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Fans of Welles Have Something to Celebrate
"The Other Side of The Wind" was Orson Welles last attempt at filmmaking before his death. It is a true testament to the genius of the greatest director of our generation, and is a shame that the movie will never be seen because the only movies that are made now are corporate projects, and art is not optional, and is even disregarded in the name of greed.
Orson Welles, as most people know, could not get financing for his movies later on in his life. Why? The reason is because film studios have become corporate machines, making money rather than making art. Since the days of Star Wars and Jaws, film studios have been much more concerned with the idea of box office receipts than with the idea of presenting filmmakers as artisans. These days, news papers are obsessed with the box office of a film even more than the plot.
Welles, in his later years, was against all the paper pushers and money launderers that populate the film industry. Unfortunately, he also had to pander to them to get funding. So he went into a depression and made some terrible choices, relegating himself into a characterture of his former self, appearing in ridiculous films, TV commercials, and started on a downhill slide that culminated in making some absolute disasters in order to try to accumulate any kind of investments.
At one point, he attempted to communicate this in a film called "The Other Side of the Wind" in which the main character, a Director, coming to terms with his 70th birthday, is confronted by a younger version of himself in the form of another Boy Wonder who makes commercial films which are successful money makers. The two characters are played by the legendary John Huston as the older man and Peter Bogdanovich as the Wunderkind. At the time the film was being shot, Huston was most like the real character of Welles himself, and Bogdanovich was a hybrid of all the successful Lucases and Spielbergs of the world.
In addition, the story of "Wind" also includes a playful 70's type of Avant Guarde film, one that would easily have fit in with the "Easy Rider" and "Zabriskie Point" genre of films which represented the alternative film industry. The story then zigzags back and forth between the "real" story of the Director and the "fantasy" story of the trippy film, with Welles' Muse, the gorgeous Oja Kodar as the lead girl, traipsing thru endless psychedelic environments, followed by a mute boy, and culminating in a fantasy sex scene while being driven by another actor in a car in a rainstorm-- a scene as erotic as possible in the era of free love and experimentation.
However, the documentary is more complex, and captures the essence of Welles' philosophy of life in which he is constantly at odds with the business of filmmaking throughout his entire life.
The saddest part of the story is when Welles, who was dependent on Peter Bogdanovich at one point, betrays his friend by saying negative things about him on a talk show. One wonders what was his motive in doing so -- was Welles being subconsciously self-destructive? Was he jealous of Peter's ability to make financially successful films? There is even a part in the shooting of "Wind" where he casts a 19-year-old girl as the pawn between the two Directors, and one is immediately reminded of Bogdanovich's obsession with Cybil Sheppard, who was also 19 when she was cast as the actress in "Last Picture Show."
In fact, so much of "Wind" is a reflection of Welles' life, that it is almost another attempt at telling the story of "8 1/2", which captures Fellini's trials and tribulations while making a film that also would never be released. Welles is subconsciously telling us the story of his life, all the while denying that this was his intention.
Lower Your Expectations
It is a shame that I will have to give this project a mediocre review, since I think the effort to tell Robert Mapplethorpe's story is admirable. Unfortunately, even though I am a fan of Ondi Timoner, the incredibly talented Director of We Live In Public, I would have to caution viewers to lower their expectations before entering the theater.
Perhaps what was most disappointing was the treatment of Patti Smith's character in the film. The actress, Marianne Rendon, was not up to the level that she should have been. The facts of the relationship are distorted, and the timeline also seems a bit off. In the movie, the character of Patti is working to support Robert; however, in real life, both of them worked to support each other. Patti gets annoyed with Robert (because of some unknown reason) and storms out, therefore, leaving Robert to find another lover/benefactor in the form of rich curator Sam Wagstaff -- yet in real life, Patti stayed with him quite a bit later on and was actually herself also funded by Sam Wagstaff when she went into a studio to record her first single. So the idea that Patti would never want to see or speak to Robert again is completely wrong, and Patti herself said publicly several times that what she and Robert had was much more than ordinary love. The scene of Patti walking out on Robert rings false, as does much of what Marianne has to work with. (I read her book Just Kids, her autobiography of that time, and it is quite clear that she would never have walked out of Robert's life, no matter what the outside circumstances.)
