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Woody Allen, The Quintessential Auteur

August 13th, 2012 by Michael Tabor

If you are a Woody Allen fan like me, there’s a relatively new documentary available to see on Netflix called –‘Woody Allen: A Documentary’, 2011, and it’s an absolutely must-see. It’s about 4 hours long (2 parts and there’s not a dull moment) and it’s the most comprehensive, in-depth profile of this unique, prodigiously talented filmmaker/actor/writer/musician to date. Mr. Allen is such an elusive private man and I was shocked to find how probing and personal it was. It was a completely no-holds barred portrait of this man’s astonishing body of work and his personal life and beliefs.
Whether you’re a Woody Allen fan or not, you cannot deny the fact that Woody Allen is an American National Treasure. Think about this: Woody Allen has been making films and has been RELEVENT for more than 40 years. This is simply unheard of in show business; if you’re relevant for 10 or even 5, it’s amazing! What I also got out of the documentary, was what a nice, unpretentious, likable guy Woody Allen is. The only real hitch in his personal life was the whole, over-blown coverage of his affair with Soon-YI, Mia Farrow’s adopted child (not Allen’s). As far as I’m concerned, Woody did nothing illegal, nor did he do anything really wrong. Listen, was it a little strange? yes . But the truth of the matter is: 1. He wasn’t married to Mia Farrow. 2. Soon-Yi was 20 when they started the affair and 3. As I mentioned in the previous sentence, it was not Allen’s adopted child. It wasn’t planned, and as we all know, love is irrational plus he’s still with her, so leave him alone. What was great was Allen’s response to the whole fiasco, he said, “Jeez, I was shocked by all the coverage; I didn’t know I was that popular.”
Enough of the nonsense, I’ve already spilled too much ink on Woody and Soon-Yi. Let’s talk about his professional life which is nothing short of masterful. I won’t go through his whole career, see the documentary, which is impressively exhaustive. Woody started as a writer, writing 50 jokes a day for $25 a week. He later became a stand-up comedian which he hated because he’s shy and hated performing before a crowd. Then he became what he really wanted  – a filmmaker with free rein to do whatever he wanted to do – which is simply unheard of with the big studios and major financial backers. What makes this even more unbelievable is that Woody had this incredible independence from day one. What a lucky man!
Of the 40 films Mr. Allen has made, I would say that I liked about 30 of them, he did make a few clunkers, but Woody would have you believe that just about all of his films were awful (again that monumental modesty). He also doesn’t care what the critics think; ironically, his favorite films are the ones the critics panned. Allen’s thoughts are that if he is able to reproduce what was in his mind (or as close to it, it’s impossible to be exact) then the film is a success.
Let me conclude with some personal thoughts about Woody Allen. One of the major reasons I like Allen , is he truly thinks like I do. I am somewhat of an insecure nervous nellie and I’ve always been obsessed with death. Woody Allen has essentially made a career out of talking about death but without the gloom, he always throws humor in. My favorite part of the documentary is when he says, “when I was 5 or 6 I realized that we all die, and he goes on to say, you mean this doesn’t go on forever, we have to die ? Doesn’t that ruin everything?”
So WhaDaYaThink ? What do you think? Are you a Woody Allen fan? What is your favorite Woody Allen film?

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What happened to Good Audio Film Commentary?

