Category Archives: Film Reviews

On the Road

A half century ago, Jack Kerouac had already been coast to coast and even set sights on overseas travel. It took many attempts and years of edits before On the Road reached the bookshelves. Initial reviews were positive, but misplaced. In a 1957 New York Times review, David Dempsey wrote that it is no longer “fashionable for the young and weary–creatures of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald–simply to be “lost.” Generally, the Beats were discounted by the mainstream. By the time Kerouac reached fame, he had already written a dozen or so books that were then published back to back as if the author had written them over night.
Kerouacs
Adapting On the Road for the big screen was not easy. After years of development with Francis Ford Coppola, billionaire director Walter Salles has created an original perspective of the Beat Generation by combining the uncensored story of the original scroll with the character names of the well known book. Other reviews of the film have been mixed between praise by Kerouac enthusiasts and criticisms similar to 1957 when many felt the young were complaining too much and producing too little.

There’s a little bit of everything in this film including Benzedrine inhalers, marijuana, Proust quotes, jazz, long roads of America, and a whole lot of sex. Does the viewer have to have some awareness of Kerouac and the Beat Generation to really enjoy the film? It depends. Initially released in France, the film inspired many to travel and that in of itself is an accomplishment. Although slightly biased, this reviewer gives four out of four stars across the board. The performances by Garrett Hedlund, Sam Riley, Kristen Stewart and Viggo Mortensen were strong, along with the “kicks” covered from beginning to end.

The Ambassador

RoadBizarre, but a reality over in the Central African Republic with many roads going to nowhere. Places like CAR and Liberia are full of contradictions. Danish filmmaker Mads Brügger shows through an almost reality television presentation, the process for becoming a diplomat of one African country to another and how most of the diplomatic envoys on the continent manipulate the system in some way that profits their foreign bank accounts. “If you can mix business and politics, beautiful things can happen,” says the filmmaker who has become a Liberian diplomat and is in the process of started a match factory with Pygmies and collecting diamonds from a mine and transporting them across borders without being searched.

All it takes is a few hundred thousand dollars, some patience, and connections with firms that specialize in lobbying foreign governments and provide the network of bribery support in the region. Several of the people featured in the documentary are no longer living due to the politics of the region. If you need further proof into the “absurdity of the modern condition” as Shane Smith of Vice will likely feature in his upcoming HBO program, then sit down and watch The Ambassador, another Danish effort to shake things up. Four out of four stars for effort and production, but three for content because it ends abruptly. The viewer should have a final thought of, “these people really exist,” yes they do.

Beware the Gonzo

“There’s no more gonzo, that’s for sure,” said the lead character played by Ezra Miller near the end of the film. Of appropriate length, this story of an underground high school newspaper is fun and leaves you with a “oh that’s nice” type of feeling.” The production and readership of their publication is probable and the dynamics of high school are covered fashionably. The effort is at three out of four stars and the content is two out of four as well for not going further with the newspaper. The goal of the characters was to start a revolution and all they ended up doing was creating an outlet for emotionally disturbed Eddie “Gonzo” Gilman.
DrGonzos
Netflix provides us all with films that we would have never heard of and expands the reach of films like this. Although, the filmmakers stopped short of covering what really goes on within the 24,000+ high schools in America. Sex, drugs, and violence are largely left out and rightly so if the goal of the film is to entertain with comedy. Hunter Thompson is barely mentioned all the while many people continue to emulate his example to disastrous ends. Ezra Miller is excellent in this role but does not get to exemplify it to the lengths possible if the filmmakers went beyond the social power structures of high school. The Perks of Being a Wallflower actor states that the film is a more John Hughes approach to present high school in a likable fashion compared to Miller’s earlier work in Afterschool. In his feature debut, Miller plays an internet addicts who witnesses and videotapes a cocaine overdose of two popular senior high school girls who puts together a memorial video, but is shunned by the school officials who would rather not discuss the root of the problem. Instead they institute rules that punish students for drug use and a whole lot of other activities that the school board can deem problematic. Three out of four stars as well for that one and unknown for the flower flick.