I had really hoped to see Patti and Robert creating the image of her first album cover (Horses), yet that scene seems to have been left out for some unknown reason. (Maybe a copyright issue?)
The film jumps forward quickly and does an awkward shift of Robert suddenly becoming famous and carrying his gripe against the world regardless of the fact that his photos are now being collected and respected. Oddly, he seems to be obsessed with the idea of "biting the hand that feeds him" on many occasions. Somehow, I feel this was an assumption by the writer and director and may not have actually been the real course of events. Robert is "discovered" (i.e., he sleeps with a guy who's rich) and the man who discovered him, Sam Wagstaff, is portrayed in the film as a gullible personality who falls under Robert's spell, and later on is prone to jealousy as Robert lives an obviously self-indulgent existence without a care in the world. As it is, Walstaff becomes quite successful and wealthy himself by the arrangement, and is therefore doubly compensated.
The lead actor, Matt Smith, does a professional job of portraying the famous photographer, and hits all the right notes. However, the material he gets to work with is all one-sided: apparently, according to the script, Robert Mapplethorpe could not get along with anyone, including none of his family members, not his first girlfriend (Patti Smith), not Sam Wagstaff, not a black man who was his muse named Milton, not his kid brother Edward, and of course, not his mother and father. In fact, (again, as the script dictates), he is painfully dropped by everyone -- and in one very "on the nose" moment, his "black muse" Milton says, "You don't love anyone but yourself" before smashing the famous photo that Robert took of him in the business suit -- and storming out of Robert's life -- of course, there is a bit of belief that needed to be suspended here.
As it is written, Robert Mapplethorpe is a crass, egotistic, over-hyped selfish brat who takes dirty pictures that are first, horribly rejected and later on, lavishly sought after by obnoxiously self-important and vain art dealers and critics. Yet, in spite of all that he achieves, and in spite of selling photos for thousands of dollars each, Robert is still living the life of a tortured artist. This leaves one to wonder, what exactly is his problem?
The scenes of Robert creating some of his famous photos are somewhat simplistic, i.e., the most that he seems to do to take a photo is to say "Cross your legs" and then "Put your arms out" -- as if it was just another day at the office. The scenes of some of the really erotic photos are about as exciting as someone taking wedding pictures (which, strangely enough, happens in a one scene set in San Francisco. As far as I can tell, Robert shot even Weddings, as long as it paid well. If this was a cartoon, a giant question mark would appear right about this point in the film, as if to say, 'Huh, say whut?'.)
In watching the film version, one can't help but wonder why is such a major artist being given such a simplistic biography. Was the budget too small? Was it too hard to include some of the more controversial issues? Issues such as the famous censorship case with the American Family Association (they declared his photos to be pornography) -- which, in hindsight, legitimized his work, and the resulting publicity pushed his fame into the public consciousness.
Surely a talented biographer as Ondi Timoner must have seen the irony of this series of events: unknown photographer takes erotic photos, no one takes any notice; the religious right denounces them, and suddenly everyone wants to see them -- bingo, instant fame. The story is really about our collective bigotry. We are all subject to the same fault: one only wants something when an authority figure tells us we can't have it. That's Ondi's territory -- and she does it so well.
Extraordinary View of a Magnificent Lady
Grace Jones is a force of nature. At least a Hurricane, if not a comet about to hit the earth. The musical numbers in the movie are about the best I have ever seen in a concert film, and the recording of the music is outstanding. For that alone, the movie should be considered for an Oscar for Sound (even though it is a documentary, the Producers and Director have spent a good deal of money to make the soundtrack as perfect as possible during the concert.