August 6th, 2011 by Michael Tabor
I relish good audio film commentary and it saddens me that the quality and the quantity have diminished significantly (monumental understatement). The reason this is the case is obvious – demand and MONEY. DVD sales are way down and practically obsolete; it seems as if we would rather stream our movies than buy the physical product. The headline is really a rhetorical one and I could very well have stated ‘why consumers are no longer interested in DVDs, CDs, and books’. That is a whole other Op-ed blog and in this particular blog, I just want to write about how much I miss those great film commentaries.
I will not spill much ink on the history and demise of the DVD and the onset of film commentary but I just want to point out that the film commentary was initially a marketing tool for the laserdisc. It could obviously hold so much more information than VHS and so to justify the price disparity and available space, the early laserdisc and especially the Criterion Collection provided first-rate film commentary. After the laserdisc, the DVD continued with the special features and the outstanding film commentary, which is the very gist of this blog.
I was so incredibly spellbound with the audio commentary. Imagine the director or a film scholar for the older films walking you through scene by scene with so much information that going to film school seemed superfluous and maybe even a waste of money (self-taught, right?). I am not in the motion picture business but I am a film aficionado and my favorite class of all time was film studies in high school. Our teacher was passionate and intelligent and though I was an avid and zealous film buff since childhood, Mr. Robert Sippie (my teacher) disclosed to my very naïve eyes to what depths serious film study could reach. I realized that film could be just as important as literature. “Citizen Kane” was no longer just a boring old movie about some American newspaper magnate but, it was a movie, abounding with pioneering, unprecedented film angles, images, symbolism, allusions, and everything one would expect if he were reading James Joyce or Nathaniel Hawthorne. (Incidentally this may seem ironic but I don’t like the film ‘Citizen Kane’ nor do I particularly care about many movies made before 1970 but, Orson Welles transformed mere motion pictures into an art form.)
I mistakenly thought that Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Hearts of Darkness’ was the progenitor and the success of which was the reason for inserting audio film commentary onto a DVD. It’s true that very often the behind the scenes stuff is better than the actual movie. Especially if the commentator is great at shedding light on the film and the movie perhaps has some esoteric elements. I have literally seen movies I initially thought I disliked but, after having watched the commentary, I sometimes could see a film over with a new eye and understanding.
There are a handful of directors who are consistently superb with audio commentary: Francis Ford Coppola of course; I think he is the paradigm of the art. David Fincher is always very interesting and William Friedkin (The Exorcist and The French Connection) directed a movie called ‘Bug’ which I thought was good but his commentary was absolutely outstanding; he covered every part of the film posing interesting questions, universal questions and issues regarding good and evil and the choices we make and the consequences of our actions. This apparently small movie was evidently deeper and more profound than I initially thought.
So whadyathink ? Are you a film audio commentary fan? I sometimes like the commentary better than the movie itself, are you like me?
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A Closer Look at The Great Actor, John Cazale – Who?

