In Your Queue: Juno Temple Edition (“Killer Joe”, “Jack and Diane”, “Little Birds”)

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It happened just sort of by accident, but there has been a single prominent theme recurring in a lot of the films I’ve been watching over the last few weeks: the wild flaxen mop of doll hair and bright, mischievous punim of Juno Temple. I didn’t set out to watch any Juno Temple films — until now she was just Julian Temple’s daughter who wants to be an actress — but there she was, film after film, with her wild hair and faint voice. The films are of varying quality, which is obviously frustrating. I’m honestly not even sure if I like her as an actress yet, but it’s hard to take your eyes off of this strange English pixie, who is just as likely to be playing American white trash as anything else.

Killer Joe – William Friedkin (2012)

It’s been a long time since Billy Friedkin had anything resembling a hit film (Blue Chips by my count), but he actually dips in and out of his 70s heyday excellence with this story of a broken trailer trash family who are out to hire a someone to kill the estranged matriarch and collect on an insurance policy. Rote stuff, but the way its played by everyone involved elevates its to the heavens. In one of a string of maniacally great characters he’s played of late, Matthew McConaughey plays the titular Killer Joe, the Texas Ranger/hitman that Chris (Emile Hirsh) hires. He’s an exacting guy, one who is as tough (and Texan) as they come, but who can barely keep the thing together in the face of  this family of hicks who are in way over their heads. The in-fighting and pettiness of Chris and his parents (Thomas Hayden Church and Gina Gershon) borders on genius, but makes Killer Joe reconsider the offer until he falls in love with Chris’s little sister, Dottie (Juno Temple), the angelic waif who may not be as simple as she seems. I can’t figure out why this film never caught on when it was released last year. It’s an injustice. The film is absurdly hilarious, the darkest of dark comedy, and, if nothing else, you’ll never think of fried chicken the same way again. (Available on Amazon and YouTube)

Jack and Diane – Bradley Rust Gray (2012)

Jack and Diane is another film I’m surprised didn’t catch on, but somewhat less surprised thanKiller Joe. It’s a fairly straight-forward story of the awkwardness and, sometimes, stupidity of an all consuming young love. Riley Keough is unrecognizable as Jack, a tough New York girl who is lost in an emotional fog since her older brother died. The randomness of life puts Diane (Juno Temple) before her path and the two bond tightly, in a way neither of them were entirely prepared for. Like most people who put on a tough exterior, Jack is a naive puddle of  goo under that hard shell. Diane is the first person she’s let wade into that goo, but secret gooeyness, especially of the love-sick teenage variety, is a shockingly complicated thing — surely you all remember your own gooeyness, and how embarrassing it was. But it might be Diane with the bigger demon inside of her — a burgeoning secret warewolf threatening to burst free (done in gorgeous but not entirely enmeshed stop motion sequences put together by the Brothers Quay) and hurt everything Diane cares about. In that act, it’s a surprisingly intimate film that plays the emotion with the right balance, never turning it into something to squirm away from, with a real throwback 90s New York indie film feel to it. (Available on Netflix)

Little Birds – Eldgin James (2012)

In Little Birds, Juno Temple and Kay Panabaker star as Lily and Alison, mismatched best friends stuck in a boring, economically dead small town along the Salton Sea. As a coming-of-age drama,Little Birds is something of a wasted attempt. I say that with frustration, not because the film is a bad one, but because it’s a good one, but should have been a much better one. Writer-director Eldgin James doesn’t know what he has here with his story or his characters and blows it by setting off on the most predictable adventure, taking the girls out of their element and landing them in LA with a bunch of skateboarding streetkids who turn out to be — surprise — bad news. Lily loves the feeling of being bad — really bad — for the first time, but Alison is stuck in the adventure as the stick in the mud naysayer. Of course ends up being right about everything, she just isn’t any fun. It’s small town friendship syndrome — as Lily says, who else was she supposed to hang out with? But in LA, the pond is much bigger, and the girls much further apart, both emotionally and physically — Lily and Alison spend much of the time apart during their adventure, leaving the growing tear largely unmined. It becomes a plot-driven mess once they arrive in LA instead of the character drama it starts off as in the Salton Sea, and leaves Leslie Mann, Kate Bosworth and Neal McDonagh — and Reed Morano’s camerawork — behind as little more than high-priced extras. (Available on Netflix)

In Your Queue: Gimme the Loot, Fat Kid Rules the World

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2013/03/in-your-queue-delinquents-fat-kids-and-weirdos/

Holy Motors – Leos Carax 

Nothing makes a bit of sense in Carax’s surrealist-absurdist masterpiece, but if it did, it would almost be a crime against cinema, so brilliant is its outcome. Set almost as a fluid series of short films that all feature the same morphing lead, played by Denis Levant, his French film works better the less you know going into it, but rest assured: You’ll either love it for its left-field inventiveness, or hate it for its strange, reckless meandering. For those of you who have seen Tokyo!, keep an eye out for the return of Mr. Merde, as well as a little number by Kylie Miogue. Available to stream on Netflix.

