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Aroused (2013)
Porn stars arousing something other than your immediate gratification, 25 November 2014

Deborah Anderson's Aroused came about as a project where she would talk to sixteen present adult film stars, engage them in a conversation about their life and the industry, and stage a photoshoot of them for a photography book by Anderson. What came about was not only a wealth of conversation and photographic material for the coffee table book, but a seventy minute documentary on the plethora of porn stars and their views on working in the adult industry.

Right off the bat, many will find the reason Aroused gets a rating that doesn't warrant a recommendation in that former paragraph. The reason is there is a wealth of material that is either muffled or obscured by Anderson in an effort to include multiple different perspectives in a runtime that cannot possibly accommodate everyone. At seventy minutes long, Anderson has to give each of the sixteen actresses their brief minutes on camera, resulting in a documentary that has little cohesive structure and doesn't have enough time to develop its subjects accordingly. In order for a complete, more versatile documentary to be made, either another thirty-five minutes needed to be added to the runtime or about eight porn stars needed to be cut out.

Yet, Aroused isn't a total loss. For one, the last half of the film provides some very interpersonal communication between Anderson and the actresses, as well as for some elegant photography and camera angles, showing various extreme close-ups of the body parts often forgotten in porn (lips, shoulders, legs, and occasionally panning up to the breasts). Furthermore, intriguing conversation is always started by Deborah, who talks to famous women like Francesca Le, Lisa Ann, Belladonna, and Alexis Texas about growing up, with many of them talking about their heavily religious background, some of them still carrying it as motivation as they work in the adult industry. The woman discuss the roles their parents and siblings played in their life, and give insight as to what life was like for them prior to their career in the adult industry.

Porn star Teagan Presley arguably brings up the best point during this section of the film, stating that it all depends on who you have to disappoint when it comes to growing up. If you have both mom and dad in your life, you grow up with discipline from both parties and learning what you have to do to make both of them happy and what could potentially jeopardize one of those relationships. If you grow up with just mom, you lack that ability to disappoint your father, who brings you that male influence and perspective, and the same goes in the opposite situation. It all depends on who is readily in your life to disappoint, and that formulates what decisions you make.

On top of interesting discussion pieces, Anderson finds an interesting balance in showing the veterans of the industry (Ann, Le, Tanya Tate, Katsuni, and other women in their late thirties or early forties) with the younger generation of industry stars, like Ash Hollywood, Brooklyn Lee, and April O'Neil. Lisa Ann, one of the staples for the MILF genre of pornography, talks about how when she first started out, she was opposed to doing anything on camera that she hadn't done in her own personal sex life. She didn't want to have her first gangbang or double penetration scene be on film because of the potential for corrupting memories, not to mention the inherently "mechanical" feel of shooting your average porn scene.

Finally, before we go into the last act of the film, which is comprised of personal conversation on top of artful photography, we get words of wisdom from another industry veteran. Fran Amidor. Amidor talks about how she hears many young girls, eighteen and nineteen-year-olds, striving to get in the business, for understandable reasons since the pay is higher being that the girls are young, their bodies are tight, and they are the perfect object of fantasy, but states that education is important and ages eighteen to twenty-one need be about learning and discovering in the classroom rather than in the porn industry. It's strong, sound advice from someone who could potentially be regretful about her own career.

Aroused doesn't have extreme depth, given its subject matter and its plethora of subjects, but Anderson creates an efficient starting point for conversation. She asks the right questions, creates the proper focus, and shoots the documentary in a very artful manner, with the first half being largely black and white before slowly evolving into color for the photo-shoot finale. There is just too much to talk about and too many subjects to efficiently portray in a little over an hour, leaving most of the information too slight to remember or too stunted to even get going.

Directed by: Deborah Anderson.

The beat of a lesser drum, 24 November 2014

The original Drumline was a surprising little gem, given its existence was mainly to propel Nick Cannon's career forward. The film was a touching film that showcased exceptional marching band choreography alongside a main character whose actions and faults were because of the choices he made rather than justified by the things he lacked, such as a father figure and a stable homelife. Given its pretty thin plot and foreseeable turnout, the film made arriving to that end conclusion fun, all thanks to writing that went above and beyond.