June 26th, 2011 by Michael Tabor

Yes, unless you are a film aficionado you will more than likely not recognize the name – John Cazale, even though he appeared in and had an instrumental role in 5 of the greatest movies ever made. The few people who do recognize him are usually Godfather fans and know him as Fredo, the weak older brother of Michael Corleone; they will not however be able to recall his real name –John Cazale. Although Mr. Cazale did not by any means play the “lead’ I could say without any hesitation that without Fredo, The Godfather and The Godfather II would certainly not be the great movies that they are. (Many film scholars rank The Godfather and The Godfather II as the greatest films ever made, including myself.) I would even go out on a limb and say the movies could not be done without him. I have seen The Godfather I & II more than 3 dozen times (I am not exaggerating) and some of the most memorable and indelible scenes etched in my mind are the scenes of which John Cazale is apart. There are good actors and there are great actors. John Cazale unquestionably fell into the latter category and what added to his greatness was the way he played these unique and very unflattering character roles with a style that has and had never been seen before. What happened though? How did John Cazale fall through the cracks and not become a household name like Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro ? Interestingly enough, De Niro and Al Pacino both have stated that John Cazale was the greatest actor they have ever worked with. Pacino went so far as to say that Cazale changed his life and made him, he himself Al Pacino, a better actor. The one reason and really the main reason was that his film career lasted only 6 years (he was an actor his whole life and did theater before film but it was in fact just 6 years of film work). John Cazale sadly succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 42 and was very sick when he did his last film, The Deer Hunter . One may ask, how could one work when one is that sick? (John was throwing up blood, was pale as a specter, had dark circles under his eyes, etc.) . Meryl Streep said in an oddly, endearing and comical way that John always looked sick even before he was diagnosed. I was happy to find that there was a short documentary (40 min.) about John Cazale called I Knew it was you: Rediscovering John Cazale (I recommend this to everyone – short but solid). In this documentary, Robert De Niro stated that (Meryl Streep was John Cazale’s fiancée at the time. They frequently alluded to the fact that though John was no looker he always had a beautiful woman by his side) he never saw 2 people so deeply in love and when he thinks of Meryl Streep, he doesn’t think of her incredible body of work, but rather how wonderfully caring and loving she was towards John. She stayed at John’s bedside to the very end. Look at the films John Cazale was in: The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather II, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. Wow! He was in only five films but they were films that are arguably five of the greatest films ever made. If John Cazale lived out a normal life – perhaps another 30 years of work; John Cazale died right before the release of The Deer Hunter in 1978. What would have become of him? I could only imagine what greatness he could have left for us. I will end this Op-ed blog by mentioning just a few scenes in which John Cazale appeared that will stay with me forever: · Towards the end of The Godfather II, there is an exchange between Pacino and Cazale (I believe it was there last talk before Fredo gets whacked) at lake Tahoe in the patio room overlooking the lake and Michael says he has always taken care of Fredo. Fredo who had been slouching in his recliner and attempting to explain and apologize for his behavior reacts to Michael’s comment and erupts – “taken care of me? You are my kid brother and you take care of me…the acting doesn’t get better than this, not to mention the intensity of this dramatic scene. · In Godfather I – Fredo’s inept attempt to use a gun and rescue his father (Brando – “The Don”) and his reaction afterwards. · In The Deer Hunter – Cazale forgets his hunting boots and De Niro, though he has an extra pair refuses to lend them to Cazale – watch this exchange, it is one of my favorite parts of the movie. · Dog Day Afternoon – The whole movie Cazale is intense and nervous throughout. Both Pacino and Cazale are phenomenal. I am not sure if words can adequately describe their performances. I must mention just one funny and sad moment in the film, which occurs when Pacino asks Cazale to which country he would like to go in order to escape and Sal replies (Cazale) “Wyoming.” I could write a book. Please watch the 5 aforementioned movies and watch John Cazale. He was surrounded by greatness in every movie but had he lived, John Cazale may have been the greatest actor of all time. R.I.P. John Cazale – I always thought you were special. We love your comments. So WHADAWETHINK?

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Film Review – Waking Life, 2001, Directed by Richard Linklater

June 13th, 2011 by Michael Tabor

Waking Life ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time. It Is on my top 10 movies of all-time list and coming from someone who as seen perhaps every great movie ever made, that is saying something.
I own the DVD and I watch some of it at least once a month. However, I hardly sit straight through the entire movie again because it is so rife with intellectual profundities that it is just almost impossible to take in and chew and absorb all of that great wisdom. I will usually watch ten minutes or so and just get swept off my feet by the sage insight. This is a critically acclaimed film but certainly there are detractors who will point out that the film is pretentious and over the top. I do understand that if a person is not serious about film and is one who just wants to be entertained then yes this movie would not be for you. This movie is difficult and I was dizzy with awe-inspiring thoughts after my first viewing. I immediately inserted the disc, watched it over again, and knew immediately that this was a film I would never get sick of and had to purchase the disc.
The film is in animation and the technique utilized is rotoscoping, which is simply tracing over the live-action filming of real life. I love the fact that Richard Linklater decided to film it this way. In fact, I am not sure the film would have had the same impact on me if it were done any other way. A certain person whom I am very close to said that she does not like it because it feels like she has just ingested a tab of LSD. It has that half real and half cartoon look – it is a real mind-bending look, which is exactly what Linklater wanted. This is a movie after all about, consciousness, dreams, reality, etc. so what an apropos form to film this way because dreams are weird but very often feel real and I think the perfect word is surreal.
So allow me to tell you what the film is about. This is a movie, which is impossible to spoil, and this is the case because there is not much of a plot. The protagonist is in a dream and ends up interacting with some of the most intelligent and interesting people one will ever meet. They all speak like college professors and everything under the sun is discussed from as I mentioned earlier: reality, dreams, consciousness, politics, and existentialism – in fact all types of philosophy are touched upon. It talks about the future, how to lead as the Greeks would say “the good life”, and really it is all about the meaning of life. There is an eastern flavor to much of the philosophy, which is what rings true and resonates with me most. What’s so great about the film is that it presents highly complex philosophical teachings and makes it accessible to the lay person. (Some people disagree with me here and but I have seen the movie several times and none of the language is superfluous and intellectually pretentious. It is all couched in the proper way and is all crystal clear.)
Please see this movie! This movie has changed my life and is actually still changing my way of thinking because I am continually watching this gem – a rotoscopic, animated, cerebral, genre-breaking film. This is one of a kind. By the way if you end up turning off the movie after 15 minutes and then watching 15 minutes more the next night until completion, you’re not alone. There is so much to digest, and it is exactly the way I watch the film. (Yes – still, I will probably be watching bits and pieces of this for the rest of my life.)
So WHADAWETHINK ? Have you seen Waking Life? What are your thoughts about it? Obviously, Richard Linklater did not come up with a new philosophy, he just gathered all the interesting aspects of the discipline and presented it in a highly original way. The only criticism I have for the film is that there is maybe too much information crammed into one movie. One acquaintance of mine said if he wanted to get “super-deep” like this, he would have stayed home and read his college philosophy textbook. My response is this is a perfect DVD film, watch a little at a time, and cherish the wisdom, which has been known since time immemorial.
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The Difficult Art of Filmmaking