For the entire length of the movie, I had the feeling that Grace was never hiding her feelings from the camera, and allowed us to see her from all angles, even the moments when she comes out from a shower naked. And she is timeless -- not only in terms of voice and performance, but in her attitude towards her family and neighbors from her childhood in Jamaica. Even though there were times when I could not understand the broken English, I sensed the love and compassion she feels for her family and friends from the Shantytowns where she grew up. At one point, she returns to the Church (where the Preacher is apparently her brother?), and where her mother sings an obscure Bluesy Religious number (in a very high Soprano, which is somewhat difficult to bear, especially having heard Grace sing in her deep voice), but Grace gives each of the clan equal respect and not once does she ever show a single moment of pretension.
Congratulations go to the Director for taking us on a personal journey. The only drawback is that the other people are not identified. I had hoped that there would be lower third titles to at least let us know who the other people in the film are, and where in Jamaica the scenes were shot.
Finally, there is Grace herself, who is a work of beauty and absolutely flawless for her age (she was performing in this movie at about age 60, and looks like she could be 35.) Her body is in perfect shape, she has gorgeous eyes and a stunningly beautiful face -- amazingly perfect in every way. A true beauty, even without makeup. During the movie, she tells her son that when she was his age, she could go dancing all night and still make it to the photo shoot the next day, and we can easily believe it.
The Emperor's New Clothes as cut by a Sycophant Editor
From the point of view of a long-standing Errol Morris fan, I cannot for the life of me see what is so unique about this series. I only saw the first 2 hours, but those were 2 excruciating hours. After that, I couldn't take it anymore.
The entire time I waited for some kind of revelation to happen, or maybe a little of the magic of the first few Documentaries by Mr. Morris, but there seems to be hardly any left after all these years. My hero is now a one-trick pony, reiterating his greatest hits, using the techniques he used well over 3 decades ago, and repeating them again and again.
Don't get me wrong, I really wanted to like this series but I can only say that, if Errol was interested in making a project that would have some impact, he might have considered getting himself an Editor who would challenge his meandering, repetitive, tedious method of storytelling. Errol, my best suggestion is to find someone to cut your movies who is not a sycophant.
The basic storyline is drawn from the many many hours of interviews with a man who's father was a pawn of the CIA and who plunged to his death from what was considered a 'suicide' after taking LSD (against his will) as part of a super-secret experiment. Now, I like conspiracies much more than the average moviegoer, so ol'Errol is preaching to the choir when he gets his audience mired in one conspiracy after another.
But the drawback is that we have to watch every single solitary possibility acted out in long, drawn-out, talky sequences, all of which serve no other purpose than to justify the "series" part of the equation. (All I can surmise is that the Netflix execs must have wanted an exclusive series that they could promote the hell out of -- since the documentary does not justify any more than a 90 minute treatment.) Amid all of this is the myth that LSD supposedly would cause a normally stable man to commit suicide. Of course, that assumption is false, but for some ridiculous reason, the family believes it.
Had Errol done his usual routine, get the facts, get the talking heads, overlay the headlines, and tied it all up at the end of 90 minutes, this would have been a work of genius along with his many other achievements. However, someone let the kid into the candy store and allowed him to gorge himself on as much padded mishmosh of re-enactments as he could possibly stomach. The result is a very bloated, very over-acted, very slow, very verbose series.
Served Like a Girl (2017)
A Gem that should be in the running for Oscar Consideration
This is a beautifully directed film by a talented first time filmmaker, and has one of the best soundtracks of any documentary ever produced (courtesy of the stellar songwriter Linda Perry). I cannot recall a film that had me tearing up at so many points with honest heartbreaking emotions. Many of the women portrayed in the film have dealt with seeing their comrades die in battle, and yet, they continue to soldier on, even to the point of competing in a sort of a "beauty pageant" towards the second half of the film.
What makes the film so extraordinary is the way that the women expose their raw inner feelings directly in complete honesty towards the camera. How a first-time filmmaker was able to connect so completely with her subjects is beyond comprehension.
