The Stuff You Find On Netflix: Rumors of Wars (dir by Paul Tomborello)


You can sometimes find the strangest stuff of Netflix.  And, if you’re like me and you try to review every single thing that you see, you can end up reviewing the strange stuff that you end up watching on Netflix.

For example: Rumors of Wars.

According to the imdb, Rumors of Wars had a theatrical release in May of this year but I had never heard of it until I happened to come across it on Netflix.  Earlier this week, I did a search on “2014 films,” and my natural hope was that the search would return results like The Grand Budapest Hotel and maybe a James Franco film or two.

Instead, I got Rumors of Wars.

Rumors of Wars is one of the many dystopian films that have come out this year.  For whatever reason, a lot of filmmakers have shared this vision of the future this year and none of them seem to be very optimistic.

In Rumors of Wars, the future is represented by bombed out cities, black-clad soldiers, and frightened refugees being rounded up and shot.  The soldiers work for a man named Zurn and they’re quick to say that their mission is to “unify the world in peace and harmony.”  When one refugee is spotted to be wearing a cross, a soldier sneers, “The only thing this symbolizes is your primitive thinking!”  Another refugee, when confronted by the approaching soldiers, says, “Time to join the one world government!”

Can you guess where this is going?

While the rest of the soldiers are busy burning books and watching a hologram of a blonde with big boobs telling them to keep fighting for the glory of Zurn, Shaw (Ben Davies) secretly reads a diary that he came across during an earlier refugee roundup.

The diary was written, in the days before the one world government, by a college student named Roxy (Jennifer Cooper).  Roxy writes about how, following a series of terrorist attacks that the film suggests were all “false flag” operations, the government decrees that everyone should have a microchip inserted into their hand.  The microchip will allow the government to both regulate what people eat and keep track of all of America’s gun owners.  However, since the microchip also allows people to get discounts on otherwise expensive commodities like food and gasoline, the populace willingly gives up their freedom.

The microchips, incidentally, are made by the Zurn Corporation.  And who is in charge of the Zurn Corporation?  Mr. Zurn, of course!

And, of course, Mr. Zurn is played by Eric Roberts.

Now, Eric Roberts is only on-screen for about two minutes but he makes the best of those two minutes.  Seriously, Roberts gives a performance that is so manic and so over-the-top and so extremely weird that it might be the best performance of his career.  Certainly, it livens up the movie.

(Of course, it helps that Roberts spends the length of his screen time telling a weird story about picking up a calf.)

Anyway, the film alternates between Roxy in the near future and Shaw in the far future and, for an independent, low-budget, right-wing, evangelical movie, it’s actually surprisingly competent.  This is nothing like Left Behind.  Rumors of Wars can actually pass for a real movie.

Now, I know what you’re asking — just how preachy does this movie get?  By the standards of the genre, it’s actually less preachy than most but still preachy enough that it’ll probably annoy militant nonbelievers.  (As for us casual skeptics, it all depends on just how casual you really are.)  In my case, I was able to tolerate the film’s preachy moments because I appreciated all of the anti-government propaganda and the over-the-top atmosphere of paranoia.

So, that was the latest strange thing that I saw on Netflix.  Rumors of Wars.  Was it great?  No.  But it wasn’t terrible and that’s probably the biggest shock of all.

AMV of the Day: Sweet Dreams


SweetDreams

It’s that time of the year when we should all be celebrating peace and love (and lots of presents and alcoholic festive drinks) yet the world of late has turned meaner, sadder and just plain not-fun. People really just need to chill and let the holidays move them.

This latest “AMV of the Day” is just plain fun and smile-inducing. No leaked emails here. No threats that lead to censorships. Not even a cynical pixel to be found.

So, let us just sit back and watch some Hall & Oates (never thought I’d say that in this day and age) inspired anime music video.

Anime: Angel Beats, Bakemonogatari, Black Lagoon, Carnival Phantasm, Eden of the East, Eden of the East: Paradise Lost, Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Neon Genesis Evangelion 2.22 – You Can [Not] Advance, Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Song: “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates

Creator: Alexmichur00 & Dragontamer5788


Past AMVs of the Day

Film Review: Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger (dir by Joe Berlinger)


When I was younger, my family used to frequently visit relatives in Arkansas.  (Except, of course, when we were actually living in Arkansas but that’s another story…)  Any time that we were driving to Arkansas for a visit, we would always stop at this little park in Oklahoma.  We’d eat lunch and then I’d run into the rest stop and I’d look at this big aquarium that was full of gold fish.  And then after looking at the aquarium, I’d run over to the corner where they had all of the latest wanted posters and I’d look at who the FBI was searching for that year.