May 23rd, 2011 by Michael Tabor

Norman Mailer (renowned American novelist, 1923 – 2007) stated a few years before his death that if he were a young man today, his dream would to be a great director of films. He went on to say that in his youth everyone fantasized about being the great American novelist – which he in fact turned into a reality. He went on to say that today he could think of nothing more satisfying than bringing one’s artistic vision to film; using actors like pawns, directing the cinematographer to create one’s aesthetic vision, utilizing camera angles, the use of sound, post-production, directing, writing,  and orchestrating  everything not unlike a great general of vast armies.
I do not recall to whom Mr. Mailer made this statement but if he had said it to Woody Allen, I am sure Woody would have said something to the effect of “Well have fun trying because it’s impossible buddy!”Woody Allen was once questioned what his own favorite movies were. If memory serves me right, I believe he said Matchpoint was because the final product came closest to the artistic vision he had in his mind – more so than to any other film he had ever directed before – and it still was not right.
When a writer like John Banville writes a sentence such as: “All morning under a milky sky the waters in the bay had swelled, rising to unheard-of heights, the small waves creeping over parched sand that for years had known no wetting save for rain and lapping the very bases of the dunes. ” Try creating that image onto film and see if you can do it?(On the flip side there are visual images that are impossible to put into words.) The aforementioned is of a very particular setting.

Try to conceptualize the characters you have created and see if you can direct the actors to become the characters you have in your head come to life and have them act exactly the way you envisioned him or her to look or act.
If you are a writer or a painter and you are talented you can artistically express yourself with razor-like precision. There are hundreds of players involved in making a film and it is a team effort in every sense of the word. It is probably impossible to get exactly what you want. I am a film aficionado but I think that 99% of movies that are released are awful. Why are they so bad ? Because it is unspeakably difficult to make a good film because of all the different variables I just mentioned. Let us just say that hypothetically you had a perfect cast with the best cinematographer in the world, now you have to concern yourself with the people underwriting the film. Unfortunately, everything is about money and films exist because unbelievably no matter how awful a movie is, someone, somewhere, at some time thought the piece of garbage could somehow turn out a profit.  Books are so much better than film because typically if someone is reading literature, the individual is smart and the writer does not have to worry about dumbing it down or making it more accessible to the reader. Fortunately, we are getting better films because Independent Niche films make it possible and the director’s hands are not tied down as much. The only problem is finding investors who share or can relate to your dream.
Here is another problem – length. The perfect film would probably have to be about 20 hours long. Character development that is so important and essential for any good story takes time. A few select films like the Godfather was able to do this to a certain degree. I hate sit-coms, weekly TV dramas and Soap Operas but people are drawn to them because they get to know the characters. That is why the Sopranos has worked (one of the reasons). I have probably seen every great movie known to man and nothing comes close to the great books I have read. Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying; there are good movies and occasionally I’ll get that euphoric feeling a person feels from reading a great book. I average watching about a movie a night and lately it seems that I say to myself maybe once every 4 months – “wow, that film wasn’t half bad. Good acting and good cinematography”.
I will close this blog by saying that occasionally there are moments in film that are so awe-inspiring that only film can deliver with the poignancy that an artist is looking for or sometimes it is a scene that just happens accidentally. It is rare but it does happen. This can only happen when self-consciousness completely disappears and the actors forget they are acting and something magical happens. That is why I love film.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. A subject this arcane is difficult to make crystal clear in 750 words and I hope I managed to lucidly make my point.
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Film Review: ‘Michael Clayton’, 2007, Directed by Tony Gilroy

