Music Video Monday: Etta Bond “Under the Knife”

One task I’ve been getting to is visiting all the tweets I’ve favorited because usually they had more to do with the fact that I wanted to visit a link at a later time. This was a video that BAM Award winner Bill Milner tweeted the praises of. It’s a video brilliant in its simple, unified visual theory that perfectly accompanies the lyrics.

Enjoy!

Mini-Review: The Playroom

The Playroom

I will say that this is a film that requires just a touch of stick-to-it-ness. It builds a worlds of these siblings first, one where their parents seem to be at least on the periphery, if not absent altogether. It fractures chronology and starts the kids making up a story that you know will reflect on their life just not how. Then the parents are introduced, how they interact with the kids, then what’s beneath the facade it takes a bit. However, the film would have lesser or no impact, and would be cheap, underdeveloped melodrama otherwise.

The performances by parents and kids alike are quite strong and its a great chamber drama worth searching out.

8/10

Mini-Review: Big Shot

Big Shot

Growing up in New York, but being a New York Ranger fan, I was only vaguely aware of the fiasco that was John Spano’s scam to try to purchase the New York Islanders. However, after being fully informed of all that went on here I can say that no team or its fans (no matter how big an arch-rival) deserves to go through this, especially when you consider that the league was at least partly to blame.

Actor-turned-director Kevin Connolly would’ve already scored in my book by not only giving appropriate background on what the Islanders were very early in their existence, but also how they declined, and that he had seen the best and worst of times. However, where the film transcends that is that he actually got to sit down with the man himself and not only faced him in as respectful a fashion as you could ask for, but allowed him to tell his story about how this all happened, and explain (to the extent possible) what he was thinking when things went down.

It’s the kind of story that could only be true and it’s a truly brilliantly rendered account of it quite-nearly blow-by-blow with many of the most concerned parties involved.

10/10

Mini-Review: Spring Breakers

Spring Breakers

I first mentioned Spring Breakers on my site when I wrote a post about a Facebook actor game I partook in. This was my selection as a film of James Franco’s I’d not seen but wanted to I believe. And sure enough when the Dash started it was a fairly high priority.

Oddly enough after so long, and hearing so many things and, I was pleased by the film in some ways and terribly annoyed by it in other ways. Most were ways in which I was not expecting. Sure enough it’s not completely exploitative and devoid of any content. However, there’s a tremendous miscalculation inasmuch as it feels like that without fragmenting scenes, excess of montage and repetitive dialogue either spoken onscreen and in voice over, there would not be a feature film here. However, even omitting that and taking the film as is making more aesthetic statements than societal ones. The score and the montage do have an effect of washing over you, which would be nice if not for the incessant earworms: “This is not what I signed up for.” “I want to go home.” “Look at all my shit!” “Spring break fo’ever.”

4/10

Mini-Review: Free Spirits

Free Spirits

The difference this ESPN 30 for 30 doc and any other that this is the first to deal with one of the maverick sports leagues of the 1960s and 1970s. While there was already a USFL doc, the ABA and AFL had not been addressed. Of course, the USFL merging with the NFL was never a possibility. This film tells the tale of the Spirits of St. Louis, one of the two teams left out in the cold when the ill-fated league merged with the NBA.

The film mainly just traces the short, but significant two-year history of the team. The reason they were not absorbed, is not really a mystery. However, though there is an abrupt shift in gears late in the game (though the writing is on the wall throughout) the surprise this film has in store is the fallout and windfall from the non-merger.

It seems some of these docs thrive because of their running time and others could use a little more. This one would’ve been served by a little more of a lead-in, but it still tells its tale well.