On the other hand, Drumline: A New Beat shows exactly the kind of film the original Drumline could've been if it was written without the themes and wit that made it a film to resonate and embrace. Caught up in a series of vague internet articles about the potential its creation and release - and whether or not its original star Nick Cannon would even be a part of it - before finally arriving twelve years after its predecessor, the film is a perfunctory mess of proportions that are unfortunately expected given its relatively low-key release on basic cable, with that specific channel being VH1 nonetheless.

The film revolves around Dani Bolton (Alexandria Shipp), an well-off girl from Brooklyn, who goes against her parents by attending Atlanta A&T University and playing in the school's renowned marching band over going to medical school. As a result, she's cut off in terms of finances and has to resort to getting a job, which is a big deal in the first half of the film but a nonexistent issue in the second half. Moreover, Dani's participation in the A&T drumline warrants her becoming one of the few female members of the drumline and the first female section leader, much to the dismay of the upperclassmen drummers; even her cousin Tyree (Jeff Pierre) finds his little cousin a threat and a potential distraction to the band.

This causes trouble for marching band coach Sean Taylor (Leonard Roberts), who struggles to maintain any kind of control of his marching bad amidst conflicts of interest between the marching band members. At one point, when the team turns violent against a competing team, he brings in Devon Miles (Nick Cannon), the now rich and famous percussionist whose roots began at A&T, for a pep-talk in the film's most entertaining scene.

The word for Drumline: A New Beat is incredibly perfunctory, as it feels like it is simply cycling through necessary emotions and plot points in order to move from point A to B in the simplest manner. Not to mention, the film has an usually brisk pace to its narrative. At the fifteen minute mark in the film, we are already watching Dani run into her first conflicts within the drumline at college, after watching her graduate, fight with her parents, arrive at college, meet her roommate and her friends, and get acquainted with the drumline in the previous minutes. The film moves unusually quickly, and tries to tackle far too many bases on emotional, conflicting, and relationship levels, including a terribly corny relationship between Dani and Jayven (Jordan Calloway), a fellow drummer.

Even the choreography in the film is decidedly-lesser than the original film, maintaining a level of interchangeability when the first film not only remained entertaining in the structure of its percussion numbers but its editing. Drumline: A New Beat's highest point in terms of musical performance and choreography is when the A&T marching band performs an infectious version of The Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me," but even then, it's too late for the film to reach any level of buoyancy after the abundance of monotony we have seen.

Drumline: A New Beat's coffin-sealing nail comes in the form of how desperate of an attempt this feels at garnering momentary views and generating some sort of social media buzz. Throughout the film's premiere on VH1, incessant adds pop up urging fans to visit VH1's website to further promote or endorse the film, "#Drumline" appears in the corner of the screen for the entire film, and even the characters in the film feel like simplistic millennial archetypes, taking selfies at random times and playing on their phones throughout the film, as if they are their parents trying to remain relevant. The film feels like nothing more than a shot fired from a flare gun, attempting to make some sort of noise, if momentary, just to try and catch your attention. You have a choice as a consumer and a viewer; you can either give it unnecessary, unwarranted attention, or give your undivided attention to one of the many winning films in your local multiplex this awards season. The decision, as always, is up to you.

Starring: Alexandra Shipp, Leonard Roberts, Jordan Calloway, Jeff Pierre, Lisa Arrindell Anderson, and Mario Van Peebles. Directed by: Bille Woodruff.

The type of short film that is not replicated at all in present times, 24 November 2014

Nick Grinde's How to Sleep is an instructional video on the common practices of winding down, falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, and, finally, waking up in the morning to start another day, written with a brilliantly wry comedic focus. Our subject is played by Robert Benchley, as he narrates over an average person's (also played by Benchley) sleep routine, poking fun at the many positions we tend to contort ourselves in while resting, and even mocking the conventions of taking a hot bath with pine fragrance, drinking warm milk, and counting sheep.

