Monday, March 27, 2017

CANON OF FILM: "WINGS OF DESIRE"

WINGS OF DESIRE (1987)

Director: Wim Wenders
Screenplay: Wim Wenders,  Peter Hanoke and Richard Reitinger




If I told you the basic story and outline of “Wings of Desire,” you might think it sounded familiar, and you’d be right. The movie was remade in America and called “City of Angels”. That film got mixed reviews, and is now more famous for it’s soundtrack than as a movie. (The Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” must’ve played on the radio for two years straight after it came out, not to mention Alanis Morissette's Grammy-winning "Uninvited" are from this film) Brad Silberling reinvented the film as a tragic-romance chick flick. It's not that that narrative isn't in "Wings...", but the narrative isn't what's important about the film. It's the emotion and feeling.

"Hummer Uber Berlin" which translates directly as "Heaven Over Berlin", but was renamed "Wings of Desire" in most of the English-speaking world, is Wim Wenders best movie and I'd argue that it's in the discussion of one of the best movies ever made, and I'd definitely argue that it's the most spiritually uplifting and life-affirming one. Wenders is one of the New German Cinema filmmakers, along with the likes of R.W. Fassbinder and Werner Herzog reintroduced German cinema to the modern world. Wenders specializes in road movies where his characters are always searching for something, usually something intangible, but not always. He’s made numerous films on both sides of the Ocean, and earned an Oscar nomination for his documentary “Buena Vista Social Club”. I've discussed one of his films before, his best American-made movie,“Paris, Texas,” a masterpiece that like, Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” and Ford’s “The Searchers,” involves a man trying to save a woman who might not want to be saved. That one he made from a script by the famed actor/playwright Sam Shepard, and they reunited again a few years back for “Don’t Come Knocking,” about a troubled Western film actor who leaves a set to travel to Montana to find a son he’s just found out about.

“Wings…,” was purportedly filmed without a script by some accounts, improvised from the original idea, and added characters as they became needed.  With the pre-Berlin Wall falling time period, and its meandering structure might make the film’s metaphors somewhat elusive to some viewers. This isn’t a film for those looking for a plot, and the movie’s climatic moments don’t take place until an hour and a half into the film. The movie follows two angels, Damiel (Bruno Ganz, Germany’s Gerard Depardieu) and Cassiel (Otto Sander); they’re watcher angels who live out eternity, well, watching people, able to hear their thoughts, but unable to touch, feel, smell, or in any way alter the lives of the humans, although occasionally their presence can be sensed mostly be children.

They follow numerous characters, including Homer (Curt Bois) a Holocaust survivor who as an author struggles with his ability to tell stories that must be told. There’s a trapeze artist, Marion (Solveig Dommartin) who fascinates Damiel, eventually falling in love with her. They even run into Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds performing a couple times. Then there’s an American movie star (Peter Falk) making a movie in Berlin. Peter Falk’s casting is ingenious, playing himself, with numerous references to his Lt. Columbo character, another famous character known for questioning thinks he sees around him,  he brings an insouciant sense that combats the film’s weightier themes, making the movie more spiritual and life-affirming oddly enough.

Suggesting that angels are envious to humans is as profound as anything written in any religious text. And, eh, just one more thing, there's multiple scenes in the movie that are just breathtaking and truly unbelievable, for instance, the one shot where both angels  walk through The Berlin Wall from one side of Berlin to the other, or the best use ever, of a film transitioning from black and white to color ever done, yes, better than "The Wizard of Oz", (And btw, Berlin is gorgeous in color, never moreso in this movie) but one of them is when Peter Falk, suddenly seems to be talking to Damiel. "I can't see ya, but I know you're here." He reveals himself, to be a "fallen angel" later, having been in their position, and chose instead to become human and has never regretted it. I guess, to some extent, you could describe this as being a parable to films themselves, an actor talking to us, as he's performing. It's not technically a fourth wall break, but it feels as startling as one. I don't think the parable to film is the intent, the movie isn't about wasting away, it's about experience and life and all that it entails, and how lucky we are to be experiencing it. That's what makes the rest of Falk's monologue to Damiel so powerful.

"...I feel it. You've been hanging around since I got here. I wish I could see your face. Just look into your eyes and tell ya how good it is to be here. Just to touch something. See, that's cool That feel good. Here, the smoke, have coffee, and if you do it together, it's fantastic...." 




Thursday, March 23, 2017

MIXED BAG BLOG #13: "ZOOTOPIA" PLAGARISM LAWSUIT", "PLAGUE OF MEDIOCRE FILMS?" and "DAYTIME EMMY AWARD NOMINEES: INITIAL/ONLY THOUGHTS"!

Well, honestly it's a light week, at least in the entertainment world at the moment and there's not too much going on that I'm particularly interested in thinking too deeply about, and for right now, there's nothing that I really want to bring up either. Honestly, it's kind of a dead space right now, so, with that in mind,...-.

Every so often, when there's nothing going on in the entertainment world that seems important or relevant enough to garner a complete and full review, we do a little Mixed Bag Blog, where we take, a couple quick looks at a few different subjects or events going on in the entertainment world, and we're gonna do one of those today. We're gonna touch on the "Zootopia" plagarism lawsuit, the supposed plague of "passable movies", and finally, a quick glance through the Daytime Emmy Award nominations! That should be fun.


ZOOTOPIA PLAGARISM LAWSUIT-HOLLYWOOD WRITER SUING HOLLYWOOD WRITERS

So, there's a ton of lawsuits every year from people who claim they had the idea for some successful film, and that it was stolen, most of them, don't honestly peak my interest, because, well, first of all, it's very difficult and second of all, they're usually bullshit. Mainly because, as a writer, I know damn well for a fact that, if so-and-so was the actual writer of the work, then they would've written it. Now, I'm fully aware that screenplays often go through a lot of writers and even ghostwriters hands before they end up on screen, hell, I've had experience with that. (None of which I'm gonna talk about, but...) And you know, when somebody says something offhandedly to somebody else, that they have an idea for something and then that person takes that idea and runs with it, and creates something. Yeah, that person with the original half-a-thought, he created nothing and has no right to authorship, at all. If anybody saw that first season of "Smash" which, I liked, but that character who mentioned the idea of doing a Marilyn Monroe musical to the Debra Messing and Christian Borle characters, and then, tried to claim it was his musical and go up the ladder. Yeah, there's a reason he didn't make it to season two. He didn't write shit, he was blackballed, correctly, and it frankly doesn't matter if he had the idea for it. He didn't write it, he didn't create the music, he didn't do shit. He was lucky to serve coffee and spoilers, he fucked that up too. I mean, have you guys see this story?

http://stylemagazine.com/news/2013/nov/20/stewart-wins-biggest-payday-history-hollywood-over/

Yeah, girl won $30million dollars from the Wachowskis claiming that they stole her idea for "The Matrix" movies. Big payday. Here's the problem, it's 100% bullshit. The article isn't even real, and if you look it up, there's like dozenss of hoax-debunking websites proving how wrong it is. The woman did sue, but she lost in court. In fact, she wasn't the only person who sued the Wachowskis over that script, and the other person lost as well by the way. Because, they didn't write it, and there work wasn't the base of the person's work. And nearly everybody in the industry knows this, they usually have a good center of how things happen like this. Occasionally there's a suit that does, tilt a head and raise and eyebrow, the lawsuit over "Gravity" for instance, does seem fishy to some extent, but that ultimately was dropped as well.

So, when another lawsuit like that pops up, I don't normally notice. But, this one, did strike me, mainly because the guy suing is a successful screenwriter, himself. You might have read about it, if not, here it is:

http://variety.com/2017/biz/news/disney-gary-goldman-zootopia-copyright-1202013303/

Disney stealing from somebody else's work and trying to make their own, well, let's,-, (sigh) let's say that they don't have the greatest history of that to begin with, and now they're being sued by Gary Goldman. Goldman, is not your normal plaintiff in this case, he in fact is a successful screenwriter and script doctor who wrote "Big Trouble in Little China" and "Total Recall" among other films. He's also been an executive producer on other films, so this is a bit more unusual. Plus, he doesn't just claim to have an idea, he has artwork, in this case. On top of that, he pitched the idea and the name "Zootopia" according to his suit. Now, obviously there are differences, this was a long time ago, 2009 was when he pitched and during the making of the movie, the script for the film changed several times, and it doesn't resemble Goldman's purported original vision much, but-eh, it-eh, Well, just checking IMDB real quick, I cannot find another movie, with the title "Zootopia", so there's a possibility he probably came up with it. Uh-oh, for Disney here.

Now, I'll be honest, I have to look a little further at the complaint, but I don't think he's gonna win the case. On the one hand, yeah, on the other hand, it's not an identical story and while it might be a similar idea, we're talking, an animated movie, where the conceit is that all the main characters are animals. Animals acting like humans. That was his pitch, to Disney. Disney. Yeah, I don't how far this is gonna go, but preponderance of the evidence doesn't necessarily seem to favor him, in my eyes anyway. But, it's still strange, and questionable behavior here, and the Plaintiff is not a dud. This is one to keep an eye on.


PLAGUE OF PASSABLE MOVIES? 

So, I'm not normally a fan of "The Playlist", which is a fairly well-known entertainment website in Hollywood, it's articles appear on IMDB.com's newsfeed for instance; I was actually referencing them in a tweet about how I mentioned about how any website that does a "Most Anticipated Film Award/List I don't consider legitimate," (And I don't, and neither should you, and you shouldn't be anticipating movies anyway.) but then I tweeted "Well, unless I have to..." and since they are so prominent, I do have to pay a little attention to them, and they did post something that has begun to come into my radar, it was a video essay about "The Epidemic of Passable Movies" by a Youtuber who goes by the name, "Nerdwriter". Some of you know, I'm not fond of the word "Nerd" being so liberally used positively in today's society, so add him to that list for that, but I'd started to notice his essays here and there popping up as they've been shared by other Facebook groups, and for an entertainment and pop culture commentator, as far as I can tell, he's okay. I like how he doesn't tread the same areas that others would and tries to look beneath of the obvious surface of the issue to find something more insightful, but, (Shrugs) I don't know, I guess he's okay, I think he straddles the line between commentary and naval-gazing, but yeah, that's a minor quiblle. I can't say I think anything negatively about him, and most of the time I quite like his work. (Hell, I worry about doing that myself most of the time.)

