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Breaking Bad: Ozymandias (2013)
Season 5, Episode 14
10/10
Best. Episode. Ever.
25 October 2013
www.eattheblinds.com

59 episodes into Breaking Bad and I couldn't wait for it to go away. Being stranded (by choice) on a Vietnamese Island with little-to-no wifi (and no one to correct me) I watched episode 60 convinced I was watching the Series Finale. I watched it twice. Back-to-back. It was without a doubt the finest episode of BB in its entire five-season run. It was so good it made me forget how sick of this show I actually was.

Prior to Ozymandias I'd grown to hate almost every character on BB. Ozymandias made me realize Gilligan had too. After 5 long seasons of wanting every one to get what they deserve, they finally got it. Walt wasn't going to concoct another ingenious plan to save the day, there would be no more implausibly lucky breaks to keep things on track, Saul Goodman and his campy schtick weren't around to help Walt out of another impossible jam, Skyler's moping days were over, Hank's dog-with-a-bone antics earned him a bullet to the head, and Jesse became Todd's bitch, sparing us from ever having to hear Pinkman utter his irritating catchphrase again.

I can't stop thinking about this episode and what separated it from so many of the episodes preceding it. For one, the tone was much darker, with swift and severe consequences forced upon us with no comic relief to lift the burden. Ozymandias was grounded in a bitter reality, one only the real world can spit out at us unapologetically. In this episode Walt, Skyler, and nearly everyone else had the monotony of their routines snapped, followed by the subsequent catharsis that nipped at its heels. Their moment to be human – to be real – had finally arrived, and the actors (like the audience) had something big to sink their teeth into: Gravitas.

The other thing I loved about this episode was how grounded it was in Cinema. This didn't feel like a hurried TV production telegraphing major plot points. Instead, this was inspired filmmaking that was fully realized, looked and felt like a feature film. At times Ozymandias could be mistaken for a Coen brother's film. Throughout this episode, telling beats were played out dialogue free, subtext was rife, and scenes were constructed around psychologically revealing camera movements. All of these variables aided Johnson and Gilligan's master plan of reaching the audience without ever preaching to us.

One notable motif was the foreshadowing provided by the recurring shots of the knife block. First featured, looming in the foreground (yet, out of focus), as Skyler wraps a porcelain doll in a box. When the climactic scene finally arrives, the knife block is waiting, again in the foreground (and out of focus). Once Skyler reaches for it and grabs a knife from within it, we know that everything is about to change. Once she cuts Walt, she severs ties to him. It's at this moment the family has been cut in two and Walt has been removed from their lives. When Walt realizes this, we cut to his POV as the camera tracks away from Skyler and Jr. in slow motion. A soundtrack cue gives us the sensation Walt is being sucked out of his trance and back to reality. This is Walt's moment of clarity. At this point-of-no-return he realizes he's lost everything. A few scenes later when Skyler tells him over the phone to "come home" she means this on a much more profound level than the literal.

Another example of Johnson's subtle and subtextual choices is in an earlier scene where Marie sits Skyler down to inform her Hank arrested Walt. At the moment this is revealed to Skyler, Johnson suddenly flips the axis to punctuate the impact and sudden change this has on Skyler. She's finally free of Walt's grip. This is her moment to become human again. Later, on the phone with Walt, at the moment she recognizes Walt is attempting to clean up his mess, Johnson cuts to a shot of her front and centre, reflecting Skyler is getting things straight through the psychological effect provided by the symmetry of the shot.

Walt's call to Skyler is perhaps the best scene ever written and acted in BB's five seasons. Cranston in particular walks such a fine line to maintain the act of a psychopath, betrayed only by the tears in his eyes and slight cracks in his voice. It's heartbreaking. When Walt's glasses fog it's almost impossible to not cry for him, compassion you'd never imagine yourself having for a man so far down in the depths of hell. For once in a very long time we know Walt is no longer pacifying his sociopathic behaviour with the lie he's doing everything for his family. He now means it.

If Ozymandias had actually been the last episode, I'd forever remain curious, left wondering and satisfied to never know. Knowing now there's still two episodes left, I can't help but think it's going to be a let-down once all my questions have been answered. I suppose five seasons worth of bad choices was a big reason why this show had become unbearable to watch, so perhaps another two hours of Walt trying to make right what he'd turned so horribly wrong might be worth seeing. We shall see.
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9/10
Swimming Against the Current
25 October 2013
www.eattheblinds.com

I'm not Hollywood's biggest supporter. I don't like big corporations either. Despite being a frequent Canon, Sony, and Panasonic user, I prefer the underdogs. I like seeing companies like Blackmagic crash the party and make the big dogs whimper. I also like it when indie filmmakers do something a studio system worth billions can't: entertain me.

Shane Carruth's Primer was a perfect example of how a no-name guy with no money can kitchen sink a high-concept thriller that shames anything subjected to pandering pitch sessions, inane test screenings, and multiple tiers of dumbing down. In today's world, "cinema" is on life- support. The only hope of bringing it back to life lies in the mind of the individual with today's affordable technology in his/her hands.

Shot on a $700 (hacked) GH2, Carruth's latest takes mind f to the next level. Upstream Color is a film that could not be made in today's Hollywood. It's too smart, too confusing, too open for interpretation, and too sparse on dialogue. In short, this is cinema. A story comprised of beautifully composed fragments, memory rendered with exceptional style and substance...on a budget assholes like *Tarsem Singh blow on toilet paper. UC is many things; ambitious and thought provoking; an unconventional love story wrapped in science, and science fiction that some might argue reinvents the genre. This film will resonate long after the credits roll, it will spark debate, excite threads of online discussion, and most importantly, inspire individuals to push the boundaries of imagination and creativity. For those of us who live, love and breathe cinema this is a war cry to take back what's ours.