7/10

Mini-Review: Anna Karenina (2012)

Anna Karenina (2012)

This is one of the few films this year that has something I call the “Atom Bomb” effect, which means that it ‘mushroom clouds’ so to speak, it grows the further away from impact you are. It was a film I felt very strongly on a visceral level as I watched it, but as I reflected upon it I was further ravished by the conscious theatrical presentation, which seemed to me to represent the societal facade through which Anna fights. As she comes closer to embracing her emotions the set seem more filmic, when scenes are dealing with emotional contrivance, they are more theatrical. I haven’t had a chance to revisit the film and test the theory, but regardless of interpretation it works. The moving camera lends much of the feeling, but the lack of cuts in certain sequences forces the actors, especially Knightley, to convey many conflicting emotions all in sequence without the aid of the edit and they do so tremendously. The score is wonderful, there are few if any aspects of the production that are not first-rate, making it one of the best films of the year.

10/10

Review: Gone with the River

Gone with the River (Dauna. que lleva el río) is Venezuela’s submission to the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language film. It is also a work of indigenous cinema. Indigenous cinema regardless of what aboriginal population it chronicles, in what era, is of significance. Perhaps far more so in the postcolonial/postglobalized world. Therefore, Gone with the River has instant immediacy and significance. In this instance the people are of the Warao tribe and their language is also named as such.

Dauna (Yordana Medrano), the protagonist, is defined by her nonconformity, as she tries to act as a bridge between her culture and the Hispanic one from the world outside the banks of the Orinoco River. She practices her traditions to a point but also seeks education when given the opportunity and wants to write in both her native tongue and Spanish to preserve the culture, pass on traditions, also give those with little insight to their way of life a window in.

The windows used to look into the culture, specifically our protagonist, are ones that travel back and forth through time. Typically speaking, through many experiences, I’ve found that a chronological sequence of events is preferable unless the impact is heightened through the juxtaposition and contrasting of similar instances backward and forward in time. Some examples would be things like The Tree of Life, Last Year at Marienbad or the lesser-known Villa-Lobos: Uma Vida de Paixão thrive because of their playing with the temporal structure of their respective narratives. In this film its dubious as to whether the shifting back and forth through time is the greater impact.

Gone with the River (2015, Alfarería Cinematográfica)

For certainly the symbolic symbiosis; Dauna’s native culture versus her adopted one is mirrored by those scenes where she is free contrasting those where she’s incarcerated for an as-of-yet unknown crime. Surely, there’s some intriguing commentary there but it ends up feeling an insufficient amount of material to stretch the narrative.

The reason for this is that even the central relationship through the years – that of Dauna and Tarcisio. At times even they seem as if they are but placeholders for the central societal conflict but they have scant amounts of personal delineation and impetus for their actions and opinions.

As opposed to a recently BAM-shortlisted Canadian film about First Nation lives on the reservation, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, which felt like it needed more running time because it was covering too much; I wonder if film was even the ideal medium here because it feels that this conflict and relationship – both cultural and personal – could’ve been examined in more detail over all the years this film covers.

Mini-Review: Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Évocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

As I’ve mentioned in the past, particularly with ESPN’s sports documentaries, it’s always fascinating to me to get perspective on things that were at the periphery of my awareness due to my young age in the 1980s. I love the decade in which I was born, and due to my own personal philosophy consider myself more a child of that decade than the one I came of age in. However, being so young there were some things I only had a passing knowledge of. The Morton Downey Jr. Show was something I was aware of either when it started on WWOR (living not far from Secaucus, NJ that network was on my TV) or on MTV, but I didn’t fully realize the meteoric nature of his ascendency on a wave of vitriol whose earnestness was questionable.

And therein lies the brilliance of this documentary’s approach: it goes forward and backward in time to chart certain catalytic factors in his life and chart changes, but he remains an intriguing enigma the film does not judge its subject but presents him with utmost showmanship, as he likely would have wanted, with opinions on him from those who knew him on either side and with impeccably timed revelations. It is highly recommended and only held back by its animated interludes and a rather soft landing in its very last moment.

8/10

Review: Sivas (2015)

When looking for a theme in which to select films from the start of November until Thanksgiving being literal is not the best option. Films centered around Thanksgiving tend to be overly obsessed with dysfunctional families. So in thinking about the nature of the day which was initially a celebration of survival in the New World, I thought why not focus on foreign films.

Sivas

Sivas is the Turkish submission for the Academy Award race, and is a debut feature film from writer/director Kaan Müjdeci. It takes a naturalistic, externalized look at a coming-of-age cum boy-and-his-dog story.