So, I was wondering what intrigue The Playlist people about him, and they had posted this latest video of his:



So, yeah, my first instinct was to disregard this and not look at it too deeply, but, you know, it-, it a thing though, there are too many of what he calls "Passable" movies out there. I don't know or think anybody is really aware of how many there are, but as a critic who tries to watch everything, yeah, I can see where he's coming from; it gets annoying. There are a lot of time where I would much rather be effected negatively by a bad movie, than being able to barely focus and pay attention or try to care about a passable or average movie. A movie that's eh, in the 2-let's say 3-1/2-4STARS range, I guess, according to my ratings, which should be the one most use. (Seriously, if some other moron post on Facebook, "Rate a movie between 1-10, especially if they think point scores are okay", I'm gonna a shove calculator up their ass, 1-10 is too many, and too annoying, just use Five Stars, unless you come up with something better than "Two Thumbs Up" [Annoyed sigh]) But, I get what he's doing, he's trying to formulate a theory or an equation that explains why movies are only passable and what makes them that way. And, he's not entirely wrong here, about how, too much of passable movies, are essentially, going through the motions of a movie, without actually being a movie. There's time I can spot it too, when it's clear that a subplot with a character who's not really important or relevant to anything else in the movie is added, mainly because the writer or filmmakers are sticking to the Robert McKee pattern of screenwriting a little too closely. There's nothing wrong with that formula, but it's noticeable and in a negative, particularly, when it's being used in replace of genuine human emotions, characters, reactions, etc. Most movies have a 3-act structure and studios want to replicate others successes, so things get sacrificed, blah, blah, blah, that stuff's not unusual per se, and none of the examples he give would even be worrisome if they were in better movies.

That said, yeah, this isn't an epidemic, or a plague of a syndrome, it's just what happens in general. There's ton of films and movies and once we begin to understand and recognize that certain ones are exceptional and others are, utter garbage, then, we also start to recognize and understand how others are horribly average and aren't good or bad, but fit somewhere in the middle. It's like a really nice and talented painter who's never gonna be famous and his art won't sell or be remembered after he's gone. There's a lot more Salieri's than there are Mozart's, that's just a fact. And that's also, the real reason he's struggling to understand something that he doesn't bring up, that the best filmmakers, have a point of view and aren't immediately influenced solely by the formulas of other films. Take Martin Scorsese for instance, he's a great director and he makes some great movies, and often the more personal the project he makes, the better the movie is. Sometimes, he makes a lesser film, but they're all pretty distinctively his movies, and it's very difficult to claim otherwise, there's too many distinctive ideas and motifs that we immediately recognize as Scorsese in his films, not that other filmmakers can's use or borrow from Scorsese, but it's just that, he's instantly recognizable as Scorsese. Bad filmmakers also tend to have this mark too on their work, but passable filmmakers, eh, like, let's see, eh, well he brought up "Hitch", who directed that? (Checking IMDB.com) Andy Tennant. A look at his filmography, let's see, "It Takes Two", "Fools Rush In", "Ever After: A Cinderella Story", "Anna and the King", "Sweet Home Alabama", "Fool's Gold", "The Bounty Hunter" and most recently "Wild Oats". I haven't seen all those films, but of the ones I have, eh, there's not much to say about them, they're pretty average. The one decent Olsen Twins film, that rom-com with Matthew Perry and Salma Hayak that could've worked if the tone was right, (Nerdwriter is right about that) a forgettable "The King and I" remake, a boring and badly cliche, Reese Witherspoon rom-com, and I guess "Ever After..." holds up, but I'd be hard-pressed to call that great, and I don't remember too many good things said about the other films he's made. Not too much that's distinctive, or something that you would point to and say, "That's Andy Tennant!" in his works. That's not to say all filmmakers have to have something like that, Stephen Frears comes to mind as somebody who switches genres and styles every film, and he's made a few great ones, but he's also only made a lot of good ones too, I could argue. Yeah, the thing is though, point of view, is really the main key that I'd argue distinguishes passable from great and without it, you got, well, hollowness.

To give another example, "Trainwreck", there's nothing inherently unusual or strange about it's structure, it's basically just a romantic-comedy, with a lot of the same romantic-comedy beats, but Amy Schumer, in her screenplay, had a point of view, and therefore the film had a point of view that seem strange, different and more unique than pretty much every other romantic-comedy I can think of this century. Rom-coms btw, are probably the worst offender of the Passable Movie epidemic that Nerdwriter discussed, usually passable is a pretty-high watermark for that genre lately, which is also why something as great as "Trainwreck" stands out even more.

So, is there a passable movie epidemic? Yeah, I guess you can call it that, and try to come up with reasons and explanations as to why it exists, but honestly it's just par for the course. It's the same problem as always, too many filmmakers, not enough great ones, lead to an increase in passable films. Hey, be lucky, it could lead to an increase in horrible piece-of-shit films. Passing is passing, they can't all be A+'s, some are gonna be C's. (That's another dumb rating system, but one I'm more forgiving of than 1-10)


LIST OF RANDOM THOUGHTS I HAD SCOURING THROUGH THE DAYTIME EMMY AWARD NOMINATIONS: 

So, the Daytime Emmy Awards were announced this morning, and I thought I'd, just, quickly through the full list of nominations, which you can find, here:

https://pmcvariety.files.wordpress.com/2017/03/44th-annual-daytime-emmy-award-nominations-final_final-amended2.pdf

I know it's not much, and who cares, it's the Daytime Emmys, but that's what fun about it, there's always some intriguing curiosities in that mix, that most people, if you're not paying attention, could easily be missed, and are worth looking around for. Now, you might be wondering, if I'm just being a bit lazy and am just deciding to just riff on something real quick instead of going out to find an interesting third story to write about, and am only doing this, 'cause it's easy. Well, let's get started!

Most of us are probably unsure as to why "The Young and the Restless" has so many nominations, Donald Trump probably thinks it's horrible that PBS has so many.

Something called "TakingFlightFilm.com" has two nominations, It's an animated short, directed by, oh, Brandon Oldenburg, I know that name.... (IMDB... Yeah, he won an Oscar a few years ago.) I know the name. It's a cute short, it's on Youtube, check it out. I wonder if he's related to Claus Oldenburg, the great pop sculpturist?

With so few actual Daytime Drama Series now, I don't know why they don't mix the digital drama series into their categories.

Boy, they really liked "Odd Squad" for some reason. I was never that big on that one.

Does anybody know what the streaming numbers are for daytime children's programming, like on Amazon and Netflix? I'm just curious; I genuinely am not sure how many kids are watching them.

Although, I'm definitely making a note to check out Mr. Peabody & Sherman, the next time I think about it. Although I'll probably just end up looking for old Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes again.

Oh, Culinary Program, category I care about! "America's Test Kitchen", good, "Eat the World with Emeril...", good, "The Mind of a Chef", okay,... what the hell is "Trisha's Southern Kitchen"? I don't know a Chef Trisha offhand, who's the E.P.? TRISHA YEARWOOD? The country singer from two decades ago?! Oh man, I miss when Food Network was watchable.

Oooh, Game Shows. Ooh, "Wheel of Fortune" got snubbed. Oh well. Okay, I read this on Gold Derby on there or something, but with "Celebrity Name Game"'s nomination here, it means that it's Courtney Cox's first ever Emmy nomination. It's always David Arquette's first as well, but yeah, Courtney Cox, until today, never got an Emmy nomination. I know, I don't know how that happened either. I mean, no, I never liked "Cougar Town", but still, (Shrugs) The Emmys never liked "Friends" that much, look it up, I don't know what to tell you.

Legal/Courtroom Shows, yes, you probably remember what I think of them. I'm definitely cheering for "The People's Court" here, although I gotta admit, I don't hate "Hot Bench" as a concept, but, as a show, eh.

I have no idea what "LIFESTYLE PROGRAMMINGS" are, I guess this is the kind of category that "This Old House" would submit in, or something like that.

Travel Programs aren't as interesting now that Anthony Bourbain's show submits in Primetime.

OUTSTANDING MORNING PROGRAM, there's an Oxymoron! I guess, if I have to pick, I'll take "CBS: This Morning".

It's weird enough that they're separating Talk Shows into Informative and Entertainment categories, but I think it's actually weirder that Steve Harvey submits in the Informative category.

Wow! "Maury" got in?! They must not have as many good entertainment talk shows as they used to anymore. We could use a new good one, come to think of it. It shouldn't just be Ellen and the three other shows. Well, two other shows and whatever-the-hell, "The View" thinks it is. How did Barbara Walters survive 2016, anyway?! How about an investigation into that?

LOLOLOL, Entertainment News Shows, Lolololololol! Oh, that's funny. I really got pitch that idea for like a Variety-type entertainment news series. (COPYRIGHT PENDING)

I wonder if "Close-Up with the Hollywood Reporter" is kinda like that idea. Dammit!

I thought we got rid of Chris Hanson, why's he back?

Why do I have a sneaky suspicion that in like 40 years year, Marlyn Freeman's gonna catch up to Sheila Nevins's Emmy records?

OMG! I forgot Nickelodeon still does that "Kids Pick the President" thing. Who won that this year? (Searches) Wow, Trump did poorly with kids, even lower than his ratings now. Huh. Well, that's, hopeful, and possibly assuring. Not crazy that Gary Johnson got 11% from kids, but alright. I'm not even sure Perot did that well with kids.

OUTSTANDING PROMOTIONAL ANNOUNCEMENT-TOPICAL? What a weird category that is. David Bowie, Martin Luther Kids, the Kids Choice Awards, something called "Mini-Michael Strahan" and Halloween on "Today". Daytime TV is weird.

I'm betting on the Supporting Actor nominee that had a duel-role, they always win.

Huh, Nichelle Nichols was on "The Young and the Restless"? Lt. Ohura? There's always somebody weird in the Guest and lesser acting categories. Jim O'Heir's there too, he's a good actor. BTW, soap opera actors, in general, really underrated.

Wait, Anthony Anderson, on "Anacostia" what the hell's that? Okay, checked it out, not that Anthony Anderson. Jesus, this things been on five years. Youtube ought to promote these series more, the first episode's only got like, 26,000 hits. I get that in three months on my blog, Jesus.

Yeah, it's still weird to see a "Sesame Street" nomination and to look over and see HBO under network.

Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program is interesting. Kelsey Grammar, Kate McKinnon and Andy Richter all nomination. And apparently WarnerBrothers.com has a new version of "The Tom & Jerry Show"!

I think I'm going for Rick Bayless for Culinary Show Host and Craig Ferguson for Game Show Host this year.

Oh, God, Jenna Bush-Hager has an Emmy nomination. (Sigh) I guess it's better than Billy Bush. (Billy Bush, btw, never got an Emmy nomination, so kudos N.A.T.A.S. for that.)

Let me guess, Food Network created "The Kitchen" as an attempt to, basically take the format from "The Chew"? Yeah, that's probably what happened. Nice to see Katie Lee there though. How come Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio never gets nominated for "Top Chef" anymore?

"The Talk" is still sticking with Sheryl Underwood? (Sigh) I miss Leah Remini, I really don't get it. I like Aisha Tyler, she's better than Holly Robinson-Peete, who must be like 60 now, and still looks amazing. How old is she, 53, god. Still, she looks great. Been on TV my whole fucking life, but damn, she looks good.

