Tag Archives: Doug Benson

49 of 366: The Act of Killing

This may not be a fitting introduction to a post about a very dark and hard to watch documentary, but Doug Benson mentioned my movie challenge progress during one of his Doug Loves Minis episodes this week. I heard it this morning and had an extreme geek-out moment when he mentioned my Three Kings post and how that is his favorite David O. Russell movie.

I don’t expect that he has read my blog, but I was happy to make it into the mix of other fans he has mentioned for their movie challenge status and want to say that so far this challenge has been very positive in my life as a goal I know I can accomplish this year and who knows where it will take me. So thank you, Mr. Benson.



There really is no proper segue from that to The Act of Killing, so I am just going to get into it. I rented the film so I could ultimately keep up with seeing the Oscar nominees this year, including the follow-up to The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence.

The first of the two focuses on Indonesia in 1965 after the government is overthrown by the military and anyone who challenges the new leaders was considered a communist and ultimately killed.

The killing came from gangsters in the country with a reputation for violence and who willingly formed death squads to execute the supposed traitors. They killed more than a million people and their leader, Anwar Congo, did many of the acts with his own hands. They used inhumane, brutal practices and supposedly felt no wrongdoing or remorse. They used violence they had seen in the movies and when The Act of Killing came about were tasked with reenacting or retelling what they did in 1965 as they saw fit.

The result in the film by Joshua Oppenheimer is an open look into their madness translated into of movie of its own to show how they plotted the deaths. Throughout the documentary and making of Anwar’s movie,  I just kept trying to uncover or analyze what they really felt about their acts.

Did they have to do it? Did they deep down think it was wrong or struggle with taking so many human lives using extreme violence?

For the most part I thought it was hard to tell, but Anwar was left with nightmares and some struggle with it — on what level is unclear.

Of course it’s never even close to the point where you feel bad for them, and you wonder if participating in the new film was just a push for more attention on what they did, but in the end how the story was told was effective. Other than that, it leaves many unanswered questions. My manager at work, no spoilers here really, told me there was some controversy about the final scene of the film and that the timing of when it happened  was not consistent with its placement in the story, causing some over-dramatization.

My first reaction was I wanted to read more about the controversy, but then I decided I would rather not know. It is unsettling, to say the least, that what the death squad members did  was allowed and how they have carried on in their lives since then.

It’s important to see The Act of Killing and come to your own conclusion. It’s as much educational about that point in history as it is disturbing and heartbreaking on all sides.

I will leave it at that and, even though I am sure it is equally if not more dark, I look forward to watching The Look of Silence. From what I know it focuses on the victims’ side of what happened and I am trying to go into watching it without any more details.

Maybe it will complete the picture of The Act of Killing, or present more questions, but from what I have seen so far both films are new accomplishments in storytelling worth seeing for that reason and so many more.








47 of 366: World of Tomorrow


Watching a 16-minute film may be cheating in this challenge, but it just worked after seeing part of The Act of Killing tonightI will finish watching it, but for some reason I just couldn’t get into a documentary about genocide this evening. It was late so I opted for Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, a story about a little girl and a look ahead at times more than 200 years into her future.

Hertzfeldt presents a study of time travel, memories, human emotion (much like in It’s Such a Beautiful Day) through the eyes of someone young enough to not know what it all means.

Hertzfeldt’s animation is also somewhat similar to It’s Such a Beautiful Day, but with more abstract  images and color as the girl,  Emily, experiences a small portion of her future.

It’s no surprise that the film, streaming on Netflix, is getting praise from critics and could take home the Oscar for best animated short film.

I may be one of the last people to learn about Hertzfeldt, but I will say he is a filmmaker to watch and it’s worth taking a look at some of his past work if you have the time. Even his website, without watching any of the videos, is a visual masterpiece.

“I am very proud of my sadness, because it means I am more alive. I no longer fall in love with rocks,” Emily in World of Tomorrow.

All for now, I better sign off before I fall asleep at my computer again.




20 of 366: Strictly Ballroom


Strictly Ballroom is understated for writer and director Baz Luhrmann, and he really doesn’t do understated. His signature bright-colored costumes and makeup were there, but the overall the pace of the film is a bit slower than Luhrmann’s later work such as Moulin Rouge or The Great Gatsby.

The heart of Strictly Ballroom is a solid dance competition film/ugly duckling story based on Scott Hastings’ (Paul Mercurio) ballroom career and his family’s push for him to find the right partner who will keep him in the limelight and as a top contender at the competitive level.

