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Tales of the Grim Sleeper (2014)
Relevatory film that unfortunately embraces the politically correct narrative
This is a film that is shocking to see because it lays bare the underside of American society that few are willing to countenance. Broomfield speaks with an array of black residents of South L.A., and uncovers a mind-bending culture of violence, anti-social behavior and sexual deviance. If nothing else, this film shows what happens when society and culture descend into a kind of nihilistic madness. Some characters, admirably, maintain a sense of good humor amidst the wasteland.
However, Broomfield resorts to the usual politically correct bromides, allowing members of an activist group an open mic to condemn the police for the killer's actions, with no discussion of how culture and the attitudes of members of the community have contributed to the outrageous crimes that Franklin got away with for so long. This is, at best, a highly simplistic analysis of the situation. One woman discusses, almost proudly, how members of the community refuse to cooperate with the police, and will virtually never report a crime. Franklin's son discusses how his family members largely disowned him for turning in his murderous father. Franklin's friends discuss participating in appalling acts of rape and sexual humiliation against prostitutes. Everyone has a very casual attitude towards morals, behavior, justice, and sometimes human life in general. Broomfield should have explored this in more detail, but instead fails to draw the obvious connection that the police, racism, and "society" cannot exclusively be blamed for these disastrous cultural failings, and thus comes close to embracing the kind of moral relativism and excuse-making that has perhaps been as harmful to the underclass as racism and bad policing may have been in the past.
This is still a film worth seeing, but if only Broomfield could have taken off his ideological blinders and noticed what was happening right in front of him, he could have offered a more sociologically relevant and honest film.
Only for fans, but worthwhile for fans
It's pretty much a guarantee that only dedicated Linklater fans are going to see this, since it's only available as part of Criterion's $35 Slacker package. That being said, it's a pretty interesting picture. It is obviously inspired by Jim Jarmusch's "Stranger than Paradise," also a film about the prevalence of verbal miscommunication, and is better than that film. Linklater makes it clear that he is allowing the audiences to make their own assumptions about the story and character(s), in that he uses long takes and focuses on action that is unrelated to the "narrative" of the picture. It ultimately is a reaffirmation of the deep-seatedness of Linklater's experimental nature, and while not exactly entertaining, is a worthwhile sign of things to come.
Ghost World (2001)
easily the best film of 2001, maybe of the decade so far
Considering that this picture is essentially a cult classic already, nobody needs me to step forward and declare my allegiance to it. Unfortunately, I can't resist. This film is absolute perfection in terms of character and containment; there is not a wasted inch in it running time and not a line that causes you to wonder how it made the final cut. The degree of definition and flesh that is given these characters, primarily Enid and Seymour, of course, is unmatched in modern cinema. Bitingly hilarious and painfully sad, these people are the type that one does not see on the screen with any degree of regularity, perhaps a connection to Zwigoff's previous film "Crumb," which was essentially a film about unfilmable people. The translation of these characters from page to screen would not be possible without the thorough understanding of the actors, and Birch and Buscemi (in the most memorable of his many memorable performances) make this happen marvelously. Personally, I find this film much like the very different film 'The Usual Suspects' in that, in each subsequent viewing, I notice something else: a glance, a line, a character trait that I had previously not noticed. The picture's suburban landscape may be intended to inspire disgust and general awfulness, however the population of this film achieves heights that transcend setting, narrative, and film itself to reach a plateau seldom achieved.
Best film of 2004
David Mamet's haunting political thriller on the surface would seem to be intentionally convoluted and overly dark, however its frightening implications and stark performances have a way of lodging themselves in your mind. It is now several months since I first saw this film, and it is the one recent movie that my brain can't seem to shake. Mamet's dialogue, while certainly brilliant once again, actually takes a back seat to his plotting, which is so dense and multi-layered that it is sure to turn off many audiences looking for a conventional thriller. The political implications made by the picture would seem to be overly dark, cynical and downright unrealistic, but why is it then that they are so hard to dismiss? Val Kilmer's character is so absurdly tough and proficient that he would seem to be an action film caricature, but why is it that his character so equally inspires empathy and terror from the viewer? The fact that we learn so little about who these people are is an illustration of how little we know about everything, and as the events of the film eventually show, perhaps its not such a bad thing that so many Americans are unaware of their government's inner workings. The film simply stays within itself to get past any potential problems of the overabundance-of-stereotypes-variety, and leads to a last act so filled with darkness, questions and seeming revelations as to give the viewer no less than a proverbial kick in the stomach. Mamet has perhaps made his masterpiece here, with character, plot, and dialogue coming together to create a film that is so far reaching in its scope that it genuinely provides a shock to even the most cynical observer of its many topics.
