Monday, April 30, 2012


April 17, 1969
85 min

Directed by Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin

"Salesman" is fresh, funny, and most importantly, true to life. This realistic documentary simply follows four Bible salesman and permits us give the final judgment.

As I sat down to “Salesman” by the Maysles Brothers, a follow-documentary about Bible salesman on the East Coast, I effortlessly thought of my own mission when I was expected to go door-to-door selling religion. It is one thing to ask someone to lend an ear to what you have to say, but these Bible salesman are asking for money. That seems even more difficult to obtain.

In a “Reservoir Dogs”-like fashion we are introduced a crew of four salesmen, each with an affectionate handle. The Rabbit, the Badger, the Bull, and the Gipper... Their names say a lot about their character and each of these characters say a lot. Paul Brennan, an Irish-American, moves into the spotlight. Though he is the oldest of the salesman (40s I’d wager) he is struggling the most in this line of work. At night he is a joker and frequently remarks in a mock-accent true to his heritage, “Why doncha join the force and get a pension?”

“Salesman” is known for embodying the cinéma vérité (direct cinema) approach to documentary filmmaking. For 1969 it feels very fresh as the camera follows our peddlers in and out of houses, but often  getting no further than the doorstep. I can relate. The handheld and other roughish techniques are obvious but add to the authenticity of the experience. A favorite scene of mine had Jamie Baker (“The Rabbit”) desperately trying to push a Bible onto a Latina woman. He is excited to inform her of a new product, but she just wants to make it clear that she is not interested now. Baker’s Boston accent is hard enough for us to discern, for the English-is-a-second-language woman he does not even stand a chance.

The salesmen role-play and attend seminars in hopes to be better at their chosen profession. There is a clear distinction between their personalities in “sale mode” and not. I believe it is “The Bull” who sometimes sings, “If I Were a Rich Man” on the way to a potential customer. If only. By the film’s end Brennan is ready to throw in the towel. He repeats his line, “Why doncha join the force and get a pension?” This time it is not for laughs.


CONTENT: language



This Week
  • The Avengers / 96%
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel* / 79%
  • Jesus Henry Christ* / 38%
  • A Little Bit of Heaven* / 8%
  • LOL*
  • Meeting Evil*
  • Mother's Day* / 52%
  • The Perfect Family* 

Last Week
  • Bernie* / 81%
  • Elles* / 24%
  • The Five-Year Engagement / 63%
  • Headhunters* / 92%
  • Pirates! Band of Misfits / 86%
  • The Raven / 21%
  • Safe / 52%
  • Sound of My Voice* / 81%
* = limited release


  • Forbidden Zone / 86%
  • Haywire / 80%
  • Joyful Noise / 33%
  • New Year's Eve / 7%
  • W.E. / 13%
% from Rotten Tomatoes

* * *


"Virginia" is the directorial debut for Dustin Lance Black, Oscar-winning screenwriter of "Milk" and "J. Edgar." This tells the comedic story of Virginia (the very pretty Jennifer Connelly) who is a single mother in a small Southern town. She is having an affair with the Mormon sheriff (Ed Harris) and struggling to get her and her son a better life. The Mormon missionaries also show up at her day. As an ex-Mormon himself, it will be interesting to see what Black's agenda is when this hits theaters on May 18th.

Here's the second trailer for "G.I. Joe: Retaliation." I never covered the first, but I did provide coverage on the TV spot that aired during this year's Super Bowl. Like that tease this has plenty of set pieces and crazy CGI-heavy action. Thrown in Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis and you have some capable guys to match the cool visuals. The story and dialogue do not impress me at this point, but I take it that will not be a reason we go see this on June 29th.