Not in the 100+ years of cinema have we had everything we need to create our own (anti) studio system: cheap gear, equity (available through our peers via crowd sourcing), and a distribution system that permeates nearly every set of human eyes on this dying planet. In short: f Hollywood; f the system; f the rules, and f your excuses -- go make a film as good as Carruth's. If you can.
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10/10
A Special Film that Has to be Seen to be Believed
25 October 2013
After over one-hundred years of cinema, it's pretty rare to come across a film unlike anything you've seen before, let alone one that begs the question: how the hell did they pull that off? Even though blockbuster films like Gravity try to do this by taking us to great heights (no pun intended) through technological / cinematographic advancements, we somehow end up bored with the result. Who really cares how long and complicated your opening take is if it feels like it lives inside the brain of a computer? Perhaps fiction has been done to death, perhaps we've advanced the tech behind fictional filmmaking so far that it's completely lost touch with reality. This is probably why, today, documentaries have never been more relevant and more capable of blowing your mind. The advantage documentaries have over fiction is that they can show us things so unbelievable they could only exist in the real world. Truth is truly stranger than fiction.

Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing is a very special documentary. What begins as a glimpse into the lives of a handful of former death squad leaders, Oppenheimer then invites them to help produce fictional recreations of their killings, recreations mimicking the style of the murderers' favourite Hollywood movies. As the fiction overtakes the lives of its subjects, The Act of Killing becomes what Oppenheimer has described as "a documentary of the imagination." Never before has such nightmarish and surreal terrain been excavated, revealing a chilling indifference to nothing less than unpunished crimes against humanity.

If you've ever tried to imagine what a Nazi conquered world would be like, this documentary might be closest thing we'll ever have to actually knowing. What we discover is that when history is written by the victors, we see something very frightening emerge: acceptance of brutality as not only necessary, but heroic. Aware of how it's so much easier to see the contents of a fishbowl when staring at it from a distance, The Act of Killing positions its viewers in a way that forces us to question our own perspective on how and why things really are in the world, not in the way we've been brainwashed to believe. The murderous thugs Oppenheimer immortalizes are not behind bars, or on trial for war crimes, or any of their crimes; these men are heroes in their native Indonesia, on parade to be adored by their hero-worshipping countrymen and women.

Considering Oppenheimer cast his subjects inside a surreal, hyper-stylized world of fictional recreations, it's impossible to argue The Act of Killing isn't manipulative. But it's the lengths Oppenheimer goes to -- the soaring heights of absurdity these staged recreations go to -- that confirm, whatever moral compass exists, it is not being directed by someone with a hidden agenda. Ultimately, the fictitious pageantry calls attention to how difficult it is for someone to have perspective when they're lost within a concrete belief system cemented by victory, history, and the applause of an entire nation. If you think you wouldn't have been swept away by the mass-hysteria/nationalism excited by the Nazis pre-WW2, then you're lying to yourself as much as you may have been for having bought into Obama's movement for 'Change.' I know I'm guilty of the latter.

Damning as it is, Oppenheimer's surreal world also acts as an arena for 'art' therapy, treatment both logical and plausible for men who've been playing roles their whole lives. Decades ago these gangsters were young, ego-driven, power hungry men who performed the most horrible acts imaginable...and now as old men, they've perfected their roles as heroic cowboys proud of having defended the homestead. But once the act is over and the veil lifted, these men are revealed to be victims of their own acts, sickened by what they've done, who they are, and the 'act' they've clung to in order to preserve their own sanity. To gain access to the minds of characters so repulsive and sinister is something even the best screenwriters couldn't fathom pulling off; to be able to humanize them, and make them sympathetic is a feat of filmmaking unlike anything I've ever watched before.

Something else I've never seen before is a film with one "anonymous" credit, let alone dozens of them, including one given to a co-director. The gravity of this reminds us the killings proudly re-enacted by the film's subjects are not just nostalgic, but very much a part of the today's way of doing business. By the time the credits scroll we realize the real culprit here, the one we cannot pardon, is Capitalism.

The Act of Killing depicts capitalism at its darkest hour, in a special place where brutality and savagery are necessary and applauded. Immersing us in such a dark place, The Act of Killing shows us how difficult it is to identify the outlines of our own faces once the definitions of "truth" and "justice" are mutated beyond recognition. History asks us: How far removed are we from these crimes? Was it not our governments who supported these atrocities? Whether we knew it or not, we collectively turned blind eyes, condoning a genocide that took the lives of over one million people. These are the realizations we should be most sickened and disturbed by, but are we? We enabled these men to kill so who are we to judge, and if the results coincide with our politics, do we even care?

www.eattheblinds.com
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8/10
See Worthy
7 March 2013
www.eattheblinds.com

There's no such thing as an "easy" relationship. Some work, most don't. When two people bring out the best in each other, they shouldn't take for granted something's working and worth holding on to. The world shits on us regularly and a great relationship is a comforting reprieve from this shiz storm. The hardest thing to anticipate is the inevitability of protecting the other person from yourself. We're flawed, but are we doomed to poisoned relationships because of these flaws? Sometimes yes, rarely no. Undiluted love does happen and in these rare instances, someone inspires such good in you, you can't help but be a better person than you've ever imagined possible. This is when you learn to love yourself through the eyes of someone else. It's a powerful thing. Even more powerful then when you're with the wrong person, seeing yourself doing ugly things and hating yourself all the more because of it. Perhaps the point of all this is to hold out for the right person. This is, essentially, what Jack Goes Boating is all about.

