New Indie Thursday: Smash and Grab

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I love me a good heist movie. Seeing how a band of criminals can pull off stealing a bunch of money is my version of a good time (and maybe if I watch enough of these movies, I can figure out how to do it myself…). So when I saw that there was a documentary just posted on Netflix Watch Instant about a legendary jewel thief ring I was instantly interested in seeing just how infamous these people were.

This documentary traces the origins and eventual capture of a band of jewel thieves, called the Pink Panthers. They originated from Yugoslavia which turns out to be this post-Communist criminal hub. These anonymous jewel thieves would target high-powered jewelry stores across Europe and Arab countries. They were ingenious in their execution and in their anonymous nature of the operation. The documentary interviews a representative of each step of the process including the man who does the actual thieving, the beard (usually a beautiful woman who is made to look like she belongs in an expensive jewelry store), the grinder of the diamonds to reshape them, and the exporter. Each person has no clue as to the identity of anyone else in the circle and the nature of their position in it. They are all obscured by computer animation and voice modulators. This circle of heist were protected by Yugoslavia’s laws against extradition and persecuting criminals within their borders. But every heist ring must come to an end. With unknown leadership, recruitment of people who can’t do their jobs very well and the high-profile of their criminal organization, thieves are being caught left and right.

This is a fascinating portrait of citizens of a country that survived for decades on the strength of their criminals. Yugoslavia was left to rot after Russia abandoned them in the wake of the fall of communism. Basic goods skyrocketed and unemployment was rampant. The only way someone could make money was by employing themselves in the black market. That is how most of the people from the Pink Panthers first learned their craft. They were importing jeans at a signficant mark up one moment and stealing from jewelry the next. The officials of Yugoslavia encouraged criminality because it boosted their revenue streams and commerce. So they offered sanctuary for these notorious criminals that were wanted all over Europe. As an American, it is hard for to imagine an entire country being okay with this activity. Sure some sects of the population will always see the gray line between crime and going straight, but a whole country is just insane. They must have been really desperate for some kind revenue.

While the subject matter is interesting and the interview subjects have some great insight into the process of robbing a jewelry store (I actively took notes so that I could do the same thing very soon… wink), the execution was sometimes lacking. The main reason for this is their lack of visual material. All the documentarian had to work with was security footage, interviews with people willing to be photographed, audio interviews of people who didn’t, and cartoon recreations of certain actions that the interview subjects engaged in. This desert of material led to repetitive images, animation made solely to pad out the running time, and other cheats that were poorly hidden. This makes for a boring documentary at times.

Animation is a deceptively hard thing to get right even in the age of computers. The animation in this movie was clearly done on a miniscule budget and yet they still seemed to be wasting their money. There is no detail in the animation sequences, no interesting technique or perspective. There is only the most bland and by the numbers animation. This was probably the worst part about this movie. It distracts from what is being said or happening, by being just so terrible.

If I could take this story and make a fictional account of it, I would be a millionaire. The problem with this movie is that they decided to make a dry, functional documentary of this great event in many people’s lives. It leaves you cold and unwanting to carry on.

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Netflix Graveyard: The Winter Guest

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Emma Thompson is easily the most underrated actress of our time. She is now relegated to playing older nannies type and unsatisfied mothers, yet she is able to make dynamic and interested characters out of poorly written thin character types. During the nineties, she was in her heyday. She directed and starred in an Oscar-winning (and really great) Jane Austen adaptation, she had a successful stage career and she made The Winter Guest with her actress mother.

Frances is a depressed photographer. Elspeth is a doting yet meddling mother. One frigid day in Scotland where the weather is so cold that the ocean has frozen, Elspeth journeys to Frances’ house to cheer her up and get her back to work. Frances’ son, Alex, encounters a young and beautiful woman on his way to work. They play hookie and enjoy a tete-a-tete. Two young boys putz around the town, and talk about boy things while they build fires and find kittens. Two older women hop on a bus to attend a funeral so that they can shop around for what type of funeral they want. Long, interesting conversations ensue.