May 18th, 2011 by Michael Tabor

This four-star thriller/legal Drama where most of the action happens outside of the courtroom is such a joy to watch. The main protagonist, Michael Clayton, adroitly played by George Clooney is known in the legal industry as a “Fixer” – yes I know – what is a fixer? A fixer is an attorney who does not practice law but rather puts out fires. Michael Clayton refers to himself as a “janitor”, he’s charming, smart, is connected to everyone, uses his influence and finds legal loopholes. He is not only good at what he does, he is the best, and he works for one the most prestigious Law Firms in the world. If one listens to the commentary it is made crystal clear that “Fixers” exist in real life and everyone in the know is aware of this fact.
Anyway if the movie is flawed, it’s because it’s a little confusing in the beginning and in some other parts but after seeing the movie twice (that’s the beauty of DVD, besides it’s better the second time) it’s easy as pie to follow along. Anyway, the movie starts out showing Michael Clayton playing poker with some serious players and based on the dialogue it becomes clear that Clayton probably has a gambling problem. He is interupted by a phone call by his boss/lawyer and this establishes the fact that he works for a law firm but in what capacity we are not sure yet.
It’s the middle of the night and Michael Clayton is on his way to help, we assume, a very important client. He also is not aware nor is the audience at this time cognizant of the fact that two men who want to kill him are also following him. Clayton reaches his destination and it is clear that this client is super-rich and has just been involved in a hit and run. The client is very upset and is initially irate that MC is as cool as a cucumber. The client starts ranting, raving, and states that he’s going to call MC’S boss. Clayton softly says “maybe you weren’t driving the car.” Scene ends
It’s almost morning and it looks like MC is going home. As you will see later in the film MC has a habit of just driving aimlessly to allay stress. Clayton is taking in the beautiful landscape and he then spots 4 beautiful horses. MC stops his car and goes up to greet the gorgeous animals. Then –BOOM! His car explodes. Are you confused?  I’ve written 425 words and the film has just started.
The film now jumps back to 4 days earlier. We find out Michael owes money to some loan shark concerning a failed business deal with his brother ( this part of the movie is a little vague and not developed real well but it’s good enough to know he owes $$.) The real crux of the story is that MC works for perhaps the most prestigious law firm in the world- Kenner, Bach & Ledeen, and  throughout the years, being the fixer for this firm MC has been a key pawn in the success the firm. We also know that YES, the law firm is successful but all their clients are crooked and dishonest. This story is about their biggest client, U-North (an agricultural products conglomerate) who is being leveled with a multi-billionaire dollar class action suit against it because many of their products carry carcinogens and as a result, several people have died.
U-North knows they are definitely going to be fined but it wants to settle and stay in business. A problem has arisen when Arthur Edens (magnificently played by Tom Wikenson) the best attorney money can buy stops taking his medication (he’s also bi-polar) and does something incredibly bizarre at the deposition (I won’t spoil it for you) and jeopardizes the entire case. The message of the film is that his behavior had nothing to do whatsoever with his action but rather he grew a conscience. Nevertheless, the law firm brings in MC – “The Fixer” to get Edans into shape in order to help U-North and salvage a settlement.
A lot of action takes place from this point on until the end of the movie. So I won’t spoil this, I’ll just  mention that since Edens has grown a conscience and he knows that U-North ‘s products are killing scores of people, Edens intends on filing a suit against his own client –  U-North.
If I write anymore I’ll give away the whole movie so I’ll stop here and just encourage you to go see the movie – it’s great. There is so much more to come and the tension and intrigue just builds.  Oh, I must mention the fact that Clooney’s acting is superb as usual but Tilda Swinton, who plays the role as U-North’s general counsel (Karen Crowder), is outstanding. At the end of film, There is an interaction between Michael Clayton and Karen Crowder that is absolutely PRICELESS! That one scene alone is worth the price of the movie.
Well enough out of me. WHADAWETHINK ? Have you seen Michael Clayton? If not this is a must- see film and if you have seen it, see it again.
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Film Review: ‘Noice’ -2005, Directed by Tony Spiridakis

