Sunday, January 14, 2018
Shaun Berk's 10 Movie Recommendations- 635th Edition
Welcome to the 635th Edition of my series. I know I'm a little later than usual but I just got home from auditioning for THE VOICE. I went with my mom to the auditions. It was a pretty long day, we had to wait in many lines and then got to the auditions to hear no which was for both of us. It was still a fun day and glad I went to it. I always said I was "retired" from those shows after AMERICA'S GOT TALENT but my friends talked me into it. Maybe I'll try again next year, we'll just have to see. Nothing else is really going on so I will get into my selections for the week.
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015): I start the week out with this documentary which was directed by Alex Gibney and based on the book by Lawrence Wright. This takes a look at the so-called religion of Scientology which was started by sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard and is really more of a cult than anything else. This documentary features interviews by Scientology defectors that include film director Paul Haggis, former high up scientologists Mark Rathbun, Mike Rinder, actor Jason Beghe, among many others. This takes a look at the history and a lot of the inner workings of the Church of Scientology. Most of us know by now that Tom Cruise and John Travolta are a part of this world and Cruise is practically their spokesperson and shows some really weird interview footage of him that might make one wonder if they have him drugged up. They showed footage of Travolta talking about him liking to be a part of it was because their goals are to have a world without crime, war and insantity and I don't see them achieving this so called goal since that is pretty much what they are about. In the end, this group of people is more about money than anything and is a very insightful look about this so called religion and the galactic overlord Xenu, yes this is part of their beliefs. Since this movie, Scientology defector Leah Remini has lead a crusade against this with her documentary series SCIENTOLOGY AND THE AFTERMATH.
The Truck Farmer (1954): This is my short film for the week and was the short film watched on the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 of last week's feature I ACCUSE MY PARENTS. This short documentary is more of an informational short that is pretty slow moving and I understand most of the people in this were immigrants working for slave labor. This is mostly of interest to watch on MST3K.
The Phantom Tollbooth (1970): Chuck Jones, Abe Levitow, Dave Monahan directed this live action/animated movie based on the book by Norman Juster and I suppose this is a variation of ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Butch Patrick stars as a boy named Milo who is a live action person and bored with life. All of a sudden, he sees a tollbooth in his home and is too bored not to try it and leads him to an animated world full of adventure. Along the way, he encounters a series of characters and magical places to learn certain life lessons. Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Hans Conreid, June Foray, Les Tremayne, and many others lend their voices to this film. This was a very fun watch and one I had not heard of until I came across it. This is a good one for the family to watch and has some very fun characters as well as a good message.
Enough Said (2013): This is part three of my four-part Catherine Keener series and part one of a possible Toni Collette trilogy. Nicole Holofcener wrote and directed this independent romantic comedy but please do not stop reading just because I said "romantic comedy" because it is much more than that. SEINFELD alum Julia Louis-Dreyfuss stars as Eva who is a masseuse and is divorced as well as a single mother whose daughter will be leaving for college. SOPRANOS alum James Gandolfini stars as Albert who is also divorced and will also be facing an empty nest. When meeting they form an interest with each other. Eva soon befriends a woman named Marianne, played by Catherine Keener, who rags a lot on her ex-husband which happens to be Albert and does not inform them that she is aware they they used to be married. Collette, Ben Falcone, Tracey Fairaway, Michaela Watkins, and many othesr also co-stars= in this film. This is a very well-written film which has really good supporting characters in addition to the leads. I really liked the low-key way Gandolfini portrays his character as really just a nice and simple man and am so glad he got to do this movie before his tragic death. Louis-Dreyfuss and Gandolfini work very well in this film driven by a good script and characters.
Alexander Hamilton (1931): This is my historical biopic of the week and might guess it is on our founding father Alexander Hamilton, played by George Arliss. At the end of the Revolutionary War, General George Washington, played by Alan Mowbray, brings Hamilton into the newly formed government in which Hamilton focuses on the financial side and is looking to get a bill passed but has Senator Roberts, played by Dudley Digges, trying to sabotage him at every turn. Doris Kenyon, June Collyer, Montagu Love, Ralf Harolde, Lionel Belmore, Morgan Wallace, John Larkin, and many others co-star in this biopic. This does leave out the relationship between Hamilton and Aaron Burr and I'm pretty sure they did know each other in this era but i guess they just wanted to focus on his other political accomplishments. As far as I know, this is the only movie on Hamilton excluding documentaries like a really good PBS documentary from AMERICAN EXPERIENCE. Arliss plays the part well and was worth a look even without looking at what I feel is the most compelling part of his life in his relationship with Burr and the fate just about all of us know by now. I first learned about Hamilton in middle school after seeing that Got Milk commercial where the man who was clearly a historian on Hamilton had too much in his mouth when he had to answer the question of "who shot Alexander Hamilton". After seeing that PBS documentary, I found him to be the most interesting of the founding fathers and in 2015, a very unusual and unorthodox musical called HAMILTON hit the world of Broadway. Unfortunately I have only heard the soundtrack and hope to see it on stage one day.