Gimme the Loot – Adam Leon

This recommendation unfortunately comes sight unseen, which I do feel very uncomfortable about, but as of this writing the film hadn’t filtered through to the various streaming platforms that it’s supposed to be available on (Amazon, YouTube, Playstation, Xbox). It’s an exciting film prospect nonetheless, or maybe it just seems that way to me because it’s a story so close to my wayward youth when I would have liked nothing better than to be the biggest writer in New York, as the films stars, Malcolm and Sofia (Ty Hickson and Tashiana Washington), aim to accomplish by tagging the Mets’ homerun apple at Citifield. In a time when subway cars have all become graffiti resistant and derelict buildings all inhabited by young white people in fedoras, it’s a daring and novel — and kind of charming — way to go about it. The apple is both a mythic legend and a joke in New York, and perfectly encapsulates the Mets’ lovable losers syndrome, which appears to parallel Malcolm and Sofia extremely well, even though they’re from enemy territory — the Bronx. I hope the film succeeds, but it seems worth a few bucks to stream even if it doesn’t.

Fat Kid Rules the World – Matthew Lillard

It’s strange to be recommending something — anything — that Matthew Lillard is involved in, but he’s got a strange winner of a film here in his adaptation of a YA novel about a fat kid who tries to step in front of a bus to end his daily dose of torment but is saved just as the bus is screeching to a halt by a ragamuffin street kid, who shakes the fat kid down for a few bucks immediately after. It’s Lillard’s first film as director and it shows a little bit in the structure and execution of the film, especially in the first act, but it’s not hard to get past when you look straight at the Angus-like story that ends up avoiding most of the pitfalls of the awkward coming-of-age story. Jacob Wysocki and Matt O’Leary work well enough in tandem as the nervous, overweight Troy and the druggie friend you hope your kid doesn’t make, Marcus, and the story fits so well in its Seattle backdrop, that it lands firmly outside of the realm of first time film. It’s not an Earth shattering film by any means, and stories about weight are hard to look at sometimes, but it’s a fitting and endearing movie for the times, that’s for sure. The film is available to stream on Netflix.

In Your Queue 3/12: “We Have a Pope”, “For Ellen”

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We Have a Pope (streaming on Netflix, Amazon) When it comes to picking a new pope, the Vatican plays it pretty close to the chest. Rumor and speculation aside, no one really knows what happens except the cardinals. Since we have no evidence of what happens when they pick the pontiff, Palme d’Or-winning director Nanni Moretti fills the knowledge gap in the most Catholic way possible: through absurdity.

Michel Piccoli plays an obscure cardinal named Melville who, after many deadlocked ballots, is unexpectedly named pope. As he is being announced to the masses in Saint Peter’s Square he is struck by the mother of all existential crises, and the anxiety-stricken Pope runs away from the Vatican, leaving the College of Cardinals and Catholic bureaucrats sequestered with the Pope’s unwilling shrink (Moretti) as the pope traipses around Rome anonymously, trying to figure out what to do.

Moretti’s intense focus on the absurdity of the situation is a grace stroke, making it specific without being an in-joke for Catholics-only. Piccolo is wonderful as the pope, but Gianluca Gobbi, as the Vatican guard who is charged with ruffling the pope’s curtains every now and then so no one figures out what’s going on, really steals the show.

For Ellen (streaming on Netflix, Amazon Prime) Seeing the trailer for it, I thought it was somewhat surprising that For Ellen couldn’t gain a real foothold once it came to market. It stars Paul Dano in an intense performance as an almost-famous musician named Joby who’s returned home to sign divorce papers. His wife, Claire (Margarita Levieva), is about to get remarried and wants him out of her life. She wants him out of their daughter Ellen’s life too, which is something he wasn’t expecting. Joby goes to devious means to spend some time with Ellen in this almost one-man show.

Dano, who played a mute for much of Little Miss Sunshine, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, though he puts in a strong performance here. It’s an interesting portrait of an uninteresting man – a character we’ve seen many variations on in the past – made palatable by his surroundings.

On the Road – Walter Salles (2012)

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Almost since its publication in 1957, there have been efforts to make Jack Kerouac’s seminal novel On the Road into a film. Kerouac himself tried to entice Brando to play Dean Moriarity, and later, riding high on his many early successes, Francis Ford Coppola tried (and tried again and again) to get the film made, but nothing happened. Like The Catcher in the Rye, On the Road seemed fated to never see the silver screen. Truthfully, it’s just better that way sometimes.

