Lady Lou is an incredibly successful saloon singer at local politician Gus Jordan's establishment. Lou is a very popular woman among the men of the town but she has a thirst for various men as well. Lou does have a boyfriend in Chick Clark, a man who has spent the last several years in prison. Chick is a very jealous man, constantly sending word to warn Lou that if she double corsses him she could find herself paying the ultimate price - her life. While Gus Jordan showers Lou with diamons to keep her happy, Lou begins to show an interest in Captian Cummings, a boyscout of a man, who warns Lou that she's on the road to perdition. Lowell Sherman's She Done Wrong features two early performances by Mae West and Cary Grant but unfortunately the film itself doesn't bring much to the table besides that. She Done Wrong is rather uninteresting from a cinematography perspective, feeling quite like the stage play it is based on. The strength of this film lies almost solely on Mae West's performance and a solid screenplay. Only Mae West's second feature film, She Done Wrong fully takes advantage of her strengths, with a character that is incredibly sassy, sexy, witty, and strong-minded. Her screen presence is undeniable throughout this film as she plays a character whose presence towers over everyone else in the film. She is a character that I can only imagine was very risky to portray at the time, making it even more impressive that this film is the one responsible for skyrocketing her to stardom. At times, She Done Wrong's screenplay tries to hard instead of relying on Mae West, making it very clear that Lou is loved and envied by everyone, with every guy wanting her, and every girl wanting to be her. Lowell Sherman's She Done Wrong isn't a bad film by any means but it certainly suffers from feeling inadequate and almost unnecessary outside of Mae West's engaging performance.
Trixie (2000) - Alan Rudolph
Trixie, a private detective with a 5th grade level education, has always dreamed of solving the big case. Working as a casino security guard, Trixie finally gets her chance, unintentionally being thrown into the middle of a series of events involving a dirty Senator, a crooked real estate mogul, and his sleazy girlfriend who ends up dead. Along this strange journey, Trixie even finds romance with a suave, ladies-man Dex, who works for the real estate mogul. The more films I see of Alan Rudolphs, the more I realize that he is a wholly original filmmaker whose films, regardless if they are hits or misses, deliver on being unique and worth watching for various reasons. Trixie is no exception to this rule, being an incredibly bizarre comedy/drama that blends elements of detective story and screwball comedy into a truly unique experience. Much of film's bizarre quality comes from the title character, a woman so stupid in the traditional sense that she rarely speaks a full sentence without bumbling words and misplacing their meanings. Emma Watson is really great in this role, making Trixie a character in which the audience cares about and roots for, no matter her mental shortcomings. The narrative of the film isn't all that interesting, full of the typical twists and turns of a detective story, but seeing Trixie go through these obstacles is what makes it engaging. Watson isn't the only highlight, as Trixie is full of talented actors, none of which are more entertaining than Nick Nolte's portrayal of the corrupt, philandering senator. Alan Rudoph's Trixie is probably my least favorite of his films I've seen but it features one of the most eccentric main protagonists I've ever seen, making it worth watching for those who are looking for something truly different from the norm.
Susan, a photographer, lives with her best friend Anne in small apartment in New York City. When Anne meets someone, she quickly gets married, leaving Susan alone for virtually the first time in her entire life. An insecure person, Susan is forced to grow up quickly, seeking a new roommate while simultaneously trying to navigate adulthood. Claudia Weill's Girlfriends is an honest and engrossing depiction of a young woman growing into her own skin. It's a story of self discovery, as Susan learns to live as an independent woman and artist in the big city. Humorous and incredibly genuine, Girlfriends feels more like a documentary than a narrative, chronicling the trials and tribulations of Susan. From desperation to loneliness to jubilee, Girlfriends encapsulates the life of a twenty-something artist vividly, capturing the struggle it truly takes to find oneself through understanding and resolve. Even though I am pretty sure the film's grainy film stock was more representative of a low budget than anything else, it gives the film a compelling texture that just makes it even more real. The most impressive aspect of Girlfriends is the complex bond it explores between two best friends, being both intricate and insightful in its depiction of their changing relationship due to growing up. Susan feels betrayed and left behind by Anne, and the way their relationship changes and ultimately grows because of it encapsulates this whole struggle twenty-something's can experience. Claudia Weill's Girlfriends is an impressive film about friendship and life, that's both intelligent and sensitive in approach.
Ilo Ilo (2013) - Anthony Chen
Set during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Ilo Ilo tells the story of the Lim family, which consists of a father, a mother, and a troublesome young child, Jiale. Living as a comfortable member of the middle class, Teck and Leng both work to keep it that way, leading them to hire Teresa, a Filipino immigrant, as their maid and nanny. At first Teresa struggles to adjust to her new lifestyle in Singapore,especially when it comes to containing Jiale from his numerous, juvenile antics. Eventually Theresa and Jiale begin to get along, forming a mother-son type bond, but with the economy being so volatile, it's only a matter of time until this new formed bond is challenged by change. Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo is a well-crafted family drama that succeeds because of its attention and respect of its various characters. From the two parents, Teck and Leng, to Theresa and Jiale, every one of them is examined, showing their strengths an weaknesses. There is an impressive amount of intimacy throughout this narrative, as we see each character's vunerability revealed from the uncertainty of the world around them. The most interesting relationship of the film revolves the triangle of Leng, Theresa, and Jiale. Leng is a strong individual who prides herself on her steady job and the support it provides for Jiale. A stern mother, she cares immensely about her sons well-being but as Theresa and Jiale grow closer, Liang's own maternal vulnerability comes into focus. Other characters go through other challenges, with Chen showing an ability to tap into every character's hopes and fears. Anthony Chen's Ilo Ilo is a simple yet impressive first feature by the writer-director, delivering an intimate portrait of various family dynamics.
