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A personal influence and a misunderstood soul, 14 April 2014

Larry Clark: Great American Rebel gives us a brief but vital look at the controversial American filmmaker Larry Clark in a way that I deem necessary in understanding the beauty, artistic qualities, and the long-term significance of his work. Clark is a director who has been criticized and praised, ostracized and commended, renowned and lambasted since his directorial debut Kids in 1995, with each one of his films being more challenging and eye-opening than the next. Clark has long had what appears to be a romantic and intimate fascination with destructive teenagers, drug and alcohol dependency amongst minors, and sexually active teenagers since he began filmmaking, but Great American Rebel tells us his fascination began long before that.

Clark was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1943, growing up with a mother and father who earned money by staging a baby-photography business, which Clark found himself getting involved in when he was about fourteen years old. Through this little gig, Clark earned quite a bit of money, and enjoyed the act of photographing as much as his parents did. By the time he was around seventeen and eighteen-years-old, Clark had ventured into hanging with "the wrong crowd" as many would say, shooting amphetamine they'd retrieve from inhalers given to World War II veterans with groups of friends. Clark states how he was stunned that him and his friends were doing this because, after all, this was America, and drugs are substances that were only supposed to affect third world countries, right? Not the great land of the red, white, and blue. Clark goes on to say how he knew a kid who came to school with black eyes because his parents beat the hell out of him, how he knew a girl with several brothers who he knew took turns having sex with her, even her father, and whose parents were alcoholics. He says, "I think even teachers knew, but none of us said anything because, hey, this is America and that doesn't happen here."

When Clark would do drugs, hang out, and wreak havoc with his pals, he would often take along a camera, taking pictures of their adolescent debauchery. Such images are of teens actually using drugs, cuddling, in the middle of sex, or just trying to find some intimacy and warmth amid their cold acts of nihilism. Clark finally released these photos in 1971 in a limited edition book called Tulsa and then published another book called Teenage Lust in 1983, both books housing many of the photographs he had taken when he was in Tulsa. From there on out, Clark knew he wanted to take on the challenge of making a film. Clark went on to direct Kids, one of the most provocative dramas I have yet to see, which centered around destructive kids who wandered the streets unsupervised, with one making it his personal mission to deflower young girls even though he was HIV positive. The nihilism and recklessness stuck with me when I first saw it and saw that Clark had truly inconceivable craft as a filmmaker. In order to prepare for the film, Clark talked with acclaimed director Gus Van Sant and learned to skateboard by hanging around kids of the surf-punk lifestyle - a true way to embrace ideas of cultural relativism.

Clark went on to make a number of films, all emphasizing similar themes about teenagers and their reckless behavior. His sophomore directorial effort was Another Day in Paradise, which we learn caught Clark at an unsure time in his life when he was just coming off an addiction to heroin among other hard drugs. His followup effort was Teenage Caveman (the less said about that the better) and Bully and Ken Park, films which have had tragically little said about it.

Clark has long battled rumors that he is a pervert, a child-molester, and whatnot, simply because he is an older male making films about being young and engaging in debauchery. Yet, I believe if Clark was in his twenties or so, this same work he would be creating would be hailed, with very faint criticisms here and there. Even with this criticism, Clark remains unpretentious and surprisingly calm and collective; it's almost incredible how straight-forward and direct he is, with no artistic ambiguity to his persona at all. He carries his own weight, very self-assured but also bearing a willingness to learn about his subjects and analyze them in a unique way. Clark, despite distribution problems that have lost him friendships, connections, and crucial financing, refuses to compromise his work and soften his material. "Let everybody else have all the money (from selling out) and the bulls***," he says.

In 2014, eleven years after Larry Clark: Great American Rebel was made, Clark's outlook looks on the up-and-up. After a lengthy hiatus from film, he has returned with the quips and motivation of self-distribution under his belt, using the internet as his tool to release great films with no executive saying "you can't do that" or "you need to edit this." Clark has had enough and has found his way around contemptible edits. He was one of the first people to bring complex issues involving the teenage culture and life; why should he be silenced by a country that has progressed in the areas they lacked in decades ago? Seems like we're running into an unhealthy and frightening paradox.