Aslan (Dogan Izci) becomes attached to, and wants to keep a dogfighting sheepdog Sivas after he’s been left for dead following a fight in Aslan’s hometown.

The best way to contextualize this film for western mores would perhaps be bullfighting stories. Even as a child I was never particularly fond of the sport before the notion of animal rights was even a sensical phrase in my brian. However, I have seen titles about bullfighting and bullfighters, such as The Brave One, and been able to connect through it via the guise of the characters’ individual wants and needs.

Sivas (2015, Coloured Giraffes)

The strongest overall sequence in the film is definitely when Aslan and Sivas bond overnight. The dog is severly wounded, handshy, and skittish. Aslan insists on staying with him overnight when his older brother, Şahin (Ozan Çelik), insists that he leave Sivas behind and Aslan refuses.

Through the same guise of character wants/needs the decision Aslan first makes as a dogowner, as he is given sole responsibility for the dog when everyone, his Father (Hazan Yazilitas) included, believes that the dog will serve them no purpose; the provocation of his rival Hasan (Hasan Ozdemir) makes it an obvious choice, and one where it is easy to grin-and-bear it hoping for the desired result.

Dogan Izci is particularly strong as the young lead in one scene when his rage gets the better of him and he makes his biggest, and arguably last, stand in defense of his dog’s rights and insistence on being included in decisions having to do with his well-being and living conditions. The raw emotion tapped by Izci and captured by Müjdeci are breathtaking and are the height of the film unquestionably.

Sivas (2015, Coloured Giraffes)

Unfortunately, the concluding third, barring one standard sequence of suspense as their carload of passenger and the dog seek to escape notice of the authorities is a bit nebulous, and left wanting. Aslan’s emotional state at the end is one of steadfast resoluteness in no longer subjecting his dog to the rigors and cruelties he’s already allowed, but any indication of whether or not his request is heeded is left to our imagination. All certainty is expunged for us, all we know for sure is that we watched him grow, and in some respects have seen him come full circle in an unusual way: he reached a new sense of maturity and responsibility when he bonded to and felt protective of Sivas. Yet that was him looking before he leapt, and he had to fight to be able to get back there again.

More so than the usual the dog in question is more a framing mechanism for the tale than the central focal point of the plot. The film may be called Sivas but it’s Aslan’s strength and maturation, and his ability (or inability) to live up to the meaning of his name (“lion”) that is meant to keep us engaged.

Hispanic Heritage Blogathon: The Films of Robert Rodriguez

I. History with Him

No matter how well-known a director is one always has to find them as an individual. In the case of Robert Rodriguez I actually started watching his films before Quentin Tarantino’s, who is Rodriguez’ friend and occasional collaborator.

I first saw the Spy Kids films that were out at the time in college. Then I began seeking out more of his work (consciously, but more on that later). As such I saw El Mariachi and read his book Rebel Without a Crew, and as such he became one of the rare directors I not only have read but much of what I learned from his books serves me well until this day.

Not only did his name become part of my personal nomenclature for a director who does it all but some of the philosophies espoused are still ones I can recite, and agree with. Among them being his theory about trying to work on several films immediately after his big success such that there was a bit of uncertainty as to what his second film actually was. The idea being if the public and critical masses didn’t know they couldn’t really chomp at the bit to tear apart number two.

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While video cinematography still hasn’t quite approached what cinema can accomplish, I do and did appreciate his being on the vanguard of the digital revolution, and his joke about going to fondle some film stock if you absolutely needed to is still one that tickles me greatly.

II. El Mariachi

El Mariachi

Starting at the very beginning, and picking up where the last section left off, El Mariachi is a sort of cinematic miracle. This is not just because of the budget, the size of the crew or lack thereof, or the fact that it was edited on a VCR and cuts were dictated by when the sound started to run out of sync; but also for the narrative and what Robert Rodriguez did not only while he was essentially an amateur but with a group of them.