Most likely, if you’ve finished high school, you’ve read On the Road. It’s a fortuitous novel, almost biography of the birth of a new generation, the Beats, with Kerouac and his notepad there at the beginning for the reckless, bloody, pot and Benzedrine induced birth. It’s a meandering cross country masterpiece of ambitious aimlessness spilled out over 320 pages (or 120 feet of scroll), a statement of intent as much as a piece of personal journalism. It’s a story of madness and addiction of every kind — from drugs, to love to people — a photograph built with words of the first misfit beaks poking through the delicate white shell of post-war conformity.

The film was never going to capture anything close to that. The fact that it took over 50 years to get any real traction on the project that was such a passion for people of a certain age should have spelled that out pretty plainly. Even a good film would suffer from the comparison to the novel, but Salles and writer Jose Rivera have not corralled the text — no one could, that’s sort of the point of the text. Aimlessness of any stripe plays perfectly in novel form, it’s where writers can really stretch their legs out and roam free in the garden of beautiful passages and striking metaphors. In film, where people are less patient, aimlessness is almost a cross to bear. Very few directors have pulled it off, and even though both executive producer Coppola (in Apocalypse Now) and director Salles (in The Motorcycle Diaries) have done it in the past, it’s a hard ask for a second strike at the magic of aimlessness, especially lugging so much history and behind the scenes gossip around as baggage.

Garret Hedlund somewhat surprisingly makes for an excellent Dean, Neal Cassady’s stand-in. The best Beat writing was always Neal’s mad rambling letters to Kerouac and Hedlund captures the manic spirit of those letters. You want to be his friend, even though his friendship comes in the form of a consuming cyclone. It was the only role that needed to be gotten right, and it was, but Tom Sturridge and Carlo Marx (Allen Ginsberg) and Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee (William Burroughs)  also steal a little bit of the spotlight. It’s a shame that everyone is spending so much time focusing on Kristen Stewart, who really doesn’t have much to do in the film. The film doesn’t belong to Mary Lou, it belongs to Dean, and to a lesser extent Kerouac’s stand-in, Sal Paradise, played by Sam Reilly in a basically forgettable performance.

Try as I might I could not separate the film from its source material. It’s unfair, but those are the breaks when it comes to generational adaptations. Sometimes a picture is just not worth 1,000 words, especially not Kerouac’s words.

Holy Motors – Leos Carax (2012)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/holy-motors-1.1433326

If you’re looking for a movie that makes complete sense – something with a straight, clean narrative, maybe – then Holy Motors is not for you. This is Leos Carax’s first full-length film since 1999’s Pola X, and he treats it as if it were a testament – the last movie he will make before dying. As a result, Holy Motors feels like it comes straight from Carax’s head to the screen, and it calls upon the prodigious talents of his on-screen alter ego, Denis Lavant, to wind through this absurdly surreal masterpiece.

Lavant is a modern Lon Chaney here playing Mr. Oscar, a sort of roving performer who travels around Paris in a white stretch limo, making various “appointments” throughout the day, which are secretly recorded by a shadowy company. Each appointment involves a wildly different task that seems to make no sense – at least not to the audience. During his appointments, Mr. Oscar plays a dozen characters that cover a wide spectrum of oddities – a panhandling old babushka woman, an accordion band leader, a stern father who scolds his daughter for lying about being popular, old men and murderers – each with a different face, posture and concept to match the appointment.

The film has two interludes that seem more genuine than the others – one with Mr. Oscar’s boss and one with his old partner, Jean, wonderfully played by Aussie pop star Kylie Minogue, who sings the sentimental song “Who Were We?” as Mr. Oscar forlornly follows her around an abandoned building, perhaps thinking about the past. But it’s difficult to tell what these interludes mean to Mr. Oscar – they may just be mere appointments dressed up as more significant moments. It’s hard to tell.

Carax works his audience completely and with confidence, but he earns the audience’s trust before he toys with it. It takes a lot to put yourself completely in a director’s hands during a movie like this, but doing so makes Holy Motors deeply rewarding if you hang in with it and let Carax guide you.

It’s a strange journey. Take, for instance, the incomprehensible, flower-hungry Mr. Merde, one of Mr. Oscar’s characters, who kidnaps Eva Mendes from a fashion shoot in a Parisian cemetery and brings her underground. You might ask “why?” – and rightly so. But there is no real answer to that question. Mr. Merde is a role reprised by Levant from Carax’s entry in the short film collection Tokyo!; “strange” doesn’t quite fit as a descriptor for the character, but trying to figure him out is an intriguing exercise.

Most words fail to describe Holy Motors, actually. It’s a sensory film that depends on your willingness to have a surreal adventure. And an adventure like this one is cinema at its greatest and most pure – like the very first films, which were just snapshots of life taken out of context, Holy Motors reinvents itself as it unfolds, pushing limits, breaking boundaries and reforging the form of the movie along the way. In that regard, Carax is almost a time traveler, showing the past and the future of film at the same time.