The documentary ends with his close friends, people he has influenced, and acquaintances summarizing him using fragmented adjectives. Here are mine just for the record: alluring, charismatic, misunderstood, daring, inimitable, and inspiration.

The courage of these kids is something to admire, 14 April 2014

I remember watching news coverage of the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which claimed the lives of twenty kindergarten-age children, and just couldn't get my mind off two things. One, most of the victims who died that day probably didn't even understand what death was or that life was even limited, and two, all the children's parents who had to face the inconceivably brutal task of opening their children's Christmas gifts just twelve days later. And for a third thought, all the parents who woke up with one or two children alive and well that morning that went to bed that night missing one or not having any.

Watching One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp made me revisit those thoughts because what after seeing what the Camp Erin organization has done for kids all across the United States, I felt humbled and reassured at how children, both young and old, are getting a mental grasp on life, death, and legacy. These are complex ideas that bring about difficult emotions and what Jamie and Karen Metcalf have decided to do, upon watching their young son Erin fall victim to cancer in 1998, was create a camp that would allow for school-age children to grieve the deaths of their family members, predominately mother and father, in a large group and talk about their difficult emotions in the process. One Last Hug focuses on the Our House Grief Camp, located in Los Angeles, California.

One thing American citizens have done in recent years is make ignorance and unawareness an invalid excuse in terms of creating social groups, informing and keeping international affairs relevant (at least through the help of documentaries), emphasizing the significance of minority cultures, and more. Closeting kids from access to practical and insightful sexual education programs, grief counseling, adequate counseling in general, has gone on to be something of the past. Shielding them access has done nothing but further confuse, ostracize, and alienate, and it's about time that people have stepped up, created an organization, and allowed children commendable access to tackling their grieving issues head on.

The Our House Grief Camp is dedicated to giving children a personal experience over the course of three days, playing games, singing songs, but also, getting to the heart of grieving the loss of a loved one. Brave counselors take the task of guiding kids through personal lectures, and walking them through playground areas where colored rocks with words are hidden throughout the park, so once they are found, kids can discuss the words the rocks bear, such as "angry," "sad," and "confused" with their counselors and peers. What astonished me is how the Camp Erin organization didn't bear a Christian agenda or any agenda for that matter. The camp is what the kids make of it. If they want to get deep, personal, and intimate, they can. If they want to remain sort of a closed book, that's their choice. The organization and the counselors don't want to pry or create an uncomfortable environment, so they just allow the children to take the lead.

Most of the children are kept anonymous, with occasional identities slipping out through casual conversation or counselor-announcements. One young boy talks about how when his dad would get a phone call early in the morning while he was with his son, and the call was for something that was minor, he would say, "I can't come into work now, I'm with my son." The kid's father went on to die on his birthday. Two boys and their sister discuss how their father was "king athlete dethroned by cancer" after suffering from a golf-ball-sized tumor in his chest. They watched their incredibly fit father turn into a chubbier, more dissatisfied man with a greatly deteriorating figure.

I've been nothing but blessed and fortunate that I've never had a death impact me like these kids. I've had great grandmas and grandpas die, but I was so distant and disconnected with them it was hard to have any other emotion aside from passing sadness. I dread the day I lose one of my parent or one of my grandparents, who I have made an effort to keep in contact with. My one grandmother I call every night and talk with her for a half hour about my day, her day, our political views, what films I've watched, social politics, and whatever we decide we want to discuss. These talks won't last forever and won't continue throughout my whole life and that's something that deeply pains me to even think about; I may need to put in an early, indefinite application to one of Camp Erin's forty-seven camps in the United States.

Camp Erin emphasizes the idea we hate to hear when we're kids but embrace and preach when we get older, which is that we need to talk about our feelings and get them out in the open. Director Irene Taylor Brodsky beautifully concocts a cohesive and effective narrative for One Last Hug because she devotes long stretches probably about eighty-five percent of the film to small-circle conversations and popcorn-speaking sessions between the kids, letting them tell their stories and share their personal experiences. This is a wondrous little documentary; one that bears the thought-provoking ideas about grief that would easily be fit for a feature length film and an emotional impact that could withstand an epic.