At first glance, the poster and the title suggest a downer of a film. Nothing could be further from the truth, as the film is uplifting beyond comparison. In the current political climate, where so much blame is targeted towards foreign nationalities in the Middle East, this small band of women makes the best out of their devastating situations (several returning women vets are left homeless with children to raise) and they never seem to have a complaint, nor do they blame it on any foreign race, religion, or dogma. There are moments that seem surreal in the way their lives have taken such hard knocks, but the fact that they continue to face difficulty with brave smiles and positive attitudes shows how unbelievably strong women soldiers can be.
This film should be on everyone's list come Oscar time. I don't understand how lesser projects seem to attract more attention than one with so much heart as this is. Probably connections have something to do with that, but if everyone would suspend their prejudice towards documentaries and watch this film, you will not be disappointed. You will be uplifted.
Beach Rats (2017)
Boring and Predictable
As usual with the Sundance darlings, I can't understand what possessed the people who saw this to award it with a prize of any sort. It's very tedious to sit through the scenes of the lead character ("Frankie?") emoting the same dogged look on his face in every shot. He seems to have one reaction to everything -- kind of a vapid, listless stare. I don't see how it evokes any kind of emotion to the scenes going on around him. To say that this is an original story would be very generous to the writer/director. I feel like I've seen this plot and set of characters before, but done better. Every scene was played out by the book, so we know exactly what will happen before it does, and there are many unfocused scenes (both in the writing and the shaky-cam cinematography). I got very ansy trying to accept that the 3 other male characters would easily go along with the idea of searching a gay male dating app for a bag of weed (huh? Are these guys all in some kind of mental black hole?) And the idea that the lead character would ask them to search for weed on a gay dating site is completely absurd. In general, the plot is very limited -- they do nothing, they smoke vapes, they do nothing again, they try to score weed, they do nothing again, and there are a couple of yawns over some forced communication, and the movie drags on. I finally had to stand up and leave before it ended because I was in danger of falling asleep.
Real emotion bottled and presented in a distilled form
This is one very affecting movie, a type of film that fills you with a sense of real people feeling real emotions --nothing is fake, all the characters and all their needs are as real and painful as it gets. And just as in life, nothing is resolved in a satisfying ending.
The lead actress is one very ambitious young lady, Oulaya Amamra, who will make her mark on cinematic history soon, but you might want to catch her in her early stage to see how she progresses quickly to Meryl Streep (or at least Jennifer Lawrence) status. Her character's name is Dounia, and she is a daughter of the town slut in a Roma (Gypsy) camp.
Her best friend, Maimounia, a black girl, daughter of a Muslim priest, is as lovable as they come. The two of them conspire to become rich. Even though they achieve the goal, it eludes them in a way that is completely unfair, yet realistic. There is no simple resolution, and therefore, the film is just like life: it is completely and utterly unfair.
Although the plot seems simple, it is extremely more complex and a summary of the action doesn't do justice to the story. Dounia has a love-hate relationship with a male dancer that takes too much away from the rest of the film, and the scenes of the dancer are way over long and unnecessary, but thankfully it is the relationship that she has with her best female friend that is the true heart of the film.
To say more would detract from one's enjoyment of the twists and turns that ensue during the course of the film. Rest assured, you will be glad you spent time in the company of the actresses and the female director of this very impressive film.
Smrt u Sarajevu (2016)
Did I see the same film as everyone else here?
After reading the other reviews on this page, I am seriously baffled as to how the other writers can give the film such a high rating. Everything about this film was like a trip to the dentist -- I know it's good for me, but very painful to have to sit through.
Since I gather that the purpose of the film is to present the history of the Serbian conflict in the form of entertainment, the filmmakers choose to use a semi-documentary/hybrid form, somewhat disjointed, as the scenes of the TV Reporter constantly interrupt the more emotional and engaging story of the hotel employees planning to strike.