The movie is adapted from Bob Glaudini's play of the same name, skillfully translated to the screen by first time director and star Philip Seymour Hoffman. Like the writing, acting and directing, the soundtrack is populated with songs (by Grizzly Bear) articulating each moment with bittersweet melancholy. Throughout the film you feel the pain without being told what the pain is. It's underplayed like most good art is and there's moments of introspection where you're allowed to find you own way into the character's heads and hearts. Because of this, Jack Goes Boating feels personal and real. The longing hurts, but it's a story that gives your heart a glimmer of hope, a reason to keep looking for love. In the end, we all want to be loved. We all want to love ourselves a little more. We all want someone we can can love and give back to them, what they give to us. Like us, these people are all flawed, yet they're there for each other, and in their moments of selflessness, we see (to quote the band Sloan) the good in everyone.
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5/10
The Dark Knight Falls...
7 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
www.eattheblinds.com

I'm torn. I keep trying to convince myself The Dark Knight Rises was more than just another mediocre summer blockbuster rife with conservative ideals, but that is was actually subversive art depicting a pathetic world condemned to suckle a poisonous teat. Perhaps my False Dilemma is over-simplistic, but isn't the entire plot of TDKR based on a False Dilemma? That the only alternative to a corrupt system is one that's much, much worse? Identical to the American political system, must we be forced to choose between the lesser of two evils? Does Writer/Director Christopher Nolan deserve props for editorializing (the arguably two- faced) Obama's "Hope" and "Change" is as bankrupt as "I Believe in Harvey Dent"?

After restlessly squirming through three hours of TDKR, I'm having a hard time convincing myself TDKR was Nolan's "Fuck Off" to a bankrupt system. I want to give TDKR the benefit of the doubt by believing it was a cynic's portrayal of a hopeless world populated with idiots / necessarily controlled by the wicked and corrupt since this is our world, after all, and we probably don't deserve any better. But without reading too much into TDKR, we bear witness to a world in ruin, one that somehow remains worth fighting for, is in need of the same leaders who led us to the brink, but are the only ones truly capable of putting it back together again. To be the former, the TDKR has to be so exceptionally subtle, its meaning would most likely be lost. If so, this is a film -- arguably -- more bleak than Se7en, so dark and cynical it's careful to not tip its hat to the unsuspecting fools it also hopes to profit off of at the box office. The problem is, TDKR is too carefully constructed, and too perfectly crafted to be anything other than the blockbuster it was destined to be. Regardless, I still want to believe Nolan has pulled the wool over everyone's eyes, and that he truly is mercilessly misanthropic.

Unfortunately what was supposed to be the grand finale of Nolan's series instead comes off as a cliché-ridden setup for a spin-off series the Hollywood machine will inevitably bleed to death. On the record as being finished with the franchise, Nolan certainly had every reason to reduce to rubble what he'd once resurrected. "If I can't have her, then no one will." While the cheesy one-liners peppered through The Dark Knight winked a reminder we were watching a comic book-based movie, they take precedence in TDKR, cementing the reality this franchise has jumped the shark. Catwoman's groan-inducing, and wholly unmotivated climactic kiss is a sucker punch on the nose that tells us the writers aren't interested in reinventing conventions anymore, they're now painting them by numbers. The biggest cheap-out is the gimmicky M. Night-like plot twist that completely undermines the villain Bain, a seemingly immovable force of evil we'd been tricked into believing was so exceptional, he may never be defeated. But the pointless shell game played with villains reduces the once frightening Bain into a castrated, then limply disposed of freak, all in favor of a "eureka" moment of revelation where the true villain is (shocker) Bruce Wayne's love interest. But Nolan's faith in justice ensures the femme fatale meets her demise in one the most satire-worthy death shrugs ever committed to film.

The plot of TDKR centers on how the people of Gotham were duped into believing a big fat lie, a joke not lost on me knowing I was duped into paying $13.50 to see it. Keeping with the theme of art imitating life, TDKR stands tall as a painful reminder I had shed tears of joy in 2008 for a fraud of a similar kind. The Nolan brother's manage to both pander to the trendiness of the Occupy Movement, and dismissively throw it under the bus. In this story where our "Hero" ends up rising to the cause of the Corrupt, the Occupy Movement is painted with one bold brush stroke, as brutal fascists, far worse than the 1% who had 'heroically' sacrificed their ethics to keep peace in a world lacking civility. In TDKR, Batman no longer masquerades as a conflicted hero, he evolves into a full-blown sell-out, both as a vigilante, and -- in the real world -- as a movie franchise. The tacked on ending oh-so-cleverly ties all of our protagonists into one happy fun ball of bullshit. He's alive! Oh thank God we can now continue to worship our resurrected deity by emptying our wallets again, and again. Repent Sinner, for you're too stupid to deserve any better than the fate they've chosen for you.
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8/10
The Fine Art of Plagiarism
7 March 2013
www.eattheblinds.com

The last time I spent Xmas Day with Quentin Tarantino was in 1997. On that day, Jackie Brown and QT's shout outs to 70s Blaxploitation made my holidays worthy of celebration. From the good (White Dog), to the bad (Mean Johnny Barrows), to the flat out nasty (Maniac), B-movies have remained my greasy burger cure for Hollywood hangovers and nobody understands this craving better than Tarantino.

Because of Death Proof, I marked 2007 as the end of Tarantino's short, but impressive career. Inglourious Basterds made me realize my prediction was a tad premature and last night's Xmas screening of Django Unchained had me swallowing my half-eaten words. In short, props are due: Quentin Tarantino -- the fast-food auteur -- is back on the map. What's also back is his talent for turning plagiarism into art and elevating the B-movie into art house splendor. Derivative yes, but this is a special talent no other rip-off artist has done as exceptionally well as QT. Tarantino doesn't merely copy, he cuts and pastes, and if plagiarism is art, Django Unchained is 2 hours and 46 minutes of glorious B-movie cinema spooning.

While Django Unchained is a Runaway Slave flick bacon-wrapped with Spaghetti Western sauce and splattered with 'Argento Red' buckets of blood, it's also a monument of empowerment for a no-bullshit Hero who happens to be Black and proud. Despite refusing to watch DU, Spike Lee argues Tarantino is trivializing Slavery, an argument ignorantly reminiscent of the Catholic Church's attempt to smear Scorsese's Last Temptation of Christ. The fact is, Tarantino's portrayal of slavery (and white supremacy) is contemptuous. Over and over, Tarantino exposes viewers to the viciousness, brutality, and ugliness of slavery and the racists responsible for it. He then ridicules these racists before he sends them all to hell at the hands of a true (Black) Hero.

