Posts Tagged ‘Scarlett Johansson’

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I have zero connection to Disney movies.

Even as a child, I was already too grown-up for their fake worldview.

I am a better person for it. Disney is a disease that infects children with unrealistic expectations. Director Jon Favreau does an admirable job subverting the classic expectations of Disney movies as much as possible. But the cheese is overwhelmingly ham-handed and inescapable.

Of course, this is still a children’s movie—first and foremost. Like most kids movies, they sell audiences on the bullshit line that it’s for children but can also be enjoyed by adults. While Favreau performed substantially better than most would in his position, that balancing act is very visible.

Neel Sethi

Before we get into spoiler territory, let’s talk about what works. Above all, The Jungle Book is a success because Disney nailed their casting of Mowgli. Neel Sethi was phenomenal and picture-perfect for the role. Few child actors could pull of the physicality needed for Mowgli to move throughout the jungle in a realistic fashion while also believably interacting with CGI animals. Apparently, The Jim Henson Creature Shop was wisely brought in to fabricate puppets to serve as reference points for Neel Sethi. However, this movie probably doesn’t work remotely as well with any other child actor.

You have to love Mowgli because this is his journey and you are with him every step.

Baloo and Mowgli

Bill Murray is always a welcome presence, and he does a superb job bringing Baloo (the bear) to life. The character depiction perfectly matches Bill Murray’s voice and delivery. The third casting choice that Disney had to perfect was Shere Khan (the tiger) because he’s the villain that you must fear and despise. Idris Elba reveled in this opportunity and he chews ample scenery. As a result, Shere Khan is the correct mix of menace and power. I could do without every other casting decision.

I understand why they would want to cast Ben Kingsley as Bagheera (the panther)—especially considering the backstory of the book in the context of India. I mean, he’s fucking Gandhi. But it felt like a decision obligated more out of politics/commercial incentives instead of a character-based decision. Personally, it feels like Ben Kingsley mailed it in—either that or he’s not a good voice actor. Emotionally, Bagheera feels flat. While he may have intended for it to come across as regal, Ben Kingsley’s delivery feels like he’s bored and divorced from what is happening on the screen.

Bagheera

For a completely computer-generated movie (except for Neel Sethi), The Jungle Book breaks new ground and deserves praise for being a technological achievement. As usual, the 3D is completely unnecessary and I think it would drastically detract from the visuals. While there is a certain disconnect between the voice actors and CGI animals moving their mouths, I was able to forgive and forget that these were actors in a sound booth. You just have to go with it because you can only do so much to replicate how voices echo through the space and density of a computer-generated jungle.

Although it may look silly 5-10 years later, this is an important step in CGI development.

Now that I’ve praised this enough, let’s get down to talking some shit about a children’s movie.

Spoilers galore.

A surprising amount of death occurs in The Jungle Book.

However, no real violence is shown when a death happens, but the character completely disappears from the story without so much as a lingering shot. This occurs multiple times. Maybe I’m guilty of overanalyzing, but I believe you negate the impact of the death you’re showing by just breezing right past it. Mufasa’s death in The Lion King makes a monumental impression because they show the act and direct aftermath—Simba seeing the body of his dead father and mourning him.

Whereas in The Jungle Book, it’s impossible to tell whether or not some characters actually died—specifically Kaa and King Louie. Both of these characters feel shoehorned into the movie. I have no idea what their previous roles were in the animated movie or book, but the screen time for Kaa and King Louie appears to primarily serve as clumsy exposition to further plot points.

Kaa

Kaa is a massive python s-s-seductively voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She is in one scene where she basically tells Mowgli the story of the red flower (Shere Khan killing Mowgli’s father and getting burnt badly in the process) and then tries to devour Mowgli. Somehow, Baloo silently climbs up an extremely high tree and I guess he viciously kills Kaa to save Mowgli. Remember, Baloo is a lazy, obese bear—but evidently he can climb really high steathily undetected. Kaa never reappears in the story, but you also never see Baloo kill Kaa. It’s just a roar, heavy implication, and quick cut.

King Louie appears in a similar yet even more bungled sequence. King Louie is voiced by Christopher Walken, which is so weird that it works. While King Louie is an orangutan in every other incarnation, Jon Favreau turned the character into a Gigantopithecus. Essentially, he is King Kong as an orangutan with all of the quirky personality traits of Christopher Walken. King Louie wants to learn the secret to controlling the red flower from Mowgli so he can use it for his own sinister devices.

King Louie

Bagheera and Baloo track Mowgli down after he’s kidnapped by the monkeys and taken to King Louie. With their help, Mowgli escapes, but they all have to outrun and outwit King Louie. This leads to King Louie destroying his kingdom so he can try to grab Mowgli. As a result of his greed, the whole kingdom literally crumbles down on top of King Louie. These scenes make it seem like Kaa and King Louie only exist to talk about the red flower (fire), threaten to kill Mowgli, and then die.

It seems very odd as an adult, and I would imagine children must also be confused.

And apparently, all life is precious in the jungle except monkeys. Countless monkeys presumably get slaughtered—or else we’re supposed to pretend they’re made of rubber and have no bones so they can get clawed and trampled without any repercussions. Why did the monkeys get fucked over? As far as I can recall, the monkeys are also the only animals that aren’t given human voices.

