didn't think James Gunn had the guts to kill off a young/"cute" character in such a gruesome way (this is probably Gunn's best crafted standalone scene to date).

Super is still streaming on Netflix so there's really no excuse to not give this is a shot if you haven't already). And if comics, violence & indie films aren't your thing, at least give Super a chance for Kevin Bacon's underrated/under appreciated performance as the film's villain.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Monday, May 2, 2016

NO HOME MOVIE


No Home Movie is a low-key love letter to Chantal Akerman's family. Specifically her mother. Akerman's sister Sylviane makes an appearance at one point and there are constant references to her father, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. But at the end of the day this is a film about her mom. In No Home Movie Chantal Akerman places cameras throughout her mother's apartment and observes her over the course of what seems like a few months. It should be noted that Akerman's own presence in the film is rather cryptic. We never see a full-on shot of Chantal but rather half shots of her face through Skype chats, her voice off camera, or shots of her back. What's even more cryptic (and a little heartbreaking) is that there are a few lines of dialogue in this film where she mentions her unhappinesss & depression to her mother through casual conversation (for those that don't know, she took her life late last year).
It's difficult for me to not be a little bitter towards certain circumstances surrounding her death. My love of Akerman's work is documented on this site going back to almost day one. That's something a lot of these bandwagon film sites & publications can't say. I find it funny reading all these pieces dedicated to Akerman after her death yet when she was alive her worked had been trashed and bad-mouthed by some of the very same publications in recent years (obviously not all, but still...). And what's even more frustrating is that her career spans over 40 years yet the main/only film people focus on is Jeanne Dielman... when, in my opinion, isn't even her best work. It's certainly iconic and worthy of all the praise it's gotten (and as you'll see in a few moments I use quite a few images from the film) but there's so much more to discuss (her semi-autobiographical Rendezvous D'Anna is a film worthy of the same over-analysis & dissection in my opinion).

Putting aside all the obvious influences that Jeanne Dielman... has had on art house cinema throughout the years...
Jeanne Dielman.../Safe (Todd Haynes)

Jeanne Dielman... / Safe 

Jeanne Dielman... / Silent Light (Todd Haynes)

Akerman has also influenced Claire Denis...
Rendezvous D'anna / Vers Nancy
Tout Une Nuit / U.S. Go Home

Abdellatif Kechiche...
Je Tu Il Elle / Blue Is The Warmest Color

Lodge Kerrigan...
Jeanne Dielman / Clean, Shaven

And I feel like Jim Jarmusch has a spiritual connection to Akerman as well...
News From Home / Permanent Vacation


No Home Movie has an additional layer as it's kind of an unofficial sequel to her 2002 film La Bas (like No Home Movie, La Bas takes place primarily in an apartment, we hear Akerman's voice off camera a lot, they have the same up close & personal/claustrophobic vibe, and both films reference Judaism and the same family members).

Not to make this too much about myself but No Home Movie made me contemplate the lives of the loved ones around me. My Grandmother passed away a few months ago (not that much soon after Chantal Akerman passed away). Actually, Akerman's mother reminded me of my late grandmother. They have some of the same mannerisms, they're around the same age, and they have plenty of stories to tell (who wouldn't have stories to tell when you reach your late 80's/early 90's). As I watched the elder Akerman tell stories of World War 2, escaping Poland, and overcoming anti-semitism, I was reminded of my Grandmother's stories concerning civil rights, "colored's only" sections and tales about my dad as a kid.
No Home Movie also doubles as a comment on how we sometimes treat the elderly. Not to ruffle any feathers but the way Akerman's sister speaks to their mother in certain scenes is a little bossy & lightly patronizing. But she's certainly not the only adult to speak to their elderly parent that way. A lot of folks are guilty of it which is why this film is so important & relevant.


No Home Movie is classic Akerman in the sense that time is taken very literally, the pacing is very slow and Akerman isn't concerned with editing or keeping the attention of the casual viewer. At the screening I went to there were quite a few walkouts which not only pissed me off, but also confused the hell out of me. I mean...Akerman's films aren't the kinds of movies you just casually stumble upon. By 2016 you should know what you're getting in to when it comes to one of her movies. Walking out of one of her (recent) films because it was "boring" kind of makes you look a little stupid in my eyes (just like people who still get worked up over the style in modern-day Terrence Malick films. Again - what the fuck were you expecting?)
I know this all sounds harsh and a little pretentious but Akerman's work meant a lot to me so it's hard to not take things personally. She not only influenced some of my favorite filmmakers (both directly & indirectly) but she had the kind of guts that you don't see in too many filmmakers (male or female). (Two-face) Publications like indiewire are always clamoring for strong female voices in film as if Akerman hadn't been around since the late 60's (maybe stop writing so many articles on Melissa McCarthy, Tina Fey & Cate Blanchett and shine a spotlight on Akerman's work).

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