There really is only one thing to hate about this film and it comes in the form of a self- indulgent Director's cameo. Distracting beyond words, the scene is fortunately short lived and tactfully punctuated by Tarantino having himself blown to smithereens. Nitpicks aside, Django Unchained is steeped in so much of the 70s it looks, sounds and feels like golden age deja vu. With deserving cameos from Franco Nero (the original Django) and Bruce Dern, to the countless flashbacks recalling Peckinpah, George Roy Hill, Jeremiah Johnson, and volumes of others, Django Unchained is a cinematic standout in a digital age gone wrong. Do yourself a favor this holiday season and go see a brand-new Classic...on film (if you can).
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5/10
Awfully Great
7 March 2013
www.eattheblinds.com

There's a scene in Barbed Wire Dolls that is so perfectly horrible it should be cinematic legend. It's a young girl's flashback of her father (played by Franco himself) attempting to rape her. The entire scene is shot with Franco's patented wandering zoom, a lens slathered with vaseline and a slow motion effect you have to see to believe.

Doing double-duty as "Cinematographer," Franco apparently didn't realize you could change the frame rate on the camera and decided slow motion is best acquired through slow motion acting. Yup, actors pretending to go through the motions in real time slow motion. Hilarious.

For someone who hates his own movies and wishes he'd directed Citizen Kane, Franco's taste is not nearly as bad as the choices he consistently makes behind the camera. Within the realm of bad movies, if Ed Wood Jr. is Orson Welles, then Jess Franco is quite possibly John Ford. High praise, indeed. Barbed Wire Dolls is a B- movie with so many juicy tidbits of ineptness, tasteless raunch, camp and cliché you can't help but love this senseless mess. See the slow motion genius for yourself:
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Life of Pi (2012)
5/10
A Pi In The Sky Story
7 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
www.eattheblinds.com

With the exception of Oliver Stone's ten-part mini-series The Untold History of the United States, no two films from 2012 do a better job at depicting what's wrong with the world today, than Craig Zobel's Compliance and Ang Lee's Life of Pi. Like the perfect wine pairing, these films should be watched back-to-back to bring out each one's full spectrum of flavor and insight. Don't make the mistake I did of watching Compliance first, better yet, save it for the second course -- a dish that will cool your palate after choking down Lee's turd-warm appetizer.

The Life of Pi is a story achingly familiar, not for the subject matter itself, but in the way it is presented to us -- this is a cozy narrative formula audiences have gobbled up for decades, and based on Pi's critical reception it seems to be a taste no one is tiring of. Like Forrest Gump and countless other epic Hollywood yarns, Pi takes you on a magical, moral journey, a fiction tethered to the present in wholly unnecessary bouts of present-day exposition (presumably for those in the audience not paying strict attention). We are witness to the exotic and fantastic voyage of yesteryear by our humble narrator, told in CG-rich flashbacks, all in the name of getting the empty vessel of the aspiring writer (aka the audience) to a point where God is accepted. Unfortunately, this leap of faith comes after a Shaggy Dog twist reveals to us that the primrose path we've been led down, was in fact tended with manure. But fear not, since our heroic narrator has taken the initiative of convincing us the true story is so horrible, we will blithely prefer the flowery fiction he himself has succumbed to, so long ago. The last few times I remember a Hollywood film attempting to convince me fiction was preferable to reality was Tim Burton's Big Fish and Jeremy Leven's Don Juan De Marco. Perhaps I can forgive these two films for selling me on love and compassion, but Pi is selling us God...an entirely different can of worms.

If after being misled for two plus hours you're still not sold on "God" then you might be asking yourself: why exactly would the story of a tiger on a boat really be better than the gritty realist drama of four desperate humans on a lifeboat? I suppose the answer to why so many would prefer fiction over fact is perfectly presented in the hard to watch "Inspired by True Events" Compliance. When a complete stranger calls and tells you he's a police officer, then you'd probably do whatever you were told to do, right? Even if this cop was pushing you to commit sexual assault, rape, etc.? I can't remember being more frustrated by poor decisions made by movie characters since I revisited the Friday the 13th franchise last summer, yet, Compliance's characters are purportedly based on real people who made real life stupid/criminal decisions. How could these people be so bloody stupid, you ask? After watching Life of Pi, you should have the answer you were looking for. It might also explain why so many of us bought the "They hate us for our freedom" line.
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Warrior (2011)
9/10
Old Genre / New Life
7 March 2013
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The sports genre has become as much of a cliché as the many clichés it has spawned: Rocky's Theme, Eye of the Tiger, etc. At this stage of the game, breathing new life into this old genre and sucking in an audience while surprising them along the way, is next to a near impossible feat. Somehow, writer/director Gavin O'Connor has pulled it off with the MMA masterpiece Warrior.

Despite its complete checklist of boxing film / sports movie clichés, Warrior reaches so far beyond these clichés it practically redefines them. While respectful to reference (the original) Rocky, O'Connor legitimizes Warrior as a serious film, crafting it with visual and thematic nods to Michael Cimino's grand epic The Deer Hunter. Simply put, this isn't a sports film for meatheads (not that it won't please them), this is a sports film for audiences hungry for stark cinematic realism.

Burgeoning superstar Tom Hardy (once again) mesmerizes as the tortured lead Tommy Conlon, who -- along with Nick Nolte and Joel Edgerton -- make up a three headed beast with lethal acting chops. For a film I expected to detest, Warrior proved itself to be as big of an underdog champion as the unorthodox heroes it portrays.
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8/10
Bill of Right On.
7 March 2013
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I just got off an overseas flight from London and was lucky enough to start the long journey with a great documentary: Bill Cunningham New York, by Richard Press.