Rust and Bone – Jacques Audiard (2012)

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With his new film Rust and Bone, French director Jacques Audiard returns to play in the same sandbox where he created his last film, the intense prison drama A Prophet. You could call them cousins, both films about trying to eke out a life in the margins of society, but Audiard goes about it in a slightly different way here than he did in his previous movie: Unlike Malik in A Prophet, Rust and Bone‘s Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) doesn’t begin the story in the margins; instead she is marginalized by a horrific accident at work, a small miscalculation that leaves her a double amputee. The loss of her legs becomes her movable prison.

Stephanie is a whale trainer and performer in a sea park in the south of France – a place much like SeaWorld here in Orlando. The orcas can be unpredictable, and the difference between a great show and calamity can be measured in inches with such large creatures. In the middle of a routine one day, something goes wrong. One of the whales slides onto the platform incorrectly and brings the whole thing down with him – on top of Stephanie, leaving her afloat in a cold pool of her own blood. There is no blame to apportion, it just happens, but Stephanie’s life will never be the same.

Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) meets Stephanie before the accident. He’s an immigrant from Belgium with a 10-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), and he’s always lived life in the margins. He is poor; he crashes on his sister’s couch and works at odd jobs that don’t pay enough to provide for Sam. Ali and Stephanie meet when he is working as a bouncer at a club, where he pulls her out of a fight that she caused, rescuing her from harm. But their places in life are too different for Stephanie to see it as anything but a moment of calculated gallantry. She sees Ali as nothing but a tough guy who she can use to scare her abusive boyfriend.

But she is sunk in depression after her accident, unable to keep a connection to her old life alive. Suddenly, Ali is on her level – or rather, she is suddenly on his level – and the two begin to sort out their shortcomings. For Ali, it’s continuing the tough-guy persona as he reluctantly falls into a bloody back-alley kickboxing circuit, where he excels. The pay for winning is great, providing him with the means to a better life for his son, but the frenzy he builds himself up to for the fights keeps real growth in his life on pause. Stephanie grows, seemingly by force of will, but she also takes some painful steps back as the relationship she has with Ali evolves and plays on the edge between dependency and something more.

I suppose I could be excused for initially feeling somewhat cynical about the film, which, like Monster orThe Reader, seems to be designed less as a film than as a role to give Cotillard a chance at an Oscar run. It didn’t reach that objective – Cotillard was snubbed – but it’s still a compelling character piece framed impeccably by Audiard, whose flair for beautiful imagery comes to the fore here. So it works anyway, even if in spite of itself.

The Others: 2012’s Underrated Gems

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2012/12/the-other-others-five-more-underrated-titles-from-2012/

It’s that time of year again – every magazine you read proffers its version of the “best” stuff of the year, juggling the order of mostly the same 15 or so films. But what about all of thoseother films we loved this year? Don’t those deserve a list, too? We think they do, so here’s ours. Needless to say, you’ll find no Lincolns here, nor any queens of Versailles or Bagginses, precious. Instead, you’ll find subtitles (lots!), a feel-good beat to dance to, kids becoming adults, adults becoming kids and considerable doses of badassery from both Willem Dafoe and Donnie Yen. Here’s our selection of 2012’s most underrated films from around the world.

Dragon (directed by Peter Chan, available on video on demand) Dragon didn’t need any title at all for fans of the actors in this film – “The movie with Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro” would have been enough to make some of us plunk down the VOD money and get watching this Chinese martial arts flick. I could watch Donnie Yen’s stoic, almost heartbroken, fighting all day long, and his moves are as brilliant and unassuming – and deadly – here as they’ve ever been.

Girl Walk // All Day (directed by Jacob Krupnick, girlwalkallday.com) Girl Walk wasn’t something I ever envisioned myself watching, never mind loving. Set to the 2010 Girl Talk album All Day, this strange dance opera straddles the five boroughs of New York. It’s a pure, fluffy dose of cultural confectioner’s sugar to balance out all of those cultural vegetables we’ve consumed this year. Anyone who can sit through this film without a grin may be irredeemable.

Holy Motors (directed by Leos Carax, coming soon) Nothing makes a bit of sense in Carax’s surrealist-absurdist masterpiece, but if it did, it would almost be a crime against cinema, so brilliant is its outcome. This French film works better the less you know going into it, but rest assured: You’ll either love it for its left-field inventiveness, or hate it for its strange, reckless meandering.

I Wish (directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, available on DVD, Netflix) Koreeda is one of the best working directors in the world right now, especially when it comes to working with kids. In I Wish, a film about a boy separated from his brother after his parents divorce, he creates a delicate, free-wheeling adventure based around the power of believing in wishes – or at least the silliness that comes with wanting something so badly that believing in wishes seems worth the risk.

The Kid With a Bike (directed by the Dardenne brothers, coming soon) This Belgian directing duo just doesn’t do it for me – usually, anyway. I went to see Kid out of a sense of obligation and walked out crushed and astonished by the heartbreaking yet oddly uplifting story of an abandoned kid who lands on the wrong track, even when he’s rescued from a youth home.