May 15th, 2011 by Michael Tabor

Life is short and art is long which is the reason I am very selective when it comes to watching film. I watch many movies and I do not want to waste precious time watching garbage. Having said that,  I think VHS, DVD, AND Netflix is an absolute dream come true. I can watch any movie in the world instantaneously. (Or maybe wait a day or two.)   I am a serious film viewer (I watch movies just for fun too – I’m not a film snob)and I fell in love with movies when I was a child. (I believe I’ve blogged about this so I won’t elaborate again).
Today’s movie is ‘Noise’ – 2007, written and directed by Tony Spiridakis.  Be careful to get the right one because there are two other films out there with the same name. This is a hard –to – find independent gem in every sense of the words. It’s a psychological and suspenseful thriller that leaves you on the edge of your seat but it is subtle and understated. (Subtlety, good direction, and good acting means everything to me. I want to become engrossed, get into the characters’ shoes, and forget that I am watching a movie.)
If you have ever had an apartment for any length of time, it’s impossible not to identify with this film on some level. This film is also clearly a homage to Roman Polanski; A stunningly beautiful woman who is completely innocent of any wrongdoing and becomes victim of some of the most wicked things.
Joyce Chandler (Trish Goff )is a recent divorcee, who’s trying to get her life back together; she  lands a job with a company as a copywriter and also finds  what seems like a perfect apartment in the village, N.Y.C. but soon realizes that her neighbor directly upstairs from her is a noisy “nut-job”   who is keeping her awake all night.  Incidentally the lunatic in the upstairs apartment is played by Ally Sheedy and her name is Charlotte Bancroft ; and her performance as this annoying- beyond- words woman is simply amazing. In addition, while I am on the topic of acting, it’s Trish Goff’s (a “Supermodel”) first film role and she is stupendous. As a matter of fact the whole cast is phenomenal even in the small bit roles. The cast is made up of seasoned actors (mostly theater) and they were all amazed at how astonishingly natural Trish Goff is. The director, Tony spiridakis was shocked how good she was; sure she’s beautiful but an off the charts actor to boot – and her first film role. She makes acting look easy.
Joyce initially tries to handle the situation civilly, writes a note, and leaves it under Charlotte’s door. Presumably, the next day or so Charlotte knocks on Joyce’s door and Charlotte and Joyce meet for the first time. Charlotte apologizes, and maybe goes on a little too long but Joyce thinks that things are now all “peachy-keen’. WRONG! Things get worse – a lot worse. Charolette continues to blast the stereo and TV and will not let poor Joyce get any rest.
The one person Joyce has befriended, Giancarlo Esposito (Hank), tells her to simply move out and find another apartment.  Joyce is obstinate – she will not relent and give in to this terrible person. She even devises a plan ( I won’t tell you and spoil it for you) but the crazy woman upstairs continues to torture her and and things get even worse.
At this point in the film, Joyce’s world is falling apart – she starts drinking heavily and becomes promiscuous, loses her job and the viewer at this point starts to wonder whether or not she is losing her mind.
I think I have given you enough information without giving everything away. This really is a wonderful movie and can be viewed on so many different levels (just like all good movies). The question is, maybe Joyce is imagining things at some point. There are lots of things to think about and ponder over when watching this simple but well-acted gem.  I’ll give you one hint – Joyce is very guilty about something and it is haunting her.
So WHADAWETHINK ? Have you seen this movie ? If not, add it to Netflix or buy it at Amazon (I, personally own the DVD). Good movies can always be watched more than once. Enjoy and thanks for reading my blog. Many of my readers have been requesting that I do more Film reviews. I will try to do one a day, as well as continue on with the other good stuff.