During the short, Benchley treads the line of being serious while being playful, creating a short film that merges both approaches into a devilishly fun short. Benchley exerts a great deal of energy, striving to be all that he can be in a short film that demands a lot of energy despite the fact that it's about the process in which one falls asleep. How to Sleep is a short that, when you watch it, you laugh heartily until you recall how there are far too few of these kinds of shorts being replicated in the present.

Starring: Robert Benchley. Directed by: Nick Grinde.

2 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A film that needs to be justified before it can be praised, 24 November 2014

I've made my lukewarm opinions about "The Hunger Games" film franchise rather apparent in my reviews of the last two films. While being enjoyable for a short period of time for their action sequences during the actual games and the appeal of Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen, the previous two films have always found a way to include some sort of feature that prevents me from giving them positives reviews. The first film was burdened by mediocre direction, which felt almost constantly off balance or unsteady in its videography, and the second film found itself including too many hokey sequences before descending into tiresome survivalist action.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" is the first of the two part finale to this series, and can effectively be summed up as a two hour trailer for the second part. Being a film conducted in two parts, the first part is inevitably setup for the second part, which will undoubtedly be the climactic part of the two films. With "Mockingjay" being only ten pages shy of four-hundred, splitting the film into two films over two hours in length is a questionable decision. Taking a book that is already questionably long enough to sustain two parts and making the first part a dreary plod through exposition and talky setups is enough to make me lose the limited amount of appreciation I had for this franchise.

The film sees Lawrence reprise her role as Katniss, and reminds us of how Katniss destroyed the annual Hunger Games and essentially left her home of District 12 in ruins. After being relocated to District 13, Katniss, suffering from severe flashbacks and trauma, is recruited by President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), a rebel leader, who wants to use Katniss as propaganda for a potential civilian unrest. On top of this newfound gig, Katniss is also trying to rescue Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the capital, who have taken him prisoner. Katniss blames old District 12 victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) for Peeta's capture, who promised to save him before her. The film follows Katniss's many battles with what seems to be some type of post-traumatic nightmares, her fragile emotional state, and her gig as a propaganda figure for the potential capital uprising.

For starters, any outcries of praise for Katniss being a dominate and strong-willed female character should dwindled to faint muffles after the complete character reversal we see occur in this film. Katniss, who has always been something of a cliché of herself or, at very least, an archetype, has no resorted to being a character who whines and cries powerlessly with every event. Never do we see the same determined and incorruptible force of a character we saw in the previous films, who is innovative and selfless, but instead one who is far less interesting and cursed with a weepy and fragile ego.

On top of that, we get dreadfully boring exposition in the way that talks about the rise in propaganda in Panem. What could've been rich with commentary unfortunately finds itself remaining stagnant in terms of simply existing and providing little payoff. Scenes involve Katniss, Coin, and a gaggle of other characters talking about potential civil unrest in the districts before we see Katniss having another traumatic nightmare inside a hospital, desperately crying out for Peeta. The film keeps circling itself in this manner, and it doesn't help that Lawrence, who, as I've said before, is a gifted actor when she's playing human characters in realistic environments, handles the emotional scenes with an evident element of overacting that neither intensifies or captivates but instead finds ways to offput.

The contents and existence of "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1" will be justified by the devoted fans of Suzanne Collins' book series as necessary for a complete adaptation, to which I do not disagree; we need elements of setup and narrative articulation not only for clarity but so the climactic parts can succeed on greater, more emotional levels. The issue is we don't need two hours and a separate film for the events, and what perhaps could've worked out at least adequately results in nothing more than a blatant cash-grab for a franchise Lionsgate clearly doesn't want to only be worth three films.