Scott has been dancing since he was a kid and wants to do just that, not be the most popular one with the prettiest partner.

His partner jumps ship after Scott goes rogue with his own moves in an early competition, sending his mother into a frenzy to do whatever it takes for the one and only Tina Sparkle to be his next dance-floor companion.

All the while Scott, who 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die contributor Ernest Hardy, describes as “devastatingly sexy,is practicing with Fran (Tara Morice) in secret.

The rooftop dance scenes between Fran and Scott are right up there with Dirty Dancing (not to mention Center Stage and the classic Step Up) and she inspires Scott to try more new steps on the dance floor.

The line “You really are a gutless wonder!” certainly put Scott in his place early on in his partnership with Fran and I hope one day I have a legitimate reason to say that to someone.

Strictly Ballroom does have some clichés in terms of Fran’s character, such as when she takes off her big plastic glasses to dance and suddenly appears pretty and starts wearing makeup (what would later become known as the She’s All That syndrome) and how Scott’s family and coaches believe he could never date — or even dance with — a woman like Fran.

The clichés are far from weaknesses of the film and don’t take away from how it brings together ballroom dancing cliques and quarrels over the future of Scott Hastings and Tina Sparkle while he is really falling for Fran.

There have been a lot of dance movies since 1992 and Strictly Ballroom holds true to the formula of competition drama, love and music while establishing its own influence of the genre for years to come.

“If you say run, I’ll run with you
If you say hide, we’ll hide
Because my love for you
Would break my heart in two
If you should fall
Into my arms
And tremble like a flower.”

David Bowie 




12 of 366: Heathers


Lunchtime poll for all of you who saw Heathers in its heyday: Does it hold up?

I am enough of a Christian Slater fan-girl to say it does, but I only just watched the film yesterday and don’t have the same nostalgia for it as the masses of people who I hope saw it in 1988 or before that decade was over.

It didn’t make it into the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die book, at least not yet, but Heathers’ cult classic reputation makes it worth revisiting or watching it for the first time.

I don’t know if it influenced Clueless (in the Must See book) or Mean Girls (not a must see);  but there are some similarities between Heathers and those films that show it was ahead of its time as far as the makings of a teen classic.

The difference is Heathers has more of a dark side as Veronica (Winona Ryder) and J.D. (Christian Slater) navigate their way through a violent plot to bring down the popular kids and then eventually turn on each other.

The film could be too dark if made today, but it works for 1988 and if you keep in mind the societal environment at that time.

Despite my very new exposure to Heathers, its oddities and cult classic reputation from the time I was 7-years-old already make it hold a special place in my heart.

“We live for just these twenty years. Do we have to die for the fifty more?”

– David Bowie, Young Americans


11 of 366: Altered States


I still don’t know exactly what to think about Altered States, but I will say I enjoyed pondering the film and William Hurt’s wardrobe  (when he has one) in between writing about money and debt and all that jazz today at work.

I don’t watch a lot of science fiction movies, but I did like the juxtaposition of Eddie Jessup’s (William Hurt) scientific quest to explore sensory deprivation and hallucinogenic drugs against his relationship and family life with Emily (Blair Brown) presented in Altered States.

The effects were impressive for 1980 and really brought out the film’s weirdness and Jessup’s dedication to finding out if different states of consciousness can cross over into reality.

Deep down I like to think that director Ken Russel and writer Paddy Chayefsky, who also penned the novel the film is based on, really wanted the viewer to question how far the characters would go for love or their career, or both.

What would it take for a William Hurt-type in the late 1960s to realize he can be in love?

In this case, it’s some weird stuff that I will never fully understand but he does fall in love. Maybe that’s all he ever wanted. I might watch this movie again someday or read the book, but not in 2016. I have to move on with my own quest. 355 to go!
Stars: 2 1/2 out of 4.
“Turn and face the strange / Ch-ch-changes / Oh look out now you rock and rollers / Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older.”

8 of 366: Sisters


I had a dream about the movie Sisters the other night and how Kate (Tina Fey) and Maura (Amy Poehler) never had the epic “Ellis Island” party I was promised would play out on screen because I saw it in the trailer.

Instead the two characters just talked a lot and worked out their sisterly issues and that was it.