This film feels very novel like in its structure. There isn’t a strict plot structure and it kind of doesn’t matter. What is exciting about this movie is being able to spend time with these well thought out and great characters. Emma Thompson and her mother, Phyllida Law, shine in their interaction with one another. They feel like mother and daughter mainly because they are. Elspeth (Law) doesn’t want to lose her daughter to depression, Australia or anything else. She needs Frances (Thompson) but can’t quite put that into words. The two young boys talk about boyhood things, but their conversation lends a certain humor and levity to everything they say. The young man and girl want each other so bad, but can’t come together no matter how hard they try. The two older women love to watch funerals but I think the one thing they like most is just being in each other’s company. (It is so unbelievably cute when they lust over a decadent dessert) Being in this beautiful landscape with these beautiful and quaint people is easily the best hour and a half I have spent in a while.

Classic Cinema Tuesday: Major Barbara

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To us film fans George Bernard Shaw is most famous for being the original author of Pygmalion that was adapted to the screen in 1938 and again under the name of My Fair Lady in 1964. While the Pygmalion film was his most successful adaptation during his lifetime, he didn’t shy away from his other plays being adapted into films when he met his creative equal Gabriel Pascal. Pascal and Shaw worked together to bring another one of his beloved plays to the big screen: Major Barbara. In fact Pascal and Shaw decided to adopt several of Shaw’s plays together in order to bring his talkie politics to the non-theater going public. While the last two adaptations were failures, Major Barbara was able to capture the spirit of the final days before the start of WWII in England very well.

Barbara comes from a very wealthy family. Her father made a fortune in manufacturing cannons for warfare, but is now estranged from the family. Barbara rejects this war profiteering and joins the Salvation Army (hence the title Major Barbara) to devote her life to charity and her ideals. Dolly (this is a male character… just wanted to clarify here before you become confused) sees Barbara preach one day about charity and loving God to help get through your troubles and he is enamored. Despite being a Greek Philosophy intellectual with little money and high dose of cynicism, he joins the Salvation Army and courts Barbara. Dolly then finds out that she is quite wealthy and is astonished by how her aestheticism can be present a person while also living in such a grand mansion. Dolly and Barbara fall in love and continue their charity work for some time. But her mother worries that Barbara will not be cared for after she and her husband dies. She must secure a stable and safe life for her. So she brings her father back into the picture. Her father is used here mainly to shake up Barbara’s ideals. He donates a signficant amount of money to her charity, despite her objections for using dirty money (war profiteering) for good. But her more pragmatic superiors take the money and she quits the Salvation Army. Her father then persuades the family to come visit him at his factory and see the work behind the life he has provided for him. Dolly, once a dallying academic with no ambition, sees the factory and immediately becomes obsessed with commerce. Barbara also sees the good her father is making by providing jobs and a stable life for many people. Dolly and Barbara now turn from charity workers to factory runners.

This movie is stuffed to the brim with political commentary. Shaw was just as famous for his politics as he was for the turn of phrase he initiated in every line of dialogue. But the political ideals he has been championing throughout the film is spoiled by the idealistic ending. While Barbara and Dolly decide to turn to business as a way to help mankind, the film seems to say that commerce is the ultimate tool in charity. Don’t waste your time on non-profits. This comes after nearly an hour and a half saying the exact opposite. That charity work shouldn’t be tainted by pragmatic views. This is probably the major flaw with the movie. It’s message is confused. I think if this movie wasn’t made on the eve of World War II in England, the ending probably would have been very different.