Idiocracy (2006)
Can't keep a good voice silenced (or even muffled), 21 November 2014

This past week has been a telling week for American journalism and reporting. For one, a picture has surfaced online of Kim Kardashian's backside in an effort to "break the internet," so she claims; it's a picture that has been circulated, parodied, criticized, praised, and been widely talked about for the last few days everywhere from late night talk show banter to primetime Television news. Just yesterday, November 20th, 2014, President Barack Obama addressed the United States on his plan to respond to long-stagnant actions on immigration. It was a statement that was not shown by CBS, NBC, ABC, or Fox, some of the biggest news networks in the country. We have established this week that the media feels a moronic hashtag campaign from Kim Kardashian is more important to cover than sweeping legislation on immigration. If the alleged "idiocracy" in America hasn't started, I think this was the kickoff.

But I digress before I even technically began. The satirical brilliance and social commentary of Mike Judge's film Idiocracy was, at first, mentioned second to the inordinate amount of problems this particular film had getting a release and publicity. Judge was in the middle of a back-and-forth, neverending amount of negotiations for the film's advertising and release of theatrical trailers, often resulting in either stagnant developments or delayed release dates for the film. It became abundantly clear that 20th Century Fox, the film's distribution studio, had a film on their hands they had no idea how to market and no idea how to manage, resulting in a very quiet release and the high possibility of the film falling into obscurity.

Thankfully, Mike Judge has made a name for himself over the years, with the hilarious workplace satire Office Space, the MTV animated show Beavis and Butthead, and the true-to-Texas program King of the Hill, which was strong enough to give Idiocracy something of a cult following, despite all the trouble the film underwent to get a basic release. Some speculate the only release it even made it to theaters - albeit no more than one-hundred and thirty - was to fulfill Fox's contractual obligation to give films a theatrical release, regardless of how small, before releasing it to DVD. At the end of the day, despite earning the stamp of a cult following, Judge deserved far better treatment and more confidence from a studio he made a lot of money.

Focusing on the film itself, Idiocracy is a satire, portraying America in the year of 2505 where everyone has the IQ and the cognitive thought process of Beavis and Butthead. It all starts in present day, when Corporal Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson), a librarian for the U.S. Army, and a prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph), are selected to partake in an experiment that has Joe and Rita frozen in time by Joe's commanding officer (Michael McCafferty). When the officer is arrested one day, the experiment is abandoned and Joe and Rita are frozen in time for the next five-hundred years, finally awaking in the year 2505. Joe awakens after the chamber he was frozen in crashes through the apartment of Frito Pendejo (Dax Shepard). Joe awakens to find a society that is completely inept and moronic, void of any intellectual curiosity or intelligence whatsoever.

Joe is eventually caught for not having a mandatory arm-tattooed, which is applied by a machine, which also grants him the name "Not Sure" by a technical error. He finds Rita, who is paranoid about finding her old pimp "Upgrayedd" (Brad Jordan) and paying him back, despite the fact that he has been dead for hundreds of years, and tries to find a way to a rumored time machine that will take him back to when he was put to rest. In order to do that, however, he must cooperate with an unrealistically stupid society, run by the incompetent President Chambers (Terry Crews), who discovers that Joe is the smartest person in the country and advises him to fix all the problems with the new America.

For a film ripe with commentary and featuring various observations about American culture now and where it could be headed, Idiocracy is a surprisingly breezy watch, never hitting you over the head with an abundance of morals and being remarkably fun while equally sad and frustrating. The film shows a culture that is anti-science, anti-reason, anti-logic, and without any kind of a direction, simply being a haven of mouthbreathers to spew nonsense. It's a sad film to witness, and all I can hope is that it doesn't eventually become a documentary.

Judge knows how to tackle material like this, though, in order to make this a fun ordeal rather than plaguing us with frustration and neurosis about the future. He turns Idiocracy into a briskly-paced riot, filled with action, science-fiction, and comedy that is too funny to be called juvenile yet not high-brow enough to be dry-wit. He finds the middle ground of humor, and employing people like Wilson, Rudolph, and Shepard to play headlining roles allows for unconventional cinematic heroes to prosper. With that and more, Idiocracy is a great deal of fun, albeit frightening in the potential for it to become even marginally prophetic.

Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews, Michael McCafferty, and Brad Jordan. Directed by: Mike Judge.