There’s a tremendous amount of intuition at work. For example, before this film he had never written a feature-length screenplay, and had no idea how to go about it. He had, however, written shorts running about 30 minutes, he knew how to structure that. Therefore, he repeated that process three times, moving the story along and there was the feature. This is most noticeable in the film in examining the dream sequences, which follows the Rule of Three in a feature form.

El Mariachi proved not only a launchpad for his career but also was one of the franchises that Robert Rodriguez brought into being. Most impressive about this trilogy is that it may (I’ve not formalized this comparison) be the most aesthetically successful trilogy of films wherein the lead actor was recast after the first film.

III. What’s Your Second Film?

Desperado (1995)

In the interest of full disclosure the other films that Robert Rodriguez worked on that vied to be his second were one I’ve not seen (Roadracers), believe I’ve only seen partially (Four Rooms), and Desperado, his follow-up to El Mariachi with Antonio Banderas, which in some ways is like a bigger budget remake but does progress the narrative.

IV. Back to School with Bedhead

Bedhead (1991, Robert Rodriguez)

Later on in my schooling I discovered one of Robert Rodriguez’ student films. One thing I’ve always admired a lot about him is his willingness to share not only early works but also advice. This is one I’ve featured on Short Film Saturday and find quite funny and creative. Give it a look if you haven’t yet.

V. Horror and Sci-Fi: The Faculty From Dusk Till Dawn

The Faculty

Another thing a bit unique about my fandom of Robert Rodriguez is the current alpha and omega in terms of the films of his I’ve seen, they are the two titles discussed in this section. I saw The Faculty during its theatrical release, however, I didn’t know him at the time so it wasn’t an auteur-based decision. It was motivated by the trailer, Elijah Wood’s participation, and Kevin Williamson (at the time I was a high school student and Dawson’s Creek and all his works were a big deal).

VI. Family Films

Spy Kids (2001, Miramax)

In discussing Robert Rodriguez’ family films there are quite a few to discuss. First and foremost there is the Spy Kids franchise. It’s almost tiresome, but nor unnecessary to state that clearly the progenitor is the best of the series, and earned Best Screenplay and other nominations. Whimsy and imagination are not words I throw around lightly, and exceedingly rare when films fashioned by adults seem to truly capture a child’s imagination.

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)

The sequel was also nominated, and while it doesn’t live up to the first, it doesn’t keep the characters in a state of cinematic cryogenesis maturing them as they go. This time Juni (Daryl Sabara) and Carmen (Alexa Vega) have counterparts of the opposite sex (Matthew O’Leary and Emily Osment). The homage to Ray Harryhausen is quite appreciated as well as the reified dreams.

Spy Kids 3: Game Over (2003)

Game Over provided a successful what-was-then-believed to be conclusion to the series, and a good, more modern take on the trope of entering the world of video games.

Spy Kids 4-D: All the Time in the World (2011)

Keeping in line with his vision of moving forward new leads (Mason Cook and Rowan Blanchard) Spy Kids: All The Time in the World in 4-D not only experiments further with Rodriguez’ own ahead-of-the-craze version of 3-D and scratch and sniff cards but tells a tale of families growing up together, as it features the original core in smaller roles, and the continuation and expansion of an institution.

The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl

Prior to that newest film in the series, which did not in any way feel superfluous after it was over there were two more sojourns into juvenalia. First, there were The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl in 3D, starring Cayden Boyd, Taylor Lautner (his screen debut) and Taylor Dooley, which was quite literally of childish imagination as Robert Rodriguez’ then eight-year-old son Racer Max Rodriguez received a story credit.

2009_shorts_026

Then there was Shorts, which I found to be a rather unique updating of the structural concept that drove El Mariachi, it played again with time and youthful notions rather successfully.

VII. Machete on Planet Grindhouse

Machete Kills

Firstly and most blatantly, I absolutely love that Robert Rodriguez was the first to turn his spoof trailer that was part of his Grindhouse double feature with Tarantino into an actuality. Eli Roth has tinkered with Thankskilling but it has yet to materialize, and I would love to see Edgar Wright’s Don’t but Machete lives in an eponymous film, Machete Kills and the forthcoming Machete Kills in Space. Now if that will complete a trilogy and rest there remains to be seen. However, even though Rodriguez seems to be bouncing from one notion to another that he’s made famous lately, the first in the Machete series is his most recent triumph.