The momentum of the story of the impeding strike is further disrupted by the droning rehearsal of a boring bore of a boar, a government official rehearsing his impossibly tedious speech, which is seen in an overhead spy cam.
In addition, the scenes of the hotel staff are inevitably shot from behind the characters as they walk along the endless hallways and the story is spelled out in relentless dribble that varies from deep personal observations to hostile confrontations. (The technique is reminiscent of "Elephant" by Gus Van Sant, and gives it an additional level of distance from the emotional aspect of the story.) In one horrible scene, shown in long shot, a leader of the strike is beaten into submission by a couple of hired thugs, which is highly symbolic of the overall theme.
By utilizing the various formats, the filmmakers have accomplished a kind of Brecht-ian distancing from the actual events and enabled a kind of "objective" reporting of the facts. We are never told who to sympathize with, and not presented with any moral conclusions. Yet there is an attempt to show a culture that is forever doomed to repeat it's own past mistakes. However, like a dose of bitter medicine, just because it's good for you doesn't mean you have to swallow it whole.
Kate Plays Christine (2016)
Kate Doesn't Play A Convincing Christine
Christine Chubbuck, a small town Newscaster and local TV personality, is the subject of this doc, in which an actress tries to inhabit the persona of Christine during the last few days of her life, but never quite manages the task. Obviously this role would probably have been amazing in the hands of someone as talented as, say, Meryl Streep or Glenn Close, but the poor unknown actress who up to this point has had only minor roles, who is trying to play Christine, is WAY out of her league.
The attempt here is to make the actress, Kate Lyn Sheil, a stand-in for Christine, by changing her makeup, adding a wig and colored contact lenses, having her re-live Christine's last days in her Sarasota FL location, but unfortunately Kate is just not strong enough to manage the difficulty of channeling Christine, a complex, driven, obviously manic depressive woman, who's message to humanity is completely misinterpreted.
As almost everyone in the film mentions, the suicide was the inspiration for the brilliant screenplay of "Network" and is quoted many times throughout this doc. Of course, the storyline was changed significantly and the suicide was turned into an assassination, and the character that would have been a seriously manic young woman was turned into the unstable old man played by Peter Finch, so there is no real comparison between the two films.
Additionally, the doc also suffers from a lack of insight into its lead character. Although the promo leads one to believe that there will be some insight into the mindset of Christine and the incident that the doc is based on, the on-air suicide, there is none present, except for a short interview with a local psychologist.
As for Christine herself, we barely see her: All we get to see is a very short glimpse of the real Christine, for about 30 secs or less, during a very routine interview at what looks like a small-town public access TV station, and her voice is almost completely drowned out by the actress and the other former TV crew talking about her, instead of just letting the audience watch her conducting a meaningless interview -- the one time we get a tiny glimpse of Christine's soul, she is completely ignored. How ironic! Even in a doc about her, the filmmaker's egos trumped their own subject.
Christine read a carefully worded statement but it seems as though none of the film's Producers or Director spent much time dissecting it, rather putting their effort into a misguided re-enactment which falls flat and is ultimately defeated by the film crew at the end cleaning up the actress and doing away with the mess. It is all washed away, just as Christine's statement was but an ignorant mass media.
Kate, the actress, to her credit, makes a valiant attempt to give Christine a voice, gets to the edge and looks over, but never makes the leap. Even as the crew sets up the false studio and recreates the fatal newscast, Kate hesitates a few times before steeling herself for the final scene. But it's never satisfying -- it has an anti-climatic feel about it all. it comes off as being stagey, unrealistic and has a very low-budget feel about it.
Although the film makes a great effort to interview everyone that Christine had contact with, there seems to be a lot of key people missing -- there are some side references to a pair of brothers who are never really addressed, and one wonders what happened to both of them? Did they also commit suicide? Or were they just never contacted? The film seems to create more questions than it answers.
The actual tape of Christine's suicide, showing her putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger, has never been shown after the day of the incident, and even though it is referred to by the other men of the TV crew, no explanation is given as to the present whereabouts of the tape, other than that it is not available.