I've bean eager to see the next film from John Hillcoat ("The Proposition" and "The Road"). Well, "Lawless" is it. Shia LaBeouf stars in this Prohibition-era action-packed drama set in Virginia. Him and his brothers (Tom Hardy and Jason Clarke) try their hand at bootlegging only to cross paths with a troublesome gangster (Gary Oldman). The law (headed by Guy Pearce in a very different look for him) is also involved. Based on a true story this star-driven period piece deserves to be on your radar. Did I mention Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska both appear herein too? The dramatic freeze frames found in this trailer are almost laughable, but I am certain the product itself is far from it. It will premier at Cannes, but look for it in theaters this summer on August 31st.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Evil and Luke Wilson plays John, the poor sap who gets picked, in "Meeting Evil." This surrealist picture will probably only work on that level, but will it succeed? It is hard to tell. The film hits select cities this Friday, but is currently available on iTunes.

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" looks like it has plenty of laughs thanks to its mostly old cast who is very aware that they are a mostly old cast. From John Madden (director of "Shakespeare in Love") comes a film that teaches it's never too late to go adventures. In select theaters this Friday.

From Darren Lynn Bouseman (director of three "Saw" sequels and "Repo! The Genetic Opera") cometh "Mother's Day" with yet another sadistic premise. When three brothers rob a bank and meet at their old house (now occupied by new tenants) they hold everyone hostage and wait for their mother to join the party. Why? Because she knows best of course. This visits select theaters this week. I think I'll pass, will you?

We now have a third trailer for Pixar's "Brave," coming June 22nd. I am still fondest of the second trailer that was a scene from early in the film with an impactful climax. As you might expect, this is the most spoiler-y trail yet, but still leaves a lot unexplained. There's a rich cast of characters, but I am already find the backdrop of the Scottish highlands to be the most welcome aspect. It is a Pixar extravaganza. Naturally, most of us will dig this.

"Prometheus" has yet another trailer (this one is being called "International Version #2" and clocks in at over 3 minutes!). More awesomeness from one of the most eagerly anticipated trailers of the year. Simple as that. The face-hugger stand-ins appear to be snake-like... We'll see more on June 8th.

Get your brother outta the hogwash, I reckon it's prime time for the Trailer Round-Up Awards!

Sick Cow:

As far as trailers go, "Otter 501" is horribly put together. Here's a short documentary by Bob Talbot about a baby rescued on the rugged coast of Northern California (seems awfully convenient that they'd have a camera beside the to-be-discovered orphan otter). The sappy music, relentless title cards, and laughable voice-over at the end make this one for the Trailer Round-Up Hall of Shame. The film itself seems promising, but what a poorly assembled preview! May 11th, but surely not anywhere near you.

The Head-Scratcher:

If they keep stepping up they're bound to reach the top, right? "Step Up: Revolution" hopes to sizzle up your summer plans by continuing Summit Entertainment's popular dance/hip-hop series. Set in Miami, Emily (Kathryn McCormick) has dreams of becoming a professional dancer. She falls for Sean (Ryan Guzman) who is part of the The Mob, a group of dancers that lives to organize flash mob in public arenas. These leads were definitely not cast for their acting abilities, rather, their dance skills. The various dance numbers range from sheer stupidity to superfluous ridiculousness. It has the potential of being a dumb, fun flick (not unlike "High School Musical"). I actually regret not seeing "Step Up 3D" as I heard it was very impressive in its use of that added dimension. "Step Up: Revolution" will be available in 3D and 2D on July 27th.

Lasso of the Week:

Can I just tell you know I have a new favorite anticipated film? Ron Fricke is a bit like Terrence Malick. You don't expect a film from him more than once a decade, but when he does deliver you can expect something spectacular. Fricke's previous film, "Baraka," blew my mind with its engaging and stunning 70mm visuals. They are plotless films that float through existence, showcasing the exotic parts of our world and the exotic people hereon. If the extended nature sequences in "The Tree of Life" appealed to you, get ready for "Samsara." It is just a minute-long trailer, but I'm already swept away. It hits theaters on August 24th, I just pray I am close to one that has it.

* * *


Here is a fairly boring poster for "The Host," the film due next year based on the next book from the "Twilight"-author. Andrew Niccol, who I hope is becoming a household name, is adapting and directing it. The teaser that has been going around is intriguing, but they are going to have to do more than glow some eyes to get us hooked.