That is some fucked-up shit to do to our closest DNA relatives, Fatreau.

Finally, Mowgli learns from King Louie (before he is crumbled to death) that Shere Khan killed Akela. That was also another glossed-over death because Khan attacks Akela and throws him off a cliff. It is incredibly quick, but at least that is a death that has an impact. While the wolves let Shere Khan reign supreme over their domain, Mowgli is immediately out for blood when he hears the news.

Shere Khan

Mowgli runs to the man village to steal fire and sprints through the jungle with a lit torch.

In his haste, embers from his torch fly off and ignite the jungle. This all leads to a very stilted final stand after Mowgli miraculously runs back home in a matter of minutes (the same ground that it took him days to flee). Inevitably, Mowgli kills Shere Khan with fire—using the blaze he created by burning the jungle. But it’s all cool because elephants are natural firefighters. Problem solved!

So the lesson here is don’t play with fire…unless you have an elephant around.

I don’t know why they intentionally made the hero (Mowgli) destroy part of the jungle—even if it was by mistake. Apparently, that fire didn’t kill any other animals or destroy their habitats. Remember, elephants are magical and can fix any situation by knocking down some trees.

Despite all its faults, The Jungle Book is a good movie.

But everyone should relax on the instant classic bullshit.

Red Flower

3.5 out of 5 stars

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The way I think about and rate documentaries is different than typical movies. For the most part, documentaries fall along the poles—boring/bad and gripping/great. I don’t feel like there are many middle-of-the-road documentaries. Either the movie captures your interest or it does not.

While I have a lot of complaints about Netflix, the quality of streaming documentaries is a strong suit. Although the topic can be a deciding factor on whether you watch, a great documentary is the byproduct of the director. Subject matter can help, but it shouldn’t matter. The documentaries I list below each have an interesting story presented in a captivating manner. Some have important messages and others are goofy escapism. Surely, there are other documentaries that I could have been included. Thirty is completely arbitrary because I had to force myself to stop at some point. In my opinion, this is a collection of the top documentaries (not in order of best to worst) streaming on Netflix.

I’ve tried to organize this in a manner that flows from one group of themes to another.

From One Second to the Next

From One Second to the Next

You can’t have a list of great documentaries without including Werner Herzog. We’re not exactly starting off on a light-hearted topic. Werner Herzog tackles the somber subject of texting and driving in short order—this barely registers as a documentary at 34 minutes. But I’m glad this is a concise look because it’s difficult to see the aftermath of texting and driving. Let’s not lie to ourselves, texting and driving is potentially as harmful as drinking and driving. However, we’re all much more likely to text than drink while operating vehicles. On my daily commute, I have to pay attention and anticipate every driver’s actions because so many people are half-asleep behind the wheel. This is a fucking epidemic, and I’m shocked more people don’t die as a result. In the hands of a bad director, this documentary would have bordered on being a public service announcement (PSA). To the credit of Werner Herzog, this isn’t a sermon where you’re being preached at—instead, you simply see the horrific impact.

Animal Odd Couples

Animal Odd Couples

Another brief documentary, this is a 53-minute foray into the animal kingdom—exploring extremely unique relationships between very different animals. These pairings are so damn peculiar: lion and coyote, tortoise and goose, goat and horse, dog and deer. Naturally, animals lovers will love this selection, but this is such a special inspection of social bonds that anyone should love it.

Blackfish

Blackfish

Fuck Sea World. Blackfish is an in-depth look at the horrific practices of separating baby orcas from their parents in order to stock theme parks with a product. At times, this movie is sickening. Considering their natural habitat, these whales are virtually being locked in a closet, which only increases their aggression and leads to situations where they can harm humans. One particularly sad case is Tilikum, who has attacked and tasted human blood. Moronically, Tilikum is the male selected to artificially inseminate females—breeding orcas that are more likely to be aggressive. The worst part is the utter lack of shame from Sea World and zero desire to take any responsibility. Trying to protect their own asses, the business side of Sea World outright lies and is caught doing so on several occasions. This isn’t exactly an unbiased perspective, but you can make your own assessments from viewing the evidence. Everyone should learn more about these intelligent creatures. Just not at Sea World.

The Whale

The Whale

I found it! I found the movie that makes Ryan Reynolds likeable. The Whale is another documentary about killer whales, but this case is a lost orca that got separated from its family in a Vancouver island community. Ryan Reynolds narrates this heartfelt tale that warms the coldest of cockles. Most residents of this local community love the orca and named it Luna. The footage of Luna playing and socializing with these people is phenomenal. Unfortunately, the government gets involved and tries to prevent people from interacting with Luna. The battle to decide what happens with Luna escalates and the documentary does a magnificent job building tension and portraying the struggle.