What always fascinated me was that, while there were always new faces posted in that corner, there were also posters that stayed up there for years.  And, in my own weird little way, seeing those posters became something of a ritual that I always looked forward to.  What fascinated me was reading about how each of these dangerous fugitives could be identified.  One guy, for instance, was described as being a fancy dresser and a big tipper and, since I had heard horror stories about being a waitress from several of my relatives, I wondered how bad the guy could be if he was a big tipper.  I was always interested to see who was thought to be in Mexico and who may have escaped up to Canada and I’ll admit that there was a part of me that always wondered if maybe they could be in Oklahoma, eating at that very park!

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From the first time I saw James J. Bulger’s poster in the corner, it made an impression on me.  First off, there was his picture, which made him look like an assistant principal.  Then there was his long list of aliases.  (Even back then, I was obsessed with lists and names.)

And finally, there were all of his identifying details.

For instance, the poster told me that he was fluent in several languages.  The poster said that he had recently been sighted in Europe, which I often fantasized about visiting.  It said that he was traveling with his girlfriend and that both of them loved animals….

Loved animals!?

I loved animals!

And, of course, then I would notice that this cultured and multilingual animal lover was wanted for 19 counts of murder, drug trafficking, extortion, and a whole lot of other things.  The list of crimes told me that this James “Whitey” Bulger was not a good man but the identifying traits suggested something else.

(Another reason that Whitey made an impression on me is that he looked a lot less scary than Osama Bin Laden, who — the last few times we stopped at that rest stop — had invaded the corner…)

So, that was my first impression of Whitey Bulger.

My second impression came about a few years later when I read that the demonic gangster played by Jack Nicholson in The Departed was reportedly based on Bulger.  I’m not sure if the real life Bulger used to carry around someone else’s severed hand but still…

And finally, my third impression came from the documentary that I watched last night on Netflix, Whitey: The United States of America vs. James J. Bulger.  After spending 12 years in that corner, Bulger was eventually arrested in Florida and returned to his hometown of Boston, where he was put on trial for all of the crimes that had been listed at the top of that wanted poster.  Veteran documentarian Joe Berlinger was in Boston for the trial, interviewing Bulger’s defense attorneys, a guy who calmly talked about a number of murders that he committed with Bulger, and the relatives of several of Bulger’s victims.  Bulger himself even got a few words in, calling up his defense attorneys from jail and doing his best to present himself as being a gangster with a code of honor.

Indeed, from the start of the trial, Bulger’s main concern seems to be with convincing people that he had a code of honor.  He has no hesitation about admitting to being guilty of most of the charges against him.  What upsets him is that people are saying that he was a FBI informant and that’s why, for so long, he was able to avoid going to jail despite committing crimes in broad daylight.  Bulger’s argument is that the Boston FBI fabricated evidence of him being an informant in order to cover up the fact that he was paying all of them off.

(Bulger also suggests that he was given blanket immunity by a special prosecutor in return for saving the prosecutor’s life.)

It’s an interesting suggestion.  (Since the FBI refused to interviewed for the documentary, we only get Bulger’s side of the story.)  However, regardless of whether or not you believe Bulger’s claims, the documentary makes clear that — whether they were on his payroll or using him as an informant — the FBI essentially allowed Bulger to spend several years doing anything and killing anyone that he wanted.  By the end of the film, you can understand why the families of Bulger’s victims are often just as angry at law enforcement as they are at Bulger.

Whitey is a good documentary and it’s currently available on Netflix.  If you’re into true crime, like I am, you’ll enjoy it.  At the very least, I’m thankful that this documentary shined a little bit of light on that corner.

Bulger

The Joy Of Under the Electric Sky


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There’s a moment in the documentary Under the Electric Sky that moved me beyond belief.

For the first 90 minutes of the film, we’ve followed different people as they experience the 2013 Electric Daisy Carnival.  Some of them are sweet, some of them are oafish, some of them are people that I would want to hang out with, and some of them I definitely would go out of my way to avoid.  The one thing that they have in common is that they love EDM and that love has brought them to Las Vegas.

One of the more likable of them is a young, wheelchair bound man named Jose.  Up until this point, we’ve seen Jose wheeling his way through the crowd, having a good time but still frustrated by the fact that he can’t see the stage from his wheelchair.  And then, while Hardwell is performing on stage, a group of strangers lift up Jose’s wheelchair, literally holding him on their shoulders so that he can see the stage.