This timely poster riffs the upcoming "Battleship" blockbuster, which is (very) loosely based on the board game. A "Hungry Hungry Hippos" movie has me much more excited... Too bad this is just for fun.

* * *


Here is Pajiba "Ranking 12 Films from the School of J.J. Abrams." This is a pretty unique list, but I'd still take "Cowboys & Aliens" (coming in 12th) over a few of these, especially "Transformers." What is number one? You've been hearing all about it...

Did you know that "The Hunger Games" topped the box office for four weeks in a row? Pajiba looks at the last 10 film to do this.

* * *


We've still got a while before we see the trailer for Tarantino's "Django Unchained," but check out some of the stills that have been released. My favorite is the one above. Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx look like a team to be reckoned with. (Source: IMDb)

Steve Kloves, who did a pretty stellar job at adapting the Potter" books for the screen, is working on adapting a live-action version of "The Jungle Book." I've read sections of the Rudyard Kipling classic and this has me very excited. The Disney adaptation is one of the great studio's best features in my opinion. (Source: Variety)

* * *


One of the biggest articles of the year comes from LA Weekly, "Movie Studios Are Forcing Hollywood to Abandon 35mm Film. But the Consequences of Going Digital are Vast, and Troubling." This isn't really news, it's inevitable progress courtesy of technology. I recommend listening to the recent episode of the /Filmcast where they discuss this very article in great detail. Perhaps I will share thoughts on it sometime, but there is hardly time or space here. 

The above may not be all-encompassing, at least not if Christopher "The Traditionalist" Nolan can help it. Further proof. (Source: Directors Guild of America and Movie Line)

Last week Warner Bros. screened 10 minutes of footage from "The Hobbit" for theater owners at the annual CinemaCon. While there was much praise for the visuals, there were many complaints about the framerate. Peter Jackson and team have shot "The Hobbit" in 48fps (frames per second), double the usual 24. Remember when they said it was going to be 60?! Well, this makes the experience all the more life-like and can be quite unsettling for viewers. The Wrap said, "There will be plenty for fans to savor. However, the richness of Jackson’s imagery, while beautiful, was marred because the 48 frames made each scene too crisp, if that’s possible. It looked more real, in fact — too real. Instead of an immersive cinematic experience, Middle Earth looked like it was captured as part of a filmed stage play." This is going to be a very new experience for many of us, that's for sure! (Source: JoBlo)

Follow-up: Here's Peter Jackson responses to the criticisms such as the one above. (Source: Entertainment Weekly)

Fellow blogger over at Trentflix laments the MPAA (as I often do) in this articulate and pointed essay, "Trentflix vs. the MPAA." It is a complicated issue, full of injustices and politics, and reading this will help anyone get into that conversation. 

Speaking of the MPAA, Ridley Scott recently had a bout with them over "Prometheus." (Source: JoBlo)

 * * *


See the making-of "Les Miserables," the upcoming musical from Oscar-winning director of "The King's Speech," Tom Hooper. This adaptation stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway who have both proven their singing skills, at the Oscars no less. "Do You Hear the People Sing?" has always been one of the musical's most rousing numbers in my memory. (Source: /Film)

Here are some fun facts about "Brave" from the fine folks at Pixar Talk.

Check out this cozy theater in Malaysia... (Source: Gizmodo)

* * *


Have you see how "The Hunger Games" should have ended?

* * *


The MTV blog lists five things we should know about the upcoming season of "Arrested Development." (Vulture also has a post with Mitch Hurwitz talking the reboot.)

* * *

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Standard Operating Procedure
April 25, 2008
116 min

Written and Directed by Errol Morris

"Standard Operating Procedure" revolves around challenging material but opens our eyes to both sides of the problem. It is a film about the dangers of obedience and the power of an image.