Fortunately the film version of this story delivered on the epic party and the sisterly stuff rather than just meaningful dialogue. Poehler and Fey could probably manage to make that funny, too.

Their chemistry makes a movie that would otherwise be yet another (somewhat) raunchy comedy about a house party gone wrong into a story that people on the older side of the Millennials generation and beyond can relate to.

That is the power of TiPo.

Kate and Maura’s plan to host a party in their childhood home before it is sold to new owners comes pretty early on in the story after some character development to show that Kate is the sister who doesn’t have her life together and Maura is the opposite.

Maura learns about the news that their parents plan to sell the house first and flies to Orlando to try to talk them out of it before Kate finds out and has a meltdown on the front lawn. (Spoiler alert: the meltdown happens.)

From there, after the party is decided upon and Maura and Kate’s parents are busy getting day-drunk at their retirement community, the sisters switch roles a bit.

Kate promises to stay sober during the party and keep it under control so the house doesn’t get trashed and Maura can live it up.


Enter James (Ike Barinholtz), the cute neighbor who Maura tries to seduce throughout the night with Kate’s encouragement.

Barinholtz and the supporting  characters (many from Saturday Night Live) provide even more comic relief in the film and add to the chaos of the party as the night goes on.

Maya Rudolph plays the one villian, Brinda, who continually tries to sabotage the party when Kate won’t let her stay.

The cast all works together and the jokes that fell flat for me at least weren’t too offensive or raunchy. And as a comedy nerd I can get used to Barinholtz (The Mindy Project) playing a leading man.

Sisters is directed by Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) and written by Paula Pell (Saturday Night Live) and delivers the perfect mix of humor and the heartfelt family business from my dreams.

Stars: 2 1/2 out of 4.

“It’s a hard thing to love anyone anyhow.”

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Hard Way to Fall

7 of 366: Edward Scissorhands


It’s been a long time since I’ve watched Edward Scissorhands all the way through. I used to start to watch it and then get lost in one of the beginning scenes when Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) finds Edward (Johnny Depp) hiding in his castle.

I had to revisit it from start to finish tonight as one of my favorite films and one featured in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

Edward Scissorhands isn’t perfect. “It’s something better: pure magic,” Peter Travers (Rolling Stone, 1990) as quoted in the book.

I think part of the reason I like the beginning of the film so much is because it does fit into that idea of magic and happiness with how the community welcomes Edward into their fictional cookie-cutter world as the backdrop.

Edward, at first, brings a welcome chaos to the community’s organized life and the Boggs take him in without judgment or as much misdirected attention to his “disability” as their neighbors do.

The Boggs remain loyal to Edward and try to help him make a life for himself, but when some people take advantage of his goodwill and not knowing right from wrong the community eventually turns on Edward.

He doesn’t want to hurt anybody but is out of his element after living a sheltered life in a castle where his inventor (Vincent Price in his last film role) died before he could finish his hands.

The real magical, as well as heartbreaking, moments in the film are when Kim (Peg and Bill Boggs’ (Alan Arkin) daughter played by Winona Ryder) and Edward grow close and begin to understand each other but know they cannot stay together.

It is hard to get to that point in what starts out as a happy fairy tale, but Tim Burton’s use of reality within a fable is effective and makes the story complete.

Besides, “You can’t buy the necessities in life with cookies.” – Bill Boggs.

I have to say: 4 out of 4 stars.






6 of 366: Macbeth

macbeth (1)

Macbeth is truly a cinematic experience, which is why I wanted to be able to see it in the theater this week. Luckily, the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Society extended the showings of Macbeth in the Twin Cities after it had a run at the Edina Cinema.

I am still a bit lost in the visuals from Justin Kurzel’s presentation of Macbeth and enamored by the transformation of Michael Fassbender into the title character and Marion Cotillard into Lady Macbeth.

It’s a violent film, which I didn’t like as much, but its creators’ presentation of the battles on screen — sometimes with the use of strong saturated colors — balanced what was hard to watch with something beautiful.

This rendition of Macbeth could easily have been without dialogue to show the rise and fall of the character, but William Shakespeare’s words certainly added to it all and Fassbender and Cotillard made it look very easy to speak in his language and let their emotion, love and internal struggles show through.

(I am sensing a pattern with my star ratings) 3 out of 4 stars.


“The sunset is just my light bulb burning out.” – Ryan Adams



5 of 366: Roman Holiday


Roman Holiday is a fantasy where people hiding their true identities from each other say things like charmed as a greeting and drink champagne and cold coffee at sidewalk cafes in Rome.