The Queen of Versailles

The Queen of Versailles

David Siegel is a horrible person. Jacqueline Siegel’s brain has atrophied to the point where she is a zombie that puts on her makeup with the subtlety of a shotgun. Amassing a fortune from selling timeshares, the Siegels’ plans to build the largest home fell through with the financial collapse in 2008. This documentary gives the audience a raw look at the lavish, gaudy lifestyle of these idiots developed from the languishing of the “little people.” To a degree, it’s satisfying to see these two scumbags suffer, but you can’t help feeling bad for the children upon seeing their parents’ indifference.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop

If you don’t know Banksy, you don’t know shit. I wish I could re-watch Exit Through the Gift Shop through fresh eyes. This was an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary in 2011, and it should have won the award going away. Arguably, Thierry Guetta’s transformation from foreign oddball weirdo to laughably respected artist Mr. Brainwash is just as entertaining as getting a blurred glimpse of Banksy. Although he has a certain charisma, I can’t help but hate Mr. Brainwash and the fact that he got rich and famous off shitty, hacky art. It is infuriating and frustrating that talent often doesn’t play an important factor in the recognition and appreciation of art. This documentary explores the dirty, gross side of rich people who love the smell of their own farts and buying overhyped art.

Super Size Me

Super Size Me

Am I crazy, or is Super Size Me responsible for the resurgence of interest in documentaries within the last 10+ years? I don’t know if that’s giving Morgan Spurlock too much credit. However, Spurlock struck gold with this gimmick and he milked it beyond what it was worth. Documentaries typically struggle when the filmmaker is part of the story, but it can work with the right personality. For example, Michael Moore does a disservice to his own product when his ugly mug and insufferable voice are front-and-center. So much of Super Size Me still works because you can see the genuine nature of Morgan Spurlock, which increases the impact of seeing what happens when you eat 30 days of nothing but McDonald’s. Of course, nothing good came of that aside from Morgan Spurlock’s career.

Super High Me

Super High Me

There are so many marijuana documentaries. Way too many. Get over yourselves, stoners. Super High Me is one of the tolerable ones mainly because I love Doug Benson. I’ve watched him perform live several times, and laughed heartily each time. Super High Me follows the same beats as Super Size Me: Doug goes 30 days without smoking weed before then smoking copious amounts every day for the next 30 days. This is a parody documentary with a point, but it only works because of Doug Benson.

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

The Battered Bastards of Baseball

Celebrate the return of baseball with the best baseball documentary. The story of the eccentric independent baseball team, the Portland Mavericks, is a classic underdog tale. In the 1970s, actor Bing Russell brought baseball back to Portland after their minor league team bolted. Don’t try to understand the complicated rigmarole—just know that there was a time when minor league teams weren’t necessarily affiliated with a major league franchise. The Portland Mavericks operated in this sweet spot. Bing Russell made the Mavericks the last bastion of baseball fun for has-beens and never-weres. With a colorful cast of characters (including his son, actor Kurt Russell), the Portland Mavericks shocked everyone by dominating their competition. But baseball can’t stand fun. Major League Baseball wanted to capitalize on the market Bing Russell created so they forced a buyout—decided through arbitration—to kick the Mavericks out of town in favor of the AAA Portland Beavers. Basically, Bing Russell and the Mavericks were having too much success as an independent team, which embarrassed MLB teams to such an extent that every single minor league team had to be affiliated with a major league franchise. And now, hundreds of shitty minor league teams try to create a culture of whacky family fun at the ballpark in desperate hopes of regaining the spirit the Mavericks established.

Hot Girls Wanted

Hot Girls Wanted

Pornography has become so pervasive and intertwined with American culture. Now, we have the evolution from professional to amateur porn. Hot Girls Wanted is a slice of life tale about how (mostly) teenage girl get recruited and introduced to the business. Many don’t last—by design. The industry essentially uses and abuses these girls. In some cases, that abuse is actually quite literal. After filming a few videos, most of the girls are spit out of the system with only a thousand or so dollars stuffed in their G-strings. And now those videos exist on the Internet for all of eternity—reducing their dignity with every click. Your earning potential is limited and your window to make that paper starts closing as soon as you start. However, it makes for an interesting documentary to see the sleaze behind the camera. Hot Girls Wanted proves you can’t spell show business without ho business.

Hot Coffee

Hot Coffee

Everyone knows the story of the lady who had scalding hot coffee spilled in her lap and sued McDonald’s. At least, everyone thinks they know the story. Hot Coffee is a fascinating investigation of the true story behind that case and tort reform. While everyone I have ever met refers to this as some superficial burns and a ridiculous frivolous lawsuit, the facts are not debatable. McDonald’s required franchises to hold coffee between 180 and 190 degrees. When a 79-year-old woman tried to pour cream and sugar in her cup, the coffee spilled and she suffered third-degree burns in her pelvic region. The pictures shown in this documentary are horrific. I couldn’t even manage more than a quick look. The other cases discussed aren’t quite as interesting, but this is a very informative documentary.

Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers

Finders Keepers is Storage Wars meets redneck taxidermy. One backwoods genius (John Wood) gets the brilliant idea to cure his own jerky. Except it isn’t deer meat that he wants to maintain, it is John Wood’s own amputated leg. The story behind his amputated leg is unfortunate, but the leg is an important reminder of what he went through as well as a symbol of changing his life. Of course, some fuckstick named Shannon Whisnant purchased a storage unit that contained John’s amputated leg (in a grill, naturally) and Whisnant figured this was his ticket to fame. Shannon seems like a real repugnant character that would hock any bullshit as long as it garners him attention. The ensuing tug-of-war over John Wood’s amputated leg is an absurdist tale that’s highly enjoyable. Apparently, this was a huge news story at the time, but I assume it flew under the radar for a lot of people—like myself.