This film cannot completely separate its theatrical background. Each scene feels as if the people are on stage projecting and facing towards the audience in order for them to hear their voices and see their expressions completely. The dialogue is the focus of this movie, not the cinematography or even the character development. The two leads, Wendy Hiller (who played Eliza Doolittle in the 1938 version of Pygmalion) and Rex Harrison (who plays Professor Higgins in the 1964 version of Pygmalion; My Fair Lady) handle the dialogue in the only two proper English people can, expertly. To hear their sing-song delivery and witty turn of phrases was a delight. In fact this is what saved the movie from being a boring mess. I could probably listen to them read ingredients off of cereal boxes and feel riveted.

If you want to see an excellent adaptation of Shaw’s work watch Pygmalion. This film is pretty forgettable and light in comparison to that beautiful adaptation.

Monsters

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Gareth Edwards is the director of the blockbuster Godzilla remake that was released a couple of months ago. Because I could not get to the theater and shell out twelve bucks for a ticket and twenty bucks for snacks to watch Godzilla (I am just not enough of a fanboy for this big reptile monster), I decided that I wanted to watch the movie that gave Edwards, a relatively obscure director, the job of a lifetime. Monsters came out in 2010 and have, you guessed it, monsters in it. But how Edwards approaches the monsters and the characters who encounter the monsters and run for their lives is what makes this film interesting.

In the near future, a part of Mexico is blocked off because of aliens. Aliens have landed and are monstrously large creatures with no form of intelligible communication or ability to reason. They just prowl the land, attacking humans when ever they come into contact with them. Andrew, a cynical journalist, is in the non-blocked off area of Mexico trying to understand this monster problem. While he is on assignment, he gets a call from his boss saying that he must get the daughter of the owner of the newspaper out of Mexico before the high alien season begins. He can’t refuse, but is reluctant to take this privileged young thing anywhere. They journey towards the border and the blocked off area, only to encounter obstacle after obstacle. Along the way they talk about life, love and happiness.

This is a monster movie that isn’t terribly concerned about the monsters. It is more about Andrew and Samantha’s relationship and the people they meet as they struggle to get out. Everyone outside of the two main characters are non-actors which gives the movie a palpable sense of reality. As Andrew and Samantha traverse this foreign land, they are open to the sympathy of the people and they reality of their destitute situation. Even people who don’t live in the blocked off area are traumatized by military sanctions and alien attacks. And yet they choose to still live exactly where they have lived their whole lives. The alien attacks have become a part of their everyday lives and even sometimes how they can earn a living. It is absurd what people will do to feed their families.

Humanity is injected in every aspect of the film. Andrew is at first an unfeeling bastard hell-bent on dropping Samantha off at the nearest port and giving her over to someone else. But as the film goes on, he begins to want to protect her and lead her to safety no matter the circumstances. The same can be said about the aliens themselves. At the beginning of the film, we only see the devastation that they have reeked. We see them as aggressive brutes hell bend on destruction. Towards the end of the movie, we get to see another side of these massive aliens. While Andrew and Samantha watch, the aliens use their squid like bodies to embrace one another. They quickly realize that humans are the aggressors not the aliens.

If Godzilla was as good as this movie was, then I think we have a new and exciting director. I hope he doesn’t get type cast as a science fiction and invasion director.

New Indie Thursday: Don Jon

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Yesterday I wrote about Life During Wartime. In this movie, several characters were bogged down with annoying character traits that were conceits of the screenwriter. To emerge out of these traits into a realized character was not easy for any of the actors to pull off in that movie. However, in Don Jon, about a meathead that is addicted to porn, it seemed effortless to overcome this conceit and emerge a fully realized character with a complex story.