NOTE: One Last Hug: Three Days at Grief Camp airs throughout the month of April 2014 on HBO.

Stop, look, and edit, 13 April 2014

Right off the bat, the thought of the revolutionary French director Jean-Luc Godard and the incredibly influential and acclaimed American director Woody Allen working together on a short film - one staged as an interview - is a dream come true for almost any cinephile. For some unexplainable reason, Godard and Allen seem to work on the same wavelength together, unless we're talking about "Meetin' WA," then they're on polar opposite sides, it seems. Ostensibly, the film is a casual interview between two directors, with Jean-Luc Godard halfway obscured on camera asking questions to Woody Allen, who appears to be trying to sit on a couch in a sweater as comfortably as he can, fighting off what seems to be some serious uncertainty and anxiety. Godard often asks unclear questions, with Allen sometimes noticeably confused on how he is supposed to answer such questions. The editing, which can obviously not be seen when shooting the film, is what works against the short itself and Allen. Godard seems like he doesn't take this project seriously in the slightest, interrupting Allen with wacky title cards, many of which having no purpose or connection to what his subject is saying, in addition to him cutting scenes off abruptly to show stray pictures to elevator music, as well as inserting wacky fade-to-black filters in for good abstract measure. Little by little, these distractions sort of cripple the entire project. In contrast, however, Godard shows a remarkable affection and appreciation for video production through these intriguing albeit unnecessary instances in editing.

When Godard does allow Allen to speak, "Meetin' WA" does get fairly interesting, with Allen reflecting on the magic quality of how cinema "transports" an individual to different time periods (in a monologue I agree with entirely), as well as the "cultural radiation" of Television and how its powers could never emulate that of cinema's, and so forth. Most of what is discussed is intellectually stimulating, however one wishes Godard would've taken his subject more seriously at least to allow him to finish his thoughts and sentences every now and then. As good as the video production can be, especially for the late eighties, one questions how much appreciation one could have for another person when their responses to important questions are muted or shortchanged thanks to creative editing.

Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.

A metaphor for reconstruction?, 11 April 2014

"Operation Concrete" is the first film released by Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most legendary souls in cinema. The film was shot and released in 1955, when Godard worked as a construction worker, working with numerous others building a dam in Switzerland. This twenty-minute short focuses on the construction of this damn, showing conveyors going up, conveyors going down, concrete being poured on to platforms, concrete being filled into enormous barrels, and other methods that entail the construction of a dam.

The camera angles that Godard manages to get are incredible. Some are intimate and show the functions of the large conveyors and levers up close. Some, on the other hand, are much more inclusive, showing the functions of the machines from a great distance. Either way, Godard's camera-work is superb and gives a less-informed person only an idea at what he'd later accomplish with his films of the sixties, defining a period called the "French New Wave." Godard, working as a film critic, became greatly dissatisfied with the "untouchable" French classics and the fact that ritualistic narrative and technological practices were favored over variety, experimentation, and ambiguity. It was only five years from Operation Concrete's production that Godard would make and release Breathless, his official feature-length directorial debut. From then, anything was possible.

Operation Concrete is, more or less, a curiosity amongst cinephiles and Godard completionists who posses a desire to see all the man's works. It doesn't offer any polarizing themes or ideas, like his later pictures that dove into the philosophical elements and interworkings of communism and Marxism, but is beautiful and rather intriguing in its astute framing and overall simplicity. To think some of the most revolutionary films would follow from the same man who directed this, however, would've simply been unfathomable.

Directed by: Jean-Luc Godard.

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Let's play the "I hate women" game, 10 April 2014

One must give longtime parody directors Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer some credit for branching out into new territory with their latest film, Best Night Ever. Being that the duo has grossed millions upon millions of dollars with each abysmal parody film after another, the duo had really no reason to stray from their niche; they found something that worked and made them a great deal of money each time. Why become diverse when they've already stuck gold? But randomly and all of a sudden, a film by the name of Best Night Ever was thrown into production by them, a raunchy comedy centered on an all female cast of characters who are hitting Las Vegas for their one friend's bachelorette party, which turns into a messy state of affairs after they are robbed for their money, purses, shoes, and their jewelry, including ones expensive wedding ring.