Errol Morris’s report on the incidents at Abu Ghraib Prison slowly unravels a complicated and disturbing yarn. What dark secrets occurred there? Was the treatment of Iraqi terror subjects standard operating procedure or cruel and unusual abuse? We are literally left in the dark for much of “Standard Operating Procedure” and I’m not just talking about the letter-boxing. The photos we see never take up the full screen and even then there are always shadows or dark corridors to be seen. The interviewees are enshrouded by an ever-present blackness and even the reenactments are purposefully overcast. The use of light, or lack thereof, seems to speak on how much we really do not understand about the situation. Even though we have thousands of pictures speaking a thousand words each, we still do not fully know what occurred. Morris himself said the following on the film’s commentary track, “Photographs don’t tell us who the real culprits might be. […] Photographs reveal and conceal, serve as [both] exposé and coverup.”

Surely if anyone can uncover the coverup it is Errol Morris. The famed filmmaker was responsible for freeing a man from death row thanks to his investigative procedures in the documentary “Thin Blue Line.” Many of the talking heads here were actual military police serving their stint at the Iraqi POW prison when the controversy took place; some were even in the photographs. The situation consistently remains clear as mud. From an outside perspective we may gawk incredulously at the young men and women thoughtless enough to get involved, but many were just following orders. When we hear near the end what torture tactics are actually deemed standard operating procedure we can only shake our heads and wonder what we would do in such a situation. There is nothing remotely pleasant about this film, but it deserves to be watched, particularly by all military personnel. From a (film) scholarly perspective, it serves as documentation about documentation and possible complications that stem there from.


CONTENT: language, disturbing images, torture, and graphic nudity

Saturday, April 28, 2012


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
December 3, 2010
84 min
Finland (Finnish)

Written and Directed by Jalmari Helander

"Rare Exports" is a unique import. This contribution to foreign cinema is a welcome and clever piece of fantasy horror that'll put a smile on your face after it scares you a bit.

Do you know the true story of Santa Clause? A monstrous beast that tears naughty children limb from limb... so you better be nice! That is precisely what young Pietari comes to realize one Christmas Eve. He lives with his butcher father in the Finnish mountains where this Santa myth is local lore. Along with a friend from town he spies a mysterious foreigner excavating something from the peak above his house. Pietari's father relies on the yearly wrangling of reindeer to make a profit in the harsh season. When the potential harvest turns up massacred, they want answers. There is something in the air that ain't jolly.
Splendidly shot indoors and outdoors in Finland, here's a Christmas tale that is both funny and genuinely creepy. I would almost recommend it for the whole family if it weren't making Santa into such a beast. The whimsical charm of it all, not to mention it clocks in at under an 90 minutes, makes this one I strongly recommend.


CONTENT: brief male nudity, some language, brief bloody violence

Updated 12/25/12


Leaves of Grass
September 14, 2009 (Toronto International Film Festival)
September 17, 2010 (United States)
105 min

Written and Directed by Tim Blake Nelson

See "Leaves of Grass" for the impressive sway of Mr. Edward Norton. There's plenty to like along the way in this fun and wild story, but the film's gimmick remains its best element.

Edward Norton gives one of the best performances of 2010 (and of his career) by playing two identical twins, both brilliant at what they two. Bill teaches Latin and Philosophy at Brown, though Harvard has their sights on him. Brady grows the finest natural marijuana in all of Oklahoma. When Brady gets in over his head with the wrong crowd, he has his best buddy Bolger (played by writer/director Tim Blake Nelson) inform his twin that he is dead. This is the only way Bill would return to their humble hometown because of a rocky past with his brother and mother (Susan Sarandon).

By far, the highlight of this film is seeing Norton play off Norton. Remember the impressive sequences in "The Social Network" where Armie Hammer plays both of Winklevi? (Did you know that was one actor?) The effect was seamless there. Here it draws a bit more attention to itself, perhaps intentionally so, but the effect is impressive and all-together hilarious. It it not the type of role (or film) that would be recognized by the Academy, but I feel he should have received Oscar consideration.

This is a successful black comedy (that dabbles into a very philosophical stoner comedy) with over-the-top scenarios and situations. Richard Dreyfuss shows up for five minutes to reek a bit of madness. My favorite side character is an orthodontist (Josh Pais) Bill meets aboard a plane en route to Tulsa. As I suspected, this could not be just a random encounter. Near the end it goes off the rails, but manages to find some closure in the film's namesake, a poetry collection by Walt Witman. The love story that stems from the jocular fertilizer is an easy second to the relationship of the two brothers. Like "Don McKay" from 2009, it almost feels Coen brother-esque, which is a fine compliment to pay.