Why are the five fakest-looking women I've ever seen on a show called "The Real"? There's way too nominees in the Entertainment Talk Show Host category, was too much group hosting gigs, not enough solo hosts. Not that I understand who Wendy Williams is, or why the hell she's got a show. Am I the only one who hears "Wendy Williams" and thinks, lead singer of the Plasmatics?

Did "The Bold and the Beautiful" do a musical episode, they got three Original Song nominations?

"Justin Time: Go!" and "Doc McStuffins: Toy Hospital" are two great names for a kids television show.

Huh, The Independent Spirit Awards are technically a Daytime program. Well, yeah, I guess that makes sense, but they could've submitted in Primetime if they wanted.

Guillermo Del Toro is a Daytime Emmy nominee, for Directing! He co-directed, something called "Trollhunters" on Netflix.

I'm afraid to look up what "Pocahontas-Dove of Peace" is, and for that matter, why something with that title is on CBN/"The 700 Club" for that matter. Yikes. There can't be anything good about this.... (Looked up it, yikes, it's probably as bad as you imagine it to be. Oh, boy. Well, it's only an Editing nomination.)

Why is Rachael Ray nominated for Musical Performance?

Well, that was fun. Nominations announced, and awards will be given out, sometimes in the future, awards will be given out on April 28th, you can watch them on, (CHANNEL/BROADCAST/STREAMING OUTLET TO BE DETERMINED) on that date. Or not. I mean, ever since Susan Lucci won, let's just be honest, nobody cares anymore.








Sunday, March 19, 2017

DATING SHOWS: ANALYSIS AND HISTORY OF THE MOST MALIGNED OR GAME/REALITY SHOW SUBGENRES! (I will seriously talk about anything entertainment-based won't I?)

Something I need to do more of is talk about some of the television shows I'm watching. I mean, I give movie reviews, so you get, updated enough on that, but I do watch both regularly, so. Anyway, there's a couple series I highly recommend right now, the top of that list is "Mozart of the Jungle" on Amazon. Also on Amazon, I'm finally catching up on "24", after missing that episode in season four. I'm probably gonna alternate between that and "The Americans" in the near future. Of course, I'm loving the last season of "Girls", which I've written enough about. But, one show that I really have been infatuated with lately and one that I consider one of the best drama series on television is "UnReal"!



The first two seasons are currently on Hulu, it airs it's third season on Lifetime shortly. It's a drama series about the behind of series of a "The Bachelor"-type reality series, and it's characters are an amazing collections of the worst people ever put together, and doing the worst possible stuff people can do to other people on television. Yeah, seriously, imagine if "The Red Wedding" on "Game of Thrones" was every episode of that show, only twice as vicious, that's kinda "UnReal" feels like. I go back-and-forth on whether or not it's too over-the-top or whether it's bad taste done in good taste, but, as somebody who does know a few people who work on reality shows, first of all, most shows are not actually like this, but then again, it's more accurate than you'd probably think it is, and probably should be. I don't know it's not more popular; this is kinda like what I think all the CW drama series kinda think they are, but aren't.

So, I've been watching this when I can, and I'm looking forward to the new season. I know, some don't like the 2nd season compared to the first, eh, I can see it, but this show is already so ridiculous that I give it a pass. This show ain't jumping the shark, the shark's gonna jump it, and probably eat one of the contestants, on the way down. But it, did, get me thinking about dating shows.

Dating shows, are, kind of easily dismissed, even as a subgenre of both reality shows and even within game shows to some extent, but they've been around for awhile now. And, I've analyzed even the most, discarded and disreputable of genres, and well,... well, here's the thing, it would be around this long, if there wasn't a way to do this right, right? (Scratches head) And, well, when you really think about it; I mean, this genre's  big enough that were making drama series satirizing it. I mean, just my television history alone, I remember when "Love Connection" was one of the biggest shows on television and hell, there's like three different groups trying to bring that show back now! And honestly, I've been trying to figure out how to go from game shows to talking about reality shows in my TV Viewing 101 Series for awhile now-, (Consider this an extra credit chapter of that) , and honestly, dating shows are kinda the perfect in-between series that transitions from one to another. Basically, there's, essentially, mostly, sorta, game shows, with the goals being, love. Well, a shot a love. A potential shot at love. Part of me, disturbed at how easily they find people to be on shows like these, and part of me's just, thinking, yeah, I understand it. I mean, my vast amount of expertise and experience in dating can fit on a piece of confetti, but then again, who is an expert at dating? Literally, it's something you can't be an expert at when you think about it. What the hell, we're gonna talk about dating shows, and see if there's a way to do this right?

Dating shows. Dating show. (Knocks desk a couple times.) Well, I guess, the obvious place, hold on, when was "The Dating Game"? '65? Is there nothing earlier than that?

Researchers, is there any predecessors to "The Dating Game" I should know about?

(Looks offscreen, for a minute)

Nothing? Really? Well, if there was, I honestly can't find it, so I guess we're talking about Chuck Barris. So, "The Dating Game".



That actually is really surprising, this is technically one of the youngest subgenres I can really think of in terms of television. I can find shows dating back to the '50s and even radio, that are precedents for "The People's Court" and other judge shows; But, it does sorta make sense, actually. Most of the fifties and sixties television, really centered around the family. I can think of a few character known for dating, eh, Dobie Gillis comes to mind, but he was a teenager. John Forsythe in "Bachelor Father", which, is a bit of a surreal show to watch today. (BTW, no, he's not technically a father, he's the Uncle, but he's never-been-married, he dates, and now he's raising his orphaned niece) I mean, I guess Gomez & Morticia dated, and probably every other famous TV couple from that era you can think of, but they were already married. Characters that were dating, in order to look for love, that was not a center of a television show back, even when the characters were single and dating. I mean, I'm fairly certain Billy Joe, Bobby Joe and Betty Joe didn't originally have husbands on "Petitcoat Junction", but you know, I'll be damned if I can name them or anything. And actually that show was later too, so, yeah, I guess "The Dating Game", Chuck Barris's magnum opus, well, outside of "The Newlywed Game", which is a vastly better show, but thing is, to some extent, every dating series that's come since, is, basically a version of "The Dating Game".

That's the earliest episode I can find, but basically, one main suitor, and a few possible people they could date, and he/she picks the person they most want to date, or not. I guess there's a few shows that don't choose, but this is still, basically the blueprint for every other dating show. I mean, "The Dating Game"'s other gimmick is that you can't see each other beforehand. Which I guess, is a good idea, because it eliminates the idea of looks being the only thins that people look for. There's a lot of shows, that use this gimmick to some extent. You can't who you're about to go out with, or trying to go out, at least, for a little while. So really, it's "Blind Date", but we'll get to that show later.

Not all shows did this, for instance, a dating game rip-off, and there were a bunch of them, but one of the earliest, "Perfect Match", which you can find "Game Show Garbage" talking about, here:

http://gameshowgarbage.com/ind211_theperfectmatch60s.html

BTW, "Game Show Garbage" is a great website to looks up some stuff, and while Cindi Seidelman doesn't update the Youtube channel as much as I'd prefer, and, she's fairly simplistic in terms of her presentation, this is quite a good index and analysis of game shows good and bad, and in-between in some cases. I particularly like her "Games of '90" series".

But anyway, "Perfect Match"'s gimmick, was that, instead of not being able to see your suitor, the three people were matched through, a computer. Yeah, this-, this was a thing in pop science, which is a great term for bullshit science, but they thought, and some places still do think, that you can put all of your statistics into a machine and eventually you'll meet the perfect person that matches up with you. There's dozens of variations on this, you might be most familiar with the dating service video variation on this in the game show world, "Love Connection".



God, it is hard for me to sit down and watch this show. As a kid who really enjoyed watching game shows, "Love Connection" was always a strange anomaly that I never fully understood, 'til I was much older. That's another idea, the idea that this is a clear subgenre of game shows and/or reality shows, is actually kinda new. There weren't that many successful dating shows at the time. I mean, sure "The Dating Game", and "Love Connection" lasted a long time, but they were, for the most part, the only shows in that oeuvre for most of their run, they're the only noteworthy successful ones. I mean, I guess, "Studs" lasted three years, but I don't even remember that show, and there's not too much special about that one from what I can gather. But, that's weird from a scheduling perspective as much as anything else. This was, basically considered a game show, and scheduled as such.  Is it?

I mean, "The Dating Game", for all it's cringe-worthiness some of it can be, it was still a game. "Love Connection", is almost a talk show. I mean, look at the set, there's no podiums or anything, there's a couple love seats, pun intended, and a contestant seeing a dating service video, which we see part of, they pick a date, and then, we'll, we hear them talk about the date. Yeah, they're just talking about the date. I almost watched this show as a kid, waiting for the game aspect to pop up, and it never did. I mean, there's an audience vote sometimes, and we see the figures, but...- yeah, this is a post-reality boom thinking upon it as well, but isn't it weird, that, we didn't even see the date? (No, I'm still not getting to "Blind Date" yet, but we will, I promise) Still though, it is, essentially "The Dating Game", three suitors, you pick one, boom, it's only that the focus, is on, after-the-date.

Which, yeah, come to think of it, "The Dating Game", the big win, is a date, but, we don't see it, and we also don't really find out much else. Do we need to? I guess not, considering how many, or how few, people who come together on "The Bachelor" or "The Bachelorette" or something, stay together or stay together long. Yeah, I don't know what the actual records for say, Match.com or dating services, or anything, or speed dating, and if you don't think that little modern dating trend that literally everybody has made fun of was made into a game show, then you don't remember, "Bzzz!" like I do:



That was in 1996! If there's a stupid bizarre trend in dating, there's a game or reality show based around it. Just remember that. (Boy I liked this show as a kid, but it didn't age well; none of them age well, and yes, a lot of this blog, is Youtube videos of posts, that I'm using to make a point, and sometimes freak out some of my younger readers.)  But yeah, go through through all the trends you can think of, and there's a dating show around it. Might've been a short-lived one, but they're there. Bisexuality is cool, now Tila Tequila is a household name. Thanks for that, bisexuality trend. Oh, and the reality trend, has been glorious for the dating series. Quality-wise mostly for the worst.

"The Dating Game" baseline, is still the same, and there's not that much to, elaborate or expand upon it, and that's sort of the problem, it's finding that one gimmick that's different, enough to be noticed and memorable. Not necessarily good, or good television mind you; I'll just say it now, most of these shows are, awful. Even at their best, they're bad, especially the reality-dating shows. "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" get the most blame, and deservedly so. I, genuinely don't understand why people watch those shows.