And you know what?  I fully realize that this could have been arranged beforehand.  I understand that someone involved in production could have asked those people to lift up Jose because he or she knew it would make a perfect film moment.  But I don’t care.  It’s such a wonderful moment and it perfectly encapsulated everything that I love about the EDM scene.  It’s a moment that brought tears to my eyes when I saw it and it’s still bringing tears to my eyes as I write about it.

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As far as the rest of Under the Electric Sky is concerned, if you’re into EDM, you’ll enjoy it.  And if you’re one of those people who doesn’t get EDM — well, sucks to be you, doesn’t it?

Admittedly, the film was produced by the same people who put on the EDC and, at its weakest, it felt like a mix between an infomercial and an A&E reality show.  But at its frequent best — like in the moment described above and in the brief moments where artists like Avicii, Armin Van Buuren, and Above & Beyond open up to the camera — it’s a wonderful and heartfelt tribute to one of the most loving and misunderstood subcultures in the world.  At it’s best, Under the Electric Sky is a blast of pure musical joy and, with the world the way it is right now, we could all use a little joy.

Under the Electric Sky is currently available on Netflix and yes, I recommend it.

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Trailer: American Sniper (2nd Official)


American Sniper

Talking to empty chairs aside, Clint Eastwood still goes down as one of the greatest living American filmmakers. This doesn’t dismiss the current slump he has been in the past couple years (Jersey Boys, Hereafter, J. Edgar just to name a few). This 2014 holiday season he’s set to release his latest film: American Sniper.

The film is an adaptation of the best-selling autobiography of the same name by former Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Steven Spielberg was initially attached to direct the film, but bowed soon after. In comes Clint Eastwood to take up the director’s chair with Bradley Cooper starring as Chris Kyle (also producer on the film).

The film has already made it’s premiere at the AFI Fest with a limited release on Christmas Day 2014.

American Sniper will  have a general release date of January 16, 2015.

For Your Consideration #10: Guardians of the Galaxy (dir by James Gunn)


GuardiansoftheGalaxy

As of right now, as far as I’m concerned, Guardians of the Galaxy is the best films of 2014.

Now please understand, I live in fly-over country and that means that there’s still quite a few films that I need to see.  Next week and through the new year, I plan to see Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Into the Woods, Wild, and quite a few other films.  And any one of those films could, potentially, become my new favorite of 2014.

But, as of right now, Guardians of the Galaxy is my favorite.

Of course, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that will ever get a major Oscar nomination.  It’s unfairly dismissed as being pure entertainment or just a summer blockbuster.  A few critics group have been nice enough to mention it but, for the most part, Guardians of the Galaxy is not the type of film that’s going to be given serious consideration for the big awards.

Except, of course, by me.

Below are ten reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy deserves serious consideration:

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1) Never underestimate the importance of escapism.

Usually, when a film is described as being “escapist entertainment,” it’s a back-handed compliment.  The implication is that the film may be entertaining but it has nothing to do with real world issues and therefore, it’s not as important as other films.  We’re allowed to enjoy it but we’re supposed to feel guilty about it.

But you know what?

Sometimes, we need to be able to escape.  That was certainly true this year.  2014 will not be remembered as a great year for humanity.  From January to December, it’s been an endless parade of cruelty and intolerance.  And no, we should never pretend that we live in a perfect world.  We need to be aware of what’s happening outside of our own little corner of the world.

But that doesn’t mean that we haven’t earned the right to escape for 122 minutes.  In fact, I would argue that 122 minutes of pure entertainment is something that we need to make time for if we are going to remain strong enough to face and perhaps change the realities of the world.

In short, when I walked out of the theater after watching Guardians of the Galaxy, I felt better than when I had first taken my seat.  I felt happy.  I felt enthusiastic.  I felt ready to face this fucked up world of ours.

There is a place for pure, unadulterated escapism in cinema.

Not every film has to be a somber, self-important mess like Man of Steel.

Thank God.

2) The unappreciated subtext of Ronan

However, Guardians of the Galaxy is not pure escapism.  Much as in this case of The Purge Anarchy and Capt. America: The Winter Soldier, there is a deeper subtext to the film.  You just have to be willing to look for it.

One of the more frequent complaints about Guardians of the Galaxy is that the villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), isn’t particularly interesting and it is true that, when compared to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki or Iron Man’s villains, Ronan does seem to be a bit bland.  His goals and his motivation are pretty simple.  He destroys stuff and he kills people.  Why?  Because he’s the bad guy.