Into the Abyss

Into the Abyss

In my eyes, Werner Herzog can do no wrong. The sound and cadence of his voice is captivating. Imaging reading that sentence in his voice. Werner’s verbiage is verbose—in the best possible way. Into the Abyss is a documentary that absolutely benefits by Werner’s narration as well as injecting snippets of his own personal viewpoints. This documentary is specifically about a terrible triple murder in Texas, but the main theme quickly becomes the death penalty (especially its heavy use in Texas). Even if you’re an insane person who doesn’t innately love Werner Herzog, you can certainly appreciate a masterful filmmaker working at his craft in this movie. With subject matter that might only appeal to fans of true crime, Into the Abyss opens in an incredibly emotional manner with a doctor at a cemetery discussing the process and personal burden that he shoulders by administering a lethal injection. It is a tremendously powerful frame to tell this particular story, which packs quite a punch.

Bridgend

Bridgend

Imagine a place so depressing that young people all over commit suicide. No, not Detroit. But there is a town called Bridgend in Wales that has been shaken to its core after a string of suicides. This documentary tells the story of these families that have been ruined as a result of suicide. While suicide is never an easy topic of discussion, I believe it’s a very natural feeling that a lot of people have and there are a lot of instances where people just need to talk and get help. In the town of Bridgend, people are not getting the help they need. All of the people committing suicide are young adults. More and more dead. It is a heartbreaking story, but I found it fascinating. If you’re not careful, suicide can become romanticized. Essentially, these are teenagers looking for a way out of their problems. However, those committing suicide practically inspire more people to commit suicide in a very sick spiral. At times, you have to ignore the douchey tendencies of the narrator/director (he is in love with his own voice), but you should power through the depressing story. Over a 5-year span in Bridgend, 99 people committed suicide, which has left an everlasting impact on the place now referred to as “Death Town.”

The Imposter

The Imposter

The Imposter is a story that might be better suited as a live movie. That’s not an insult to the documentary, but it’s a tribute to unbelievably rare story. The bare bones of this documentary involves a 13-year-old boy who disappears in the U.S. and allegedly reappears in Spain a few years later. It is a fascinating mystery that unravels slowly. You will absolutely be creeped out—possibly by several people. The best word that can describe the central figure in question is “slimy.” There are some real parallels between him and Ted Cruz (a blobfish in a suit impersonating a human being). Good luck getting that image out of your head. The Imposter would benefit from tightening the screws a little bit and making the runtime shorter, but this is a documentary that you will definitely want to stick with through the end to find out the resolution to the story. It is everything you could hope for.

The Wolfpack

The Wolfpack

Although it wasn’t intentional, The Wolfpack is a documentary that is very much about the resiliency of children. The backstory is incredibly fucked up. Basically, a piece of shit father and pushover mother held their 7 children captive in the confines of their shitty Manhattan apartment. None of the kids were allowed to leave. Their mother home-schooled them and their father had the only key to the door. Growing up confined, the children learned about the world through movies and they re-created and filmed their favorites. The story shares some similarities with last year’s Oscar-nominated Room. Surprisingly, the kids are mostly well-adjusted—considering the circumstances of their upbringing.

The Overnighters

The Overnighters

Do you ever look at someone and instantly don’t trust them? I don’t adhere to the bullshit adage “don’t judge a book by its cover.” That’s why books have covers. I am great at it. I don’t need more than a few moments to deduce shitbaggery. My bullshit meter goes off a lot around religious people because organized religion is a haven for phony manipulators. You’re never quite sure of the true intentions behind pastor Jay Reinke, but you want to believe he is sincerely trying to help people. In North Dakota, the shale oil industry exploded and created a giant need for workers. Masses of unemployed men flocked to North Dakota in search of jobs and money to change their fortunes. But these guys can’t find anywhere to live and can’t gain employment as a result. Many could only afford to barely make it to North Dakota so those poor shmucks were stuck in that awful cycle of endless despair. Pastor Reinke opened the doors of his church (much to the dismay of many people) and even his own home in order to try to help them. The Overnighters is a fascinating documentary about this remarkable situation in North Dakota—another story I would’ve never discovered if left to my own devices.

The Nightmare

The Nightmare

Sleep paralysis is a terrifying ordeal. In case you are unfamiliar, sleep paralysis is when you can’t move because you are trapped between waking and sleeping. I have had it happen far too many times to count. I start to feel anxious at the thought and trying to describe it gives me an overwhelming sense of panic. I can remember thinking that I’ll never move again. In that moment, it totally freaks you the fuck out. I can’t recall ever having sleep paralysis as part of a nightmare, but there were occasions where I woke up because it felt like I was falling—though I couldn’t move for a few moments once I was awake. I always struggle to breathe, or at least I convince myself that I’m not getting air. Being awake in your mind but not your body is the epitome of misery. You try to tell your body to move, but the synapses aren’t firing properly. I’ve actually willed myself out of it by rolling and falling off the bed. The Nightmare explores that petrifying dark space occupied by sleep paralysis. Admittedly, it does feel good knowing I’m not batshit insane and that there are other people with similar experiences.