In order to potentially lessen your insomnia, make sure you wait for the end credits, 21 November 2014

It seems reviews of David Holzman's Diary were written with a sense of nostalgia and cinéma vérité in mind. Various reviews from several years back have the writer staying they caught this particular film late at night on cable and perceived it to be real, which would definitely add to the experience, regardless of whether or not you agree with the ideas and themes of the film at hand. I knew if during one of my insomniac nights I caught David Holzman's Diary on Television and witnessed what it had to offer, I'd report back with a review that would sound more in the way of a kneejerk alarmist about the radical style this film bears. My only question to those who initially believed this film to be authentic and not a mockumentary - did you miss the end credits?

David Holzman's Diary is a piece of "docufiction," or a film genre obsessed with the concepts or reality and time and conducting them in such a way that gives you the feel that you're watching an authentic account of real life, when really, you're watching a scripted film. This particular film stars L.M. Kit Carson as the titular David Holzman, a young filmmaker and cinephile who, one day, decides to start videotaping his life and keeping video diaries of his thoughts on the world and himself. Over time, he watches himself grow as a person while making these videos and becomes increasingly obsessed with the idea of defining reality.

The film is slender at seventy-four minutes long, shot in black and white and made up predominately of lengthy, static shots with its loquacious and confused subject. Carson is said to basically be reiterating the thoughts and musings of the film's director, Jim McBride, but does so in such a natural way that he's obviously doing something right if people were believing he was just some nut with a camera in the sixties. He talks a great deal about the portrayal and image of women during the tumultuous time of the sixties, which provides for a nice time capsule to the time period, especially for those less fortunate, like me, who have no primary account of the period.

David Holzman's Diary is a lot more interesting to discuss than it is to watch, at times getting too stylistically wrapped up in itself and obscuring its own ideas, but such is the case, I suppose, when you are discussing lofty concepts and theories involving destiny and time. Carson gives a performance of true naturalism, and the home- video effects McBride's docufiction presentation provide the film with a feeling all its own. The more I flirt with shorts and full- length films of decades past, the more I realize cinematic radicalism dated back further and further.

Starring: L.M. Kit Carson. Directed by: Jim McBride.

"Only the echos of my mind", 21 November 2014

I believe you can tell how a person views film and minimalism to a certain degree by asking them what they thought of John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy. If they say they thought it was a good film about two lost souls, they only understand about half the film. If they say the film is sad or depressing, then they have effectively realized the ideas and themes in the film. Midnight Cowboy is one of the saddest films I've ever seen, which is a remarkable feat given that the film has no real sad event. The idea of a life unlived, an unwelcoming world, and people that were destined to live their lives without a true sense of belonging, encouragement, or home are communicated so effectively in the film that at times I felt my heart sink and take a moment to regain composure.

Midnight Cowboy isn't a perfect film, as its loose structure can sometimes get the best of it and, as a result, the film can descend into scenes that don't always fit particularly well together, but it's the themes handled so expertly in the film that make me regard it with such a fondness. The film stars Jon Voight as Joe Buck, who we see in the opening credits of the film - set to the brilliantly fitting theme of the film "Everybody's Talking'" by Harry Nilsson - a dishwasher at a diner who decides to throw on a cowboy suit and head for New York City in hopes of working as a male prostitute for women. Right off the bat, it's a sad state of affairs if packing up, leaving everything you've known behind, and setting course for the big city with ambitions of being a prostitute is one's immediate goal, but I digress. Soon after he arrives in New York City, he meets Enrico Salvatore "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman), a petty con man with bad health and a limp, who initially takes money from Joe with promises of introducing him to a pimp who is in fact a Christian. Despite this deliberately insincere encounter, Joe and Ratso soon strike a business relationship of hustling New York locals in exchange for lofty cash returns.