Jon wants to lead an ideal life. He wants to have the great car, the great body and the great woman. At the beginning of the movie, he has no problem picking up women at the club he frequents and bringing them home only to have boring one-sided sex. After he does this he goes off to masturbate to porn. Porn is his constant friend. But one night, he meets Barbara. Barbara is a drop dead sexy woman with her life together and a mission to land a great husband. She sees Jon as being that person, so she uses sex and her flirting abilities to morph him into the right kind of man. She forces him into night classes, buys him suitable clothing, and above all bans him from watching porn. Jon falls into a relationship with her easily, but the romance does not seem to be exactly what he is wanting. He is willing to change for her, but he can’t seem to completely give up porn. So he finds ways to watch it without her knowing. This leads to him watching porn in the classroom just before his night class starts. Everything is fine and dandy until Esther, an older woman whom Jon had caught crying in the doorway earlier in the film, catches him. Esther gives him a vintage porn tape and they become reluctant friends. Esther seems to have something off about her, and Jon is intrigued to find out this is, despite their very different personalities. As things start to hit the skids with Barbara, Jon finds comfort in porn more and more leading to a crossroads in his life. He must decide if he should pursue the life he has always idealized or start over completely with someone or something else.

Jon starts out as a pile of stereotypes. He is Italian-American, loud, overly muscled, tight shirted, and full of misconceptions about women. However as the film progresses, he sheds these traits without them actually going away. He slowly evolves into a person that just wants to be loved and accepted for who he is… and also to have amazing sex (something that he has never had, apparently). Both Barbara and Esther start out as stereotypes as well, but as we spend more time with them we see the truth behind each character trait and we understand why Barbara has such idealized ideas about marriage and why Esther is a little off kilter. The ability to do this makes Joseph Gordon-Levitt a surprisingly good first time filmmaker.

I avoided this film for a long time because I thought I wasn’t going to like it. I have always admired Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s acting abilities, but was unsure how he would be able to handle being behind the camera. Most actors have a hard time transitioning into producing their own material. They become too self-indulgent because there is no one telling them to dial it back or try it a different way.  But when a friend came to visit me from out-of-town and threw this on to pass time before going to a concert, I became immediately engrossed in the story. It surprised me that this film was so watchable. Although the film can be easily broken down to its cliché tagline, it finds the truth behind that cliché.

Netflix Graveyard: Life During Wartime

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There are some directors that I am determined to keep coming back to even though I have yet to actually like anything they do. Todd Solondz is one of these directors. He is an auteur with a strong visual and thematic sensibility and yet I literally hate everything he has ever done. Happiness, Welcome to the Dollhouse, and Storytelling left me cold and bored out of my mind for most of the respective films running times. So why must I insist that I keep watching his movies? Why must I sit through a movie I am actively hating just so I can say that I have seen it? Because I like to torture myself I suppose.

Life During Wartime is a kind of sequel to Happiness. He took these terrible characters from his breakout movie, recast them and propelled them a couple of years into the future. Joy is a weepy hippie who has just broken up with her pervert boyfriend (originally played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Happiness, this character is barely in this movie). She travels to Florida where her mother and her older sister is staying. Trish, the older sister, is the wife of the pedophile from the previous film. She moved to Florida to start anew and escape the crimes of her ex-husband. She tells her young son and daughter that their father is dead. But the father gets out on parole and wants to desperately see his oldest son who is away at college. So the father journeys to the college to confront his son and ask him if he was a pervert like him. This coincides with Joy going to California to visit her other sister, Helen who is a successful entertainment person but is completely unhappy in a vague and boring way. Joy is plagued by the ghost of a man she dated for a while. This man haunts her and breaks down her resolve to live a good life. Can Joy, Trish, and Helen all find a peace of mind in their weird and very sad lives?… Eh.. Who cares if they do.

From the moment we are introduced to Joy she is crying. I know that Solondz is playing with her name and contrasting her against her incessant need to keep crying, but this annoying character trait does not elevate her beyond someone to pity. She doesn’t become an interesting and dynamic person, she is just freaking annoying. To hang your entire movie on a depressing zombie like character dooms it to being boring. None of these characters are ever elevated out of their initial character quirks. They never become real people who one can have sympathy for. This is why I don’t like Solondz. It seems like he thinks of one character quirk and builds a whole movie around that instead of telling a compelling story with well-rounded characters.