What ostensibly would play like an exciting and fun romp akin to Bridesmaids, or even The Hangover, however, turns overly-crass, shamelessly raunchy without even a hint of wit or subtlety, and exhausting by the thirty minute mark. As someone who was slightly (but cautiously) optimistic about how Friedberg and Seltzer's style of comedy would be conducted for a film wasn't a competition for references, I was disappointed (but unsurprised) that their humor outside of overcompensating references is largely predicated off of grotesque shock humor, where the female characters say and do the most revolting things in hopes they are funny enough for the audience. Lines like "My g-string is like a slip and slide" and witnessing a woman urinate and defecate on an innocent man's face is what we have to succumb to watching Best Night Ever.

The four female leads have almost no personality, so why refer to them by their names? Let's call them what they are; The Bride-to-Be (Desiree Hall), The Uppity Sister of the Bride-to-Be (Samantha Colburn), The Obnoxious Best Friend of the Bride-to-Be (Eddie Ritchard), and The Lewd and Dirty-Mouthed Friend of the Bride-to-Be (Crista Flanagan) all set out to have a fun girls night out, filming their travels thanks to the help of a hand-held camera. After The Obnoxious Best Friend of the Bride to Be tries to make a cocaine deal after the girls get kicked out of a strip club, the quartet of girls are robbed for everything they have and must find a way to get money in the heartland of Vegas so they can return home.

It's a tad frightening how much Friedberg and Seltzer seem to hate their female characters. The movie predicates itself off of showing them getting into trouble, being entirely irresponsible, childish, petty, and downright annoying, with consequences to their behavior at every turn that are ugly and downright cruel. Think Spring Breakers with none of the social commentary nor insights; this is true bad behavior on display with nothing significant to say at all.

The film is almost entirely comprised of scenes involving total hell breaking loose, chaotic parties, and the girls racing from place to place in a stolen limo. The editing here, is disastrous, with the hand-held-camera being another useless gimmick, and cuts, shots, and entire sequences being assembled in an incoherent order. The entire cut-and-paste editing job here fails to give the scenes in the film any feelings of placement and basic structure and, in turn, we get a cacophony of madness in the sound and editing department.

Speaking of sound, in addition, towards the second and third act, almost the entirety of character dialog is comprised of obnoxious screaming, yelling, and exhaustive, high-pitched noise. This style is absurd and annoying, especially when one realizes this is what the film substituted actual character development for.

What we have here, in summation, is an attempt at something "new" for the directors that revolves around making female characters look disturbingly irresponsible and juvenile, characters who don't even deserve an assigned name, repetitive and downright unfunny shock humor, awful editing, and a script where about two-thirds of the lines of dialog are written out as *high-pitched screams from all the girls.* It almost becomes bad enough to the point where saying that the film is better than Friedberg and Seltzer other films isn't even an accurate statement.

Starring: Desiree Hall, Samantha Colburn, Eddie Ritchard, and Crista Flanagan. Directed by: Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer.

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So much missed, so little accomplished, 10 April 2014

When Mark Harris's Black Coffee ended, I felt like I was still waiting for the film to begin. The film's poster, trailer, and title give it the impression that there will be themes and ideas about black entrepreneurship and private enterprise, that would've made for a wickedly entertaining subject that has never, to my knowledge, been articulated in film. Instead, writer/director Harris gives us something we've seen far, far too often; a relationship drama where all the characters are flat as a board and all there is a cloying artificiality to the characters, their motivations, and their interactions with one another.

The film concerns Robert (Darrin Dewitt Henson), an amiable man who gets fired from his own father's company and simultaneously loses his money-hungry girlfriend Mita (Erica Hubbard) all in the same day. Robert sticks by his cousin Julian (Christian Keyes) for personal guidance after meeting and falling for an attractive woman named Morgan (Gabrielle Dennis) as well as trying to find gigs as a painter. Furthermore, trouble brews like a cup of piping-hot coffee when Morgan's ex-husband Hill (Lamman Rucker) attempts to get her back, as well as Mita revealing she had been in a relationship with Robert's now ex-boss the whole time and is hungering for his company (meaning his money) once more, throwing everything into a dramatic tailspin.