Well, I guess conceptually, I get it, 'cause the one thing these shows, have in common, is that, they do mimic, pretty well, the world of dating. I mean, think about, you're a bachelor, you're one person. You're looking for your true love, or next love, or somebody to have a one-night stand with, whatever, and you gotta seek that person out. Well, there's more than three people you're usually trying to choose from, and that's only if, that person decides, okay, sure I'll go out with you. And let's say you are looking for that true love, it's not always a direct dating path to finding them. Once you're out there, there's a lot of the opposite sex, and let's face it, there aren't true matches necessarily, but there's a good deal amount of people who you like enough to hang out or try to make it work with, or see it you want to give it a shot for a bit. I mean, you ask a few questions, you see how if they're attracted to you, vice-versa, do your personality match, or contradict perfectly..., I mean, sure these shows they're  horrible, really horrible and some of these shows, I'm looking at you, VH-1 and MTV, it's not incomparable to the dating world. I mean, I certainly doubt my experiences match up to Flavor Flav or Bret Michaels's lives, although on some train wreck level, that is interesting. They you get, the real train wreck levels of unwatchable variants on this. "Joe Millionaire" for instance, where the gimmick is that, the guy is pretending to be a millionaire. (Oooh, I just reminded all of you that that was a thing, didn't I?) Actually, "Joe Millionaire" was, not as bad as it could've been. It wasn't "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" (You just threw up a little, cause I reminded you, that that happened, didn't you?)

But yeah, most of these shows, basically have used either one or both of these additions to "The Dating Game" formula, either, adding reality/documentary television techniques and ideas to a show, with varying degrees of success and exploitation that that entails, and/or, usually, and, they simply, added more suitors. Cause, three is kinda small, so to be better, there should be more of them, I guess. (Sigh) I knew when and where that started too....



Oh, you gotta be kidding me? How is it that the only full episode of "Singled Out" I can find, the one with Sunny on it? Oh my God, this is so '90s...-, ugh, give me a minute; I gotta re-calibrate, this is too much nostalgia for me.

(Deep breath, long pause)

Okay, um, two things I have to explain to some of you before I move on. The first one, yes, this is in fact what made Jenny McCarthy famous, and yes, we're still all paying for that, although, in her defense, not only, is she really entertaining on this show, but in the mid-nineties, she, actually was interesting, funny and ridiculously sexy, and there's a very small amount of people who fit those narrow parameters at any point in the history of entertainment, somebody who's sexy enough to be a Playboy playmate and yet, much and free-willed enough to fart on you as a joke-, yes, I realize how, horrible this decision was to make a thing out of her, but-um, I was there, at the time, it really did make sense, and yes we're really sorry. 2nd thing, you're wondering, um, I know he's a bit of a major figure in certain circles now, but, yeah, I literally cannot think of Chris Hardwick as anything other than the "Singled Out" guy. Yeah,I know, "Talking Dead" "@Midnight", "The Nerdist", whatever, I don't care, even when we hosting "Shipmates", all I could think was, "Hey, the "Singled Out"'s guy's got another job,- (Oh crap, "Shipmates", I forgot about that dating show) and, when he presented an Emmy a couple years ago, mostly I thought, "Why is the "Singled Out" guy here, presenting an Emmy", in 2000-whatever-the-fuck-year-it-is! So, I'm- I guess I'm happy for him, I always liked him, seems very talented, amazed that he's still around and found this niche in front of and behind the camera, but he's the "Singled Out" guy to me, and like I said, that's not just because I remember him, this show was big enough to make Jenny McCarthy a superstar.

Anyway, so yeah, "Singled Out", was "The Dating Game", filtered through MTV, and the big gimmick was that, instead of three suitors, there was fifty. Personally, nowadays it sounds like a SAG Union pain-in-the-ass to me. I wonder how many people got their Taft-Hartley's signed from this? But, yeah, pretty much any show that's expanded from three to, more-than-three possible suitors, is borrowing that from this show. This was a big trend with the reality-dating idea, because, while I can think of a couple shows that had limited amount of suitors like, "Excused" or one of the few really good twists on the genre, "Baggage", generally, there's more than three other possible lovers in real life to sort through, so reality, essentially, follows that.

The problem with most of these reality-dating shows, and why nearly all of them are at best, watchable as trainwreck television at best, is that, well, think about it, all these members of the opposite sex, in a competition for, this one guy's attention and love. It's really, pretty despicable. I mean, "Singled Out" was just as bad, but it also didn't take itself too seriously to begin with, but the whole point of all these other shows, is that, these people are willing to do all of this, for, the possible love/sex with another guy. I mean, I understand that desire and willingness to compete for love, but the sexual politics, either way, whether it's guys competing for a girl, girls competing for a guy, even if someone competing for the same sex of a person, it's all, icky and weird; no matter how you frame this, and the more over-the-top and exploitative the show is, the worst this framing gets. I mean, I don't like uh, "Hell's Kitchen" or "America's Next Top Model" or "American Idol" most other shows like that, but at least they're people fighting for a job or a possible career opportunity, or something of that nature. Hell, at least "Survivor" or "The American Race" is a battle for a cash prize at the end, (Okay, some dating shows have a cash prize incentive, (Thanks for that, NBC's "For Love or Money" Don't remember that one? Good.) and an actual contest and game.

That's sorta what's difficult about this, and why, all these shows, rarely stand out as good, because it's taking a concept, dating, that is not really meant to be turned into a game, (Well, not unless you're a complete asshole!) and then, turning it into a game, or a close facsimile of one; it doesn't really work. I mean, I, definitely understand the triviality of love, but the whole point of the search of love is that, it's not trivial. It's not that these shows exploit that search, and the people going through it, that's not the problem in of itself, getting upset at the exploitation of love means, getting upset at, basically half of all advertising and songs and nearly every other aspect of pop culture, but instead of putting it on a pedestal and celebrating it, it, does the opposite and cheapens it. That's what makes most of these shows, bad. Some, entertaining bad, sure, but, most of them are some form of bad. I mean, it's not something that people don't experience or go through, and is hard enough as it is, and it's not like dating isn't utterly fascinating on every level. Why not just shoot people, dating?



I told you, I'd get to "Blind Date". Yeah, um, in the early 2000s, this was one of the biggest shows on TV. So much so, that I still basically confuse John Fugelsang for Roger Lodge. They look so similar, and yeah, sorry for this episode, the ones I wanted to post didn't allow me to embed them. And "Blind Date" was simple. Two singles would be paired up together, and then, they'd go on a date, and we'd see their date. It's kinda like, "Fuck you, innuendo" to "Love Connection" and "The Dating Game", but again, it wasn't too serious. The whole gimmick of the show was the animated graphics commenting on the date, a la, "Pop-Up Video" style-riffing. Now, there were a few copycats of this formula, I mentioned "Shipmates" already, there was also, "Elimidate" which was probably the worst of these, because, it was still a competition aspect to it, and there was "The 5th Wheel", which is awful, but definitely guilty pleasure awful, as it followed two sets of singles on a double-date, but a 5th wild card person would join in later....- (sigh) it's really not as awful as it sounds, it's entertaining trash. But,"Blind Date" was the biggest and original one of these shows that, did take inspiration from reality television, but not from "The Dating Game" formula. It stripped, the game aspect of the show. Just, pair two people, on a date, and see what happens. Sometimes there was a match, sometimes there wasn't much chemistry, sometimes it was a trainwreck date from Hell, but it was all about dating and the search for love, even with an occasional gentle ribbing from Mr. Obvious. Okay, sure it's completely contrived, the people on the show were probably more open and exhibitionists than they probably should've been, and are acting for the camera, and Heisenberg Principle never really goes away and, I'm sure most of the locations on the show the daters went paid the producers to put them on for the first time, and see what happens on a date. Honestly, I analytically, can't find too many things wrong with this. It's entertaining without being ridiculous and stupid, it takes love seriously, but doesn't trivializes it, and it doesn't pretend to be all positive or negative and doesn't demean anybody for there search or put them through some battle for a specific person. It shows that, dating is apart of everyday life and it's hard sometimes, and sometimes is fun and sometimes is messy, but struggles continue on. The joke was that, first you'd meet on "The Dating Game" and then go to "The Newlywed Game" but I can easily see people meeting on "Blind Date" and then ending up...-, well, considering this era of cynicism, I guess, "Cheaters". (Sigh, how is that still on the air, btw?)

It's all those other reality dating shows stripped of pretense and competition, and, frankly it's easily the best of the subgenre. Even more interesting than "The Dating Game", which, nowadays is remember for being a predecessor to Reality, for the double-entendres and for the fact that, it was a platform for dozens of future celebrities to get their embarrassing start. "Blind Date" is just, two people on a, blind date. Simple, funny, cringe-worthy sure, at times, but it's everything that, you get with dating.

So, what of this genre? Is something good gonna ever come out of it again, or is it, just gonna be, the epitome of everything bad about reality television? (Sigh) Probably the latter more than the former, but I don't think it's going away anytime soon. I'm sure some moron's gonna think 'There's Something About Miriam" is gonna be a good idea in the future and have no realization how horrible that or some of these other shows can be. (If you don't know what that is, again, Game Show Garbage has a video if you're interested, but, yeah, that-, that was awful.) But it's not like dating is going away, and neither are new ways of dating and pop dating trends and neither is the search for love in some form or another. I don't think the genre is completely reprehensible and there's good in it. I don't know what exactly it says about us, that in an age where we're more connected to the world than ever that, these are, to some, viable options for finding a mate, or what it says that finding a mate is still such a priority that we have so many shows based around that idea, and whether or not that's a good thing for society or any of the institutions that traditionally and non-traditionally the process of dating entails, but, it still feels like there's room for it, there's room for quality in it if done right, ("right" in this genre, admittedly is graded on a curve, but still....) and there's probably more unique innovations with the genre that are out there that haven't been explored yet. Most of those possibilities depress me, but who knows. If we can accept Jerry Seinfeld dating a new girl every week on his sitcom, I don't really see why we can't accept seeing it in a good reality dating show. (Again, "good" reality dating show, is the tough part, but.... [Shrugs])

Well, in the meantime, there's plenty of crappy reality dating shows, that are perfect for exploiting for drama series. Seriously, "UnReal", great show. The character are all the worst kinds of awful pieces of shit, but boy is it good!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

CANON OF FILM: "ROAD TO PERDITION"

ROAD TO PERDITION (2002)

Director: Sam Mendes
Screenplay: David Self based on the graphic novel by Max Allen Collins and Richard Piers Raynor



So, every Oscar season, there's a bunch of people who like to go on some cinematic parlor game and discuss the Worst Best Picture winners of all-time, (BTW, the answer is "Gigi", everyone, "Gigi") and I'm not particularly interested in that, but one movie that seems to keep coming up more and more in that discussing is Sam Mendes's debut feature, "American Beauty". I strongly, disagree with that; I've written on "American Beauty" before, my Canon of Film post on it is below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2015/05/canon-of-film-american-beauty.html

I can see some people watching it and not really understanding the context in which it was made, and especially not realize how the common trope about how the perfect American home ideal being complete and utter bullshit, was basically inspired, if not created than perpetuated by "American Beauty", as well as a serious analytical look at a mid-life crisis, from the perspective of the person having it, is somewhat of a cliché now that, we can basically look to half the drama series on television now and find some variant of that, but, I know, there were other great and creative and important movies that came out in '99 that in many ways have become more relevant, important and influential since, but I still rank "American Beauty" among those films. (And except for unfortunately, the "influential" part, I don't rank "Fight Club" among those films either)

That said though, as much as hear bad now about "American Beauty", I don't ever hear any criticism of Mendes's second feature "Road to Perdition". Which in some ways is strange, 'cause it wasn't as well-received as "American Beauty" at the time; I've never heard anybody, including myself, rank it as a truly great film, until now, and if "American Beauty" was a modern-look at subverting the present, "Road to Perdition", is distinctly classical in approach and execution. It's technically a mafia movie, but it plays and feels more like a classic western tragedy, the kind that John Ford at his best used to make. "There's a lot of "The Searchers" in this film, especially in low-key comedic points that take place between an older relative and his younger male relative, both of whom are in shock at sudden events that took place, against women they love. Thematically, for instance, the bank robbing montage and the sequence where Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) is teaching his son Michael, Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) how to drive a car.