The Sacrament (2014) - Ti West
Jake and Sam, two journalists from Vice, set out to document their friend's journey to find his missing sister, who lives off the grid in a foreign country. They arrive at "Eden Parish", a self-sustained utopia run by a mysterious man known as "Father", who leads this religious, socialist community. As their friend reunites with his sister, Jake and Sam begin to slowly realize that Eden Parish is not the paradise it seems. What begin as a documentary intent on exposing this fundamental community quickly becomes a fight for their very lives. Ti West's The Sacrament is a well constructed horror film that relies on atmosphere and tension to create its horror. So many horror films these days simply throw violence and gore at an audience in an effort to shock and scare them but The Sacrament is a film that perfectly illustrates how more often than not less is more. This film is a dark and disturbing experience because of the geniune evil it exudes, not relying on the violence but rather the mere threat of it as we fear what "the father" is capable of. Shot in a documentary style, The Sacrament feels quite real and genuine for much of its running time, getting really strong performances out of everyone involved, most notably Gene Jones and Amy Seimetz. The Sacrament is a film that captures the power and harm which blind faith can have, delivering a twisted and eerie narrative that reminds me what horror films are capable of being.
In the latest incarnation of the Spiderman franchise, Peter Parker is enjoying life as the web-slinger, embracing his role as the hero of New York City. Still haunted by Gwen's father's dying words, Peter reluctantly distances himself from Gwen Stacy, constantly fighting his love for her. With the emergence of Electro, an incredibly powerful man made of electricity, Peter must confront someone far stronger than himself, also leading him to conflict with his old friend, Harry Osbourne. Marc Webb's The Amazing Spiderman 2 is an overstuffed film with far too many characters and plot threads. The film thematic intentions are quite muddled because of this, with the film never having much of a through line whatsoever. In a way, Webb should be commended for keeping this film coherent, doing an admirable job given the film's bloated narrative. Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone are still great in their respective roles with chemistry that really makes this film more enjoyable than not. I firmly believe that these two actors are the only reason the characters don't feel completely lifeless, both bringing an impressive amount of genuine feeling to the roles. The biggest problem with The Amazing Spiderman 2 is that it wants to do far too much, falling victim to the "Avenger's factor" of needing to get bigger and more epic by adding more villains and superfluous narrative threads into the mix. The last 15 minutes of the film are a perfect example of this with an incredibly unnecessary epilogue type sequence the feels that it belongs in the beginning of The Amazing Spiderman 3, not the end of this film. Overstuffed story aside, The Amazing Spiderman 2 is a visually striking film with some great CGI work that elevates the action and thrill to new heights for the franchise. The Amazing Spiderman 2 is an improvement over its predecessor but unfortunately it never quite manages to set itself apart from the superhero mold.
The biblical rapture has just occurred and Lindsey, her boyfriend Ben, and their respective families have all been left behind, doomed to endure pain and suffering on Earth. Between flaming rocks falling from the sky and wraiths walking the earth, life is different but Lindsey and Ben have adjusted as much as possible, still having each other. When Earl Gundy, a former politician whose also the Anti-Christ, desires Lindsey be his wife and child-bearer, the couple are forced to come up with a plan to defeat the Anti-Christ once and for all. Paul Middleditch's Rapture-Palooza is a crude, comedic take on the rapture that isn't quite as bad as I was anticipating. Loaded with comedic actors such as Rob Cordry, Paul Scheer, Ken Jeong, and Thomas Lennon among others, Rapture-Palooza brings a ton of talent to the project which help to make the film an enjoyable enough way to kill ninety minutes of your time. The tone of Rapture-Palooza is very light, with lots of crude humor that at times is just cheap in execution. The film wants to build a farce or social commentary but instead it wastes its time on trendy potty-mouth humor that is pretty much void of intelligent discussion about god. Of course its fine if you want to just make a crude, low-grade comedy but the film does have flashes of this discussion show up at times, desperately trying to break free of the constant onslaught of potty humor. Rapture-Palooza isn't a terrible film, consisting of a decent amount of laughs, but it's a film that completely misses the opportunity to be something more as a social commentary, something that This is The End pulled off extremely well.
Locke (2014) - Steven Knight
Ivan Locke is an extremely successful construction manager whose widely regarded as the best in the business. He is a dedicated family man, with two sons and a loving wife, but on the eve of the biggest challenge of his entire career, Ivan receives a phone call that changes everything. This phone call sets in motion a series of events that systematically threaten to tear away everything in Ivan's life that he cares about. Steven Knight's Locke is an expertly crafted character study featuring a tour de force performance by Tom Hardy. Taking place solely in one location, Ivan's car, where he communicates with the other characters by phone, Locke is a contained experience that is impressively gripping, emotionally affecting and morally complex. Tom Hardy's performance has got to be the first thing one talks about when seeing Locke. Hardy has been one of my favorite contemporary actors for some time now and with Locke he delivers a performance right up there with his performance in Nicolas Winding Refn's Bronson. Hardy is special, capable of capturing the tough, stern, dedicated business man whose reached the top of his field, while also exuding vulnerability as the world around him crumbles, leaving the viewer devastated. Steven Knight's direction is solid as well, with a frantic-sense of direction that never goes overboard in approach, helping keep the film captivating from start to finish. Locke is a hard film to talk about without going into spoilers but I will say that my only problem with the film lies in a few sequences involving Ivan's relationship with his father which feels far too "on the nose", when it could have been conducted in a much more subtle way. Steven Knight's Locke is an impressive character study with a fantastic performance, reminding us how great of an actor Tom Hardy is.
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