Even if fashion isn't your thing, Bill is such a rare and inspiring person, it's impossible to not be moved by his story. At 80 years old, Bill continues to bike all over Manhattan, snapping photos for his NYT feature "On the Street." He's one of the original street style photographers and his legacy is not only respected by those in the know, his influence ripples through the entire fashion industry.
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Twisted Nerve (1968)
9/10
Twist This
7 March 2013
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I didn't grow up in an era where the term "mongoloid" was used in polite circles; I grew up in the cultural wasteland where delightfully offensive indiscretions died a quick and silent death. Watching a movie made before this time is often the cure, one that excites the mind in unexpected ways.

1968's Twisted Nerve pushes all the wrong buttons, with an unapologetically blunt commentary on hot-button topics such as racism, homosexuality, classism, colonialism, sexual perversion and psychotic behavior. Working against the intelligence of TN's screenplay is its pseudo-science prognosticating the doomed fates of those born in a womb sullied by Mongolism. Inaccurate or not, it is a fun possibility to entertain (since this is a movie, after all...not a documentary). Perhaps if the PC police were told this film was Sci-Fi horror, TN would have found a wider audience instead of remaining a cult gem cherished by few.

Full of visual references to Hitchcock and an unforgettable score by Bernard Herrmann, Twisted Nerve watches like one of Hitch's bastard children, a nasty oddity the Master must have been proud to have inspired.
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7/10
Nostalgic For Real Hip-Hop
7 March 2013
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Three Hip-Hop groups defined the way I interfaced with Hip-Hop as a kid: The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Their music was the soundtrack of my youth: beats and rhymes with a positive, life-affirming vibe. To me, these groups were giants living amidst point guards; years later, when I interviewed a number of them for my Hip-Hop documentary 5 Sides of a Coin, I felt like I'd grown up, being allowed to stand face-to-face with many of my childhood idols.

I still love Hip-Hop, but nostalgia has a way of tempering things. It's been nearly 20 years since I've had an epiphanic Hip-Hop moment; the last one I remember was hearing 36 Chambers or Illmatic for the first time. Don't get me wrong, I still bump my head to a lot of what's out there...it just doesn't move me the same way it used to.

A few weeks back I watched Michael Rapaport's Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest and I was instantly reminded of Hip-Hop's significance in my life. Rapaport's film isn't shot on the best cameras or filmed by the most competent operators, but it really doesn't matter. This film was made by a Tribe fan for Tribe fans and whether it succeeds as therapy or mediation between Tip and Phife is irrelevant. If --somehow-- this doc has anything to do with ATCQ fulfilling their contractual obligation to produce one more album, then it's a monumental success; if not, it's still a great way for die-hard Tribe fans to reconnect with one of Hip-Hop's greatest groups.
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Hwanghae (2010)
8/10
A Yellow Stream All Over Hollywood
7 March 2013
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I can't remember the last time Hollywood offered me anything mind-blowing. An industry now controlled by bankers for shareholders, even filmmaking geniuses like Martin Scorsese have been reduced to making pointless kids movies. Not even the so-called independent cinema in the US has been spared Hollywood's fixation with the bottom line, where the few table scraps left are thrown to a dwindling numbers of original voices still relevant. If ever we needed another Easy Rider inspired industry revolt, then now is the time.

With American cinema (not unlike the country itself) irrelevant and hopelessly behind the times, the only option North American cinephiles have, is to go abroad. One of the countries that's long since surpassed American cinema for shock and originality is South Korea. And it's not like Hollywood is oblivious, they're actually cannibalizing SK cinema by remaking Korean gems into pointless American knockoffs. The latest SK gem ripe for reproduction is Hong-jin Na's The Yellow Sea (Hwanghae).

Like Ravel's Bolero, The Yellow Sea understands the patient reward of crescendo: starting slow and building to a fevered climax. By the end of this, we're left with what seems impossible for an epic 156 minute film: wanting more. With the exception of one car chase marred by phony green screen cutaways (see the video below), the breakneck action, extreme violence and hyper-realistic gore is virtuosic. Guns noticeably absent, whooshing knives, devastating hatchets and the blunt trauma of gnawed animal bones provide The Yellow Sea with brutal, bloody and refreshingly lo-tech weapons of choice, a grim example of how Hollywood and it's obsession with appeasing demographics can't compete.

But The Yellow Sea is much more than just a knife brandishing ballet that hearkens back to early 90s HK bullet ballets, it's exceptionally well written and acted with none of HK cinema's clichéd melodrama. The characters here are many shades of grey, avoiding archetypal absolutes, allowing us to identify with and like even the worst of the worst. All of the action is beautifully composed with kinetic, hand-held photography that compliments the bleak color palette, which results in a gritty and ultra-realistic film, not unlike so many American masterworks from the 1970s.
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Departures (2008)
8/10
Departures: It's All In The Details
9 December 2010
2008's Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but it was certainly the underdog in a race against Israel's Waltz With Bashir and France's Entre Les Murs. All three are worth seeing, but what makes Departures especially interesting is Director Yojiro Takita's filmography.

Considering the last Japanese AA Winner was Akira Kurosawa (for a Russian-made film), Takita is in elite company, especially for a filmmaker who cut his teeth making Pinku films. Pinku (Pinku Eiga) is essentially softcore pornography, but like most things in Japanese Cinema, it's nothing like its American counterpart.

Personally, I'm not a fan of Porn...but I am a fan of Pinku. The differences are myriad, but the fact a Pinku director would go on to helm a film as thought provoking, touching and poignant as Departures, comes as no surprise (even if it does suffer from unimpressive cinematography and a few corny moments). As much of a long shot as Departures was to win, the odds of an American porn Director making such a profound ascension to cinema's pantheon may be too staggering to even compute. http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/
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8/10
Epic Vision: The Director's Cut
9 December 2010
At a whopping 280 minutes, Wender's intended length of his sci-fi epic Until the End of the World might actually make some wish the world was ending, but for those of us willing to commit the time, the Director's cut is a rewarding experience.