Wild Tales (2014): Damian Szifron directed and co-wrote this film from Argentina. This is a movie that is divided into six stories that are all different but have the same sort of theme of revenge and explores the extremity of human behavior when one might feel wronged about something. Dario Grandinetti, Maria Marull, Monica Villa, Rita Cortese, Julieta Zylberberg, Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado, Ricardo Darin, Oscar Martinez, Maria Onetto, German de Silva, Erica Rivas, and many others co-star in this film. All these stories are full of rather dark humor and thrills. The title says it all and was really quite fun to watch but also very disturbing at times. I think it best to not give description to the stories but to just start the movie and as long as you tolerate subtitles, I do not think you will be disappointed.
Mildred Pierce (1945): Michael Curtiz directed this film which is based on the novel by James M. Cain. Joan Crawford stars as the title character whose husband Bert, played by Bruce Bennett, leaves her and she raises her daughters Veda, played by Ann Blyth, and Kay, played by Jo Ann Marlowe. She has a very complicated relationship with Veda who is very spoiled and Mildred takes a job as a waitress eventually opening her own restuarant to makes ends meet but even then Veda is never satisfied despite making pretty good money. Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Lee Patrick, Moroni Olsen, Veda Ann Berg, Butterfly McQueen, and many others co-star in this film. Crawford and Blyth worked very well together as mother and daughter. Now what I did not mention in the beginning was that this is a film noir and centers around a murder which was added to the screenplay and made a very compelling story. Many years later, HBO would do a mini-series that did not include the murder.
Snatch (2000): This is part two of my possible Benicio Del Toro trilogy. This was shown as a special showing at the newer Books and Brews in Muncie where I attended for the first time with my friends Jon and Trinity and was my first time going into the place. Guy Richie wrote and directed this crime comedy that is very complicated to really explain so I'll just give the imdb description which is "unscrupulous boxing promoters, violent bookmakers, a Russian Gangster, incompetent amateur robbers, and supposedly Jewish jewelers fight to track down a priceless stolen diamond". Del Toro, Jason Statham, Brad Pitt, Vinnie Jones, Dennis Farina, Rade Serbedzija, Alan Ford, Ewen Bremmer, Robbie Gee, Lennie James, Ade, William Beck, Andy Beckwith, Nicola Collins, and many others co-star in this film. Brad Pitt was hilarious as bare knuckle fighter Mickey whose mostly mumbling was great. This movie is full of comedy and full of violence. There are many scenes that might make one laugh and cringe at the same time. This movie has achieved quite the following and find it is very quoted. This was a great watch at a bar and with friends.
Eleven Samurai (1967): Yes, there is a different number than most are used to which most would know SEVEN SAMURAI and while they are obviously samurai films, they are very different in story. Elichi Kudo directed this film and I guess is the third in his trilogy that includes THIRTEEN ASSASSINS and THE GREAT DUEL. The Oshi fief is killed by his trespassing neighbor and the Oshi clan get blamed for the incident. This prompts eleven of the samurai members to avenge the killing and fight for justice. This was a pretty good story with a really good action climax at the end. For those that love foreign cinema and samurai films, this is a really good watch. This is available on the Hoopla Digital website.
Coco (2017): I end the week with this Pixar film which just last Sunday won a Golden Globe for best animated feature. This movie takes place in Mexico and centers around their holiday Day of the Dead which we know as Halloween but it is a more sacred holiday for them as a day to remember their late family and for them to be able to see their loved ones. The story centers around a boy named Miguel whose family has a generations-old ban on music but he is secretly learning music to be a mariachi like his idol Ernesto De La Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt. He soon ends up in the Land of the Dead and looks to me De La Cruz while getting back to the real world. In the process, he learns more about himself and his family. Gael Garcia Bernal, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Herbert Siguenza, Gabriel Iglesias, Lombardo Boyar, Natalia Cordova- Buckley, Selene Luna, Edward James Olmos, Sofia Espinosa, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger, and many others provide their voice. I had limited knowledge going into this and when starting I had a certain formula of what would happen and while I was partly right, I was also through off. I thought this was a very cleverly done story and a good homage to Mexico's Day of the Dead holiday as well as a good homage to the mariachi world.
Well, that is it for this week. Tell me what you like and dislike and stay tuned for next week which so far include Catherine Keener, Toni Collette, Benicio Del Toro, and many others.