There is enough melodrama in this picture to sustain two consecutive Tyler Perry films and a TV show, and Harris attempts to introduce the film's many characters, get us to like the ones we're supposed to and loathe the ones we don't, show numerous instances of betrayal, drama, intensity, and connections, and give us an ending we believe all in the time frame of eighty minutes. Quite a lofty ambition, but it should come as little surprise that the film is just short of being completely and totally abysmal. Simply put, the motivations had by characters - especially Robert's cloying and unrealistic "forgive and forget" attitude towards his ex-girlfriend's treatment of him when she comes groveling back, even offering her a place on his couch - aren't the least bit believable.

The squeaky-clean dialog is also not a very accurate portrayal either. Not every film needs to have excessive amounts of cursing, but Black Coffee's constant desire to possess an annoyingly sunny, look-on-the-bright-side definition isn't only unrealistic but delusional. These characters dangerously approach the lines of being completely unfazed by anything, deluding and sugarcoating current events in their lives as if cheating, deception, and betrayal are normal, every-day "it happens" sort of deals. It's frightening how the characters never seem to get that aggravated or hurt by their peers' actions, and when they do show it, it's in a contrived and disgustingly phony manner.

Aside from the film's grave amount of flaws, it at least looks unbelievably gorgeous, with an indescribable antiseptic slickness to the cinematography, done by Adam Lee. The film has no problem in the looks department, portraying society as if we're viewing it from a crystal-clear, recently-washed window, again adding to my idea that the film has a constant desire to keep on the sunny side, downplaying disgusting moments of human deception as if they're not really anything to bat an eye at. As an adolescent with a short-fuze, high-anxiety, and an often low self-esteem, I wish I had the restraint and control the characters in Black Coffee have. Unfortunately, I am located in reality.

The real tragedy of Black Coffee, however, isn't its depressing focus in the realm of cinema that tries to be of human interest but ends up being unrealistic and it isn't that its characters take a blow from a pound of rocks with as a tickle from a grain of salt. It's that this picture should actually be about black entrepreneurship. Why did we have to dive into Robert's relationship life? Couldn't we see him maybe open a coffee shop, fight competition, deal with backlash and dissent from family, and maybe have to gain moral and physical help from his cousin Julian? It could've been a beautiful parable and a great film to showcase the often underestimated black businessman and entrepreneur. Instead, we got one of the worst possible substitutes.

Starring: Darrin Dewitt Henson, Erica Hubbard, Christian Keyes, Gabriella Dennis, and Lamman Rucker. Directed by: Mark Harris.

Love Is Evol (2009) (TV)
An insightful, amusing, and uproariously funny standup special, 9 April 2014

Christopher Titus: Love is Evol is one of the best comedy specials I have yet to see. It's insightful, allows for self-contemplation, includes more than just the random, one-note jokes and one-liners, relatable, heartbreaking, and uncontrollably funny almost too often. The only flaw is it's not another hour longer.

Titus, while not quite a household name, has made a name for himself by appearing on his own, self-titled sitcom, appeared in several films, with roles both big and small, and has done a couple comedy specials showcasing his abilities at stand-up. With his stand up specials, he demonstrates a remarkable quick-wittedness, has no microphone, giving a more formal, one-man-show vibe, and throws in incredible physical comedy to go along with his verbal banter.

The special predominately concerns Titus's divorce to his ex-wife Erin Camden (referred to as "Kate" in this special for legal reasons). Titus hits the ground running, saying, "if you're in here and you've never contemplated suicide, you've never truly been in love. If you're in here and you've never contemplated murder, you've never been divorced." Titus filed for divorce from Camden on June 6, 2006 (6/6/06), after what he clearly states to have been a mercilessly taxing marriage (physically, mentally, and financially), stating how he suffered abuse of every kind and desperately struggled to continue on with his life leading up to and during the divorce.