The 150 minute theatrical version of the film was criticized for being overly ambitious, disjointed and underdeveloped, while the Director's cut not only fills in these blanks, it fleshes out this fascinating story about how we see the world around us, the search for identity within that world and our obsessive/destructive interface with technology as a means to process reality, both conscious and unconscious. http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/
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8/10
Too Good To Be True...
30 November 2010
If you haven't heard about Casey Affleck's mock-doc that follows Joaquin Phoenix's career implosion, then you probably missed one of the most awkwardly hilarious eleven minutes on TV in years. I'm Still Here was equally fascinating as a 'take the pi$$' study of ego and the empty cult of celebrity. Yeah, it was fake but so what...it revealed a sense of contempt for Hollywood BS few biting satires on the Biz can compete with. If you know the work of Banksy, then you won't be surprised his documentary about Thierry Guetta may also be taking the pi$$...out of documentaries, the art world and whomever / whatever / wherever else the geyser-like stream of pi$$ splatters. Is it real? Is it fake? No matter because --just like I'm Still Here -- it's good. http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/
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The Wrestler (2008)
9/10
The Return of the King
13 January 2009
http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/

Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler is probably the best American film of 2008 and in it, Mickey Rourke delivers perhaps the best performance of 2008. Significantly, The Wrestler announces two important things: 1) Aronofsky has put behind him his film student fixation with gimmicky camera and editing techniques in favor of honest, straight forward film-making and 2) Mickey Rourke is back from the dead.

In case you forgot (or are too young to remember), Rourke was once Hollywood's golden boy, a pretty face with more talent than any of his peers. At the time, the comparisons to Brando were inevitable, but they were also justified - Rourke was an exceptional talent. Just like Brando, Rourke's demons got the worse of him and the drugs, drink, and inexplicable detour into prize fighting, devastated both the man and his once promising career.

In The Wrestler, Rourke plays Randy "The Ram" Robinson, a character so achingly human, you can't resist caring for, crying for and cheering for him. Credit this empathy to Rourke who invests everything in his portrayal of Ram. There's little doubt why Aronofsky cast Rourke as Ram - simply put, Rourke is Ram. And just like Ram, Rourke isn't capable of mailing in a performance; Ram sacrifices everything for his adoring fan, just as Rourke is willing to put everything on table to make The Ram real. When Ram tearfully acknowledges to his estranged daughter (Rachel Evan Wood) he screwed up, he hurt people, he hurt himself and that he regrets the price he's paid for his mistakes, it is obvious Rourke is plumbing the depths of his own despair.

Rourke's ravaged face is a testament to how badly this man has had the sh## kicked out of him in both the boxing ring and in life. This face isn't the creation of a prosthetics or make- up artist, this is the face of a man with a past, with pain and, tragically, with very few people left to love him. This too is The Ram and this verisimilitude is precisely why The Wrestler is destined to be an American classic. It is a surprisingly tender, unpredictable and heart-felt emotional ride about a fallen idol from the 1980s, starring a fallen idol from the 1980s. With luck, this personal piece of work will be as cathartic to Rourke as it is for his fans. If so, welcome back Mickey...you've been missed.
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3/10
There's a Hole in Your Talent...Dear Eliza, Dear Eliza
5 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/

If you ever cross paths with Rob Schmidt or Tom Molloy, the director and screenwriter of The Alphabet Killer, then take the opportunity to insult their intelligence, the way they did yours for claiming their movie, The Alphabet Killer, is based on a true story. This movie is so loosely based on the real Alphabet Killings, it needs both a belt AND suspenders to keep it from falling down to its ankles. Artistic license is one thing, but these two go off on such amateurish tangents, you'd swear they were first year film students desperate to impress their teachers and peers with their cleverness. Problem is, there's nothing clever about AK and if these two had any talent, it should have been the ability recognize the source material didn't need embellishment. As it is, Schmidt and Molloy's treatment is so ridiculous, all it needed to complete its film student predictability was a scene with the protagonist lying naked on the floor, in the fetal position, after suffering a mental breakdown. Oh but wait, she slashes her wrists instead! What a novel substitute.

Eliza Dushku acts her little heart out and the harder she tries, the more embarrassed you feel for her and her complete and utter lack of talent. Dusku may be eye candy, but her inability to act natural is such a distraction it even seems the other actors are staring back at her with pity. And there actually are a few talented actors in this film, but they're working with such poorly written material and are horribly misguided by Schmidt's inept, blunt-force direction. Did Timothy Hutton burn every bridge known to actors to be left with no other option but to accept a job on this shameless piece of on-the-nose garbage?

Avoid at all costs. Shutoff time: 32:14.
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Frost/Nixon (2008)
8/10
A Howard Movie w/o archetypes?!!
3 January 2009
http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/

Perhaps the best American film of 2008, Ron Howard's Frost / Nixon is a fascinating pseudo- documentary recounting the infamous interviews David Frost (Michael Sheen) conducted with resigned President Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) in 1977. Adapted from playwright Peter Morgain's play, the screenplay ingeniously co-opts the wholly satisfying formula of a Rocky- esquire sports melodrama, only this time, the boxing takes place on a figurative chess board. What makes this movie so utterly fascinating to watch is the constant mental maneuvering between the adversarial leads, where Nixon takes on the invincible air of a seasoned champion, and Frost the outclassed, long-shot newcomer.