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Film Review: Greenberng, 2010 – Directed by Noah Baumbach

May 13th, 2011 by Michael Tabor
The standard for rating a movie is the four star method. Using this standard, I rate ‘Greenberg’ , Directed by Noah Baumbach (one of my favorite directors) 3 and a half to even 4 stars.
Before I even begin my review, I have to just say that Ben Stiller is without question one of the finest film actors out there. He is not just a great comedic actor but he is also an outstanding dramatic actor as well.
I loved the movie ‘Greenberg’ and in fact, I know someone in real life who is exactly like the main character – Roger Greenberg. I watched the movie for the third time last night and perhaps it wasn’t as good as the first time I viewed it (maybe because I was pausing and taking notes for this review) but nevertheless, what a fine and realistic black dramatic comedy this film is.
The movie begins showing a typical middle-class family in Los Angeles preparing for a trip of some kind. You soon find out that they are going on a business trip to Vietnam. (How odd to hear the name “Vietnam” and for me what sticks in my mind is that long and awful war – I am 47. How things change, obviously for the better in this case). The proprietor’s assistant, Florence (Greta Gerwig) and the soon – to – arrive – from – New York- brother – Roger Greenberg are going to take care of the house and handle all of the family’s affairs including taking care of the dog. (The dog plays quite a significant role in this movie – you will see what I mean.) The family also informs Florence that Roger Greenberg is not quite right in the head and that he was recently released from a mental hospital. Nevertheless, the family assures her that he is harmless and she has nothing to worry about and he will probably be spending most of his time building a doghouse for Mahler (the dog).
Now this movie falls under the genre of comedy/drama but be advised the humor is dark, deadpan, subtle, understated, and weighty. This is not a laugh out loud movie like say the movie ‘The Hangover’. Your more than likely response will probably be not of laughter but rather you may feel a sense of incredulity, pity and perhaps some sadness. I.e. Roger is socially retarded and he probably has Asperger’s disease but he’s completely functional and makes a living as a carpenter. This is definitely not a movie which bashes people who are socially inept because as you will see Roger can handle himself and can very often be mean-spirited.
In addition to being a social misfit, Roger suffers from arrested development. Roger is very immature. For example, when Roger and an old friend attend a barbeque/party, Roger seeing all the children around, makes a comment “what is this a kid’s party?” Obviously, he’s not cognizant of the fact that he’s 40 years old and most of his old friends have kids. Roger also wants to restart his old band and get back with his old girlfriend from 20 years ago.
There are no special effects and certainly, there is no sidesplitting laughter but it is rather a slice of life focusing on two people. I read one review that stated that it is a story about 2 lost souls – Florence and Roger. I disagree completely; Roger is the only “lost soul” here, Florence is perfectly normal except that she is shy and perhaps suffers from a low self-esteem. (Hey unless you’re Mr. or Ms. Popularity, most kids her age suffer from identity problems.)
I have a notebook full of scenes I particularly liked but I will not spoil it for you. Go see the movie. I loved it and if you are interested in a slice of life, this movie is for you. Let me just leave you with something roger says to the 20 something crowd that throw a party at the house. Roger is mean, socially inept ,  immature, oh and he writes lot of complaint letters (watch the movie – this is funny) but he does have some insight. I.e. Roger asks the young people what it is like growing up now, having been raised by us (the “cool,” tail end of the baby-boomer generation). Roger goes on to say that this generation is too confident, insensitive and disrespectful toward older people. He shares with the youngsters that despite the fact that Roger is old enough to be their father, the kids have no respect whatsoever and Greenberg quips “I’m older and smarter than you kids but yet you talk to me in a blithe and condescending manner.”
So WHADAWETHINK? If  you haven’t seen the movie, see it. If you have, what did you think of it? I look forward to lots of comments.