Through this hellish experience, Titus doesn't just offer his own personal story but offers insight as to why he believes that people stay in relationships that are troublesome, difficult, and even abusive and that's for the idea and the conception of love. We want someone to be us when we grow old and become frail, and the idea of love means more to many of us than any dollar amount or any tangible item out there. Titus explains how we won't tolerate a little incorrect addition or subtraction in our Starbucks latte but we'll tolerate a relationship that isn't meant to be, when we know it isn't, for years and years just to please our own personal conception of love.

Even as the special occasionally descends into dark instances, with Titus clearly being emotionally affected by some of the incidents, the last thing he seems to want to do is to make this comedy special depressing or saddening in any way. To combat instances that provide a dark outlook, Titus does what he does best and that's infuse these little instances with absurd but funny jabs that simply need to be seen in order to be appreciated. Judging by the way Titus handles his pacing, his delivery, and his gags, it seems that Titus has had all these thoughts, insecurities, and frustrations boiling inside him for so long he needed to get them out as soon as he could. What we witness with Love is Evol is Titus boiling over and lashing out; to call his behavior "mean-spirited" at times would only be complimenting Titus. He has no quibbles about what he says about his ex-wife. He makes you really think how much you may hate yours.

Hilarity only continues to ensue when Titus brings out his alter ego he has labeled "the inner-retard," which he claims all of us have. "The inner-retard" is the personification of ones low self-esteem, reminding us of our failures, our shortcomings, and reminding us of the worst when we're trying to expect the best. Titus's impression of "the inner-retard" is absolutely hysterical, providing us with one relatable instance after another in an ecstatically confident way.

Towards the middle and the end of the special, Titus says better days are on the horizon, as he has found a new, younger woman who he claims is fabulous and a wonderful person to be around. During these segments, Titus provides us with commentary on how the mysterious ways of a woman do nothing but irritate and confuse a man, as he says many of us are so straight-forward and women are anything but. He states how they're the only people to reply to the question "where do you want to do?" with "I am not my mother!" and it's totally acceptable. He states that mixed signals and not saying what you want or how you really feel is what is killing relationships between two rational people, left and right. Titus reflects on how his ex-wife responded to a collective conversation by stabbing him in the torso, and any attempt at a civil conversation with her was practically out of the question from the get-go.

It's almost overwhelming how much substance there is in Love is Evol, emotionally and comically. The film provides the audience with a firsthand account of how affecting and heart wrenching it is to go through a divorce, much less one that was preceded by an abusive relationship. I hesitate my huge recommendation for couples, however. Like Titus fittingly tells us from the start, "what I'm about to say will either fix your relationship or destroy it; either way, you're welcome."

Starring: Christopher Titus. Directed by: Manny Rodriguez.

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The work of a sleep-deprived public relations campaign crew, 8 April 2014

Justin Bieber is one of the youngest and hottest commodities in the world today. This much we already know. He is also one of the most successful artists of the last few years. This much we also know. This information has been pretty well summarized through news reports, interviews, the Top 40 radio stations, and Justin Bieber's 2010 concert/biopic Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. Not a lot has changed in the last three years; Bieber has gotten older, his popularity is still astronomical, his fanbase has been loyal and nine miles past rabid, and his music continues to top charts and gain airplay.

With all this in mind, why did we need Justin Bieber's Believe, a sequel to Never Say Never, to tell us such information again? The film comes branded with the idea that we'll hear the real story behind the star, but I felt that all I was hearing was the around-the-clock manipulation and manufacturing of a sleep-deprived public relations campaign crew working to keep this young star relevant.

"I don't love him, I don't hate him, I respect him" were the words I used to describe Bieber in my review of Never Say Never, which has gone on to be my most-hated review on IMDb, with numerous negative reception simply because I didn't give the film a dismal rating since the film had something to do with Bieber. I stand by my review for the film, for I found it to be occasionally entertaining, somewhat insightful, and an interesting time capsule for a pop star who had gone on to be an explosive success so early in his career. Since Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, however, my opinion has changed of the star. Judging by the likes of his behavior from drunk-driving, spitting on fans, urinating in public, and so on, it's clear that the real Bieber is starting to get out there and the real Bieber seems to be an egomaniac feeding off the fame of his adoring fans, who sob when gifted tickets to his shows and tattoo his face on their quadriceps.