Call Me Lucky

Call Me Lucky

Bobcat Goldthwait has proven himself to be a talented director. I’m not sure, but I believe this is his first foray into documentaries. Call Me Lucky is about a well-respected “comic’s comic” Barry Crimmins who is also a social critic and political activist. Different comedians like David Cross, Marc Maron, Patton Oswalt, and Steven Wright discuss Barry and how his reputation preceded him. Before this documentary, I had already heard snippets of stories from other comedians—mostly on podcasts where people are more willing to wax poetic about the art of comedy. A lot of Barry’s humor comes from anger and deep personal pain. Call Me Lucky explores Barry’s personal backstory by talking with comics and close personal friends (regular folks), which is also a fascinating look at the comedy scene in Boston and his humongous impact on stand-up comedy. To give you a taste for what you’re in for, Barry states his two major goals in life: 1) overthrow the government of the United States; 2) close the Catholic Church. This documentary is for more than just fans of stand-up comedy.

Twinsters

Twinsters

I’m good with faces (especially actors and actresses), but I’m not good enough to identify a potential identical twin from a YouTube video. Essentially, that is the story of Twinsters. Samantha Futerman is an actress that I know from small parts in 21 & Over and Man Up, but she’s also done her share of TV work (Suburgatory and Kroll Show). It’s possible that you have seen her in something before as well, but I definitely didn’t know her name. A fashion student in the U.K. named Anais gets a picture sent by a friend of someone from a YouTube video who looks exactly like her, Samantha. And then the trailer to 21 & Over comes out, which also shows Samantha and prompts Anais to reach out to her on Facebook. Twinsters unravels this mystery to find out if these strangers—both adopted from South Korea—are actually twin sisters separated at birth. These girls are adorable and they form a close bond before even doing a DNA test to find out the truth to see if they share the same blood.

Meet the Patels

Meet the Patels

Here’s another documentary featuring an obscure character actor and their weirdly entertaining real-life search for love. While Twinsters is about finding family love, Meet the Patels is about Ravi Patel (who has a great role in Aziz Ansari’s surprisingly enjoyable TV show, Master of None—also streaming on Netflix) trying to find romantic love while also adhering to the wishes of his parents. Ravi’s problem is that he already found the woman of his dreams, but she’s white so he stupidly dumps her to explore the possibility of an arranged marriage. Ravi’s parents had an arranged marriage and it is an important part of the culture in India. Personally, this also strikes a chord with me because I can relate to the weirdness of not being a part of the same culture as your spouse. Ravi goes so far down the path as to actually meet for dates with potential mates. But he also still longs for his ex-girlfriend. There’s some nice humor throughout this documentary so consider it a light-hearted introduction into Indian culture and the way it is evolving in America with a new generation like Ravi and his sister, the director.

Cartel Land

Cartel Land

Why didn’t Cartel Land win the Oscar last year for Best Documentary? Because we are forced to idolize a drug addict like Amy Winehouse? Cartel Land was absolutely the most amazing, insanely entertaining documentary last year. Think of how often you would consider a documentary to be riveting—this is one that fits the bill. The opening of the fucking movie shows the cartel making meth under the cover of darkness. Cartel Land feels like three different documentaries twisted into one cohesive narrative. In Mexico, the drug cartels have brought overwhelming violence to the common people who are caught in the crossfire. In America, an unlikeable fuck named Tim Foley leads the Arizona Border Recon, which is a group of randoms who decide to go play war along the border. Except they basically just catch the poor common folk who are trying to flee the crime and corruption of the cartels in Mexico. Eventually, they appear to change their ethos and start to focus on the cartels, but Foley and the Arizona Border Recon do not come away looking good in this movie. But no one looks good in this movie. You want to trust Dr. Jose Mireles and his vigilante group, the Autodefensas. While that faction was established to fight the cartels and give the people a chance to take arms, they quickly start engaging in the same tactics as the cartel. The access is astounding. At one point, a cameraman is actually right in the middle of the fray in a gun fight between two forces. I don’t know how this is even real, but this documentary is an exhilarating inspection of the shithole situation along the border.

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Winter on Fire

This is another Oscar-nominated documentary that’s currently streaming. Winter on Fire isn’t quite as entertaining as Cartel Land, but it also has amazing access to a fucked up situation. In Ukraine (which is not weak), a peaceful student demonstration starts to form to oppose the government’s decision to side with Russia rather than sign the association with the European Union. It was a directly broken promise and the people wanted to step towards westernization. The government wouldn’t stand for a peaceful protest. Using dirty tactics, the government turned it into a violent revolution as a group largely comprised of young students fought for their civil rights. It is a shockingly up-close look. You see young people gunned down in the streets. This would never happen in America. Oh, the government violence has and absolutely would happen again, but I don’t believe our young people today would ever have the balls to organize in such a manner to oppose outright corruption. Look at the stupid Occupy movement. Did that change a single thing? I’m pretty sure all that accomplished was a couple new memes. Winter on Fire is a harrowing tale, and I wanted to learn more about these young people who were so inspired to fight for their ideals. While the footage from the ground is like a punch to the gut, the director’s access didn’t yield those personal stories that provide further context into the people’s plight. However, I would still consider this as an upper-echelon documentary that highlights yet another story that I never really heard much about in our nation’s news coverage.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Dear Zachary

Dear Zachary was intended as a tribute to a murdered friend. It becomes much more. Kurt Kuenne is the director who made this film about his friend, Andrew Bagby. Andrew’s accused murderer was his ex-girlfriend, Shirley. The Canadian judicial system failed the Bagby family because they let Shirley walk away with murder, and then she reveals that she’s pregnant with Andrew’s son. Dear Zachary transforms into a documentary for Zachary to learn about his father. The ensuing custody battle between Andrew’s parents and Shirley is a despicable manipulation tool for Shirley to practically use the child in a game of tug-of-war. In the end, Dear Zachary makes its mark on you and it will probably become the most memorable true-crime documentary that you’ve ever watched.