He Got Game (1998)
what is the problem...?
I'd just like to present my views on some talking points regarding 'He Got Game' - The whole thing about the sex - people are completely misunderstanding Spike Lee as a filmmaker. His movies are not supposed to be completely realistic, they are stylized, lyrical, and poetic. This film was misinterpreted as being a literal account of a young bball player's journey towards the NBA and the pressures he faces. In actuality, it is a fictional vehicle for Lee to present his ideas. I mean, look at his other movies - Do the Right Thing, Clockers, Summer of Sam - these movies are all believed to be serious, realistic pictures, when in fact they are not at all. They deal with serious issues that Lee wants to discuss and get out there, but they are presented in ways for him to do so, not for him to tell a real life story with real characters. The only movie of his that I feel is not at least somewhat sylized is Malcolm X, for obvious reasons. Lee has his own cinematic language, and it is not meant to be taken literally; the sex scenes that everyone loves to get red in the face and rave about were just a representation of the temptations the Jesus character faces. About the name, it's obviouslly supposed to be somewhat absurd, and the conversation between father and son simply reveals that Jesus was in fact named after Earl Monroe, who really was nicknamed Jesus. I'm not sure why this is so hard to understand. It's kind of a joke, you see, and the scene where Jake tells Jesus this is an example of Lee's amazing propensity for honest and funny dialogue. He is not supposed to be Jesus Christ or anything of the sort. Who says that Jesus is a perfect character? He is drawn into the temptations and excess laid before him, and he treats his girlfriend like crap at the end. He's pretty much a typical kid, clearly something Lee tried to convey. That argument is ludicrous, that he is too a perfect character, I mean. As for the ending, it simply is yet another example as to how Spike's films are not literal, they are artistic. It wouldn't be so hard to figure out the ending if you realize that the whole movie had not been completely literal up to that point, and this was just an exaggeration of that tone. Jake is reaching out to his son from prison, which is a beautiful representation of the two men connecting after a tumultuous relationship. This is one of the best movies I have ever seen, and I'm often baffled as to why it is so lowly regarded. I really wish Lee could get some of the credit he deserves for his incredible body of work; the dude can't even get his Joe Louis project off the ground, which is an absolute disgrace that the Hollywood community should be ashamed about. How can Spike Lee not be allowed to make a movie about Joe Louis, while utter crap pollutes the cineplex every single week? Racism, politics, or whatever is causing this absurdity needs to subside so people can see Lee as possibly the most distinctive filmmaker in American history.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
this some repugnant sh*t!
This movie is really offensive. When I saw it a few years ago I thought it was very funny however viewing it now leads me to the conclusion that it is a morally devoid wasteland of unrealistic material.
This film purports to be about what high school is Really Like, however its wild exploitation undermines this goal thouroughly. Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is apparently supposed to be about 15, and engages in a rather cute relationship with some geek that works at the movie theater. Well, how nice. This sounds realistic, and it is easy to identify with these characters. But wait! It seems the very young Ms. Leigh also likes to get screwed by creepy 25 year old guys who work at the mall and troll for young flesh and banged by a guy she has known for approximately .01 seconds in her poolhouse. Notice the duality? On one hand she is a normal, precocious 14-15 year old and on other she is a sexual deviant who has no shame and is thoroughly reprehensible. The reason for this behavior would be described by the filmmakers as reflecting the reality of High School, which is a goal that for some reason humanity has determined is worthy of an enormous amount of study and thought. Who cares? Leigh was 18-19 during filming, which justifies her getting naked just fine, however the justification for showing supposedly very young characters in graphic sexual situations with no other purpose than to be "real" is absurd and patently unrealistic.
I'm no Christian Right extremist, but these characters that exist in this kind of moral vacuum just do not exist as they do in this film. Leigh's character having dirty sex and talking dirty sex and having an abortion is presented in the film as a normal right of passage for a young teenager. I honestly don't believe anyone I knew when I was 15 was having lots of sex, and if they were, it wasn't with strange random people while putting up a facade of being normal and innocent. This movie really makes my skin crawl, and hopefully won't be accepted by anyone looking for the elusive "reality" of high school. Want reality? Check out Ghost World or Dazed and Confused for characters that accurately reflect high school and its aftermath.
Cop film? No, it's just a masterpiece.