For a number of reasons, this entire project was destined to be a success long before the cameras ever started to roll. Not only had the source material the good fortune of being polished to a brilliant sheen through its successful run in the theater, the two lead actors had the benefit of reprising the same roles they had been playing in the same play. Langella and Sheen deliver flawless and thoroughly convincing performances, both of them having mastered their roles long before the film was ever green-lit. Howard too has the upper hand on the material, much of it dealing with the inner workings of TV production, since his entire life has been spent either in front of the camera or behind it. It's unlikely any other director would be better suited to direct this material. The end result is unquestionably Howard's best work as helmer, thanks to a screenplay that is unlike anything else he's ever brought to the big screen; Frost / Nixon is a complex character study of two men, both equally compelling and both plagued by their own unique demons. There are no good guys or bad guys in Frost / Nixon and, despite his evil deeds, Nixon is given what feels like a fair shake...perhaps one he doesn't even deserve.
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6/10
Why Such Praise?
3 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/

One movie that won't be on my year-end best of 2008 list is Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire. What's surprising to me is that I might be the only critic on the web to not have it on their list. After watching it last night, I want to know: why all the love for a routine melodrama dressed up as something exotic?

As you expect from Boyle, SM is exceptionally stylish, fluid and kinetic. The more I think about why so many people love this movie, the more I come back to how expertly the film is crafted. It is a hyper film, bristling with action, drama, emotion and energy. India makes for a truly epic backdrop, with splashes of color, clutter and exotic wonder. With the languages breaking in and out of English, Hindi and other regional dialects, SM feels like a completely foreign, yet utterly accessible movie. In nearly ever superficial way imaginable, SM strives to be a palatable form of culture shock. Based on its success, it seems Boyle has succeeded.

For the first half of the film, the story's winding structure deliberately keeps you guessing, your head spinning amidst a whirlwind of backstory and puzzling present tense. But by about the halfway mark, I found my bearings, and once I did, the artifice of the film started to reveal itself. At this point, a very simple, but (potentially) revealing question popped into my head: if this whole thing was set in the USA with familiar actors and locations, wouldn't it just be another syrupy sweet romantic melodrama?

Perhaps the real culprit was when the story and character's transitioned from childhood to maturity. With the first half of SM reminiscent of the adventures of Satyajit Ray's Apu, I was swept up and completely sucked in by young Jamal's struggles. But once Jamal was transformed into a young man, the events unraveled into a predictable teenage soap opera, with plot lines seemingly plucked from The O.C. or Gossip Girl.

By the time the end credits started to roll and the cast of actors broke into a choreographed song and dance routine, I felt like Boyle was mocking me. For a movie that starts out with such a kick to the gut in terms of gritty, gutter level realism, for it to end on such a completely phony level, I can't help but feel Boyle pulled the wool over everyone's eyes. Perhaps that's the point.

It's no secret SM is a fairy tale, furthermore, much of it is lifted right out of the pages of Dickins' Oliver Twist. The film also references Puccini's Tosca, a three-act opera considered by many to be the most dramatic of all operas. Since Boyle unabashedly acknowledges SM's operatic and dramatic origins, then perhaps his fault is his ambition. His ambition is to turn a contrived melodrama into a social commentary, to thrust into the spotlight the issues of poverty, a developing India, the caste system, globalization and the injustices of capitalism. Big themes indeed, but Boyle is not Brecht and there's nothing post-modern about SM's shamefully manipulative attempt to hide behind realism.

I might be the only critic on the web to dislike this movie...but at least I know why.
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9/10
Swedish Whale...of a movie
3 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/

2008 was a busy year for blood suckers and within this booming sub-genre was the syrupy emo of Twilight, the overwrought small-screen melodrama of True Blood and a film from Sweden that blew everything else away.

Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In is something few vampire movies are: an art film with a bite. Atmospheric, contemplative, and relatively serene, LTROI is, in many ways, the anti- thesis of typical vampire films. Utilizing long takes and wide shots, Alfredson exercises restraint by allowing much of the action to play out in real time within each carefully composed frame. When random outbursts of violence occur, they are come as a shock, starkly contrasting LTROI's predominant calm. Alfredson alternates between wide shots and tight close ups, emphasizing both the interior and exterior world's inhabited by the film's lonely and sympathetic protagonist, a young boy named Oskar (Kare Hedebrant).

Grade schooler Oskar is pale, frail and awkward. He has no friends, is bullied daily and, for the most part, ignored by his divorced parents. Oskar is a sensitive boy, who lives in an interior world, where much of his time is occupied by violent fantasies he plays out using his equally unimpressive hunting knife. Oskar's inability to fit in is what attracts his new neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), for she too is a social misfit...a blood sucking freak inhabiting the body of a twelve year old girl.

Eli and Oskar develop an unlikely, but touching friendship fueled by the void in each of their lives. Eli's secret hinges on her servant/master relationship with an aging and pathetic man she lives with, her care giver who murderously maintains her debilitating hunger for blood. Once her servant is no longer able to serve her, Oskar becomes an even more prominent figure in her life. Eli's diminutive size, sallow complexion and large, puppy dog eyes, make her the ideal wolf in sheep's clothes, and her innocent naiveté is as spellbinding for viewers as it is for Oskar. Eli fills the void in Oskar's life, which not only gives him the strength he needs to stand up for himself, it gives him a sense of purpose.

LTROI isn't the first vampire movie to use fangs as a metaphor for alienation, but Anderson's film is unique in the ways it represents this theme. One part coming-of-age, one part love story, and one part horror film, the sum of these parts manages to recharge the well-worn vampire genre. Most striking of all is Eli, who is one of the silver screen's most complex, disturbing and unconventional vampires. Because she's a twelve year old girl, her seduction of Oskar is taboo and uncomfortable to watch, yet, at the same time it's sincere and heartfelt. This contradictory duality, ironically, creates an incredibly human vampire, one we are both sympathetic to and terribly frightened of.