Apparently a tape of the actual event has now been located, and after all the efforts to get it released, it still remains to be seen whether the widow of the station owner will allow anyone to broadcast it ever again. Perhaps the tape may hold some hidden inner message that Christine wanted to impart to the world, but for whatever reason, the world wants to forget.
Finding Vivian Maier (2013)
I'm really underwhelmed
After all the hype surrounding this film (and the Oscar nomination), I thought there might be a reason for it. But unfortunately, I didn't get it. I didn't see much that impressed me about the subject, the filmmaker (who was way too present) or the so-called "mystery" of why we really need to have a history of every aspect of Vivian's life.
So what if she was a Nanny? Big deal. So what if she never had a showing during her lifetime? So do most artists who die penniless. I think there is so much emphasis on how brilliant she was, that it was difficult to see what the pictures are all about: they are simple depictions of the world as seen through one woman's eyes. So therefore, it didn't matter one bit that she was not a recognized artist during her lifetime.
The constant interruption of the images by the filmmaker emoting in front of the camera is grating, and the repeated shots of him developing and printing, is annoying to say the least. All of it went way too far in making him seem like he was some kind of a savior who gave the world a gift -- and ignores the fact that Vivian was the kind of artist who only wanted to practice her art without all the hoopla and celebrity that follows most of the pretentious egocentric photographers like Annie Leibowitz or Cindy Sherman -- where the personality of the photographer becomes more important than the images themselves. At least Vivian didn't proclaim how brilliant she was, and expect everyone to reward her.
In all honesty, I failed to see any real innovation in terms of photography. Almost every image was almost like a direct analogy to Diane Arbus, who frankly did it better. Vivian was a good photographer, no question. But what bothers me is the ludicrous hype that has now grown up around the images -- and it all seems unwarranted. There is nothing about this documentary that suggests it should be nominated for an Oscar, and was, in my opinion, a waste of time.
Happy Valley (2014)
A Total, Sad and Mind-Numbing Bore
Just to get this out of the way: first, I am a huge fan of Amir Bar-Lev, a very intelligent and respectable filmmaker who has made two of the most interesting documentary films of the last decade. Both 'My Kid' and 'Tillman' were accomplished, gripping, and worthy of all the praise they received. So it is with sincere regret that I have to rate this project as one of complete and utter boredom. So much so, in fact, that I actually fell asleep halfway through (no exaggeration -- it was that dull).
Unfortunately, Amir wades into the thick of the muck all too eagerly, with the attitude of a Hollywood wunderkind who is about to show all the inherent vice in the heart of America; what results is more of a exposition of Film Industry superiority reigning over ordinary, hard-scrapple Middle America. The subject matter, however, is secondary to the desperation in trying to get this movie into theaters by any means possible, including exploitation.
Each one of the interviews is conducted, one after another with wide-eyed, sincere, painfully naive gerbil-like players in the giant fishbowl of absurd media, where the central question, who knew what? is debated over and over again to the point where we really can't keep track of any of them and begin to wonder why it all matters.
Okay, so the basic premise is that there is a coach who is buggering youngsters and his boss is aware that something is going on (by an unsubstantiated third party) and so the whole city has come to a screeching halt in order to take sides on the issue. We've heard the same boring details hundreds of times already, as the media loves to continue to belabor this type of story anyway, and so there isn't much more hidden motive to uncover. Simply stated, the film doesn't show us anything beyond the obvious: the coach of a famous football team likes to play around with young men. Is this a revelation? Doesn't anyone seem to notice that football is a homoerotic sport to begin with? As far as the outcome of the case, we see thousands of Penn State students marching in defense of their beloved Joe Paterno, as if it's a giant demonstration in response to the bombing of a Middle Eastern elementary school -- which of course, none of them ever would care about. Sad to say, the only thing that seems to get these kids off their respective asses is the idea that they might not have a winning football season. That lets me believe that Bar-Lev might have had an actual point to making the film. But it is all watered-down with a mind-numbing dose of Americana: as the debate rages, just what does the admission mean for Penn State and the future of football in general? And who cares? It's really a sorry statement that a good filmmaker like Bar-Lev has to stoop so low as to pick up National Enquirer-like subjects to get his films financed. But I guess that's what's happened to documentaries -- since no one bothers to watch anything intelligent, we have to resort to exploitation to get a movie into a theater. Overall, it is a sad reflection on the state of documentaries as a whole.