The film watches these characters take on a relationship I can only relate to that of George and Lenny in John Steinbeck's classic novel Of Mice and Men. Much like in that work, the two characters are, what we quietly assume, doomed from the start and the remaining pages of the book or minutes of the film is just a reiteration of their shattered sense of belonging. Voight and Hoffman are so good here that they essentially become the film, as we get the sense that writer Waldo Salt had additional plans for these characters in the vein of more situational occurrences, but the performances of the actors and the hopelessness of their characters bleeds through any hope of an event-driven plot.

The only issue I take with Midnight Cowboy is that Salt never seemed to recognize this, and thus, never allowed as many thought-provoking or telling conversations about Joe and Ratso to take place. He never seemed to grasp the idea that Midnight Cowboy plays more like a character piece than anything, and while simultaneously leaving the characters vague enough for connection and not adapting a plot out of a plethora of situations, made a film caught somewhere in the middle of its agenda. Midnight Cowboy, as much as I want to center it and just rave about the greatness of its two leading males, is not a fully-realized film.

Yet, Schlesinger and Salt give Voight and Hoffman enough free range to make them shine, and as a result, the film wound up working out for most involved. Voight became a household name after his performance, Hoffman became known for more than just The Graduate and became a name of equal importance, both earned a Best Actor nomination, Salt was granted the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar, Schlesinger the Best Director, and the film Best Picture. While Midnight Cowboy seems to have a bit of a narrative identity crisis, it's nonetheless a display of two fine performances, a non- judgmental relationship between two hopeless characters, and a breakthrough for urban cinema, showing one of the most romanticized American cities as a place where untold ugliness can and does exist.

Starring: Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman. Directed by: John Schlesinger.

Whiplash (2014)
Blood, sweat, and bangs, 20 November 2014

Damien Chazelle's "Whiplash" is a film that left me breathless and physically exhausted when I got up to walk out of the theater, and all I had done for the past hour and forty minutes was lounge in a theater recliner and watch somebody else work themselves into a sweaty mess. A good film about motivation and determination leaves you humbled, but a great film about the same subjects leaves you emotionally drained and even enraged; enraged from watching others bring the lead character down and even attempt to compromise his or her dreams. The film may even leave you determined to exercise your own dreams out to a fuller extent, not compromising your talents or adhering to requirements, and realizing what makes you happy may not make others happy, but those others aren't you or likely sleeping in the same bed as you.

"Whiplash" is a contemplative film in that regard; a film that earns every word of praise and every glowing adjective on its theatrical poster and the many accolades it has received. It's a film that gives you the heartbreak of perceived failure and allows you to be affected by the few words of praise the lead character receives as well as every negative drawback and vulgar criticism (and there are plenty here). The film concerns Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller), a nineteen-year-old first year student at Shaffer Conservatory, a prestigious music school. Andrew is a drummer, but not your typical "I'm in a band drummer;" his goal is to go down as one of the greatest drummers who ever lived, etching himself alongside Buddy Rich and Charlie Parker. At first, we, the audience, may sneer at his dreams, but it's cool; Andrew couldn't care less. When we see him practice until his hands are calloused and bleeding excessively from the tight grip of his drumsticks is when we see his determination is real. When we see him tear through his drumset, banging his sticks angrily on his symbols and throwing his kit across the stage is when we truly realize his drive to be the best he can be.

Andrew's entire world is tested when he meets Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), an uncommonly strict music teacher, who has no problem making his classmates stay until 2:00AM to get the music notes right or sees anything wrong with throwing a chair at one of his students who can't keep up with his tempo. His personality is vulgar, blatantly calling his students two demeaning twelve-letter words, along with some other homemade curse words himself, giving these kids more discipline than they've ever been granted in their lives. Fletcher doesn't just push kids past their limit; he pushes them into mentally-corrupting realms, boldly stating to Andrew, "there are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job'."

Beneath an incorruptible drive in Andrew is a tender, soft soul at first, who sheds a single tear when Fletcher vulgarly criticizes him for the first time. "What am I, a double rainbow?," he asks Andrew, spitting and contorting his face in various ways. Fletcher is a no-nonsense guy, and no better to play him than the incorrigible character actor Simmons himself. The man who played a contemptible, vile subhuman in HBO's "Oz" gives probably his most engaging performance yet as one of film's strictest, most uncompromising professors. His intensity is heightened to the point where we, the audience, feel compelled to lift our theater seats, despite them being bolted to the ground, and hurl them at his character, calling him every disgusting name he has called his students.

