Category Archives: 1.5 pirate flags

For Colored Girls

For Colored Girls (2010): United States – directed by Tyler Perry

Rated R by the MPAA – contains strong language, domestic violence, sexual content, sexual violence

Tyler Perry’s first foray into straight drama is an interesting mix.  I’m not familiar with “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” Ntozake Shange’s seminal choreo-poem often considered a cultural marker.  I do know many African American communities were up in arms when it was announced Perry would be adapting it, and Oprah and other influential people were brought in to consult.  The play, an assortment of poetry expressing the lives of seven African American women, is fluid and impressionistic, I’m told.  It lacks the hard details necessary for a successful translation into film, but this very characteristic made it so powerful on stage.

Perry has worked many of the themes from the poem into a screenplay, adding characters and settings in an attempt to make it real.  His version has nine women whose lives are all interconnected, like a facile version of Magnolia [review here].

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The Courtship of Eddie’s Father

The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963): United States – directed by Vincente Minnelli

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mild discussion about the birds and the bees

Vincente Minnelli was a go-to director for much of his career, assured of financial hits at every turn.  And he churned out a number of crowd-pleasers, very few of which have endured as bona fide classics.  The Courtship of Eddie’s Father is no exception.

The titular Eddie (Ronny Howard) is a young boy, innocent and naive, for the most part.  Early in the film he asks his father, Tom (Glenn Ford), “Is mommy really dead?”  When assured by a despondent dad that she is, he replies, in true 50’s/60’s down-home style, “Gosh, gosh.”  Eddie is sad that mommy’s gone, but he is also worried about his father.

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Nanny McPhee Returns

Nanny McPhee Returns (2010): United Kingdom/France/United States – directed by Susanna White

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some crude humor, silliness

Not having seen Nanny McPhee, I knew little of what to expect from Nanny McPhee Returns.  I knew that Emma Thompson was heavily involved with the production (she wrote and executive produced, alongside starring), and that Maggie Gyllenhaal was starring, so was mildly hopeful.  Occasionally it pays off to be optimistic.

The film revolves around Isabel Green (Gyllenhaal) and her young family.  Her husband (Ewan MacGregor) is off fighting in World War II, and the English countryside is the safest place to raise children.  Her oldest is Norman (Asa Butterfield, already well established with roles in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Son of Rambow).  He’s followed by Megsie (Lil Woods), and then the littlest one, Vincent (Oscar Steer).

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Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood

Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood (1985): Japan – directed by Hideshi Hino

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, blood, torture, disturbing content

Note: this review contains may contain some disturbing images or descriptions of disturbing violence.  Only mature readers should venture further.

Guinea Pig 2: Flowers of Flesh and Blood may be better than the first entry in the series, Guinea Pig: Devil’s Experiment [review here], by a factor of ten or a hundred or  more, but that still does not mean that it’s worthy of even half a star.  The first film was an excruciatingly dull 40-some minutes of inexplicable and moronic torture, with very little shock value.  The second film boasts slightly improved production values, and has at least one cringe-worthy moment, but any improvement is vastly overshadowed by an incident involving Charlie Sheen.

This is the Guinea Pig movie that Sheen apparently saw in the early 1990’s and reported to the FBI as he thought it was a true snuff film.  Upon further investigation they discovered that it was just a realistic and disturbing film.  The fact that Sheen saw the film (where on earth did he get it?  Why?) is far more interesting than anything about the film itself.  And that it appeared realistic enough to let anyone think it was actually real is fascinating, though the proliferation of fuzzy VHS tapes at the time probably explains much of the phenomenon.

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Tales From the Script

Tales from the Script (2009): United States – directed by Peter Hanson

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some strong language

Tales from the Script sounds like a great idea for a documentary: get a number of famous and unknown screenwriters to give interviews on a variety of subjects ranging from the joys of seeing their imagination come to life to the drudgery and despair of having extra writers hired to replace you.  And the film is interesting, in a way, at least for someone with an interest in the creative and business process each Hollywood film undergoes.  But it is also rather sterile, with little B-roll, and poorly constructed; without having access to a number of its famed writers I imagine it would have made a great extra on a DVD.

The film is broken into a number of chapters, and in each one a number of screenwriters weigh in on a particular aspect of the filmmaking process from a writer’s point of view.  Some of the sections are rather ambiguous, and certain snippets do not seem to make particular sense within their section.  Nearly 50 writers make up the interviews, and the diversity brings a certain level of freshness that otherwise would have been lost among the dullness of talking heads.

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Little Manhattan

Little Manhattan (2005): United States – directed by Mark Levin

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some vomiting, mild language, a little punching, a tiny bit of kissing

Little Manhattan is primarily a standard romantic comedy, but with protagonists a good ten years younger than normal.  Some of it is standard, some is obvious and forced, some is sweet, but the primary message is strong enough that I am wont to forget the film’s many flaws.