The Dog (2013)
Brilliant, Funny and Tragic -- and all simultaneously
The story of "Dog Day Afternoon" always intrigued me, since I never believed that the whole thing was true -- it didn't seem plausible that anyone like John, the "Dog" of the title, could really exist. After watching this documentary, I can say without a doubt that this person really existed, and not only that, but that he's even more entertaining in real life than Al Pacino was in the famous movie that was made about it.
John is a multi-faceted, bizarre, crazy clown of a man with the most fascinating approach to gay rights ever. He is hilarious, headstrong, outspoken, a sheer nut case, and incredibly sympathetic, even heart breaking in his dedication to those he loves. His purpose in robbing the bank, to get his lover a sex-change operation, always seemed to be a plot device added to the film by the scriptwriter. Amazingly, it is all true, and even more truth is yet to come.
One thing that really surprised me was the treatment of the relationship between John and his second "wife" -- Leon. John was actually married to a biological woman and had two children with her, and not only married Leon, he also married another man later in life. John was not only ahead of his time, way before gay marriage existed, he invented a new form of marriage, the likes of which would never be legal, at least in our lifetimes.
In the movie "Dog Day Afternoon", John holds up the bank in order to get enough money for his lover Leon's sex change operation. I could never believe that the man played by Pacino could do such a thing, but watching John in this film, it is believable -- again, the truth here is stranger than fiction. Even John's mother actually appeared on the scene as in the movie, which also seems impossible until you meet John's real life mother. At first, John's relationship with his mother seems merely abnormal -- later, it seems like these two people deserve each other in being two sides of the same bizarre coin.
Added to this is the fact that John never regrets his decision to go through with the robbery, regardless of having gone to jail and having spent a great deal of time in maximum security -- when interviewed after being captured, he still admitted that he was in love with Leon, and would have done it again if he had to do it all over again.
What complicates this unbelievable sacrifice is a very candid interview when John is on a cable-access-type show, when John and Leon, (now having had the operation and transitioned into Liz), are both giving their individual perspectives, and Leon/Liz hints that there might have been another reason as to why John robbed the bank, to which John is not admitting. This opens up yet another can of worms that is never answered. It leaves a gaping hole in John's motivation for robbing the bank, and brings us back again to the essential question: how is it possible that truth can be so much stranger than fiction?
La grande bellezza (2013)
The Great Bore
Overblown, overdressed, overlong, overpaid, boar-ing and bore-ing in more ways than one. The analogies to Fellini are completely exaggerated. It is hardly a sequel to La Dolce Vita; it's no more engaging than a rich film student's attempt at parody.
There are few scenes that feel any more than false, the central character has absolutely no likability and his friends are some of the least interesting caricatures ever committed to film. I felt completely distant, unbearable boredom, complete disinterest, and annoyed while watching this as my attention was on the utter disaster of people who had just faced the horrifying destruction of the Philippines in the massive typhoon just days earlier.
Everything shown in the film was painful to watch, grating in its devotion to absolute decadence without purpose. This is a sad commentary on Italian film history, which gave the world such poetry when we saw real life displayed in all of its harsh angles during the era of Italian Neo-realism.
If only someone like Goddard could stand up for us poor deceived sheep, and really put a stop to the movement of film towards unbridled sensationalism.