But, let’s take a closer look at Ronan.  Ronan is a fanatic who believes that only his way is the correct way and only his beliefs are pure.  Anyone who has different beliefs must be unpure and therefore, if they don’t agree to convert to his way of believing, Ronan is justified in destroying them.

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

For all the complaints that Ronan was a one-dimensional villain, the same can be said of Joseph Kony, Kim Jong-un, and Jihadi John, and Fred Phelps.  The same can be said about a lot of evil people but that does not make them any less evil or dangerous.  Ronan may be a simple villain but he’s also the type of villain that we can find all over the world.

The one thing that all Ronan-style fanatics have in common is a complete lack of imagination and humor.  When Peter Quill stood up to Ronan by dancing, it was more than just a crowd-pleasing scene in a big action movie.  It was a call-to-arms to not allow ourselves to be held hostage by the Ronans of the world.  It was a plea to not let the fanatics among us steal our imagination and our right to find joy in our own individual way.

In short, it was a lesson that the entire world needs to learn.

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3) I Am Groot

Yes, yes, I know.  At this point, we’ve all had to listen to hundreds of friends, relatives, and strangers who have gotten it into their heads that they can perfectly imitate Vin Diesel saying, “I am Groot.”  But, seriously — there’s a reason why everyone fell in love with that catch phrase and that’s because both Diesel and the film do more with those three words that most actors can do with a four-page monologue.

And if you didn’t tear up when you heard, “We are Groot,” then I’m sorry.  You may be too cynical for your own good.

4) Introducing … James Gunn!

If you’ve read my review of Super or Arleigh’s review of Slither, then you know that James Gunn has long been a favorite of ours.  One of the joys of the success of Guardians of the Galaxy has been watching him become a favorite of everyone else as well.  And he deserves every bit of that success.  Working within the confines of the summer blockbuster genre, Gunn has created a film that works as both a superior action movie and as a quirky comedy.  With Guardians, James Gunn proved that it is possible to make a mainstream film without selling out your own individual style.

5) Introducing … Chris Pratt!

Even before he played Peter Quill, Chris Pratt was one of those actors who I have always been happy to see on screen.  He just has such a naturally likable presence.  But nothing he had done previously had prepared me for the pure joi de vivre that he brought to the role of Peter Quill.  Whether he was trying to convince people to call him Star-Lord or hilariously attempting to “rally the troops” or daring Ronan to a dance-off, Chris Pratt was a joy to watch.  If nothing else, Guardians of the Galaxy is the film that proves that Chris Pratt is a star (perhaps even a Star-Lord).

6) And let’s not forget Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro

Michael Rooker and Benicio Del Toro are both such quirky and unpredictable actors that I’m always happy to see either one of them on screen.  Having both of them in one movie is even better.  Rooker is perhaps the only actor alive who could not only be believable as a blue-skinned alien with an Alabama accent but who could also make that character into one of the most compelling in the film.  As for Del Toro, I know that his defiantly eccentric performance was controversial but personally, I loved the strange energy he brought to all of his scenes.

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7) And …. everyone else!

One thing that I really loved about Guardians of the Galaxy is that there were no wasted roles.  Every character — from Peter to Zoe Saldana’s Gamora to John C. Reilly’s upright military guy to the people who only had a line or two — felt real.  For a lot of viewers (including me), Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) was an easy favorite.

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However, if I had to pick a best performance, I’d go with Dave Bautista as Drax.  Bautista did so much with so little.  As written, Drax is a physical dynamo with a need for revenge and absolutely no sense of humor.  That’s a pretty standard character for a film like this.  However, Bautista did so much with that character that poor, literal-minded Drax ultimately became one of the most intriguing characters in the film.  My favorite Drax moment came when, in response to hearing that everything goes over his head, he explained that nothing could go over his head because he would reach up and grab it.

8) That soundtrack

I have to admit that I didn’t care as much for Interstellar as some people did.  One of my big problems with the film came down to Hans Zimmer’s score.  It was so loud and overbearing that I actually found myself covering my ears.  But what really bothered me was how unnecessary it was.  Whenever Matthew McConaughey or Anne Hathaway made a profound statement or the spaceship started to shake, the music would suddenly blast in my ear.  It was like having Hans Zimmer in my head, repeatedly shouting, “IMPORTANT!  IMPORTANT!  EXCITING!  EXCITING!”

BLEH!