Alive Inside: A Story of Music & Memory

Alive Inside

Life in a nursing home if awful. It’s another form institutionalization—often making it harder to communicate for people who already have problems communicating. Alzheimer’s disease only makes those mental shackles more firm and restrictive. Alive Inside is a scant 77-minute documentary following a social worker named Dan Cohen who has experimented using music to help treat patients with Alzheimer’s disease. The results are fucking phenomenal. For many people, music holds a special place in their heart and it has made a profound impact on their lives. Through this documentary, you discover a lot of people who can start to recall long-forgotten memories—especially where they were or what life was like when hearing a particular song. Seeing these old-timers literally light up when the headphones are put on their ears makes it worth watching. Can we go ahead and just make mp3 players and free music mandatory for all old folks in nursing homes? Pay the bill, Apple.

How to Die in Oregon

How to Die in Oregon

About 5 years ago, this superb, spellbinding documentary came into my life. If you have a soul, How to Die in Oregon is going to make you cry. Suicide has already come up previously on this list, but How to Die in Oregon is a considerably different case study. The subjects of this documentary are terminally ill patients (mostly older people) who want the power to make their own decision about how their life is going to end. A physician-assisted suicide shouldn’t be viewed as such an awful way to end one’s life. It allows someone (who is already going to die) the opportunity to end it on their terms. It is not easy to follow these stories and watch people in their final moments. Oregon was the first state to allow physician-assisted suicide, but it’s ludicrous that this isn’t legal for terminally ill people across the United States. I don’t enjoy watching death. I avoid the gruesomeness of those exploitative true crime TV shows. How to Die in Oregon isn’t macabre, but I can certainly understand how it would be difficult for some people to watch. But this documentary succeeds in stating its case by telling the story of these people’s lives and their families rather than just their final moments in death.

Autism in Love

Autism in Love

My wife has dedicated much of her life to working with young adults with developmental disabilities. Autism in Love is a very real view into the lives of these adults who are on the autism spectrum. Because of their disorder, these people have trouble communicating and often struggle living fully independent lives. Even more complicated is the issue of finding love. Autism in Love is another relatively short documentary, but it manages to delve deep into these romantic bonds in only 75 minutes. It’s a pleasure to be allowed to look through these people’s eyes and see how they experience the world. In particular, Lenny’s story is simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking. All Lenny wants to do is “be normal” and he thinks he has to fit in with everyone. You just want to reach out to give him a hug and say that there is no normal—everyone is different. You don’t want to be like everyone else. As a documentary, Autism in Love embraces that difference and celebrates these people for the amazingly genuine human beings that they are. I was left wanting even more when it ended.

Kids for Cash

Kids for Cash

The American judicial system is a corrupt cycle of abuse. Kids for Cash focuses on Luzerne County in Pennsylvania where one juvenile court judge hands down the harshest sentences possible to children for the most meaningless offenses. We’re talking about children being sentenced to 5-to-7-year stints in jail for cussing at an adult or making a fake MySpace page. Not so surprisingly, it’s later revealed that the judge received kickbacks for sending teenage children to jail. Determent doesn’t work anyway. This was simple exploitation. Judge Ciavarella was a real piece of shit who ruined the lives of these kids—done in such an underhand manner that he had these children sign forms waiving their right to representation. One of his own fellow judges involved in the blatant corruption fucks Ciaveralla over and this documentary shows Ciaveralla going through a trial of his own. The American prison-industrial complex is real. We privatize prisons and actually incentivize institutionalizing individuals. Kids for Cash culminates in a very powerful ending with a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” by a children’s choir while statistics display the number of children incarcerated in the U.S. and the resulting impact.

Kumare

Kumare

Kumare is unlike any other documentary. The director Vikram Gandhi directly interjects himself in the story by playing a fake guru (Kumare) who finds very real followers. The first 5 minutes are a bit slow, but you see the evolution of Vikram from regular dude to yoga guru and spiritual specialist. It is a fucking hilarious prank. Best of all, Gandhi sets up shop as Kumare in Phoenix, Arizona, to find his followers because people out here are batshit insane. Kumare is fucking phenomenal. I don’t know how he’s able to maintain the gimmick without breaking character and busting up laughing. After people actually start to listen to him and he genuinely changes their lives, Vikram eventually comes clean and reveals that Kumare is just a character. While Kumare isn’t real, what Vikram taught those people as Kumare was quite real—that they are their own guru and have control of their lives.