Grind House

Not only did I land Machete in my Top 10 for 2010 but earned a rare BAM Awards feat (and other award shows also) as it was nominated for Best Picture and in no other categories, but that one is the best one to land in. Furthermore, in a very grindhouse or Italian genre cinema way Danny Trejo is back playing Machete but there is no indication he connects to the world of Spy Kids, but it in all other respects seems to be the same character examined further.

Planet-Terror-Movie-300MB-Free-Download

As for Planet Terror, the film he created that lead to Machete. It’s not my favorite part of that double-bill but it is good, holds up its end, and if anything over-commits to the notion of grindhouse in its faux-scratched film, excessive cigarette burns, and missing reels.

VIII. Painting Sin City with Light

Sin City (2005)
Perhaps most noteworthy thing about Sin City is the fact that in continuing his rebellious streak, with due cause, this was the film that caused Robert Rodriguez to part ways with the DGA. The reason was that the Guild would no allow Rodriguez to co-direct with both Frank Miller and Quentin Tarantino. Under DGA rules only blood relations can co-direct a DGA film. So he dropped out of the Guild.

At it’s time I really liked Sin City quite a great deal and gave it a 9/10. It was in the state-of-the-art at the time, quite visually alluring, and one of the best approximation of the graphic novel in cinema. This proved to create an anachronistic fascination in the film when combined with the Film Noir styling.

I have yet to view the recent sequel because it took too long to follow-up, I admit to some comic book film fatigue, which was not a phrase that made sense in 2005, and until I sat down to write this all I recalled about the original was the excessive, in a perhaps too true to the style and source material, voice over narration.

IX. “He’s emotional. Latinos.”

Spy Kids (2001)

Watching the films of Robert Rodriguez, whether they be kids films or his action or other adult content ones, was also part of my personal maturation process. Prior to having seen his works I was not one for cultural transliteration. To be abundantly clear what I mean to say with this is that his films, though not about my background (being a dual citizen of the United States and Brazil), I could relate. Going just beyond being a necessary and representative voice for his own people Mr. Rodriguez was the catalyst of a sort of cultural awakening for me.

Surely, his films won’t undo the laments and wrongs I bemoan in the pre-amble of my review of Rio (Nothing can), but his films; epitomized by the line from Spy Kids quoted above – strike a universality that is not accessible only to Mexicans, not only to Latinos but to everyone who chooses to watch his films. Since then that specificity combined with universality has been something I’ve sought and found in many corners of world cinema. However, there was a realization I found here and for that alone he earned a special place in my pantheon separate from all his other accomplishments.
X. El Rey del Futuro

from-dusk-till-dawn-background

Unfortunately, due to my cable and streaming services at current, El Rey is not available to me all the time. However, I plan to check out the From Dusk Till Dawn series soon, and whatever other content is available online. Hopefully, The Director’s Chair, too. Not many directors have a whole network, much less one that represent their cinematic interests so well.

As if that wasn’t enough, besides the aforementioned Machete follow-up, Rodriguez has also been tapped to bring Johnny Quest to the big screen, which if it finally happens should be a big deal and it’s significant because it’s a rare occasion where he is working with characters not of his making.

Robert Rodiguez’ rise not only came at a time when independent cinema was getting noticed more but also during a new crest in the rise of Latino culture in America. Robert Rodriguez seeks always to entertain first and he has; he is his own voice and doesn’t deal with issue films except how they might make sense within his wheelhouse, like Machete (“This time they fucked with the wrong, Mexican” the voice-over states).

Wherever Robert Rodriguez goes I’d willingly follow to give a chance and a glance, as will others I presume, and along the way he’ll open hearts and minds and accelerate pulses with action, but also not be averse to provoking some thought while having fun in the process. He’s truly well-rounded in all regards. I could go on in this, as I hope he shall in cinema; quite nearly forever.