This movie was a hermetically sealed bore fest. Every chance he got to tell a compelling story, he wasted on just throwing offensive stuff at the wall to see if it stuck. What sucks is that he got such a great cast to embody such lifeless characters. Shirley Henderson in particular is a good actress that is just absolutely wasted here as the main character, Joy. I have given up on Solondz completely. I will no longer be seeing any more of his movies. Please do not recommend them to me, like ever.

 

Classic Cinema Tuesday: That Hamilton Woman

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In 1940, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier were at the height of their celebrity and also at the height of their love for each other. Leigh and Olivier started seeing each other while they both were married a couple of years prior, but by 1940 they were married and living as the quintessential British couple. But outside of the swirl of celebrity, something much larger was looming in the air for British people: war. Several high-powered officials (including Churchill) had turned against Hitler’s aggressive nature and decided that outright aggression was their only choice. In order to convince the public that war is honorable and justified, Churchill recruited Alexander Korda, Leigh and Olivier to make a propaganda film cleverly disguised as a historical romance story. That Hamilton Woman was the result of this collaboration.

Leigh plays Emma, a down on her luck vagrant at the beginning of the movie. After she gets into a little scuffle, she lands herself in jail next to a prostitute. Emma decides to tell this willing prostitute her life story. She begins some years before when she was young and beautiful. She rises up from her cabaret routine to become engaged to a high-profile gentleman in London. But this gentleman has a lot of debts so he sells her to a relation of his in exchange for the wiping out of all of his debt. However she does not know what he did to her, so she thinks that the visit to Lord Hamilton is just an introduction into proper society for herself. Once she gets to Naples where Lord Hamilton is an ambassador, she realizes that he surrounds himself with pretty things including herself. She resigns to her fate, marries Lord Hamilton and settles into a life full of high society activities. This is interrupted by Lord Nelson (Olivier), a British naval captain, who bursts into their estate asking for assistance from Naples for his fight against Napoleon. They fall in love at first sight, but they take a while to truly understand their feelings. Lady Hamilton woos the Queen of Naples into giving Lord Nelson troops and they win the battle. As time progresses Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton keep crossing paths until one night when they declare their love for each other. But both of them are married and neither one of their spouses would be willing to give them up. They defy these restrictions and carry on their affair in public which gets Lord Nelson in  some trouble with his superiors. He is sent back to London and Lady Hamilton follows him. After several sequences involving fights and tense discussions with Lord Nelson’s wife, they finally end up together, peacefully living in the country. But one day a man comes to their door and asks Lord Nelson to rejoin the army and defeat Napoleon one more time. He goes to his duty despite not having an arm or one of his eyes. Life does not end up well for him or their romance.

As you can tell from my plot description, this movie is stuffed to the brim with plot. There are many twists and turns along this Napoleon highway. These events are made even heavier by the many grandstanding speeches made by Lord Nelson (and written by Churchill) that were supposed to allude to the duty Englishmen have towards their country even during modern times. Not even Leigh and Olivier (two of the best actors of their generation) could save scenes from being too weighed down by boring exposition. But man do they try. Leigh is ravishing as Emma even when she is a vagrant. My eyes followed her around the room to the exclusion of everything else including important plot points. Olivier plays his character close to his chest, never really bursting fourth with emotion unless he is helping to take down a ship. However there is no doubt that Nelson loved Emma, he just did in his own quiet way.

This movie has its moments, but for me they didn’t always add up to having  good time. The attraction between Leigh and Olivier is what holds the movie together which is just a limp propaganda film.

Army of Darkness

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I had such a fun time with Evil Dead 2 that I decided to rent its sequel Army of Darkness. After it sat around for a while while I watched Bob’s Burgers for the eightieth time this month, I finally got to it. I wonder now why I waited so long to finish off this trilogy.