The Bieber brewing now seems to be one of the most ungrateful people to come out of the music industry in quite some time, and for that matter, it was difficult to approach Justin Bieber's Believe with an open mind. Putting aside all prejudices and looking to enjoy another entry into the new artist promotional tool of concert films/biopics, I settled in to watch Justin Bieber's Believe, hoping that its tagline "Beyond the headlines, beyond the spotlights lies the real story" may have some truth and substance. Unfortunately, this is about as bland and hagiographic as concert/biopics can get.

The film continues to feed us the tired idea that Bieber is growing up and getting older and his music is getting more mature, like his fanbase (both statements I can't believe with Bieber still cranking out songs like "As Long as You Love Me," "One Love," and "Thought of You" and his fanbase still falling for the same, repackaged lyrics to a different melody), as well as showing the production and release of his latest album Believe and the corresponding tour. Scenes detail the search for a choreographed dancers, Bieber's team commenting on his so-called "maturity," how anybody who criticizes him and wants to see him fail is a "hater" that Bieber will rise above, and Bieber's interaction with his fanbase.

The most endearing moment of Justin Bieber's Believe comes about halfway through, when we are greeted with Avalanna Routh, a six-year-old girl suffering from brain cancer who adores Justin Bieber more than life itself, it seems. She resorts to having a staged wedding in the hospital with a cardboard cutout of Bieber, and is known by the name of "Mrs. Bieber" to the hospital staff and patients. Bieber, or likely his PR group, caught wind of this and allowed him to reach out to the young girl, spend a few days with her playing board games, watching TV, and just hanging out, and even bringing her on-stage for one of the "Believe" shows to serenade her and treat her like a princess. Subsequently, Routh's condition worsened and she was dead before the end of the tour, with one show happening just three or four days after her death in September 2013. Bieber performed his hit "One Less Lonely Girl" to a slideshow montage of her on the enormous electronic screen behind him, with his back turned to the audience, before completing the song and sitting down and sobbing.

Those moments feel genuine. The moments where Bieber's managers and mentors Scooter Braun and Usher discuss his growing maturity and where Bieber addresses the "haters" but cleverly evades specific instances in his life that caused major controversy do not. As authentic as the film wants to claim it is, key issues are never addressed and inexcusable behavior is never acknowledged or justified either. And being that the film is predicated off of the claim of cutting through all the nonsense to address the truth, it's sad to admit this is the case with the film.

As expected, the glitz, glamor, and decor of Bieber's concerts are marvelous, with choreographers, dancers, and special effects artists doing terrific and daring things, and Bieber always seems to be on-point with his dance moves and vocals. However, Justin Bieber's Believe is a needless film. We've seen all this before and this sequel serves as nothing but a tired (and, at times, very phony) reiteration of prior knowledge. A third film and I'll be convinced I'm experiencing a sporadic Groundhog Day with Justin Bieber.

Starring: Justin Bieber, Scooter Braun, Usher Raymond IV, and Jon M. Chu. Directed by: Jon M. Chu.

Sureally good, 8 April 2014

Aside from René Clair's fascinating little visual-poem Entr'acte in 1924 that helped create the cinema we know of today as "surrealist cinema," following four years later was Luis Buñuel's short film Un Chien Andalou, which attempts to annihilate the same sort of conventions that Entr'acte did. The short bears no plot, but rather, disjointed and fragmented segments that string together in a loose manner that show various disturbing images, with the only constant being its focus two people, a man and a woman, where the man consistently tries to make a pass at the woman.

Un Chien Andalou is the closest thing to watching a dream that I've seen. The disjointedness of the images, the randomness of the continuity, and what director Buñuel chooses to focus on all seem to be strung together by someone's overactive subconscious. Consider the scene where a man holds a woman's eye open before a slices it with a sharp blade, allowing for blood to leak out. Or consider the scene where one male character rides a bike through downtown wearing nun's clothing. Or how about the scene where a man drags a piano into the room with two donkey carcasses stuffed inside?