I've said before that Teller is on his way to becoming a truly remarkable actor, after performances in "The Spectacular Now" and "Two Night Stand" show true promise as a human leading male and "Whiplash" will be one of the various used to iterate that point to others. Teller communicates not only the attitude but the mentality and the realism of these characters, becoming not just a person for his films, but an attitude and a personality, throwing himself into the mindset of a dateless loser, a teenage alcoholic, or, in this case, an incomparably determined music student. His performance here is by far his most amazing work.

"Whiplash" also features a beautiful score and live orchestra music, maybe not in the opinion of Simmons' Fletcher, who would probably ostracize it as a contribution to the downfall of contemporary jazz, but sounds absolutely incredible. The piece of music "Whiplash," played frequently in the film, is a mesmerizing and relaxing piece of music, contrasting the film's breakneck tone. On top of that, the editing style of the film, done by Tom Cross, is a visually arresting art here, consistently captivating us with briskly-paced scenes of literal blood and sweat and close-ups of a wide variety of musical instruments as they are both prepared and played.

Much will be made about the ending; some will love it, others will say it's incomplete. I find it to be satisfying, if disheartening. While audiences, after giving it enough thought and credit, will likely be pleased, they may realize a deeper sadness and that sadness is simple – where is Andrew going after this?

Without divulging into spoiler territory, it's something every artist faces after his or her best work and it's a terrifying thought. For a film with such a quiet, almost devastating, ending, "Whiplash" sure gave me one of the most satisfying movie experiences of the year.

White T (2013)
Not even a one-note joke movie because that requires the presence of one joke, 20 November 2014

White T is a gigantic cop-out of a movie because rather than actually creating humorous situations or allowing its characters to have personality and verbal wit, the screen writing succumbs to the lowest common denominator of comedy by going for the immediate joke - the weight of the film's two main characters. The film puts such an emphasis on the fact that the identical twins at the forefront of the film are indeed grossly overweight that one wonders how this film was pitched to its actors. With no characters, a vague hint of a story, and a monotonous array of jokes and gags simply erected on the basic features of its actors, White T is an odious mess in nearly every aspect of filmmaking.

The film concerns Herbert and Henry Weatherspoon (Jerod and Jamal Mixon), two morbidly obese brothers who idolize a rapper by the name of Real Deal with their own hopes of becoming rappers. In order to get their chance to perform on stage with their favorite rapper, the two buy both of the freshest, cleanest white t-shirts in town in the only size they'll fit into, a 7XL. While the shirts only cost six dollars, the duo are convinced people will think they broke the bank buying the apparel for one of the hottest nights of their life. However, when a night of clubbing leads to the loss of the t-shirts, Herbert and Henry need to recover the shirts in hopes of even making it past the bouncers to enter the club where Real Deal performs.

When the characters aren't actively recovering their missing attire, the film descends into a wayward assembly of crudity and despicable characters, like Faizon Love's disgusting impression of a Hispanic man or one of the film's female characters that are no better than the sum of their body parts. Racial stereotypes take prominence over any formal character interest, and the film is so disjointed in its plot and its characters that motivations become just as murky as the humor.

The word for White T is discombobulated; a film with no sense of style, flair, direction, or itself. One couldn't even classify it as a stoner comedy because stoner comedies have to have some semblance of humor, which this particular film entirely lacks. Adding to its strangeness is how good the film looks in terms of a directorial standpoint, with tightly-framed, rather immaculate shots that aren't sloppy or blatantly indicative of a low budget, leading me to believe a solid amount of money was invested into the project.

Given how pervasive jokes about the leading characters' weights are, it'd be understandable to refer to White T as a one-note joke movie, but even one-note joke movies have a joke in the first place.

Starring: Jerod Mixon and Jamal Mixon. Directed by: Lance Frank.

