Category Archives: 3.5 pirate flags

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986): United States – directed by John Hughes

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some language

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has become a classic, the epitome of 1980’s teen comedies.  For one day, during school, Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) manages to live out nearly every high school kid’s fantasies.  To carry out his schemes he must go through nearly as much planning as the Allied POW’s in The Great Escape [review here], and while the payoff might not be as dramatic in this film, it will speak volumes more to each generation of high schoolers.

Ferris is aware.  He is aware of how the world works, how his parents work, how the school system works.  And he’s aware that he’s in a film, or at least pretends it’s a video journal, as he breaks the fourth wall at key points to describe what’s about to happen and how.  His first step is to trick his parents, who seem to genuinely care but are naive, into thinking he’s just sick enough to stay home but not sick enough to go to the doctor.

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Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine (2010): United States – directed by Derek Cianfrance

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, a scene of violence, and strong sexuality

They don’t make a great deal of movies like this anymore.  Truth is, they rarely did, even back in the day.  Perhaps Ingmar Bergman was the last to tackle subjects like these, in ways like this.  Blue Valentine details a marriage through the course of a couple days, with flashbacks to how it used to be.  One storyline is decidedly more cheerful than the other.

American culture is so intensely trained on how to fall in love, but there are few paragons in life or culture that teach how love changes and how couples can stay in love.  Love at first sight is a popular element of many romantic comedies, and much literature.  But what happens next?  Why does it go so wrongly for so many couples?  Blue Valentine does not answer these questions, and perhaps it shouldn’t.  Instead it observes, quietly, the beauty and joy and love experienced as Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) first meet, and the bitterness, anger, and hardship they endure after six years of marriage.

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Waiting for “Superman”

Waiting for “Superman” (2010): United States – directed by Davis Guggenheim

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some mature themes

An initial fear when hearing about Davis Guggenheim’s documentary on public education might be that it is one-sided, heavy-handedly liberal, unabashedly Democratic.  It is to the director’s credit that it remains centered, objective, and incisive, as it dissects a system that has evolved nearly to a point of no return.  It is clear something must be done with public schools, but he offers few solutions short of moving entirely to charter schools.  And maybe that’s what’s necessary.

I’m not an expert on public education, and neither is Guggenheim.  What he does is examine the system, and follow five families whose children are directly influenced by their public schools.  The premise is simple, but it rests upon the notion that these children will fail if left in public schools.  They will fail at school, fail at life, and be condemned to an incomplete, unsuccessful life.  To support this assumption he looks at a lot of statistics, using cute, old-school graphics to display pertinent data.

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Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010): United States/United Kingdom – directed by Banksy

Rated R by the MPAA – contains a little strong language

I’m not sure any of Exit Through the Gift Shop is real.  There’s a very good chance it occupies a strange place between the obvious prankery of Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan and the self-purported veracity of films like Paranormal Activity [review here].  It at first presents itself as an entirely possible documentary about a strange obsessive person, but then blossoms into something so much more that it is likely to be a mixture of performance art and hoax.  If you would rather know nothing about the film, please stop reading, as I will discuss much of it in detail.  The film is worth seeing, as it is one of the most intriguing films of 2010.

Thierry Guetta (if there is such a person), is an obsessive videographer.  After an early childhood trauma he began to videotape every aspect of his life, documenting every minor detail.  He is married, with children, and runs a boutique clothing store in Los Angeles.  He buys bales of clothing with odd designer’s names on them, for $50, then sells each article for $400.  He is able to make $50,000 off of one bale.  This is entirely plausible, particularly in L.A.

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127 Hours

127 Hours (2010): United States – directed by Danny Boyle

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, some sexual content, one of the single most brutal moments in cinema history

Aron Ralston’s (James Franco) story is fascinating on its own.  Much like Conviction [review here], it might be easy for a filmmaker to coast through the story, but 127 Hours manages to become something much more than just the story of a man forced to undergo extreme hardship to save his life.  It becomes one of the most life-affirming films of the year.

That’s not to say it’s a feel-good movie, or an easy watch.  On the contrary, the joy of life is so profound because of the pain and intense suffering that it takes to get there.  This is the same principle many horror fans cite in defense of the genre.  And 127 Hours, while not a standard horror flick, contains one of the single most graphic, brutal sequences in cinema history.  Worse than the curb stomp in American History X, more painful than the eye slice in Un Chien Andalou, more realistic and visceral than most anything in Cannibal Holocaust.  The only scene I can think of that might come close is a spine tingling stabbing in the Australian horror film Wolf Creek.

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True Grit (2010)

True Grit (2010): United States – directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains some violence, including a graphic moment, some language, intense thematic material

True Grit begins in a West that’s on the verge of not being so wild, and climaxes in something much less visceral, almost spiritual.  One might not be able to ever peg down a genre that the Coen Brothers can claim, but it sure is easy to tell if a film belongs to them or not.  True Grit most certainly does.