The film, based on a graphic novel, is a story of fathers and sons. Michael is a mob hitman who works for Mr. Rooney (Oscar-nominee Paul Newman) the local mob boss. We meet him, and his son, Connor (Daniel Craig) at a wake for a fellow mobster, who was apparently stealing from them. Connor is shortsighted, powerhungry and jealous of how Mr. Rooney treats Michael more like a son than him. (And for that matter, how Michael treats Mr. Rooney more like a father) Michael's son then sneaks along on one of Michael's job trips, which in turn, is when he witnesses Connor murder someone else, and realizes what his father does for a living. Connor, in return, kills Sullivan's wife, Annie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and other son Peter (Liam Aiken) he misses Michael Jr., partly because he was unable to see through the window, because he was staring at his own reception. There's actually quite a few use of mirrors and windows and the reflections therein. In fact, it's kind of a weird choice that the hitman they hire to get both Michael and his kid, was a photographer, Maguire (Jude Law) who photographs those that he kills. His character is not in the original graphic novel, which itself, is an homage to a famous Japanese Manga series, "Lone Wolf and Cub", but the character being added indicates symbolically I imagine, some parable about filmmaking, but literarily, the character is essentially a deus ex machine, a hand of God coming over the movie. (There is quite a bit of religious symbolism in the film too, although with a title like "Road to Perdition" that's to be expected.)

There's reasons why I'm perplexed that "Road to Perdition" seems to be, if not beloved, at least respected, there's obvious plot problems. There's Spielberg-like scenes in the movie where the kid is trying to protect his father, but he's unable to hear the warning honk, due to a ticker-tape machine, there's the dumb last decision, where the Sullivans, end up somewhere where Michael at least knows for sure, that somebody is there waiting to kill him, and the Daniel Craig character is frankly too dumb for his own good, and his death is by far, the most inevitable of anybody's in this movie, that's filled with death. Paul Newman, gives one of his greatest monologues ever in the movie, "... This is the life we chose, this is the life we lead and there is only one guarantee, that none of us, will see heaven." That line, is so good that I can't believe it doesn't get brought up more often as one of the best in recent film history; Newman basically earned his Oscar nomination from that line in the trailer alone.

I think part of why this movie has continued to stick around at the margins, is, partly how classic the story is; it's inevitably, it's familiarity to use, while "American Beauty" is introspective on emotions, "Road to Perdition" is just a classic tale of storytelling, but more than that, it's absolutely brilliant expert craftsmanship. The fact that this was Mendes's second feature is pretty amazing when you think about it, even though he had loads of theater directing experience prior; for anybody else, this would've been the film that put them on the map. That said though, the real star of the movie, is the legendary Conrad L. Hall, the film earned him his tenth Oscar nomination, and after "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "American Beauty", earned him his third Oscar, which he won posthumously, passing away suddenly shortly after the film was made, and I'd argue that it's his best work in his career. It's so rare that I ever notice shadows and angles and reflections and camera angles in movies in of themselves; we're mostly amazed now at how beautiful a film looks, or how elaborate the camera setup is for that one long take, and while "Road to Perdition" does look amazing, it's so much more than that. Each shot has an idea and thought behind it, and even though Mendes has used other great cinematographers since in his work, and has continued to make good and sometimes great movies; I don't think I can argue that he's made anything bad, this film is at another level. His son, Conrad W. Hall, who himself is an underrated cinematographer, mostly because he spent most of his career doing second-unit work, accepted the Oscar on his behalf, which is surprisingly fitting, considering this movie is about a father and son with the same name. There's a lot of great filmmakings aspect to this movie, the costumes, the wonderfully haunting yet melodic score by Thomas Newman for instance, but the cinematography is second to none.

"Road to Perdition", is the Sam Mendes movie I come back to and watch and re-watch the most, even with the somewhat peculiar-for-the-time, and even today storytelling choices and flaws. It's not a grand statement, but it feel grandiose and important as a film. It feels like, a movie that was made sixty years before it actually was, and sprawls and crawls poetically to an inevitably sad conclusion. It paces like John Ford, it uses the story motifs of "The Godfather" to tell a story that's classic Greek tragedy; it fits so neatly into so many genres and film expectations as a filmgoer, that it's almost impossible not to get sucked into it, and yet, it stands out and transcends those influences. Part of it because of how well it's made, but also because of how classic it is. The most common technique to use when somebody's taking and borrowing from other genres, especially ones that might be long dead or forgotten is to subvert the genre, sometimes by mixing other influences, sometimes by modernizing and updating it with swearing, violence, sex, other things that might not have played in the Golden Age, but "Road to Perdition" stands out by daring to be as conventional as possible and trusting that a modern audience will watch and care about these characters and their journey.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS: "SUICIDE SQUAD", "13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI", "CAMERAPERSON", "HIGH-RISE", "POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING", "MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART", "MILES AHEAD", "LITTLE MEN", and MORE!

Well, I said I would be taking a vacation, and I meant it. I'm giving this report from a basementinSouth Jersey. I needed a bit of a break, and I needed to relax, so I've been doing that.Catching up on some relatives and friends I haven't seen in years. I've been having a little funtoo.I've had plenty of cheesesteaks since I've been in the Philly area, I highly recommend TonyLuke's, although I still like Geno's quite a bit. I'll definitely be going on a diet after this vacation,hopefully. Went to the Penn/Harvard basketball game at the Palesta, that was fun. For somereason I had never been to a college basketball game, despite going to UNLV, a school thatbasically revolves around it's basketball team. That was fun just being in that atmosphereespecially an Ivy League atmosphere; I felt both, right at home, and as though I hadabsolutely no business being there. Still, though the culture shock is amazing, being that I come from somewhere without any culture and now going into somewhere with loads of culture and history. Five or six colleges literally, across the street from each other, that was really awe-inspiring. I'm going to spend couple days in the greater Washington area as well, upcoming before heading back home. I might catch a Flyers game also. It's been nice and relaxing, so I'm not doing anything too stressful, thankfully, but it's nice to finally be traveling. BTW, Frontier Airlines is awful, I do not recommend them, no matter how cheap they are. Traveling is so much worst now than it was back when I last traveled. Ugh!

Anyway, while I'm taking it a bit easier, there were still a few movies that I didn't get to review, so before we get to this batch, I'll talk about them a bit. First one is "Up&Down", one word, which is a small, light little indy rom-com, that takes place, mostly in and outside an elevator at a luxury apartment complex, and is about the little-known actor who works as the elevator operator when not working. It's a cute low-budget idea and conceit, but honestly, it's not really worth looking out for. Another film I finally got around to was "Spinning Plates" a documentary that took a look at three different restaurants and restauranteurs. A struggling Mexican family restaurant in Phoenix, a still-striving Iowa diner that survived generations and multiple fires, and a look at Grant Achatz's Alinea, in Chicago, which has been named the best restaurant in America by the Michelin guide. I enjoy this documentary; I knew about Achatz by reputation, and that interesting to look inside his world, but all these stories were quite interesting, and I think it's a bit incomplete as a documentary, but it was still quite a fascinating little film that showed multiple different and yet distinct but related parts of the restaurant industry.

There's two movies I also wanted to touch on that I didn't get to mention last time because I still had to tell off the morons that still think post-credit scenes should exist, (Scoffs) one was a documentary called "Blood Brother" about a couple American brothers, one who left for a human rights mission in India and came back changed, and the other who goes back the next he goes to see what had happened to him. There's a very devastating scene where a child dies in the film, and there's a chance it was caught on camera, I want to forewarn people about that before going in, so be prepared for some fairly hard-to-watch footage at times, but that said, this was a better documentary than I expected it to be, despite some flaws. The one I came very close to writing a review on, but at the last second chose not to was "Veronica Mars", the feature film that purportedly closed the series and was funded through a Kickstarter from Creator/Director Rob Thomas, so fans of the show really wanted this. I don't know who was a fan of that show back then, or why, but I will never say anything nice about the post-"Buffy" WB/UPN/CW era of television again, 'cause this is legitimately one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I was never angry at this show, I never watched it or like, it felt like a half-ass Nancy Drew to me, so I never thought too deeply about it before, but this is up there with "Kelly & Cal" for the worst film of 2014. (And if you remember how much I hated that movie, that's saying something) If these characters were this unwatchably stupid as adults, I don't want to know what they were like in high school. I Legitimately could write a whole article on how atrocious this movie was, and no, it didn't deter from my opinion that fans are the biggest problem with the industry at the moment, and are horrible human beings, thanks for this "Veronica Mars", whoever you are! (Mock thumbs up, fake smile) Ugh, I- I don't want to think about that movie again, but I am not joking, it is that bad.

So, let's,- let's hopefully get to some better movies. Hopefully. In this latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting off with the Oscar-winning film, "Suicide Squad", and the Oscar-nominated feature, "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi"!



SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) Director: David Ayer

★★★



Yes, I realize that, essentially this movie is a complete disaster, from top to bottom. I'm kinda recommending it anyway. Practically for the same reasons I recommended "Fifty Shades of Grey", it's bad, but it was never gonna be good, so, you're really watching to see, how interesting is it bad. And it's kinda interesting. It's a failure, but the pain of making movies is just as intriguing as the joy of it sometimes, and, this is painful. Really painful. So,what really is so painful about this. Well, from everything I've heard, the production was a disaster and whatever was there from the hastily written, and quickly rushed shoot was throttle to death in the editing, not that this was a good idea to begin with. Look I've hated both Avengers movies, but let's think this through, this is a universe with, eh,hold on, Batman, Superman, um, Wonder Woman, I'm sure other superheroes who for some reason people think matter, right? So, in case a of a break glass, emergency, holy-fuck all disaster, you decide, or this government worker, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides that the best thing they can do, is wrangle up, the supervillains, together.... And have them save the world? That's stupid. There's not much middle ground here, that's just stupid. It's not like there's only villains in this world, that would've made sense the same way that :The Dirty Dozen" does, but yeah, if you have a choice, form the Avengers or form the Suicide Squad, form the goddamn Avengers. So,  this was never gonna work, logically, so, well, it actually kinda makes sense to me then, that from there, you should just throw logic entirely out the window, and just sit back and enjoy watching the world blow up, or in this case, get taken down by, some kind of mystical Ancient Egyptian, something, I don't know, whatever the hell it was, eh, (Looks over notes) a ancient witch, that's taken over the body of an archeologist that we cann, Enchantress (Cara Delavigne). So, to save the world from that, we get, the Joker's (Jake Gyllenhal) former shrink, who became his lover, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, who is admittedly having way too much fun in the role.) Also, we have, Deadshot (Will Smith, in the closest he'll ever come to playing a villain) a successful hitman, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) who robs banks with a boomerang, 'cause he's Australian, I guess, eh, Diablo (Jay Hernandez, who was so convincing that I thought he was Michael Pena) who has a fiery temper, literally, and a bunch of others who's names I've forgotten and aren't worth remembering'except for one that's a crocodile, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbata) and all under the orders of Rick Flag, (Joel Kinnamon) who was dating Enchantress, aka June Moone, until all this crap started happening. And something about a brother too, but it's s muddled, the movie might as well just be called, "Cult Comic Book Characters on Display.) And yes, parts of me, liked watching this crap. It's a mess, but it's such a mess' It's a mess worth analyzing. There's talent and possibilities that we get to watch go completely unfulfilled and in disastrously bad ways. David Ayer, is not a bad writer. He's mostly best when he makes cops dramas, but he made really good ones like "End of Watch". He's good with personal smaller stories, not bombastic overblown cameofest blow-em-ups. That's why his last film "Fury"' was so forgettable and was just your average war movie. You can see that this is a talented guy working way outside his genre, And there's other things here too. Some performances are pretty good. Smith, and Hernandez for instance, and yes, Margot Robbie nails Harley Quinn. There some good costumes, and some interesting effects, and the Oscar-winning makeup is pretty extensive and really fascinating. Lots of different kinds of makeup and hair as well, it's impressive. There's ideas here, it's like when you can tell that there's clearly more talented people in the band, then the ones who make the decisions on what they play. It's a fascinating slow-motion disaster, that I think is entertaining enough to watch. It's agonizing and painful, but if "Fifty Shades of Grey"' taught us anything, it's that people can be turned on by pain and agony, and in the case of "suicide Squad'", I can't disagree.


13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI  (2016) Director: Michael Bay

★★



(Long pause, deep breath)

Michael, Bay.

(breathy scoff, longer pause)

Mike-el Bay, Michael Bay, tsk, (Sigh) Michael Bay. Believe it or not, I have somehow managed to avoid you until now. Well, not, somehow, it was actually quite a deliberate thing I did. Trying to shove your movies further and further down on my Netflix and Library queue lists. and just, finding reasons to put you off, and to be honest, that was unfair. I really should've given you a fairer shake before now. To be honest, this is the first time I've sat through one of your movies since, "Armageddon". which until I saw "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi", was the only Michael Bay movie I ever watched. Some of you, might be shocked by that, the only one? Yes, the only one. I said I managed to avoid it. His previous two films, "Bad Boys" and "The Rock", were critically-panned so I didn't watch them, 'cause even at ten years old, that was my standard for watching movies, and it should've been yours too. And since, then, he made "Pearl Harbor', which was panned even worst than "Armageddon", and a sequel to "Bad Boys", "Bad Boys II", and I didn't watch the first, I certainly wasn't gonna watch the second. Now, what about the "Transformers" movies? Well, no, I didn't sit through them, although ironically Michael Bay, wasn't the reason for that. I actually skipped over those because I have NEVER liked "Transformers"! I have no fucking clue why this of all things is popular and made a comeback, and apparently has like seventy-five different variations and multiverses and-, ugh! This, was a stupid toy. Really bad toy, forget the TV show, which also was awful, even as a kid I thought it was stupid, seriously, all I ever think about when I think of "Transformers" is that scene in "Big", where Tom Hanks talks about how the transforming toys from one thing to another isn't that interesting, and he actually comes up with a better idea for a toy in the meeting! And yes, robots turning into bugs is a million times better than cars turning into robots. So, I steered away; I didn't even watch them for purposes of analyzing all the Oscar nominees, 'cause I really couldn't, and to be honest, that's a betrayal of my own code, and a bit of a dick move on my part. I hear people explain all these ways "Transformers" have evolved and are better, or whatever, and I still just question why the fuck anybody was watching it to begin with. I'm fairly certain "Captain Planet" was on at the time, and I would watch that instead, but yet, we don't have that movie. (Seriously, stop, bringing back the crap, bring back something was good to begin with!) As to "Pain & Gain", it's on my Netflix, in fact, it's fairly high; I'm definitely getting to it sooner than later, Top 25 right now. That one, I did try to actually get to it other ways earlier, but it didn't pan out. So, yeah, I've avoided Michael Bay, for the most part. Do I regret it? (Sigh) Well, he can surprise me. I mean, let's look again at "Armageddon". I mean, I just described "Suicide Squad" as a movie that's such a horrible disaster that it's actually recommendable and worth watching, and I know plenty of people who would describe "Armageddon" in much the same terms. It's the epitome of Bay, and overblown kinetic action movie, full of inconsistencies and plot contrivances and is basically just dumb fun, completely with a moronic plot that involves getting together a bunch of the wrong people to save the world from a horrific situation. They're actually quite similar movies in hindsight. Yeah, I can use "Armageddon" as a justification for recommending "Suicide Squad", definitely.

Except I can't 'cause "Armageddon" is awful, one of the worst films I've ever seen, truly. Yes, Michael Bay, is as bad as everyone makes him out to be, and in all the good and bad ways that entails, but don't let any of those arguments convince you that's there's some legitimacy to this movie, there isn't. It is just insanely bad storytelling. From the fact that the editing is too quick to say anything other than a witty line, before cutting to something else, to the fact that, there's no way I buy that they did all that training to be astronauts in the amount of time it took for them to be astronauts, hell, I don't think there was enough time, just in travel time between the locations of where they trained, he's-, yes, he's not good when serious, and has an awful tin ear when it comes to dialogue, but he also isn't that great with character either. I mean, is Liv Tyler onscreen for more than six minutes in that film? As far as I remember it, Willis is upset she's sleeping with Affleck, then, there's the one romantic scene, out of nowhere, as so we should suddenly care about them, and then, a few cuts at the end, and then, the running-in-slow motion Baywatch shot at the end. And she was the character I cared the most about, and I can't remember hers or anybody else's character name! Say what you want about Roland Emmerich's mindless, shallow, disaster movie dribbles, at least, he knows how to contextualize the disastrous events happening around his characters, which, he actually does manage to formulate into characters interesting enough to follow. Bay, has characters in his movies, basically because common decency says he has to. This is where I think, "13 Hours..." comes in at.

Now, obviously the story of Benghazi is a complicated one, one that, most people would probably not think that Michael Bay may be entirely sophisticated or nuanced enough to tackle. They would be right, but let's consider the film anyway. The movie, does effectively portray the confusion of the day when, on September 11, 2012, four Americans, including the Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Lescher) were killed after an attack by Libyan militants. Their success was in part due to, timing, as well as the fact that the U.S. Military was unable to put enough military muscle in place to protect the Ambassador, partly because of GOP-influenced budget cuts, partly due to the fact that we were fighting two other wars in the middle of all this and removing assets from one part of the world to the other could be just as dangerous, and-, yeah, the military from the pencil-pusher perspective, while Bay, makes them out to be, disreputable entirely, and I don't necessarily disagree, in reality, it's basically a big game of Risk, they're playing. Due to build up somewhere else for a future attack, do you retreat if possible, or do you gamble and hope that what protection we have there will be enough to survive against whatever attack may or may not ever come? Sometimes the answer is C, and this is what happens. I can also think of a movie where the option was A. and this is still basically what happened. That film, I'm thinking, is the one I think Bay, probably intended "13 Hours..." to be most like, and that Ridley Scott's masterpiece, "Black Hawk Down". That's actually a really interesting comparison, 'cause that's a movie, that seems like Bay could've directed and done well, there are real characters and people involved in the story, but the movie is pretty much just a confused kaleidoscopic mess of action as one disaster partakes into another and then another, and pretty soon, something that was only gonna be a routine mission turned into an 18 hour shootout on the streets of Mogadishu. (If you can call them streets) I don't remember any of the characters in that film either, but the emotion of the film, is still effective. "13 Hours..." could've been done like that, and not even bring up the political situation to do it, which to Bay's credit mostly does feel minimized here. The problem is, that there's no other real emotion, at all. Even in the action. We get introduced to a few characters sure, and a few interesting ones, like the parts played by John Krasinski and James Badge Dale, who are former Navy Seals, but who are actually now CIA as apart of Global Response Staff, which is a fancy term for basically saying that their the bodyguards for ambassadors and other American dignitaries around the world. That's actually an interesting profession, that's probably worth exploring itself, but that mostly get dropped in favor of cliche and confusion, and not confusion in that we're confused because of how overwhelmed we are, 'cause of the situation, we're just confused and overwhelmed, because Bay thinks confusing and overwhelming us, is the same as the characters being confused and overwhelmed.