And it made me appreciate how much I loved the soundtrack of Guardians of the Galaxy.  By using songs that you would never expect to see in a science fiction epic, that soundtrack both mocked the genre’s natural tendency towards self-importance and also forced us to take another look at familiar scenes.  From the minute Peter started dancing to Come and Get Your Love, I knew that I was watching a special movie.

9) The Prison Break

From planning to execution, this was without a doubt one of the best action sequences of the year.  From Rocket laying out his overly complicated plan while Groot tries a much simpler method in the background to Peter asking for the guy’s leg to the use of The Pina Colada Song, this was a perfect scene.

10) And finally … Dancing Groot!

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And those are just a few reasons why I think Guardians of the Galaxy is the best film I’ve seen this year so far.

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(For a differing opinion, check out Ryan’s review here.)

 

For Your Consideration #9: Under the Skin (dir by Jonathan Glazer)


Under the Skin is one of the most brilliantly divisive films of the year.  To some, it’s a pretentious mess, a collection of seemingly random scenes and obscure themes.  To me, however, it is one of the most haunting films that I’ve ever seen.  It’s a film that’s full of mysteries and questions, one that often demands that we supply our own answers.  It’s one of the best films of the year and anyone who disagrees needs to rewatch it.

From the opening scene, Under the Skin is a dream of dark and disturbing things.

In Scotland, a silent motorcyclist (Jeremy McWilliams) finds a young woman’s dead body lying on the side of the road.  He picks up the body and puts it in the back of a van.  Inside the van, a naked woman (played by Scarlett Johansson) takes the dead woman’s clothes.  As soon becomes apparent, both the motorcyclist and the woman are not human.  They’re aliens and they’ve come to Earth on a mission that is deliberately left obscure.  Though they never speak to each other, the motorcyclist always seems to be nearby.

The woman drives the van across Scotland.  She stops men in the street and, after asking for directions, then attempts to coerce them into her van.  (What makes these scenes especially effective is that the majority of them actually feature Johansson talking to nonactors who just happened to be nearby when she drove up.)  The woman smiles and flirts and has little trouble convincing the majority of the men she meets to get into the van with her.

She drives them to an isolated building where the men follow her inside.  As they step into a pitch black room, both the woman and her latest man start to undress.  The naked man starts to walk towards the woman and is so hypnotized by the sight of her that he doesn’t even realize that the floor has become liquified and he’s sinking.  As Johansson watches coldly, each man eventually vanishes, leaving behind only his empty skin.

(Warning: The two scenes below are definitely NSFW.  Watch with caution.)

Detached from her surroundings, the woman can only watch as real human beings go about their lives.  When she sees a man unsuccessfully try to save a drowning couple on the beach, she reacts by striking the man on the head with a rock.  She drags the man away, leaving the couple’s terrified toddler on the beach.  When the motorcyclist later visits the beach, he too ignores the child.  (Perhaps no scene left me more disturbed and inspired more nightmares than this one.)

It’s only when the woman picks up a man with a severe facial disfigurement (a poignant performance from a nonactor named Adam Pearson) that she finally starts to show some emotion.  The man is as much of an outsider as she is, with the main difference being that he can’t hide who he really is under a disguise.  The woman feels sorry for him and this sudden shock of empathy causes her to reconsider her mission.

However, even as the woman attempts to flee to the Scottish highlands, the motorcyclist is never far behind.  And, unfortunately, neither are real humans…

Under the Skin is pure cinema, a collection of scenes that alternate between being naturalistic and surreal, disturbingly serious and darkly humorous.  Perhaps appropriately for a film about appearances, Under the Skin is a movie that is full of haunting images, the type that, 8 months after first being seen, remain vivid in your mind.  It’s up to the viewers to decide what those images mean.

(For all of the discussion that I’ve seen online about what Under the Skin is truly about, it seems pretty obvious to me that the main message of the film is that guys are so led by their penis that they’ll even allow themselves to sink into a liquid void if there’s a chance they might get laid beforehand.)

Under the Skin has been a player (albeit a minor one) in the precursors leading up the Oscars.  A few of the braver critical groups have nominated it for best picture and have also honored Scarlett Johansson for her wonderful work as an outsider who is both slowly discovering what it means to be human while also dealing with the reality that, try as she might, she will never truly belong in this world.  However, with all that in mind, Under the Skin is probably too divisive and unique a film to ever truly appeal to the Academy.

But that’s okay.

Under the Skin is also a film that we’ll still be discussing years from now.

Film Review Under the Skin