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Movie Reviews: ‘Panic’, 2000 – Directed by Henry Bromell

May 12th, 2011 by Michael Tabor

I am a film aficionado and have probably reviewed maybe 3 films on my blog thus far – NOTE: I’ve only been blogging for 6 months – anyway a fan of my blog enjoyed my reviews so much that he suggested  that I do more film reviewing.(Who knows maybe Roger Ebert will hire me). I do not want to abandon the great stuff (lol) I already write about but I figured since I watch on average a film a night, why not write about them ? Here is the thing – I do not go to the cinema and generally speaking don’t like mainstream movies. I am a true film lover. In addition, there are only about 3 dozen movies that were made before 1970 that I liked (Hitchcock, Bergman, Fellini, and a few others.) Since I don’t go to the cinema and since I don’t have to see them immediately (we have a large hi-def., flat-screen TV which we can pause to go to the bathroom and eat the food of our choice, etc.) it’s perfect. Lastly, if there were never a movie made again, there still would be an over-abundance of great films to watch. This is a coincidence but Rotten Tomatoes first review was ‘your Friends and Neighbors’ and so was mine except Rotten Tomatoes reviewed it immediately (1999) and I reviewed it a couple of months ago. Not to sound immodest but I think  my review is longer and so much better. The comments are better than mine are however –I’m just a baby they’re huge.  If this takes off for me I promise to review movies as soon as they come out. Anyway, here we go! I have two notebooks full of movies I’ve seen since I was a teenager. I ‘ve watched close to 5,000 films. What I’ll do is watch a movie I haven’t seen yet and review it or I‘ll go back to one of the movies I’ve seen, watch it again and write about it. Also I won’t spoil the movie for you – no spoilers.
Okay you know the rules so the first movie I am going to review is ‘Panic’ because I ended up watching it last night (DVD from Netflix.) I never heard of the director (Henry Bromell is more of a TV guy than Film) but the cast was awesome – William H’ Macy (Fargo – need I say more), Neve Campbell (as pretty as a girl can get and she knows it but that’s part of the appeal), Donald Sutherland (Truly one of the all-time greats and probably under-rated. He is way better than his son) and John Ritter (another fine actor who died too young; although I hated him in that inane sit-com back in the 1970s ‘Three’s company).
The film begins with the wonderful William H. Macy shown having a therapy session with his psychologist (John Ritter). It’s apparent that it’s not his first session because he says that he feels a little lighter in his step because he has met a beautiful girl (Neve Campbell)l in the waiting room of the therapists office and he’s starting to fall for her. The movie then snaps back to that first meeting when he and Neve met. She seems to be your typical early twenty something girl with just a touch of neurosis and he on the other hand seems awkward and emotionally undeveloped, almost childlike (he is probably fortyish) and it somehow makes him endearing. Their conversation and the way they interact is rather “cute”. It is interesting that when Sarah (Neve’s character) is asked by her co-worker and friend if she thinks he is cute, Sarah responds and says not at all, “He’s beautiful. He has the saddest blue eyes I have ever seen.)
Alex (Macy’s character) has divulged to Dr. Parks (Ritter’s character) the fact that he is a kills people for a living and doesn’t very much like what he does. What’s prodigiously curious is that he dislikes it for reasons most people wouldn’t quite understand. The fact that he is killing people he does not know for money doesn’t faze him much (he’s even bored by the whole thing). Oh and he also works for his father – it’s a family business- yes it’s a black comedy not unlike Fargo. Alex is a very unhappy man because his parents forced him into the business. Yes Mom knows too but that’s it (she actually helped Donald Sutherland with starting the business. The revelation of this part of the movie is just a little over the top for my tastes. There is actually a moment when mom scolds Alex for his yearning to get out of the business – very unrealistic and silly but still a watchable film)
This isn’t a great movie and the film is not without flaws but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Macy is perfectly cast as the sad man who is dominated by his father. In addition, Sutherland is funny as the super macho dad. I won’t give any more of the plot away, at this point I’ll wrap up, and now it’s time to tell you to go see the movie. It’s not great but I promise you won’t be bored.
WHADAWETHINK ? Have you seen ‘Panic’? It’s curious that I’m reviewing this mediocre film because I have probably seen every great film ever made. Having stated the aforementioned I am still glad I watched this movie.

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