CONTENT: a scene of sensuality, strong language, and strong bloody violence


May 18, 2011 (Festival de Cannes)
136 min

Written and Directed by Lars von Trier

"Melancholia" begins with beauty, awkward humor, and some provoking drama, but these qualities do not last. By the time it finally draws its heavy curtains you will be glad to be done with this flamboyant bore.

Von Trier's lastest made quite a fuss at Festival de Cannes last summer. His lead, Kirsten Dunst, took home the Best Actress award. Von Trier himself left with nothing but a ban from Cannes for remarks he made. That does not (and should not) affect my review, though it's telling that the same arrogant artist who made those comments made this film. I have only seen some of the controversial Danish director's films. Each time I enter intrigued and a little weary. "Melancholia" will certainly make me think twice before I seek another.

The film's opening is elegant as a classic oil painting. We observe some 8 minutes of a few souls in slow-motion struggles before an apocalyptic calamity claims their lives. Namely, a planet called Melancholia crashing into Earth. The whole sequence is set to Richard Wagner's prelude to "Tristan und Isolde." See this opening if nothing else (maybe I can convince you to see nothing else).

What follows is Justine's (Dunst) wedding night. She and her groom arrive hours late, but this is far from the worst thing to transpire that evening. A bride's highly dysfunctional family, her being the ringleader, make for a dreadful party for their guests. For the most part this manages to be compelling, but it drags on for us like it does the wedding-goers.

After the long night is over we are only halfway through the film. The second part follows Justine's sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg). They both play significant parts in each other's portions. Both become fixated on this planet that gets closer and closer. Because we have no reason to sympathize for these characters, Melancholia is the only thing we can concern ourselves with, but even then it is only going to affect these characters.

As the film's title suggests, one of the sister's (maybe both) suffer from depression. Some might argue this films taps into that disorder, but I feel it is much more guilty of giving us scene after scene of meaningless banter leading to diminishing narrative. Even with all the talented actors involved the film never finds its legs and simply limps through the dreary aesthetic.

At the end of the day I suppose we'll label it allegorical. After all, to take "Melancholia" literally would be an insult to the worst of science fiction films. This becomes a sledgehammer Lars von Trier longs to ever so lethargically press upon our consciousness (if you manage to stay awake). How can it be that the actual slow-motions sights found in the overture are the fasting moving moments of the film? On another note, von Trier's exploitative tendencies are present yet again though thankfully brief. This further gives stake to the argument that he loves to make women suffer. I have admired some of his work in the past, but he has certainly taken a toll on me this time around.


CONTENT: language, some sexuality and nudity

Updated 4.28.12

Friday, April 27, 2012


The September Issue
August 20, 2009
90 min

Directed by R.J. Cutler

A somewhat fascinating look into the making of Vogue's most important issue of the year and the more fascinating people behind it.

Here's one my fiancée made me sit through before she was my fiancée. An initiation? Perhaps. I did the same thing to her with "2001: A Space Odyssey." Trust me, it weren't for her, I would have never watched this documentary. A recent episode of Filmspotting: SVU reminded me that I had even seen it.

Anna Wintour is the powerful woman who sits on the throne at Vogue, a popular and successful fashion magazine. Behind those sunglasses and bangs is an unstoppable force in the world of fashion. It is her that inspired "The Devil Wears Prada." Wintour works with leading designers to pick the clothes that in turn make the issue. I knew very little about these matters beforehand so it was illuminating, but I am still not entirely interested. The great thing about many documentaries is that they are filled with eccentric folk. Trust me, the people who come up with these styles are pretty "out there" and make for captivating material themselves. Seek it out if you care about such things or try it if you care to learn. Otherwise you can pass this one by (unless the woman/man in your life insists). My time with it was far less burdensome than I initially thought.


CONTENT: brief strong language