The question is when Princess Ann (Audrey Hepburn) and Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) will have to reveal what they know, or suspect, about each other after a day on holiday (and falling in love) in the city.

Bradley is an American journalist in Rome assigned to interview the princess on her schedule, only to encounter her at night after she escapes from her palace in a sleeping-medicine induced stupor.

Despite her confused state, Ann really did want to escape her life of meet-and-greets and fancy gowns for a day to do things she’s always wanted without following orders.

At first, Bradley has a different motive for spending time with Ann — a news article that could take his career to the next level — but that is soon lost when he starts to fall for her.

Peck and Hepburn shine together on screen as they see the sights in Rome.

As happy as they seem, however, the sense that their relationship building in one day is too good to be true is not that far away.

Overall, the music and scenery in this film will take you away as well as the dialogue between Ann and Joe Bradley throughout their day together.

A couple of my favorite lines:

Joe: “You’re not what I’d call trouble.”

Ann: “Would you be so kind as to tell me where I am?

Joe: “Sorry honey, but I haven’t worn a nightgown in years.”

Ann: “I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”

Roman Holiday, the first film in 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die I watched, put Hepburn on the Hollywood map and she earned an Academy Award for her performance.

Dalton Trumbo, the blacklisted screenwriter using Ian McLellan Hunter as a cover, (and the subject of Trumbo in theaters now) was eventually recognized for his work with an Academy Award as well.

1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die contributor Joshua Klein writes that Peck and Hepburn (originally supposed to be Elizabeth Taylor and Cary Grant under director Frank Capra) made the film as strong as it remains today and Trumbo’s work on the story is just as influential.

Director William Wyler ensured the film was made in Rome for it to live up to its name and keep the fantasy going, if only for a moment in time.


4 out of 4 stars.

“Nerdism is an expression of enthusiasm for the thing that you love …I appreciate that definition, of course it is so broad to be meaningless. Whatever nerdism is, it is defined by enthusiasm and wanting to share that enthusiasm with other people.” – John Hodgman on the Nerdist podcast in December 2012.



4 of 366: Good Will Hunting


Boston Magazine

Good Will Hunting (1998, USA, Gus Van Zant, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck) is most certainly a film that has shaped my love of cinema. I don’t know if it’s because of the time in my life when I saw it or because it’s a cinematic “boy genius from Southie” or a combination of the two, but Good Will Hunting is worth watching again, and then again.

I took those notes as I was watching the film tonight only to realize I documented similar thoughts about it in 2013 for a post about five films I could watch over and over again. I didn’t even watch Good Will Hunting again at that time … I just knew.

Here are my thoughts from the post three years ago … “I chose Good Will Hunting because it is one of the many titles I associate with why I love film and I am okay with watching it over and over. This choice probably sounds silly and insignificant among all the other accomplishments in film, but I’ve admired and respected Matt Damon’s career from the beginning. This is my list and I am sticking to it. Now, when I actually have the time, I am going to watch Good Will Hunting again.”

I can’t say I am going to have the time to watch 366 films this year, but I am making the time.

As I watched Good Will Hunting tonightI found myself taking notes on the dialogue between the characters, especially Will and his therapist Sean (Robin Williams) and girlfriend Skylar (Minnie Driver.)

These characters, not to mention his best friend Chuckie (Affleck) break Will down just enough for him to learn what he really wants.

The screenplay by Damon and Affleck has so many good lines and, more importantly, insight into human nature that make it groundbreaking in the world of cinema.

It’s going on 18 years since the film was released in January 1998, and I am glad I watched it during the start of my 365 movies project.

Good Will Hunting is an inspirational story to study as a film and as how Damon and Affleck made it and received critical acclaim that shaped their careers.

“You do what’s in your heart son, [and] you’ll be fine.”

No surprises here … 4 out of 4 stars.

“Motivation is thought of as this magical, glorious, divine energy that takes you over when you need it most, but I have found that that’s mostly bullshit. The process of change isn’t always about having some deep insights into yourself and then deciding to alter your behavior as a result; sometimes it’s about making the changes whether or not your’re “feeling them”–and then letting your insights catch up.”

Emily V. Gordon

Up Next (still as of now): Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (I am waiting for the DVD to arrive) Macbeth, City Lights, Edward Scissorhands, Roman Holiday