Army of Darkness picks up where Evil Dead 2 stops. Ash has been transported by the Book of the Dead to the Medieval Times. He still has his sweet chainsaw arm and his badass quipping attitude. However he longs to get back to his own time, even though he meets a sweet maiden who is drop dead sexy. He must quest to find the Book of the Dead, but along the way he awakens an army of dead people which translates to skeletons. He must fight these skeletons, kiss the girl and find the book in order to complete his story arc.

This movie is the ultimate exercise in camp. Sam Raimi takes everything from the previous two movies and makes it all the more ridiculous by inserting it into the Middle Ages. Ash’s one-liners in Evil Dead 2 become comic genius moments when he says them to austere actors and actresses in Medieval garb. Bruce Campbell is able to pull off overly cocky and over the top one moment and laughably humble the next. I still don’t understand why he hasn’t become a bigger star than he is. He just oozes charisma and great emotional context. As he just gets lacerated by every little thing (much like the previous movie) that comes up, he just stands there and takes it like a hunky man. The movie rests on his capable shoulders.

The other great aspect of this movie is the makeup and practical effects. The skeleton army that Ash must face is both over the top and surprisingly subtle. While there is no denying that these monsters are hideous, they are also not afraid to bust out a Three Stooges routine if necessary. This is probably the best example of just how innovative great makeup and practical effects can be. Current directors should take note of just how rewarding going the practical route can be. It definitely enhances an already great movie.

I had a great time watching this movie. I would definitely watch it again. I was stupid to not finish these three movies sooner.

This is my BOOM STICK!

The Year Project: 1999 Part 2

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While consuming copious amounts of cable could unearth some underrated gems, it can also bring out some grade A crap that the cable channels think that they can program because nobody has any good taste anyway. Well thanks to this ethos, I have probably a very big and diverse list of worst movies released in 1999. Here are some terrible pieces of crap that I would suggest nobody ever sees ever ever ever.

10. Runaway Bride (dir. Garry Marshall)

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In my opinion Garry Marshall has always been a hack that doesn’t deserve to make movies. He has an uncanny inability to craft believable characters and stick them in terrible situations. This movie is every woman’s wedding fantasy gone wrong. The protagonist (the Runaway Bride of the title) is a psycho and the reporter she falls in love with is just as bat shit crazy. They should both be locked up in a mental institution instead having a story crafted around them.

9. The Boondock Saints (dir. Troy Duffy)

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I was first introduced to this movie by a moody cutter with an Irish ancestry. She reveled in the dark and twisted violence and the terrible tattoos on the two protagonists. She would spend whole periods marking these tattoos on her hands to mimic these iconic images. In my naiveté I thought that she and her frequent activity of drawing on herself was cool in a dark sort of way. (I have always been drawn to overly emotional freaks. I find them more interesting than a normal person) So when I finally saw the movie, I was baffled over her devotion to it. I found the pacing odd, the violence unnecessary and the themes of the movie troubling. But I assumed that I just didn’t get it. I revisited it a couple of years later and I realized that she just had bad taste. This movie is terrible. You should be ashamed of yourself if you ever ventured into Hot Topic and bought one of those green and black sweatshirts that had the movie’s logo on it. You were contributing to the unjust opinion that this movie is worth anybody’s time.

8. Blair Witch Project (dir. Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez)

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This movie makes the list mainly because it is so overrated and because it’s success brought on the much hated found footage genre. It is not really all that interesting because we see nothing but these whiny teenagers for most of the running time crying into the camera. It isn’t scary or even remotely real. Since this movie came out, many horror movies use the same techniques to tell equally bad stories. I blame this movie for the terrible state mainstream horror is in right now.

7. Anywhere but Here (dir. Wang)

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Poor Susan Sarandon. She is such a good actress, but she is completely stuck in romantic comedy/woman weepie hell. She is wasted in project like this one where she is the crazy mother who splits with her daughter to find fame and fortune in Beverly Hills. She acts circles around Natalie Portman who just sort of lays there like a wet blanket.