Safety Not Guaranteed (directed by Colin Trevorrow, available on DVD and video on demand) From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, this movie follows a reporter who goes out to interview a man who takes out an odd classified ad, seeking a companion for time travel. The film surprises with its heart and its unexpected turns.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (directed by Mark Cousins, available on DVD) The sheer size and scope of this collection, running over 15 hours from the birth of film until today, deserves shouting from the rooftops. Cousins is no timid observer, calling early films out for their racism, and he picks apart the radical social, religious and emotional tides captured by the likes of Pasolini and Bergman as well as directors you’ve never heard of before. The Story of Film is stark and declarative in a way that doesn’t force you to agree with its findings, but it’s also authoritative in its overwhelming research. No mere history, it takes a stand about what great cinema is while helping the viewer to do the same.

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As we get set for the new year, we looked back at some of the most underrated films that came out this year in the paper. Time and space (and shitty writing) only allowed for a few of the many to be noted, so we take to the blog to point out a few more worthy candidates we want to scream from the top of the mountain about.

2 Days in New York – Julie Delpy (DVD, Netflix)
2 Days in New York doesn’t exactly continue where 2 Days in Paris left off, but takes us to a whole new story in Marion’s life, where she has broken up with Jack and moved in with Mingus, a liberal blogger and radio show host played by a perfectly subdued Chris Rock. Much like the subdued Adam Sandler inPunch Drunk Love, Rock works better as a toned down everyday guy. Marion’s family (and ex, Manu) are the only real carry overs from the story, but the comedy is exactly the same, though it is more developed and carries more of an American edge to it this time. It’s the better film of the two, as Delpy’s instincts as a filmmaker have grown a great deal over the years.

Beloved – Christophe Honore (Netflix)
Honore has never quite got back to the greatness he showed in Love Songs, but Beloved doesn’t miss by that much. There is a little bit too much too it in terms of scope, with the film trying to hit some heavy themes — like the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, AIDs and 9/11 – by skirting around them and falling back into song. My lone wish for the film would be that it either go harder at the musical genre or skip the songs altogether. There aren’t enough of them strung together to really make a satisfying musical, but it’s a satisfying drama and then there is a strange singing break. Still, it continues to grow in my head the more I think about it. Milos Forman does an interesting turn as the father, and two of my favorites, Louis Garrel and Paul Schneider, are featured, but it’s all about the women: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Ludivine Sagnier are divine, all of them.

Bleak Night – Yoon Sung-hyun (Netflix)
This tough South Korean drama is a clever, wrenching take on the coming of age high school bully drama. I fucking loathe the word bully — it’s an adult word, I never heard anyone use it as a kid. We just said “that asshole” or something along those lines — but it is in its proper usage here. It’s a devastating film if you’ve ever been fucked with, maybe even if you were the one fucking with people. The film runs in roughly 3 commingling threads that are a little difficult to place in a timeline at first, but once you put it together makes perfect sense and becomes an engrossing film. Like most non-linear films, it’s better on the second viewing when you have everything in order, but there is something inescapably great about a first viewing where you are just trying to get your footing and the film won’t let you.

Goodbye First Love – Mia Hansen-Love (VOD, Netflix)
Though she’s been around for a few years already, director Mia Hansen-Love announced herself as a director of serious note with this coming of age drama set in and around the aftermath of a first love affair gone wrong, which leaves a shattered Lola Creton trying to pick up the pieces of her life. It’s an emotional epic that leaves the perfect gaps between the chapters of her life for us to fill in the blanks. Boy or girl, Creton is east to empathize with unless you’re some kind of monster who has never had your heart broken.

Killer Joe – William Friedkin (Coming Soon)
I don’t really want to say too much because I think this is exactly the kind of film you should go into with as little information as possible and just let the psychosis of the story wash over you. McConaughey is a madman genius (who knew? but what a great run going back to last year’s Lincoln Lawyer), and its great to see Billy Freidkin make another great film.

Monsieur Lazhar – Philippe Falardeau (DVD, Netflix)
If this were my actual top 10 list, Monsieur Lazhar would likely be at the top of the pile this year. Indeed, this powerful film can boasts two 5-star reviews from this paper alone, something we don’t usually do. Mohamed Fellag and the young Sophie Nélisse take turns stealing scenes from the rest of the cast in this French-Canadian drama about the different forms being spiritually lost can take.

Oslo, August 31st – Joachim Trier (DVD, Netflix)
Originally, I thought this was a quickie film about Anders Brevik, but it very much isn’t. Loosely based off the same Pierre Drieu La Rochelle novel as Louis Malle’s The Fire Within, Oslo features a startling performance from Anders Danielsen Lie as a newly reformed junkie wading back into his old life, getting a withering taste of it from a new perspective, and finding out how difficult it is to change, especially to go back.