The material sounds dirty and dark, a remake (or adaptation) of the same source material used by the 1969 film that guilted the Academy into finally giving John Wayne an Oscar.  One might expect this 2010 update to be more in line with No Country for Old Men than Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? [review here], but the opposite is actually true.  True Grit is funny, downright enjoyable, and chock full of the same bizarre characters that makes Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? so memorable.  While perhaps lacking in some of the depth and darkness that characterizes their best films, it is more audience friendly and easier to enjoy.

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Black Swan

Black Swan (2010): United States – directed by Darren Aronofsky

Rated R by the MPAA – contains sexual content, some language, disturbing material

With Black Swan Darran Aronofsky again proves why he is one of the most interesting directors of this generation.  His string of films is perhaps only rivaled by Christopher Nolan’s.  From the low budget mathematics thriller Pi to the most powerful film of the past ten(ish) years, Requiem for a Dream [thoughts here], and through The Fountain [review here] and The Wrestler he’s proved he can handle intense dramatic material with a special flair of style and resonance.  With Black Swan he turns his attention to a new sub-genre.

Black Swan is a psychological drama horror/thriller.  Think Mulholland Dr. meets All About Eve [review here], with a dash of Suspiria [review here] and Persona thrown in.  It’s an intense portrait of obsession that would make Hitchcock proud, and is held together by an incredible performance from Natalie Portman.  She stars as Nina, an aging ballet dancer in a reputable company in a large city.

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Tokyo Zombie

Tokyo Zombie (2005): Japan – directed by Sakichi Satô

Not rated by the MPAA – contains violence, some gore

Note: As I will be out of the country for a period of time, I have decided to inflict upon anyone who reads these reviews a sampling of my earlier work.  These will be shorter, less formal, poorly written, and generally crappy.  They will lack stills and links, and I will apologize in advance for their poor quality.  They have received minor edits to (very slightly) improve readability.  Enjoy.

(review originally published 10/19/08)

Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.

The funniest zombie movie since Shaun of the Dead, made in Japan and only a year after Shaun, Tokyo Zombie is a film you can’t miss.

The film revolves around a young Japanese guy who works in a fire extinguisher plant with an older, bald guy. All they do is practice jujitsu. One day, zombies start coming out of a mountain of trash called Black Fuji and they have to fight them off. That’s about all of the plot that’s worth explaining, because the film is chock full of fantastically hilarious scenes and general Japanese weirdness that truly make the movie great. It blends the absurd and absurdly violent and the overly sappy and saccharine in a way that only Japanese and Hong Kong films (think The Killer) dare to do.

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Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder (1990): United States – directed by Adrian Lyne

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, language, nudity, sexual content, disturbing images

Jacob’s Ladder is a conventional story told in a pleasantly unconventional fashion, at least until the disappointing climax.  There is so much to love in the film that it is painful to admit that the entire film almost falls apart with an overly plain ending.

The film opens in Vietnam; helicopters are floating across the horizon as a small squadron of men relaxes.  Suddenly there is a surprise attack, and as the men turn to face the enemy they realize something else is wrong.  Some of them start convulsing and going into shock.  One man runs for the woods where he is promptly bayoneted.

Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) wakes up on a subway train.  An old lady scowls at him and a homeless man sleeping on a bench suddenly sprouts a tentacle.  Singer disembarks at the next station only to find that there is no one there and all exits are barred.  Eventually he finds his way home to his girlfriend, Jezzie (Elizabeth Peña).  He is comforted and soon feels better.

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The Social Network

The Social Network (2010): United States – directed by David Fincher

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains language, some sexual content, disturbing behavior

Note: I attended an early preview screening, and I am unsure whether the film was in its final, finished form.  The print I saw ran just under two hours in length and was rated PG-13.

Mark Zuckerberg is an antihero for the new generation of young adults.  He is narcissistic, bitter, angry, and brilliant.  He is brooding, lonesome, witty, and incredibly successful.  Most of all, he understands “cool” as it pertains to the internet age, well before any of the suits could get their heads wrapped around the concept.

Jesse Eisenberg is Zuckerberg in The Social Network.  He is nervous and fidgety, but supremely confident in his words and his methods.  As the film opens he is a sophomore at Harvard.  His opening date with Erica (Rooney Mara) is a disaster; he picks at her words and deals a number of backhanded compliments.  Once he’s been rightfully dumped for being an insensitive cad, he returns to his dorm and blogs about Erica on LiveJournal.  As he types and drinks he hits upon a new idea.  He’ll create a website that allows users to choose one girl over another, rating their hotness.  When the site is finished later that night Zuckerberg watches as traffic streams in and crashes the Harvard servers.

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