How is it that this useless exercise in visual gluttony is being presented for awards like a polished golden turd? What happened to the brilliance of Pasolini, Antonioni, Rossellini, and dozens of others (not to mention Fellini of course) -- how is it possible that instead of their brilliant lessons, we have to deal with such pretension?
The Sacrament (2013)
Lacking in subtlety. but long on ambition
This is basically a re-telling of the Jonestown Massacre, which, if anyone doesn't know, is a real event that happened in the late 1970's, when a megalomaniac by the name of Jim Jones brought several hundred members of a religious group called the People's Temple to a remote jungle location in Guyana.
After a small cadre of politicians arrived by a small private plane to respond to several requests from disillusioned members of the congregation, there suddenly was a desperate stampede by a number of the group to leave the compound. Jim Jones then ordered the guards to shoot the members who were attempting to leave, and gave the entire crowd each a cup of kool-aid laced with cyanide in a mass suicide.
The event was forgotten for many years, and has been dramatized in this film, which takes the original story and hams it up for the camera, by taking the stance of a "reality" show approach to the filming.
Unfortunately, the experiment fails to generate the sense of reality that the filmmakers were attempting to capture, and the feeling is much more forced rather than coming from a real event. Although it was a reasonably noble attempt to make a notorious situation somehow believable, by it's very nature, it is doomed. It would have been much more believable if the film were just shot as a normal film would be, without the extra layer of a "found footage" project.
Since the camera is always supposed to be running, there are moments in the film in which the actors have to look directly into the lens and explain that the camera is going to keep running "so that there is a record of whatever happens," which completely destroys any sense of the reality of the moment -- the idea of deliberately having a camera in someone's hand in each scene is so unbearably false that the viewer is immediately left wondering why on earth they even thought this technique would help to make the story seem "real." In fact, it does the exact opposite.
The use of the hand-held 'shaky cam' in almost every scene is utterly unmotivated -- in what would be the climax of the movie, the camera is so ridiculously present that it almost seems like SNL decided to take the idea and turn it into one of Andy Samberg's sarcastic short films, because they have used such a heavy-handed approach to the material.
In telling the story of Jonestown, nothing would have been needed other than to have just told the story as it unfolded without the addition of this added layer of "reality" -- and it would have been a much more superior film. This, sadly, destroys any chance of that happening.
The story of the People's Temple deserves better treatment than this, and, given a more experienced filmmaker, would have had a much deeper impact. I regret that we have lost that opportunity now, having seen this approach fail.
A Glorious, Slow-paced, but ultimately satisfying film
Beautifully shot and set in the most incredible landscapes ever (apparently most of the exteriors were filmed in Mongolia), this is an extraordinary near-future intellectual sci-fi. The sci-fi elements in the film are integrated into the narrative in a fundamental way, as opposed to the effects in movies about the future which are more like robot porn.
Here, everything is understated: There are four main characters who are driven to be more than human, and each one is a microcosm of one segment of Russian society: there is an overachieving Noble-prize level scientist; his frigid Stepford wife; her brother who is a Russian version of Ryan Secrest; and a neo-Nazi type of leader of an organized crime syndicate. This last one is all evil, whereas the others are complicated by their personalities, which range between good and non-good.
They journey to a distant site in the middle of a vast empty landscape-- a circle that seems to be a mile in diameter, in which the center functions as a kind of funnel for all of the energy gathered from the sun and stars. There is a rumor that all of the people in the area have eternal youth, and these four are intrigued enough to spend any amount to find out for themselves.
Into the mix is thrown a woman who may just be the Russian Secrest's perfect counterpart, and the five of them "adopt" one woman who appears to be in her 20's, yet is 30 years older. Now the six characters experience what it means to have complete and utter youth and happiness. As you might imagine, it comes with horrifying pitfalls.
There are so many themes in the film that it would be hard to summarize them all, but suffice it to say that the film plays with the idea of a sliding scale of good and evil existing in all people and all things.
And there is yet another important theme, which is that old age, with its wisdom, is way more preferable than the limitations of a life of childish wanton behavior.