Red Hook Summer – Spike Lee (DVD, Netflix)
While I absolutely loved Red Hook Summer (as much as you can “love” something that contains as fucked up but kind of lame and expected a plot twist as this), it would be something I would hesitate to recommend to others. Nevermind all of the “Mookie is back” stuff — he’s barely in it — but this is the old, old school Spike Lee that’s come back. The film is shot quick and off the cuff, mixing various DV sources (like the Sony F3 and the iPad2) that really captures Brooklyn at its most colorful self, the spirit that exists in each neighborhood and the diversity within the similarity. Even though that spirit is different for each neighborhood, someone from Flatlands or Bensonhurst can still recognize it as being a smaller part of the whole. So it’s probably more of a birthplace pro bias working on me, which is why I’d hesitate to recommend it.

Your Sister’s Sister – Lynn Shelton (DVD, Amazon)
Everyone is calling it the year of Channing Tatum, and it’s hard to argue that, but just by sheer force and the number of projects he’s been involved with this year, it’s sort of the year of Mark Duplass too. He’s been everywhere this year, from the low-key Do-Deca-Pentathon through to the Oscar-favorite Zero Dark Thirty (which opens Orlando in mid-January). He’s a little more toned down in Your Sister’s Sister than he is in Saftey Not Guaranteed, but he’s the same charming, bumbling dude’s dude that steals your affection with his dopey smile. Lynn Shelton just keeps getting better with every film she makes, and it’s it’s kind of a shame that the success of Moonrise Kingdom knocked this out of Enzian’s schedule over the summer.

Turn Me On, Dammit! – Jannicke Systad Jacobsen (DVD)
It’s actually kind of an embarrassing blindspot in the film world that there are so few straight up sex comedies about girls, and while that isn’t totally remedied by this one film, it’s a great start. Half of me wants to call it brave, but its more that its just an honest film from an unfamiliar perspective. Honesty is bravery a lot of the time, but I’m not sure it applies here. It’s just that Jacobsen’s adaptation of Olaug Nilssen’s novel finally lets boys into the conversation that’s existed the whole time by a particularly smart move (from a boy’s point of view anyway), having a boy be the villain but not having boys in general be the enemy.

The Doc is In: Ten 2012 Documentaries You Need to See

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When it comes to documentaries, it’s nothing short of the Wild West out there. There are just so many, from theatrical to television to stuff that just shows up on Netflix or Hulu one day in your recommended list, and it’s so difficult to judge them by their posters or trailers because, honestly, most documentary posters look like a sixth grader fucking around in Photoshop. But unlike the Underrated Films lists I did last week, this is a little more straight forward: these are just the 10 best docs I’ve seen this year, and its a mix of all three categories.

As always, there were docs I didn’t get to see and wanted to — stuff like DetriopiaMea Maxima CulpaBrooklyn CastleHow to Survive a PlagueThis Is Not a Film and The Invisible War — just because there isn’t enough time in the day to watch everything I want to.

Likewise, there was stuff that I really enjoyed but didn’t carry enough weight, like Rory Kennedy’s Ethel, Stacy Peralta’s Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, NBA TV’s The Dream Team, Andrew Bird’s Fever Year and the digital vs film doc, Side by Side.

There was also a bit of a fatigue factor when it came to West Memphis Three documentaries — both Paradise Lost 3 and West of Memphis were good films, but very difficult to separate from one another and neither really addressed the issue I was most interested in outside of the murders, the story of the friendship at the time or now of the three released men. In West of Memphis, Jessie Misskelley’s father says Jessie was scared of Damien Echols, and there was a NY Times article a while ago about how none of the three speak to each other any longer, but it’s never really explored. (How can you not explore something like that?) West of Memphis was the closest to making my list of 10, but I backed out on it in the end.

All in all, it was a very good year for documentaries and they’re becoming much easier to get a hold of these days just between Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, giving us less excuse to put them off.

01) 5 Broken Cameras – Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi (Hulu+)
I’m not sure if I’ve ever had my preconceived notions of what a film would be more upset by the reality of the film than I did with 5 Broken Cameras. Even hearing great things about it, I went into it with trepidation, expecting a straight forward anti-Israel film, but instead found an existential horror film with a deep love at its core as the film’s narrator and co-director Emad Burnat tells the story of a small village on the border with Israel through the six cameras he’s managed to come by, five of which were broken during demonstrations by Israeli soldiers. It’s a story of family, of home, of theft, and, ultimately, and most startlingly, of abandonment.