When I heard that William Friedkin called "Narc" the best cop movie ever made, I took it with a grain of salt, as it is my opinion that Friedkin's supposedly seminal 1971 movie, "The French Connection," is basically an overrated bore fest with plot holes the size of Tokyo. I now have a slightly higher opinion of Mr. Friedkin, as he exactly right on this count, because I have never seen a better cop film than "Narc." This has to be the most blisteringly intense, shockingly realistic police drama ever put on film. I was a big fan of Carnahan's early work going in, and certainly this film put him amongst the best directors in the movie game. Not only is his visual style endlessly awesome (Have you ever seen a better use of split screen, which is usually a pointless distraction? Requiem, I'm talking to you!) but his script is amazingly well put together. By the time the film ended, I had to shake myself a few times to remind myself that I was in a movie theater. That's how engrossed I was in the characters, and especially Ray Liotta's raw, remarkable performance. Hopefully, he, along with Carnahan, will be recognized by the Academy for this most unusual film, a cop drama that by its end has transformed into something far greater than was to be expected. 10/10
It's hard to evaluate these things, because they are essentially 8 minute commercials. Joe Carnahan's "Ticker" is one of the best, that much is certain. The acting talent is again surprising high, with Don Cheadle, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick, etc., though it's hard to understand why guys like Patrick and Liotta would appear as basically nothing more than extras. The "plot" is the least stupid of the BMW films and actually is a fairly suspenseful complement to the action. Overall, worth a download as it is entertaining and well made.
The Good Girl (2002)
J.An can act!
SPOILERS...Seeming TV lightweight Jennifer Aniston had done nothing to disprove this image with inane comedies such as "Picture Perfect," but with her role as Justine in Miguel Arteta's "The Good Girl," she really shows her mettle and comes out looking like a real actress. This film is often mildly amusing and quite emotionally powerful, thanks to Mike White's (Chuck and Buck, Orange County) solid screenplay. Unfortunately, Arteta's camera spends way to much time lingering on the bored and boring denizens of Justine's employer, Retail Rodeo. Zooey Deschanel (or something like that)is sort of funny, as is White's bible thumping role, but tons of screen time is spent focusing on these characters doing nothing particularly interesting or funny. It's as if there is a big joke with these characters that was left out. Jake Gyllenhaal is decent but often unintelligible as a "Catcher in the Rye" inspired dude named Holden Worther. Supporting turns by John C. Reilly and Tim Blake Nelson are really the funniest parts in the film. The story is good, but a fairly tired and really the film is only notable for Aniston's performance. The final decision Justine makes, going home to John C. and leaving a possible escape with Holden reminded me of a short story by Albert Camus in which an Arab prisoner is given the choice of going to prison or taking the road to an uncertain freedom. He chooses prison, because a life on the lam without structure is simply too complicated and uncertain. This principle seemed to embody Justine's choice as well. The ending seems to indicate that it is Phil's (John C.) baby, but it is still uncertain to me. Did Justine just get lucky? Or is Phil going to have some interesting questions to ask down the road?
Auto Focus (2002)
"A Beautiful Mind" for the real world
This painfully realistic biopic from Paul Schrader ("Taxi Driver", "Affliction", and many other challenging works) is brilliantly acted portrayal of a remarkably shallow man who descends fully into a world of sex and sleaze because there is really nothing else that interests him. Greg Kinnear's performance as Bob Crane is amazing. Crane basically had two sides to his character: the affable, rubber faced comic actor who loved his family and a little smut on the side, and a man who was so consumed by sex that it became his only reason for living. Kinnear balances these perfectly and creates an incredibly compelling character that gets his life taken away from him so that he can focus on his one passion: sex (and specifically, sex on film). Willem Dafoe is also excellent as Crane's partner in sexual addiction, a man who is fascinated by the new idea of putting sex onto video to enjoy later. Viewers who drooled all over Ron Howard's Hollywood portrayal of a man who saw hallucinations of cute little girls in "A Beautiful Mind" should take note that an interesting psychological examination of a person is far more interesting when the film isn't terrified to show what the person was really like. The sexual content is pervasive, but none of it is titillating (even the sequence detailing Crane's love for breasts),just relevatory to the nature of Crane's addiction. Overall, "Auto Focus" is a focused examination of a man who didn't really descend into a world of bizarre sexuality and video recorders, but just discovered that it was the only thing that he wanted to do. This is vintage Schrader material, and he again strikes gold with a film that is less reliant on cutesy characters and positive messages than it is on showing a man being tortured by his natural desires.