The Final Member

The Final Member

There’s only one dick crazy enough to have a collection of dicks from different species. That crazy dick is Siggi Hjartarson and his collection is the Icelandic Phallological Museum. But there is one dick that has evaded Siggi’s capture: human. As a result, this crazy fuck doesn’t consider his stupid collection complete. Dicks are everywhere in this dude’s life. Seriously, he has a dick-shaped phone. To say that Siggi Hjartarson is eccentric is a complete understatement. The Final Member is about Siggi’s search for his holy dick grail. There are two candidates for donation—Icelandic ladies man/old fart on his deathbed, Pall Arason, and an American creep like no other named Tom Mitchell. I can’t look at Tom Mitchell’s face without being appalled. While Pall Arason is almost dead, Tom Mitchell is alive and well. But he has some urinary problems, which is why Tom wants to lop off his dick and balls to donate to Siggi’s equally insane dick treasure trove. Oh, and I didn’t even mention one of the worst parts: Tom Mitchell refers to his dick as “Elmo”—enjoy those nightmares, ladies and gentlemen.

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Lucy is a movie made by an idiot with an 8th grade education experiencing acid for the first time. The writing and directing are so disjointed and jumbled. Nothing makes any logical sense in the world in which we live. I understand this film is a sci-fi fantasy, but it is still supposed to be rooted in the real world.

And yet, I can only imagine the undeserved self-satisfied expression on Luc Besson’s face.

If you managed to avoid this movie, then you escaped an embarrassingly bad, childish writing centered around the bullshit myth that humans only use a fraction of our brain function. The title character Lucy is an unwilling drug mule transporting a substance called CPH4 that’s sewn inside her stomach, which inevitably explodes when she’s kicked repeatedly in the midsection. Of course, this sets off a reaction that leads Lucy to unlocking more of the “mind’s ability” while it’s also rapidly killing her.

This synthetic drug basically makes her Neo before it eventually disintegrates her physical form.

WaxOnOff

It’s all just so stupid and silly.

There’s literally B-roll footage randomly intertwined as if Luc Besson seriously thought it helped emphasize his point. The movie did not need cut scenes of baby animals being born. If no one said this was written by an experienced filmmaker, I could not and would not have guessed it. Lucy is so haphazardly slapped together that it genuinely seems like a rough draft from someone fresh out of film school.

Why do people like this movie? Did I miss something?

I don’t mean to oversimplify, but Lucy is plain dumb and boring. I have never fallen asleep in a movie theater (even when watching that piece of shit Syriana), but I had to fight myself to stop from nodding off near the end. At 90 minutes, this is not a long movie—though it sure feels much longer.

Freeman

The writing and directing are both aimless and uninspired, which substantially limits the cast’s ability to elevate the material. While people seem to praise Scarlett Johansson’s performance, she just drifts through every scene with a blank, robotic stare. It’s not her fault, but she fails to do anything aside from serving as eye candy. And poor Morgan Freeman’s sole purpose is to provide clumsy exposition, which comes in the form of a speech that takes up at least 90% of his screen time. Freeman is on the screen to lend his gravitas to the film and provide a handful of awestruck, dumbfounded expressions.

Lucy is without anything memorable or remotely worthwhile.

Waiting to review a movie is a double-edged sword. If it is a good movie, then I get to bask in all its glory and treasure each moment. If it is a bad movie, then it’s a painful process to express my thoughts because my recollection focuses on the worst parts. At this point, that’s all that remains of this movie.

If there’s a silver lining, you may struggle to keep your eyes open during this dull, drab story.

Eyes

You can’t unsee this ungood movie. Do not watch.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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Her is my favorite and probably the best movie of 2013. Although I’ve yet to see 3 (Nebraska, Philomena, and 12 Years a Slave) of the 9 Best Picture nominees for the Oscars, Her is by far the most interesting, thought-provoking cinematic effort of the year. With the voting body skewed towards old dusty white men, Her will not win the Best Picture award, but Spike Jonze definitely deserves Best Original Screenplay.

While Spike Jonze’s best projects have been directing scripts written by Charlie Kauffman (notably Being John Malkovich and Adaptation), Her proves Jonze is more than capable of driving his own creative ideas.

Somewhere in the not-so-distant or perhaps completely far-off future, the world’s first operating system with artificial intelligence has been released. The interactive public advertisements for the new OS1 have an instant appeal to our affable sad sack, Theodore (played by Joaquin Phoenix)—suffering from a deep loneliness and reeling as a result of his wife’s desire to follow through with their divorce.

Within the first 15 minutes, Theodore purchases the OS1 and Skynet starts to take over the world.

Everything seems innocent at the outset as Theodore interacts with the OS1, which names itself Samantha—a nod to the actress Samantha Morton, who was originally cast as the voice before being replaced by Scarlett Johansson. Samantha immediately improves Theo’s life by re-organizing his hard drive and serving as a much-needed companion. Suddenly, this new spark gives Theodore a reason to live.

Less than halfway into Her, Theodore literally ‘turns on’ Samantha—setting off a sexual awakening for a technological being that has no physical form. And so the singularity begins…

OS1

Spike Jonze takes the story of Her to incredible lengths in this imaginative, futuristic love story between two beings that shouldn’t be able to share that type of bond. In the eclectic future environment established, Los Angeles resembles a salmon-colored Shanghai. Despite that disjointed visual, the setting still works because the city seems foreign yet familiar.