02) Searching for Sugar Man – Malik Bendjelloul (Coming Soon)
It’s not hard to be skeptical about this documentary when you first start it. It plays a lot like Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, about the second best gutarist in the world, the one no one’s ever heard of — because he never existed. I hadn’t heard of Sixto Rodriquez, and it seems no one outside of his family, friends and the entirety of South Africa had. Is this a hoax, likeFargo’s “based on a true story” tagline? No, he’s real. But it’s not actually that hard to believe that a guy like Rodriquez could slip through the cracks. If you’ve ever been to a used record store and looked through the stacks at all of the weird, unheard of acts, you realize most musicians do fall through the cracks. The stranger part is how big a musician can be in one relatively small country, thousands of miles away from home. That he was is what makes this such an interesting piece though.

03a) Indie Game: The Movie – Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky (Netflix)
My idea of a great game never really evolved past NES, especially the classics like Tetris and Super Mario, but there is something so compelling about the process of creation, and the different types of personalities it takes to create a great video game. If Ebert is right in saying that video games can’t be art (who really cares if they are or not?), at the very least we can say the story of their creation can be art.

03b) The Ecstasy of Order: The Tetris Masters – Adam Cornelius (Amazon Prime)
Speaking of Tetris… this is completely a personal bias pick on my part. There were punchier documentaries made this year, but not many of them were about something I love as much as Tetris, and especially the comeback story of Thor Aackerlund, who is perhaps the greatest Tetris player alive.

05) The Imposter – Bart Layton (Coming Soon)
The Imposter is as frustrating as it is riveting. It’s riveting for horrible reasons, because one mad Frenchman named Frederic Bourdin pulled off, for a short time anyway, such an astounding feat of outright fraud, and its impossible to look away from his deceitful, convincing eyes the entire time he’s on screen, especially the way Layton works the cutaway shots. It’s frustrating for an even more horrible reason: almost 20 years later and Nicholas Barclay still hasn’t been found.

06) Dreams of a Life – Carol Morley (Netflix, Hulu+)
One of the most common thoughts I have when I see a documentary is, “how could that have really happened?” But nothing in any documentary can really prepare you to confront the idea that a woman died in her apartment and no one noticed (or cared) for three years. No one. A quite attractive, popular girl, even. No one noticed. Fucking how? And because no one noticed, because she was just dust and bones by the time she was found, there really can never be a satisfactory conclusion to the question “how?”, but perhaps equal in horror is the doubt this film puts in your mind about whether anyone would notice if you just died on your couch one day.

07) The Interrupters – Steve James (Amazon Prime)
It’s hard to even know what to say about this story. It’s almost entirely heartbreaking but in some sense is also uplifting when the Violence Interrupters succeed in throwing their bodies in between the mostly youth related violence on the streets of Chicago, in neighborhoods that are eating themselves alive. But even the positive parts end up heartbreaking because of the one step forward, ten steps back nature of street violence.

08) Jiro Dreams of Sushi – David Gelb (Netflix)
I hate sushi. All seafood, really. Most of family is allergic to shellfish, so we never really had any kind of seafood growing up and its a food I never adapted to as a kid. I tried the Jeffrey Steingarten thing to just forget what I didn’t like and retry everything, but seafood didn’t make the cut (most things didn’t). So Jiro’s sushi would be wasted on me, but I could still sit there and watch he and his eldest son, Yoshikazu, make sushi all day long. Gelb frames the story so perfectly, it’s more of an artform in this light than food — I’d feel bad for eating it to be honest, like chewing a bite off of a Rothko.

09) The Queen of Versailles – Lauren Greenfield (Netflix)
Ah, our local celebrities in the documentary race this year. This is the film that wouldn’t die once it opened at the Enzian, playing for far too many weeks in a row, but it just kept hitting its holdover threshold. For me, the film doesn’t totally gel as a whole, even if it does serve as a great peek into the window of the working and machinations of the rich during our recession. It’s a very difficult family to feel any empathy or sympathy for, and hanging all of your emotions from the film on the nannies and left behind high school friends doesn’t quite stretch out for its hour forty running time, but there is undeniably something here worthwhile. Greenfield was in the right place at the right time, witnessing a somewhat modern Citizen Kane/W.R. Hurst story play out live in front of her cameras: the old man in his ridiculous castle with his aging trophy wife and money woes. This film will age gracefully (and without any plastic surgery), but the incident of the recession is still a little too near. In 20 years, econ students will probably have to watch this as a class requirement.

10) Knuckleball! – Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg (Amazon Prime)
One simple, impossible pitch has the power to make the world’s greatest hitters look like weekend beer league players. The pitch is so elusive that since the release of the film, half of the pitchers who could throw it have retired. When I say half, I only mean one, because only two pitchers could throw it: Boston’s Tim Wakefield, and the Mets’ R.A. Dickey, who has since been traded to Toronto, and is the last man throwing it (though surely high school kids all over the country are learning how to master it now). The mechanics of the pitch is an interesting story itself, but more interesting is the ornery personality of the men in the history of the game who have been able to succeed with it.