Young Gabe (Josh Hutcherson) is ten, nearly eleven.  To him, girls are icky; they’ve been known to cause cooties since his days of kindergarten.  One of the opening scenes has enough projectile vomiting (caused by being touched by a girl, spreading like a zombie virus) to nearly rival Stand By Me.  Gabe has a happy life, generally.  He trains to be a placekicker with his dad, Adam (Bradley Whitford).  He has fun with school chums playing basketball.  The only downside is that his parents are in the middle of a divorce, made messier by New York’s divorce laws.  The couple can’t leave their apartment until the divorce is final, meaning that Adam has been sleeping on the couch for a year and a half.  Making the situation even more awkward, Gabe’s mom, Leslie (Cynthia Nixon), is dating a new man.

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Cremaster 4

Cremaster 4 (1995): United States/France/United Kingdom – directed by Matthew Barney

Not rated by the MPAA – contains odd sexual content and artistically presented sexual themes

Cremaster 4 is video art at its most intellectual and strange.  Knowing Matthew Barney’s overall ideas help make this interesting piece more accessible, though it’s difficult to tell how the themes presented here coalesce with the rest of his ideas without seeing the other segments of the Cremaster Cycle.

There are happenings in Cremaster 4, though not much of a plot.  But this is to be expected in a work of art more akin to performance art than the movies.  Two primary sequences unfold; the first involves a satyr creature tap dancing in a room on a pier over the water.  The second is a race between two motorcycles with side cars.

The satyr thing (played by Barney himself) is strange and hideous.  Its nostrils are split open, its hair odd and barely covering the head wounds where it appears horns used to grow.  Its ears are long and pointy.  And it tap dances, around and around on the floor of this room, until finally a hole opens in the floor of the pier he occupies.

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Prospero’s Books

Prospero’s Books (1991): United Kingdom/Netherlands/Italy/France/Japan – directed by Peter Greenaway

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some violent material, a plethora of nudes, and mature themes

Peter Greenaway is quite a character.  He is famous for allegedly stating that “continuity is boring.”  It also seems as though he thinks cinema has not evolved as an art form.  This would explain why, after the relatively straightforward masterpiece The Cook the Thief His Wife & Her Lover, he started crafting films more akin to art.  Also, his belief that the nude has not been adequately utilized in film is apparent in the fact that his next film, Prospero’s Books, is a rather bold amalgamation of editing and nudity.

It might be helpful for some to know that Prospero’s Books is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  For others, even this piece of information will prove useless when trying to comprehend any sort of plot or narrative in the film.  It seems Greenaway is more interested in conveying the story and its ideas through the composition of each frame, in the movement and actors onscreen.  He uses a variety of techniques: varying opacities, picture-in-picture, heavily textured screens, to evoke a feeling or transmit an idea in an emotional or intuitive way.

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The Greatest American Snuff Film

The Greatest American Snuff Film (2010): United States – directed by Sean Tretta

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some violence, disturbing content, sexual themes, brief nudity

Note: The Greatest American Snuff Film will appeal primarily to fans of horror movies, and as such this review touches on a few unseemly subjects.  Reader discretion is advised.

Back in 2003 a few guys got together to make a small movie.  Director Sean Tretta rounded up a little money, about $3,000, and crafted a story of a serial killer who enjoyed making films.  The man, named William Allen Grones (Mike Marsh), fancied himself a director, setting up scenarios where he could document the kidnapping and imprisonment of two young ladies before killing them on camera.

The Great American Snuff Film purports to be the true story of Grones’ crimes, reenacted and dramatized.  Then, the story goes, new interview footage surfaced of Grones before his execution.  Tretta evidently cut this new footage into the old film, making it five minutes longer, and has now released it as The Greatest American Snuff Film.  The movie’s strongest selling point is that the filmmakers have created a fiction surrounding Grones, calling him one of the worst serial killers to never get any publicity.  Better yet, they claim to have the actual footage of his crimes, shown at the end of the film with an additional “Viewer Discretion Advised” warning.

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Romeo and Juliet (1968)

Romeo and Juliet (1968): United Kingdom/Italy – directed by Franco Zeffirelli

Rated G by the MPAA – contains some mild violence and brief nudity/sexual content (re-rated PG in 1973)

I am not overly familiar with the dozens of film adaptations of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  Nor am I overly familiar with the Bard’s original play, though the 1968 film version is an appropriate place to start for the uninitiated.  Elaborately staged, with the entirety of the dialogue taken straight from the script, as it were, Romeo and Juliet has only a few problems that keep it from attaining greatness.

The story is not to be blamed, though a modern viewer might be excused for thinking that it is unoriginal.  It appears unoriginal only because the source material is so old.  There may be nothing new under the sun, but when William Shakespeare was active he laid down the basic premises and storylines for a vast amount of the narrative fiction that followed.  I doubt the themes were new even in the late 1500’s, but he may be credited with first popularizing such conventions.

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