6. She’s All That (dir. Robert Iscove)

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For such a bad movie, I have sure seen it a lot. Back in 1999, I was crazy for hunky movie stars and Freddie Prince Jr. was my kind of hunky movie star. I wanted him to make me over like he does Rachael Leigh Cook in this movie. But this movie does not live up to repeat viewings and mature sensibilities. What was once affable charm becomes sleazy doucheness and what was once romantic has taken on a sinister turn.

5. American Pie (dir. Weitz Brothers)

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Do I even have to say anything about this movie? I hate this movie even more for the cultural osmosis that occurred around it than the movie itself. For years after its release, apple pie dick , and band camp masturbation jokes echoed through my high school hallway. Thanks a lot American Pie.

4. The Bachelor (dir. Gary Sinyor)

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Again what was wrong with romantic comedies in the 1999? Apparently wanting to get married is the only thing that a woman ever wanted and they would go crazy for a man who has a fortune. So much so that thousands of women would chase this hunky dude down a busy street creating a sea of white gaudy garments. But he only has eyes for one woman… Buster Keaton did it better.

3. Double Jeopardy (dir. Bruce Beresford)

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This boiler plate drama hinged unfairly on Ashley Judd’s inferior acting talents. While this movie could still be seen as a female fantasy (being able to murder your husband without having any consequences), it was too heavy-handed and annoying to carry any emotional stakes or weight.

2. Lost and Found (dir. Jeff Pollack)

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Remember the good old times when people thought that David Spade could be a romantic lead instead of just a goofy sidekick? No? Well you are lucky than because you have not seen Lost and Found, a movie where the goofy and jerky David Spade can land an amazingly attractive model (with no acting talent whatsoever) just by being himself. Oh and it also has the classiest movie poster of all time.

1. The Ninth Gate (dir. Roman Polanski)

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There was a time when I was determined to only watch Johnny Depp movies. This predilection that has led me down some terrible paths. This is one of the worst path I have ever been on. Maybe it was because I watched it on television, but this movie was a messy terrible piece of crap. I can’t believe someone like Polanski even touched it let alone let it get released with his name attached to it. Absolutely one of the worst movies I have seen ever.

 

New Indie Thursday: Stories We Tell

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Each family has a narrative that passes down from generation to generation. A proscribed narrative can not necessarily always be the truth, but rather it is crafted by the people who tell it to the next generation. A crotchety old relative becomes a serene one with just the right slant on events. In Stories We Tell, actress Sarah Polley struggles with the story of her family and the secrets that lie underneath.

Sarah Polley grew up in a performing family. She was the youngest of the children that her mother had both in a previous marriage and the one where Sarah was conceived. And she came out of nowhere, a little bundle of joy and surprise. When Sarah was young, her mother died of cancer, leaving her alone in the house with her father. Her and her father grew close but something lingered in the household. She did not look like her father or her siblings. It seems when her mother was younger, she had an affair with a quirky man while she was performing in a play. She became pregnant and passed the baby off as her husband’s once she returned to the family. She refused to tell anyone this even up to her death. Several years later, she starts to investigate the hints that she may not be biologically related to her father and discovers the truth. Polley then decides to make a documentary about the ordeal and this is the story that we find.

Polley is an interesting and vivacious new director. Although she has been working in Hollywood since she was young, it isn’t until recently when she became more mature that she has delved into being behind the camera. Due to her relationship with all of her relatives and the tangential people involved, she is able to glean interesting insights into a life that still remains a mystery to her. She is even able to get the man who her mother had an affair with to talk candidly about that time. She is able to capture what is so captivating about her non-biological father and give a voice that is equal to the man who had a hand in conceiving her.

This is an insightful and daring documentary that blends recreated scenes with real home movies almost seamlessly. She is able to get at the essence of the lies and stories people tell each other in order to convince themselves that they are doing the right thing, even if it is wrong. This is a great documentary.