Ink and Pain: The Five Best Animated Shorts of 2012

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/ink-and-pain-1.1421397

For fans of animation, especially shorts, this was a bountiful year, Pixar nailed it with two shorts this year: the Toy Story-themed Partysaurus Rex and the visually stunning La Luna, which captured an Oscar earlier this year. Fox hit us with a Maggie Simpson short, The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare, and the Cartoon Brew animation blog really became an invaluable resource, notably its annual Student Animation Festival, which had more than 200 entries in 2012, one of which is featured on my list below.

21 Years in 7 Minutes, Caroline Torres (Cartoon Brew) Almost all of the animated shorts I’ve watched this year fit into the category of animated film, as if there were more inherent merit in that than in cartooning, so I appreciate the fact that Torres went straight for the cartoon jugular in laying bare the peculiarities of her life story (so far). By being so personal and so funny about it, she ends up making an animated film anyway.

One Day, De Joël Corcia, Bung Nguyen, Thomas Reteuna, Laurent Rossi, Bernard Som (Gobelins) In this lonely piece of fiction, a man lives in a house that is unstuck in time, keeping its foundation in place only one day before picking up and disappearing into another time and place altogether. When it lands in a modern city, a cup of coffee could change everything. The possibilities are endless with this concept (as with all time travelers), and it’s a shame they had to whittle it down to one story, but they chose a great one.

Paperman, John Kahrs (now playing with Wreck-It RalphThough I chose to do this list alphabetically, Paperman is one of the best films I’ve seen in years of any genre, length or artistic discipline. The film adheres to the Disney style of magic, employing the paper airplanes in the same tone that Mickey did 50 years ago with his enchanted brooms, while also forging new ground stylistically with its brilliant multi-layered mottled ink-and-paint style. I can’t speak highly enough of this film.

Patton Oswalt’s Magical Black Man, Dan Henrick (AV Club) You could argue that Oswalt’s storytelling is the driving force behind this short, but the purposely crude animation serves this story unbelievably well as Patton has a life-altering meeting with a polite magical black man, changing the course of his comedy forever.

Sundays at Rocco’s, the Rauch brothers (StoryCorps) This is a sweet, heartbreaking story of immigration, eminent domain and Sunday supper – but above all, family and the sadness that comes as we drift apart.

Miami Connection – Y.K. Kim (1987/2012) (Cover Story)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/miami-connection-1.1415050

When outlaw ninja bikers and a gang of street toughs land in Orlando to push their coke trade on the streets and rock clubs of our fair city, there’s only one thing that can stand in their way: a band of taekwondo black belt musicians (and UCF undergrads) called Dragon Sound, led by Grandmaster Y.K. Kim.

Miami Connection, an incredibly strange film that feels something like The Way of the Dragon meets the movie-within-a-movie from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, had been buried in obscurity for almost 25 years, after a disappointing initial release that barely made it past local screenings for friends and family. After being screened unseen on a whim at the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin recently, the film has been reborn in the mold of countless midnight cult classics. It has become something of a feel-good story for the wary Kim, who still operates the Orlando-based Martial Arts World taekwondo schools and does motivational speaking tours around the country.

Dragon Sound, the happy-go-lucky band at the heart of the film, are a seven-piece pure ’80s synth-fusion group that rocks out with subversive lyrics like, “Friends through eternity/Loyalty, honestly/We’ll stay together through thick or thin.” If the band is at the heart of the film, the sentiment in those lyrics is at the heart of the band, a group of black-belt orphans searching for rock’s inner peace, harmony and their lost fathers. As we first meet them, they’ve taken over as the house band at the Park Avenue nightclub, once Orlando’s hottest hangout. The aforementioned street toughs are not happy about this development, because Dragon Sound is a threat to the club’s thriving drug trade. It’s never really made clear why they’re such a threat, and much of the band’s feud with this mafia collective stems from the fact that the leader of the street toughs, Jeff (William Eagle), is pissed that his sister, Jane (Kathy Collier), is one of Dragon Sound’s singers and that she’s dating the bass player, John (Vincent Hirsch), leading to rock ’em, sock ’em martial arts battles in the streets for the victim soul of Orlando.

I feel conflicted about using the word “good” to describe the film, especially when the word “infectious” fits it so much better. It’s actually hard not to like a film made with such earnest, honest intentions, even though it’s plain to see why it was dismissed when it first came out. It’s rough – very rough. It makes you appreciate why Jackie Chan films shoot at such a slow rate of footage per day. But films on that end of the quality scale usually have a make-a-buck cynicism to them that sticks out like a scab embedded into the film grain. They make us keep our guard up. But if you approach Miami Connection in the spirit in which it was intended (and with a few beers), it feels honest – it defies our mad cultural obsession with consuming everything with a damning ironic appreciation. Dragon Sound attacks us with the same wave of constantly cheery, smiling optimism that we find in dance troupes like the Rockettes, or the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony. That’s something I can find time for these days.