Enjoy the freshness of this film while it lasts since the upcoming new year promises the foul stench of an American remake.
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5/10
Flags, flags, everywhere...
3 January 2009
http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/

There isn't too much to like about Wim Wenders' films over the last twenty years. There have been a few bright spots, but for the most part, Wenders' obsession with America has gotten the worst of him. In his prime, few directors since Antonioni were as adept at depicting inner monologues through silence. Wenders' characters were complicated men of few words.

Over time Wenders love affair with America somehow convinced him that the 'less is more' approach was failing. Wenders threw his greatest strength out the door and substituted it with what would become, over time and many films, his achilles heel: big ideas.

The characters in Land of Plenty aren't really individual people, they are ideas. These characters represent something grander, something excruciatingly ambitious: the American conscience. Lofty goals of this sort often end up as preachy and pretentious and LOP's screenplay is just that. Shot on the cheap, on digital video, LOP feels like noble idea rushed into production without the benefit of enough revisions to weed out the heavy handedness. Films concerned with the traumatic effects of 9/11 are compelled to be both profound and reverential, the problem is profound and reverential seldom make for a worthwhile movie going experience. If there was a rating system based on the number of American flags displayed in a movie, LOP would score full points, as it is, LOP rates very low.
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Wanted (2008)
7/10
Ridiculous...and good.
3 January 2009
http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com

I detested the trailers and I'm not a fan of gene-pool lottery winner Angelina Jolie, so one movie I never thought I'd sit down to watch was Timur Bekmambetov's action orgy Wanted. Problem was, I kept coming across reviews that wrote about this film being a pleasant surprise. Considering all I had to lose was an hour and a half, I thought I'd give it a shot. Surprise, surprise...Wanted actually is a pleasant surprise.

This surprise didn't come easy and it most definitely didn't come early. The first fifteen minutes or so was nothing less than a flip imitation of Fight Club, so lame that my finger hovered over the "stop" button on my computer. But patience prevailed and once Wesley Gibson's (James McAvoy) fate was altered, there truly was no turning back. When Wanted shifts into second gear, it does so with a resounding thump of unbridled torque. Once Wanted screams aloud that its a thrill ride, it does something few action films ever have the smarts to do - it winks at the audience.

This wink let's us know this isn't the real world, but that this is a movie...and a very silly movie at that. The remainder of Wanted is crammed full of implausibly over-the-top, yet very slick and expertly choreographed action sequences, each one upping the ante of ridiculousness. Wanted reminds us being silly and ridiculous is not the exclusive realm of the Farrelly Brothers, and not since John Woo made an art form out of corny, over-the-top action films has there been something with so much adrenaline and laugh-out-loud silliness as Wanted.

Within this realm of excessive camp, Angelina Jolie fits as snug as silk stockings (not that I would actually know). The more serious she plays her character Fox (even the name is a groan inducing pun), the more you can't hate her freakishly abnormal "good" looks and constant mugging for the camera. If she does take herself this seriously in real life, then she must be excruciating company, but if she has the sense of humor to understand her role here, then props to her. Her cheesy performance is destined to be parodied, yet few parodies will ever come close to besting her own efforts. She delivers every line of dialogue as if it were her last and every cat-like motion she slinks across the screen with is deliberately bon3r baiting.

Beyond Jolie, the cast in Wanted is first rate. McAvoy does the fish-out-of-water routine with ease and Morgan Freeman is, well...Morgan Freeman. The pleasant bonus appearance is Terence Stamp who is, in my mind, one of the most underused actors around. I can't believe I'm saying it, but I had a laugh out loud riot watching Wanted. Never having met John Woo or Timur Bekmambetov, I can't say for sure if they take this junk seriously, but if taking the pi$$ out of a tired genre is their thing, then they're experts at this craft. If, on the other hand, they're not in on the joke...well, at least they're getting rich getting laughed at.
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3/10
Unbearable...
3 January 2009
http://eattheblinds.blogspot.com/

I was lured to the cinema this week, hungering for a big blockbuster on the biggest screen in town. Unfortunately my choice was The Day the Earth Stood Still. When the movie opens in the freezing arctic, puffs of steam coming out of their actor's mouth are noticeably absent. So much for realism. Sadly, the director wants to convince you this movie is actually set in the real world and he goes to great lengths to prove so...trouble is, he's a hack and his efforts are strained, pathetically obvious and utterly unconvincing.

You'd think this film had the budget of a viral video considering how bad all the CG helicopters look. The flight scenes in Clint Eastwood's Firefox look magnificent in comparison. As the action starts to ramp up, the horribly predictable dialogue becomes insufferable, incredibly fast. Throw in Will Smith's kid who can't act and his Sideshow Bob hair-do, and your brain starts to fracture into mind mincing shards. I liked the Exorcism of Emily Rose, but because of this worthless attempt to remake a masterpiece, I'll forever consider the name Scott Derrickson a curse to movie-making. Walkout time: 22:00. Full refund issued.
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JCVD (2008)
8/10
Van Damn!
3 January 2009
Jean-Claude Van Damme for Best Actor? Like most people, you probably never expected to read Van Damme's name in the same sentence with Best Actor. But writer/director Mabrouk El Mechri's JCVD proves the muscles from Brussels actually does have some serious acting chops. In JCVD's best moment, Van Damme has a lengthy aside to the camera, where he talks of regret and self loathing. The moment is gut wrenching and candid, the lines of dialogue cutting close to what we can only imagine is the painful truth of Van Damme's life. JCVD is full of these candid moments, presenting a fresh perspective on the harsh reality of a fallen star's regret laden existence. It's hard to imagine any movie could make you pity the jet-setting lifestyle of an international movie star, but JCVD does just that. JCVD also succeeds in making you laugh, whether it be slapstick schtick or a biting commentary on the trappings of fame. The screenplay and direction are equally smart, full of contemptuous zeal from beginning to end as they portray the soul ravaging politics of Hollywood which twist like a knife into the side of Van Damme. JCVD is by no means the equivalent of Fellini's 8 1/2, but it should be given some credit for bringing the art-house to the grindhouse.
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