As far as the acting is concerned, Joaquin Phoenix is perfect as Theodore. I can’t imagine anyone else in this role. I would like to think Sam Rockwell could pull this role off, but he doesn’t have the same deflated, depressed characteristic possessed by Phoenix. Theodore is downright pathetic at times, but you still feel bad for him because of Phoenix’s performance. There’s just some sort indefinable, intangible quality that Joaquin Phoenix brings to the screen. Even in prolonged, stretched-out scenes of dialogue with Samantha, Joaquin Phoenix’s presence makes the dull lulls engaging and interesting. The kinda creepy pedophile-esque mustache somehow works as well, which is a significant accomplishment.

Scarlett Johansson provides a strong voiceover performance as Samantha. I’m happy Spike Jonze realized he needed to go in a different direction at the last minute during the editing process. Her probably wouldn’t have worked so well without the emotion conveyed just by Johansson’s voice—she’s a full-fledged character with depth than any character in a Tyler Perry movie.

Her is wonderfully beautiful and whimsical.

I don’t want to spoil any meaningful events, but the audience should be prepared for several thought-provoking twists and turns. Some philosophical ideas are even touched upon. Don’t be afraid to engage and activate your brain when watching Her.

What if this actually happens? Are we truly that far away from being capable of a rough draft of the OS1? Our attempts at perfecting artificial intelligence will only increase. We will continue to strive towards that as an ideal. Our society can only improve as a result, right? Maybe, maybe not.

If you haven’t already watched Her, please don’t wait any longer. Seek out this movie and enjoy the experience. I would recommend multiple viewings because Her is just that beautiful and unique.

Past

5 out 5 stars

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” — Theodore

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Don Jon is another gem in a long line of highly enjoyable Joseph Gordon-Levitt movies. It’s no Hesher or 50/50, which are both in the upper echelon of my favorite movies—and that’s not even mentioning the fantastic, mesmerizing sci-fi flick Looper. But you can hardly hold that against Don Jon.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the writer/director, and his talent shines through in both aspects as he truly transforms into a Jersey Shore reject. However, that may actually be unfair to Jon because there’s more depth to his character than those orange, greasy one-note duds. After witnessing the quality caliber of Gordon-Levitt’s writing, I can excitedly declare I’m looking forward to the next 10-15 years of his movies. Hopefully, the same can be said for Michael B. Jordan (Wallace from The Wire) after his phenomenal performance in Fruitvale Station. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a few steps ahead of Michael B. Jordan at this point, but these are two incredible young actors with a penchant for interesting roles.

Pay attention to them, please.

As for Don Jon, it is a romantic comedy that avoids being your typical cookie cutter romantic comedy. Initially, I heard about this movie during Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s appearance on The Nerdist Podcast when it was still titled Don Jon’s Addiction. It’s fair to wonder whether or not Joseph Gordon-Levitt felt compelled to curtail the dark humor for a broader audience and more widespread appeal because this movie was initially threatened with the dreaded NC-17 label for the graphic porn displayed.

Ultimately, Don Jon could’ve gone darker with more of a bend on the genre, but it’s hard to complain when a movie makes you laugh and makes a point at the same time.

“There’s only a few things I really care about in life. My body. My pad. My ride. My family. My church. My boys. My girls. My porn.” — Don Jon

Don’t look too much into the story of Don Jon ahead of time. Where the story turns and how deep you travel down into the rabbit hole is a pleasant surprise. What you need to know is that Don Jon is a Jersey ladies man who loves porn and trying to find a new woman to fuck every weekend. This is not a shitty Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy, but it could have been if it were in the wrong hands. If only McConaughey did something half as interesting as this movie during his stretch of boring box office bombs.

Transformation

While this is largely a character study and commentary on love/relationships, the writing develops some thoroughly entertaining secondary characters. Tony Danza redeems himself—for failing to even remotely resemble a baseball pitcher in Angels in the Outfield, which also starred Joseph Gordon-Levitt—with this performance as Don Jon’s simpleton dad who loves football. He fucking loves football.

Who knew Tony Danza could act?

We all know Julianne Moore can act, and she does an impressive job as always in this movie as Esther. It was an interesting casting choice to go with Julianne Moore, but it pays off because of her incredibly believable portrayal. Scarlett Johansson is her typical uptight self, which is perfectly apt for her character of Barbara as a somewhat prudish, superficial succubus.

Some twists and quirks create an entertaining prism from which to view love/relationships. You surely have known someone in a similar position as Jon who has changed since he’s been dating Barbara. And now Jon is facing the inescapable pressure to settle down and start a family. That is an issue of note when you’re only concerned continuing your streak of fucking a new “8” or above each week. Oh, and Jon loves porn even more than prolonging that Cal Ripken-esque streak.

As if it needs to be said after reading this review, Don Jon is not a movie for parents or stuffy old white people with no sense of humor. Even watching this movie with a loved one or close friend could be awkward due to the rather racy subject matter. But don’t let the generous heaping of porn prevent you from watching this movie because there’s a genuine beating heart at the center of Don Jon.

Tony Danza

4 out 5 stars