Snow on tha Bluff

Bluff

The opening sequence is perfectly predictable and goes exactly where the two girls and cameraman do not want to go. Loud and intense, the robbery is followed up by a series of clips shot by the drug dealer who just held the suburban youngsters at gun point and stolen their video equipment. Recruiting a friend to hold the camera documentary style, the drug dealer relaxes with others drinking beers, rolling blunts, and evading police through a litany of schemes and bad dialectics. The actors, if that’s what they are, become incredibly excited whenever someone would show up on the corner to score a good high. New techniques for discrete distribution and surveillance on the competition are showcased in this crack saga.

The reviewer at this point, along with some law enforcement officials, are not entirely sure if what is being shown is reality and warrants an investigation. After learning more about the film from director Damon Russell and producer Chris Knittel, they “show the realities of gangster street life. You see it in movies and it’s glorified. But when you see it up close and real, it’s a completely different thing…we’re trying to get to the truth of the story.” Their next project will cover a veteran from Atlanta returning from Afghanistan or Iraq with some more funding and hope to market it to more people than “Snow.”

The content is over the top and worth watching if you prefer reality and are curious about the next docufilm. The reviewer will no longer give total star counts because it’s stupid. This film gets four out of four stars for effort and potential, but two out of four stars for content.

Tree of life, what?

The Tree of Life with Brad Pitt and Sean Penn in a melodramatic sequence of timelines and long shots that pan across various sets without any dialogue or music. For me, watching the film again was a task and hesitation due to previous encounter with its vague story line. With animated shots of dinosaurs and amoebas, this cinematographic masterpiece took one year to shoot and then three years to edit down from initial release of five hour epic. The release of this film is not met with the same intensity as the production dealt with on a daily basis for the majority of shots being deleted and silenced.

There are no quotes from the film to speak of, simply abstract questions followed by a camera shot beneath the waves of an ocean and flashforwards to Sean Penn’s life who is apparently son to Brad Pitt’s fatherly stern figure. Parallels to dinosaurs and truly unknown, but there would have been improvements had the film possessed any soundtrack whatsoever. The only transitional tunes the film uses are screams and instrument change. Occasionally the screen changes to fixate on a flock of birds while music is being sung with Latin lyrics and violins, again all with no dialogue between the cast. Then all of a sudden, black. The screen is replaced with an animated light in the middle before disappearing and being replaced by ghost figures of some form of stampede.

Again, the viewer is completely lost and at times feels as if they are in a dream state or somewhere they shouldn’t be in an almost Willy Wonka boat ride with the wacky footage designed to creep out the viewer take up the screen for two hours straight. 3/4 Stars for solid presentation of the cosmos, a topic worthy of pushing upon the world. I would never rate this movie higher than that, but if you asked if it was worth your time, I wouldn’t say anything. Carl Sagan would have been perplexed by the overuse of explosive footage and abuse innuendo.

Enter the Void Review & Trailer

Enter the Void brings with it an ecstatic reality from conception to death and the stages of afterlife loosely based upon the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The French director takes first time American actor in Tokyo as a young drug runner who gets mixed up in the wrong crowd. The reviewers and festivals criticized its overuse of pornographic scenes and long animated scenes with psychedelic color wheels with strobe lights hitting in between rambling quotes from the dead American drug runner. Anyone spending the nearly three hours it takes to watch this epic production of a bad trip in Tokyo will be sure to walk away disturbed by the total disregard the director has for the well being of his actors who experience a downward spiral into sex, drugs, and insanity. An ending with death opening to a birth is creepy with the baby flashbacks and animated sperm to egg scene after full frontal intercourse by the cast. Overall the film is a worthwhile experience, especially if you are feeling like there is not much left to do with a day to get the feeling similar to the one you get with Requiem for a Dream, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Gladiator. It is no joke, a human approach to dealing with one of the least covered topic in film, death. Although a common theme, the moment after from the point of view of the deceased is rare, especially from the point of view of a character under the influence of DMT shot by a director who took advantage of all the pulleys available with his camera to hover over the back streets of Tokyo and keep you interested in where the journey would go next. Three out of four starts without a doubt. The four stars are reserved to movies that end with some sort of long lasting taste, like the desire to watch it again in the future. Enter the Void is surely a one time or two time experience. The only time you should ever watch Enter the Void after that is with another person so that you do not go entirely insane. Onwards and upwards.