CAMERAPERSON (2016) Director: Kristen Johnson

★★★★1/2




There's few names and words given for the professions of  "Cameraperson", out there. Cinemtagrapher, that's a big one, expresses the idea that there's an artistic value in the job, as involves lighting choices. Videographer I've heard as well, although that's a word that could be a catch-all for nearly every behind the scenes position involving the camera, including editing people. But, to some extent, most people whose job it is to hold up a camera, to position, shoot, and record the action, they are just, the cameraperson, and maybe moreso with documentary features. There's a few exceptions but you don't normally think of a documentary cameraman or women, as being artistic; documentaries don't get Oscar nominations for Cinematography. "Cameraperson", is the catch-all for all those positions, but they're there and their often the ones framing the action. Kristen Johnson has been one of those camerapersons for years now. Her IMDB.com page is a who's who of documentary filmmakers that she's worked with from Laura Poitras, to Kirby Dick, to Michael Moore. When she got to a part of "Cameraperson", where she showed some of the unedited raw footage of "Fahrenheit 9/11", I paused the movie, remembering the scene very well, and immediately looked up Abdul Henderson, the Army officer who said in that movie that he would refuse to go back to Iraq if he were to be deployed again, just to make sure and check on how he has doing, suddenly concerned about his safety. I checked, he's doing pretty well actually; last word, he's a member of the staff for the Congressional Black Caucus with a focus on Veteran's Affairs. "Cameraperson" is basically a collage of several hours of footage that Johnson has shot, all while working as a documentary cameraperson, just the random and powerful things that somebody in that position gets to record. Could be as simple as literally a wedding, while other times you're recording people losing their shit, or keeping their shit when they should be losing their minds, or just seeing events that would under normal circumstances would make people self-reflective or self-destructive. It's a weird, most of the time we think of camerapeople, at least in movie-making terms as a fairly glamorous position, where you're out to get the perfect shot, and there's tons of rigging and tracks laid out and several rigs and lifts and jigs that are maneuvers around, but oftentimes, it's a simple as picking up your camera, making sure the batteries are charged and record and keep recording There's some shots of her own homelife, she's a mother with a couple kids, and in general seems like a fairly non-descript but interesting person going through her own daily struggles that aren't too dissimilar to anybody else's except when she's at work, she seem people who make start breaking and throwing all their suicidal parent's old shit and toss it all about the room, in an emotional, messy anger-fueled rage. The meditative tone is fascinating, it actually reminded me of one of the best documentaries made this decade, Ron Fricke's "Samsara". (Fricke being one of the few filmmakers it seems that Johnson hasn't worked with) but that was a collage of, everything it seems, without any particular rhyme or connection that we would regard as person. This is more like, getting a video diary from somebody's life and experience, but instead of the usual kinds of video diaries out there, we get one from the perspective of the person, behind the camera. (Pun unintentional) That's probably what ultimately makes this so powerful, it's a look inside a profession that we don't generally think about, from the one kind of filmmaking artist that we don't generally here from, even within their profession, the generic cameraperson is the low person on the barrel, but they do watch and see a lot, and taking a look at what they document is quite powerful.


HIGH-RISE (2016) Director: Ben Wheatley

★★★



I'm not particularly familiar with the work of J.G Ballard, the novelist behind "High-Rise", who's known for being somewhat of a provocateur and a somewhat prophetic subtext to his work, especially his sci-fi work. I've seen two films adapted from his films, Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun", which is probably one of Spielberg's weakest films, although that one is probably not a good example of Ballard's overall work. The other one, I've seen, probably is, I suspect and that's David Cronenberg's "Crash" a movie about people who have a sexual infatuation with car crashes. That's a weird movie, for sure, but it does put Ben Wheatley's adaptation of "High-Rise" into a better context, cause this movie feels like a car crash, just one of the excess. The literal "High-Rise" in the movie, is one of those things that's clearly metaphorical, but basically, the higher up you live in the high-rise building, the more well-off you are. Dr. Robert Laing's (Tom Hiddleston) is directly in the middle. He is, I guess the center of the movie, since, most of the action seems to center around him, but really, the main character is the high-rise itself, and what it does to the people inside it. Built by Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) this place, is essentially life and the world, overall, inside a building. It even has a supermarket, so therefore, there's little reason for any of the residents to leave, and the world itself become so insular and inevitably violent and self-destructive. Cinematically, the most-obvious comparison is Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel", a movie I actually greatly admire, but that movie was done for comedic satire on the upper class, and "High-Rise", is going for more admittedly, but I don't know if it succeeds. Also, in hindsight, I kinda see how people can see Ballard as prophetic. This idea of the high-rise, actually mimics Josh Harris's obscure art project, "Quiet: We Live in Public", the one where he put 100 people in a dorm-like structure complete with everything they could've had or wanted and all of it was online. (If you've never heard of Harris, as an internet luminary, check out the documentary "We Live in Public") Still, I was actually surprised that this movie, was based around the '70s, especially the pre-Margaret Thatcher '70s of the United Kingdom, 'cause the film really reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis to me. Even though, there's various people on the class spectrum, this movie, feels like a lot of his stories. It's feel like this is one of Patrick Bateman's favorite movies, although not one he's ever admit to admiring. As some of you might be aware, I've always been critical of Ellis, his naval-gazing on nothingness has never fascinated me, but in reality, that analysis is a simplification, cause that's not simply what he does. He's also making points about the rich and their place in society, and in many ways how it often contradicts with our expectations of them, and in some cases, humanity's more primal and perhaps, animalistic nature. It's about how we indulge in our excesses. "High-Rise", is more complex than that, although the elements are all there, but it's also out of place and time. Ellis, is typically a modern writer, although he can confused for representing the eighties with stuff like "American Psycho" and "Less than Zero" to his credit, but yeah, this movie is time-period specific as well. That's part of my ambivalence, I can see why some would react to powerfully to this film, but to me, it came off as more production design than it does movie. The subtlety gets lost, in a high-concept metaphor that's about a time and place that's barely relevant to today. I like excess, I like over-the-top and I like the power struggle, but, like with Ellis, at a certain point, and no, I'm not whether or not it's what happens to the dog, it just becomes that naval gazing on an idea, that frankly, I tune out on. I'm on the fence personally, but I think I'll recommend it just because, but barely. This was supposedly one of those unfilmable novels for years, and I do get why, conceptually this works better on the page. That said, I don't know director Ben Wheatley, couldn't have adapted and modernized this? Ben Wheatley, is a bit of an enigmatic director to me. I panned his previous film "Sightseers" for instance, but then placed it as an Honorable Mention on my Best Films List, 'cause I did rethink that movie after awhile, and realized it's comedic value. I suspect there might be something like that at play here, and he's portraying this excess as satire, but I don't suspect, "High-Rise" will gain much more ground from me in the future, especially since the movie is mainly about adapting the novel, while with "Sightseers" he was documenting an original idea from his two main leads. That's part of what makes me question his as a visionary director; I don't necessarily by so far that he takes an idea and tranforms it to his perspective, other than how he just shoots a decent idea very well, similar to my conflict with David Lynch at time. This is a tricky one for me. I think I admire it, but at the same time, sorta hate it.


POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (2016) Directors: Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone

★★



(Sigh) I don't think this joke's funny enough for a full movie, anymore. I mean, I sorta laughed and got the joke, but...- (Sigh) You know, here's the thing, is there anything really parody-worthy anymore in the music industry? I guess, you can say that this is more of a parody of some of the ridiculous barrage of music documentaries their are out there, and yeah, actually, there are way too many out there. I mean, I know there's always been, but it feels like there's way too many, authorized, unauthorized, and everything in between. The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter", The Beatles, "Let It Be", U2's "Rattle & Hum", Madonna's "Truth or Dare", and now we get, Shawn Mendes's "The Journey. (Seriously, that's real! I know, I could've picked on Bieber or One Direction there, but there's way more crap than just their big screen atrocities.) However, even that idea was being done as far back as "This is Spinal Tap". I don't know, this still feels mostly like I'm trying to look at a pop music industry that's already such an overblown parody of itself, that even someone like "The Lonely Island', who I like in small doses, but this just feels like one-two- many unnecessary layers.

So, in this universe, Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), as opposed to, Conner4Fake I guess, is a pop music superstar. One that's the most vapid and innocuous pop stars around, one who makes a bragging rap talking about how humble he is. That's funny, I guess. He goes on his own, and still has some success, but his latest album is a gigantic failure, and the tour continually turns into more and more of a shitshow. Now, originally, he was a part of a three-piece group, but Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) went to grow pot in Colorado and Owen (Jorma Taccone) who produced a lot of the tracks, is basically just the guy with the ipod that's behind him on stage, complete with a robot head. I'm pretty sure that was a Daft Punk joke more than anything. The problem with "Popstar..." is that it's just too disjointed. I think this film probably somewhere real, with the documentary style beginning, again, in the vein of "This is Spinal Tap", but all the celebrity cameos and over-the-top parodying of celebrity culture, including a continuous joke parodying "TMZ", it just loses itself and gets bogged down in an uber-meta parody of the modern-day music industry, which, is, like I said, already a big parody.

Actually, that's part of the problem, I don't know what they're parodying. Are they parodying other music docs? Are they parodying celebrity culture, the music industry, bad rap groups? I mean, they're a parody of a parody.  I mean, compare this to, say, some of Garfunkel & Oates' wonderful, but not as well-known or popular television series, which play up the fact that they're basically a little or unknown comedy folk duo act, and the show is about their stumbles and trials and tribulations, that feel believable, even though both Riki Lindhomme & Kate Micucci are actually at this fairly well-known and respected character actresses in their own rights, outside their group. And while Samberg is famous enough for everyone, we still don't know this band and group of there's very well. They're funny as The Lonely Island, without adding on this facade that somehow these blatant ridiculously comedic songs of there's are in some way in this alternate universe, taken as realistic and believable pop hits and they became major music superstars from them. (If there even is such a thing anymore as major music superstars. Seriously, in my day, NSYNC, as crappy as they were, they sold twice as many albums in one week than Flo Rida has sold in his entire career! It's so different now, it's not comparable. It's almost not even worth parodying to be honest.) They're a fictitious persona of a fictitious persona, while G&O are on stage with their comedy songs, they're still just G&O and therefore you can relate to them. Even is a mockumentary, you still need even believability to care about the characters. I care about Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins, enough to remember their names, thirty+ years later, but there's nobody interesting in "Popstar..." to care about. Therefore there's no reason to watch, and no reason to recommend it either.


MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (2016) Director: Zhangke Jia

★★★★1/2



Zhangke Jia's is one of China's best filmmakers right now, and one of their most unique. He loves multiple narratives, and it's clear that his movies are saying something other than just the stories that he tell in the foreground. His "A Touch of Sin", spanned parts of China and generations in order to look at the place the country was and was currently going. That film made my Top Ten List the year it came out, and "Mountains May Depart" is doing something similar. It tells three stories, each in different time periods, but this time, he's following a few main characters, and the time period are interesting ones. The movie begins in 1999 Shanghai, then goes to 2014, modern day, and then, the last section takes place in 2025, and even that section spends a good deal of time, not in China, but in Australia. The movie begins, centered around Shen Tao (Tao Zhao), who the story circumnavigates around in each of the three stories, inevitably, the first one, is about her friendship with two young men, a worker named Liangzi (Jing Dong Liang) and a future entrepreneur named Jinsheng (Yi Zhang). I guess you could think of this as a "Jules et Jim" sort of friendship, but eventually, she makes a decision for one of them, I won't give away which, but the decision irrevocably breaks their friendship. The next portion, in modern-day, (BTW, in a touch that I've noticed has become more and more common lately, Zhangke has chosen to play with the format ratio, with each section be a different ratio'd screen. I think Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" has been the best use of this so far, Wes Anderson played with this idea a bit as well, but I don't hate how it was done here; it's another nice touch and will probably become a more common practice in the next five or ten years.) involves Liangzi's who's spent most of his life as a coal miner, begin to get sick, and Tao being at his side. Coal is a big industry in China, but it's also one that's being fazed out, and people getting sick, is as common as it is in America. The obvious parallel involved here, is how the changing country is leading to worst and changing conditions, and inevitably, more people leaving the nation and becoming immigrants somewhere else. In 2025, the scene has changed to Australia, where Tao is now a Professor, who's teaching, essentially Chinese as a second language, mainly to immigrant Chinese kids, as the old language is dying and much of the last part of the movie is spoken in English. (The first two parts being in Mandarin and Cantonese). She begins a relationship with one of her older students, Dollar (Zijian Dong), which is the Westernized name he took, Tao eventually went with Mia, and it's clear that Dollar is a reincarnated spirit of Liangzi, if not literally, then spiritually. Things come to ahead when they're booking a trip back to China, for a visit, before eventually moving to Toronto. Tao, is, I think the spirit of China, to some extent, in much the same way that the Luisa character is the incarnation of Mexico symbolically in Alfonso Cuaron's "Y Tu Mama Tambien", and yet, curiously, the most notable song that represents her, played at both the beginning and ending of the movie, is the Pet Shop Boys "Go West", which is pretty literal anti-Communist interpretation of that song, which specifically requests that going towards the West is the way to go, something that I don't think Tao feels is right in her heart, while society and economics might dictate otherwise. Zhangke has called this his most personal work, and since Zhangke's big motif is survival in the modern age, and at the behest of the modern technology, yeah, this movie might make sense as his most personal. He's a controversial director who doesn't explain his movies, but there's clearly added symbolisms to his work that, only on repeated viewings and study do they really become clear. I enjoy that about him, his films can come off as meditative mosaics at times, where you really wonder what exactly he's talking about, but I think ultimately, it's his exploration of what it means to be Chinese, an individual in particular in China today. There's a scene late in the movie where Dollar has brought Tao to translate a conversation with his father, as he's announcing that he's not going to college and it gonna live on his own. The conversation is about freedom, and what exactly that means to both generations, and for that matter, what exactly does it mean to Tao. That part, we never get an answer to, curiously, I guess, it's just being able to go back to your home and dance to The Pet Shop Boys, whether or not the song is even playing. "Mountains May Depart", but, the soul of the country still lives in some of it's people? The surviving ones? (Shrugs) I don't know if I entirely get everything about the movie, but it's a movie that worth exploring to find out about it, and I think that's Zhangke Jia's best asset as a filmmaker. He doesn't beat you over the head, but he calms invites you in and shows you, just enough to feel and understand where he comes from, and you fill in the symbolic blanks about what he may or may not mean, and his work is so strong and good that whatever interpretation you come up with, you're gonna be more thought-filled and more enlightened than you were before. He makes movies that demand you to think and demand repeated viewings, and in a world where sometimes watching something once is probably one-too many times, his most are pieces of fresh air over a constantly droll film scene.


MILES AHEAD (2016) Director: Don Cheadle

★★★



Some of you will have to bare with me, unlike other musical films recently, like the Frank Zappa documentary I reviewed last time, I'm actually quite unfamiliar with Miles Davis, other than just his reputation. I've of course heard the name over the decades and basically, I associate him as being the greatest of the greats among the jazz men. However, jazz is not a particular area of expertise for me. I don't hate the genre by any means, in fact I quite admire jazz, but yeah, Miles Davis is just not somebody I've been as introduced to or as engrossed with over the years, so my knowledge is minimal. It doesn't help that "Miles Ahead" is a improvised incoherent mess of a movie, but I didn't mind it. Cheadle plays Davis and directs the movie, and I think I know what he was getting at, but trying to explain it....- basically, oh boy. I mean, there's a composite journalist character Dave Braden (Ewen McGregor) although I don't know what the hell he would ever be writing about, there's too much to write about. There's his wife Francis (Emayatzy Corinealdi) there's his drug problems, his problems with thugs and underworld individuals, there's his reclusiveness, there's his regular proto-physiological meanderings,- I mean, the movie's jumping from time and place all the time too, so don't think it's just confusing in subject matter, it's a confusing mess, all the way through structurally as a story as well, but emotionally, I think I got it. I mean, for one thing, it's jazz, so jazz is improvisational to begin with, and life is also improvisational, not just in the literal day-to-day, but in the emotional as well, and it's not simply, that there's one thing or event that determines your emotions, there's often other things going on that does it, and sometimes those moments are years a part but feel like their happening now. Boy, the way I'm describing the movie, it sounds more like Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" than it does any typical music biopic I can think of. I guess that works here. The movie is better listened to, than actually watched, although you do wanna watch, 'cause Don Cheadle really does give one of the best performances of the year and of his career in this film. I mean, this is a passion project that he is absolutely perfect for, to that end, there is no doubt about and he is amazing here. I can't think of anybody else I would dare cast as Miles Davis. Him and the music are basically the two things that salvage this movie, and give it some sort of structure. "Miles Ahead" achieve it's goal to me, in that it's made me more intrigued and interested in the life and work of Miles Davis, so for that reason I'm recommending it.


LITTLE MEN (2016) Director: Ira Sachs

★★★★



Ira Sachs has been one of the most underrated of American filmmakers in recent years. This guy's made one amazing movie after another, recently, "Married Life", "Keep the Lights On", his best film being his last film, the tragically sad but wonderful melodrama, "Love is Strange", about an aging gay couple, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, who had to begin to live separately with each other's families after one of them loses their job and they both lose their home. That movie was most reminiscent of Leo McCarey's masterpiece, "Make Way for Tomorrow", also about an elderly couple who have a separation forced upon them, and find themselves unable to cope with the modern age that's passed them by. "Little Men", is not nearly as dramatic, and it's also got nothing to do with the Louisa May Alcott novel, although I wouldn't have at all been surprised if it had. Sachs seems to be an old soul, and has an affinity for telling classic stories, or taking the trends and motifs of those stories and rework and re-imagine them for the modern times. Even a movie like "Keep the Lights On", which mostly takes place in hotel rooms, and involves a lot of graphic nudity and sex, is basically a romance story about a couple who are having a relationship in private and we see them talking and exploring their relationship. It could've just been, "Same Time, Next Year", in another era. And "Married Life", for that matter, was somewhere between Alan Ball and Douglas Sirk. I haven't seen his films before that, but I'm definitely interesting in seeing them eventually. By contrast, "Little Men", seems particularly small. It's not a story that I haven't seen told before, or told with more style or intrigue, but it's told well. This understates drama is about two little boys, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) two 12-year old artistic boys who become friends, after Jake's family moves back to Brooklyn, after the family patriarch passes away and they leave them their place. Jake's parents, are Brian and Kathy (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle), Brian's a stage actor who's currently got a gig, but Kathy is the breadwinner as a successful psychoanalyst. Brian's father also left them the lease that he's kept on a store downstairs, which Tony's single mother, Leonor (Paulina Garcia) a Chilean dressmaker runs her shop. She was good friend with Brian's father and has hired a lawyer, Hernan (Alfred Molina) in case, what she expected to happen, does happen, and that for Brian to insist they write out a lease and that she start paying rent on the place. This friction between the adults, of course bleeds into the two friends as they struggle to keep and continue their newly-formed friendship. It's not done in a clichéd or unique or unusual way either, this is just a hard, straight-forward simple conflict of a tale. And also, one that's about the two kids struggling to keep their friendship, despite the perils of the adults; that's a nice twist to the story, and a logical one at that. "Little Men", is a good little story about friendship between kids and how that can get in the way because of the business of parenthood and adulthood. It's a simple tale told well, something that Ira Sachs is currently doing better than most directors today.


FORT BLISS (aka EMULSION) (2014) Director: Claudia Myers

★★★★




I'm sure there are movies out there that are about female soldiers coming back from war, from before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but I honestly can't think of too many. Women in military positions is nothing new, although women in combat, in the theater, that's a bit newer, and one of the more interesting trends in recent cinema that's come about has been the fact there's been more movies made about them. I mean, thinking back to, well, I guess I have a few options here, but the first movie I can think of with that idea was "G.I. Jane", and that was a movie that was basically constructed to be about how women were just as capable at being a soldier as a male, and even then, the character Demi Moore played was still constructed to be practically superwoman. I know, there's more male soldiers fighting still, but there are a lot of women doing a lot on the battlefield, but maybe even more interesting a subject, is what happens to these young women after they arrive home. This has a popular subject to explore in indy films lately, and I find myself thoroughly enjoying most of them. The best of these is probably "Return" from Director Liza Johnson and starring Linda Cardellini.  This one here, is called "Fort Bliss", a movie that I've also seen referred to as "Emulsion", for some reason, is about a girl who was a medic in Afghanistan, Sgt. Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan) who comes home to Texas, a single mother who's kid, Paul (Oakes Fegley) is not interested in seeing her. She's been living with his father, Richard (Ron Livingston) and his new fiancé Alma (Emmanuelle Chriquí), who he now considers his true mother-figure, and the woman he wants raising him more. She's got a couple military acquaintances that she still hangs around, a Sgt. Donovan (Pablo Schreiber) for instance, and we do see some flashbacks to her work in the military while she muddles over whether or not to re-enlist, and/or whether or not to fight for her child's custody rights, which Richard has threatened to take from her. She does manage to befriend a local mechanic, Garver (Freddy Rodriguez), which helps, a bit. Not a lot, but we get a couple different senses of her military experiences, good and bad, as she struggles to conflate that to her life back home. Basically, it's a battle of career vs. motherhood, but in this scenario, the mother is definitely not home, and is always working. And might not come home. "Fort Bliss", is quite a good examination of the good and bads of both sides of a soldier's life. Monaghan, who's one of the more underrated actresses around to begin with, is channeling some of her best work here. She's forgettable in major films, but in films like this, and also a similar role she had in a really great, overlooked film called "Trucker", we realize how she can really be special when given the chance. "Fort Bliss" was written and directed by Claudia Myers, and it's her first feature film, since her debut, "Kettle of Fish", way back in '06; I've heard of, but haven't seen that film, although I'm definitely interested in looking that film up now. (What's with female breakthrough directors not getting the opportunity to make a 2nd film for years on end? That's some Hollywood bullshit for you.) "Fort Bliss", is another entry in a subgenre that's ever-growing and will continue to grow as their becomes more and more to examine, and like most of the other entries, this one is solid.