What's the meaning of all this? You got me, but it's damn fun to watch just for the facts that it feels like a complete randomization of thought and the fact that it was help made by the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, to add to the novelty of the experience. I often find it's hard to enjoy contemporary surrealist pictures because I find myself alienated, confused, or just disinterested in many of them, but watching the pioneering films of the genre show me that that's how many of them are and you just need to go with it and try to pick out elements that you find enticing or even artistic. Un Chien Andalou bears many; you just need to look very hard.

Starring: Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí, and Jaime Miravilles. Directed by: Luis Buñuel.

Fargo (1996)
Oh yah, show it to evrywon, 7 April 2014

I think of Fargo as the underdog of cinema; the unassuming, easy-to-miss crime thriller when released that went on to be recognized for its intricate and investing plot, powerhouse displays of acting, and keen regional nuances. The film has now gone on to – dare I say – be something of a classic for the mystery genre, producing several quotable lines, memorable setups, and even a TV show, set to debut later this year.

Reviewing a classic is always touchy territory for two specific reasons. The first is that many people have already seen, reviewed, analyzed, and formulated an opinion on the film in question and writing a positive review seems like reiterating all the same points people have done for years and preaching to a disinterested choir. The second is that it's a struggle to find something to talk about in said film that hasn't already been talked about many times before, resulting in a review or an analysis that seems to become groggy and repetitive.

With Fargo, however, I'm feeling pretty comfortable in where I stand and what I have to say about it. Explaining the film's story in writing or aloud may find a way to muddle itself, but I'll push through to give the basics. The story involves a crooked car salesman named Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), who works at a Minneapolis dealership. Pressed for money and fighting desperate times, he negotiates with criminals Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi) and Gaear Grimsrud (Peter Stormare), whom he meets on a trip to Fargo, North Dakota, to kidnap his wife Jean (Kristin Rudrüd) in exchange for a 1987 Oldsmobile Ciera and $40,000 of the $80,000 ransom. Jerry, in a slick move, plans to inform his wealthy father-in-law and boss Wade Gustafson (Harve Presenell) that the ransom the crooks are asking for is $1,000,000 with the intent of pocketing most of the money.

This plan soon turns disastrous by circumstances that should not be spoiled. However, when things go awry and people end up dead, Officer Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), a quirky, Minneapolis cop with a thick accent, gets on the case and is determined to imprison the dirtbags behind these murders. What we get, though, is an exercise in terrific filmmaking in several areas, from acting, pacing, and depictions and the satirizing of a region that do not tread on mean-spirited, simple-minded jabs for humor. At the core of Fargo is a performance by William H. Macy that needs to be seen to be believed; it's a true performance that spawns mixed reactions, as he sometimes portrays a character we can side with, and other times, portrays one we can't help but loathe. Macy's scenes with Buscemi and Stormare are wonderful too, as all the actors bring something to the table: Macy brings his controlled nature that can often be seen as troublesome, Buscemi brings his outrageousness, and Stormare brings his collective mannerisms.

The Coen brothers, Joel (the film's director) and Ethan (the film's co-writer and sole credited producer), could've stopped there and had a great film, but they continue on, with a windy, but completely investing storyline predicated off of plot and wild twists and turns. Normally, I criticize films that make too heavy of an emphasize on story and not enough on character. Instead, the Coen brothers make each individual character distinct in someway, be it their mannerisms, what they say, or even how they say it. This is where the attention to detail for the region comes in. Frequently, the Coens make dual note of the typical niceness Midwesterners tend to possess, as well as the moralistic goodness they provide through their often thick and monotone accents.

The Coens turn Fargo into a hilariously observant work, complete with great pacing, Roger Deakins' impeccable cinematography that never fails to capture locational beauty, making the Midwestern snow shockingly appealing and lovely, and just the benefits of a great story. It's the kind of film that would make a great introduction for people in other countries who have never seen an American film, rather than the abundance of blockbusters and low-rent sequels, don't you think?

Starring: William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Frances McDormand, Harve Presnell, and Kristin Rudrüd. Directed by: Joel Coen.

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