1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A story that was seemingly written with the confidence level of its self-conscious main character, 19 November 2014

Muffin Top: A Love Story would be such a personal film, rich with commentary and talking points about contemporary feminism and women's issues if it wasn't so immature and juvenile. In the course of two weeks, I have watched both Muffin Top: A Love Story and Sex Ed, a film starring Haley Joel Osment as a sexual education teacher for middle school students, films with equal opportunity to provide strong themes and ideas on modern issues but cop out and go for the easy joke, which brings down both films' impacts significantly. Muffin Top, much like Sex Ed, is never boring, provides for some laughs, but consistently sacrifices the bigger issues it could be proposing thanks to the perpetuation of dirty-minded screen writing.

Co-writer, directress, and producer Cathryn Michon plays Suzanne, a gorgeous but self-conscious middle-aged woman, working as a professor of women's studies at Malibu University and living life married to the cold and sociopathic Michael (Diedrich Bader), who hits her with the seven-letter d-word out of nowhere one day. Suzanne, an already fragile soul, is left feeling helpless and hideous, confiding in her best friend and booking agent Kim (Melissa Peterman) for a place to live and moral support. Suzanne, despite condemning and attempting to rise above the "airbrush" culture of society still falls prey to insecurities directly related to her weight and appearance, now is left alone and insecure in Los Angeles, desperately in need for some sort of companionship. She finds momentary solace in the local barista (Michael Hawley), a young and attractive spirit and a popular speaker on feminist theory and studies (David Arquette), both of whom she enjoys being around, but cannot seem to overcome the downtrodden spirits her stomach (or "muffin top") makes her feel.

Muffin Top is likely not a far-fetched story for middle aged women, or even young women as well, when taken in its basic form. The film deals with body issues, common insecurities, and the forcing one does to themselves to get back in the saddle after a self-esteem- corrupting event takes place. There's not a doubt in mind that women who have seen themselves there will connect deeply with that aspect of the film. The sad thing is, that part is only an aspect and not the prime focus, with gross-out gags, cartoonish moments where Suzanne's "muffin top" starts talking to her or when she hires an overweight man who tries to whisper to her fat, and scenes desperately trying to loosen the film's potential grip on true-to- life drama take center-stage. The repetitiveness of Muffin Top comes in when you have several scenes catering to banal humor involving the humiliation of Michon's character, where we unevenly go from laughing at her to having to sympathize with her, almost as if we're going through the cycle of what it's like to be a self-loathing, schoolyard bully.

I feel like I'm writing the exact same review as I did for Sex Ed, but the same problems persist and beg justifications. Did Michon, like Sex Ed screenwriter Bill Kennedy, not have enough confidence the audience would get the dramatic undertones of the film? Did they fear the film may be too contemplative or thoughtful and that the only way to combat potential themes and social commentaries was to obscure them by including juvenile humor? It's frustrating to see a film with such a superb concept be diluted by blatant immaturity.

Aside from that glaring misstep, and a few other situational occurrences like Suzanne's potential book deal that just seem like the result of Michon running out of narrative ideas in terms of approach, Muffin Top has redeeming qualities. For one, Michon, who has already thrown herself in all the main positions of the film, is an incredible force of kinetic energy on film, launching her character in a barrage of different setups and bearing enough energy to make them all at least watchable. Michon clearly treats her pet project with a lot of respect and caters to it with a great sense of acting urgency, never missing a beat as a performer and showing off what she is made of, even if the particular scene has an overwhelming dose of silly humor.

Muffin Top: A Love Story will likely resonate with those who are in, or have seen, similar circumstances as Suzanne, and the same people will likely forgive the film's use of sight gags being that its lead actress is such a force. My only note is that it's possible to enjoy certain aspects of this film even if others run the route of being throwaway attempts at making sure ones project doesn't become too thematically heavy.

Starring: Cathryn Michon, David Arquette, Diedrich Bader, Melissa Peterman, Marcia Wallace, Michael Bawley, and Haylie Duff. Directed by: Cathryn Michon.

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