Friday, May 27, 2016

MAD MEN AND DOWNTON ABBEY: THE END OF GREAT SERIES BUT THE BEGINNING OF THE PERIOD DRAMA SERIES RULING TELEVISION!



I usually made it a point to, when a show, (or a show I finally get around to finishing) ends that's of exception quality and relevant importance in the historical world of television, to do a analytical look at the show in an effort to place quantify their place in such world. I've done it for "The Office", "30 Rock", "Breaking Bad", "Weeds" to some extent, "How I Met Your Mother", one or two others probably, and something like "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report" as well, but I haven't really done that lately. I'm not sure why, there are definitely more than a few shows that I could/should do that for. Hell, one that I missed doing it for "The United States of Tara" still bugs me that I never did do that one. I mean, there's other reasons, that elongated stretch I had where I didn't have internet capabilities on a regular basis really ate into both my television viewing, as many of these shows I have to stream to watch, as well as my writing, regarding those shows, and frankly I'm so far behind on so many shows, by the time I ever finish some of them, the shows will be long gone. I have to really get around to catching up on "Boardwalk Empire", "True Blood", 'Treme", and "Nurse Jackie" eventually.

However, I did happen to catch the finale of "Downton Abbey" earlier this year, and then eventually, I finally got around to finishing up the last season of "Mad Men", and even though I'm a bit late on both of these, I think I need to cover them anyway like this, so I'm gonna try to cover both at once here. Now, I normally wouldn't do this, I think they're both series that are more-than-deserving of their own blogpost on this, but I'm also sure that so many of those pieces have been written by now, that, I doubt I can say anything that wouldn't be anything more than a redundant yelp of praise. I adored both of these shows, and was very saddened to see both of them end. They had good runs, and I suspect "Downton Abbey", could've gone on a couple more years if it wanted to; and "Mad Men", holy hell, that finale ending, I-eh, wow, I can't believe they did that. I wonder just how long they had that joke planned up, but wow. I won't give it away, 'cause you have to see for yourself, other than to say, they set up a great joke to end the series. Just, it's sheer ballsiness and brilliant ridiculousness that got them to pull that off.

I do think there's a few things about these shows that have really shifted the television landscape in big, big ways however, on top of being great shows, and you do have to go back to when these shows first debuted to really see how different it is, but, the main influence of these two shows, above nearly everything else, is that they're both period dramas. I know, that doesn't seem like that should be so weird, but in television, that's actually really unusual; it was especially unusual at the time. It's actually kinda unusual in general in regards to television, at least in America.

You see, the one thing that really distinguishes television is that, of all art forms, it's impact is instantaneous; I think I've brought this up before, but something happens, it's literally on the TV and in your living room, the moment it's happening, or at most, immediately after, and it's a shared experience with everybody else too. It's not like, watching a movie where your in a darkened closed-off room with a few others or even staring at a painting in a museum that's been hanging forever and will be hanging there tomorrow for someone else to discover, or even music which is made long before it's ever making it to radio or CD, or whatever the equivalent of CDs are that people use now, Spotify? I don't know,-, anyway, this immediacy is what inherently effects what works on television or not and something that typically doesn't work, because of this format, are period dramas. I mean, there's always an exception or two, but except for the western in the early days of television, period dramas are kinda rare, and usually not that important or relevant, especially years.

Hell, most of those westerns don't hold up, but you also have to think about that genre in context with the time period, 'cause, we tend to think of the wild west era, as kinda being an era of the past, at least in comparison to the history of film, but that's not quite true. The frontier mentality and Indian Wars and the building of the railroads, and such, that's a bit ancient, but the Wild West image of the outlaws and marshalls and saloon halls, that's not that old, pop culture-wise. Depending on when film started, late 1800s, or so, early 20th Century, a lot of that was still around, and let's not forget, that eventually the American film industry moved out west, to California, so westerns suddenly became much easier to make, 'cause, well, it's a bit of a trek, a few miles by the newly invented automobile and airplane, but the Wild West was right there. Wyatt Earp lived to see motion pictures and by the time film was created, that outlaw image of the west was tamed and had become a touring carnival. We had an obsession with the western for a long time, much longer than, we probably should've, really, really should've a lot longer than we did. (20 Years of "Gunsmoke" was about 15 years too many folks.) That's one factor there were others. There were a few other notable television drama period pieces too, but they were more procedurals though, at least in primetime. Or war series, WWII was ten-twenty years earlier, a lot of people working in television had been in the military, so you had war and military programs through all genres, your "12 O'Clock High"'s and "Combat!" also existed, but if you do think of the drama series of that era, you probably would think of "The Twilight Zone" or some other anthology series, or maybe "Perry Mason", or some other investigative procedural before that. Other than that, I can think of a few drama series, outside of the western that are somewhat important. One of them, is the reason I didn't put "Downton Abbey" on my Geekcast Radio Television poll a few months back, "Upstairs, Downstairs", which is the only other major British drama series that came across to America and became as big and popular as "Downton Abbey", and no, I'm not counting "Poirot", "Miss Marple", "Prime Suspect" or "Doctor Who", three are procedurals and one's sci-fi, those aren't involved in this discussion, plus, no, "Upstairs, Downstairs" was bigger at the time, and from everything I've heard, it's basically the '70s version of "Downton Abbey", and I haven't seen it to compare.

That said, other than that, what period dramas are ever mentioned after that? Maybe "China Beach"? "American Dreams" if you insist on stretching it, but there's almost no impact or influence from those shows remaining now. And, to be honest, I'm kinda surprised I can name that many, and most of the time when you do see a period drama on television, it fails, and usually it deserves to. Immediacy is important, and being about the past on television, well, it's a stretch and half unless you're a miniseries and even then. I know, most people's inclination would be that shows that take place in the past would have more impact over time, because it's more timeless, but television is different. It's immediate, and reflects the time it's made more than any other genre. There's a reason why Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone were in the '50s and '60s but in the eighties, it was Crockett and Tubbs and "Cagney & Lacey" and in the nineties, Briscoe & Logan, or Sipowitz & Simone. We were in a western appreciation period in the beginning, and plus, it's a genre that was already ready-made for procedurals or procedural-like shows, so, that was the exception. But since then, let me put it this way, last year, three of the six Outstanding Drama Series Emmy nominations went to period pieces. "Mad Men", "Downton Abbey" and yes, this is only technically a period series, but still, "Better Call Saul", (And "Game of Thrones" the winner, a fantasy series, could also fall into this category, but let's for the moment not count fantasy either as period pieces, but "Game of Thrones" importance shouldn't be underestimated here either; it also piggybacked off the trend) That might not seem weird, but pre-"Mad Men", and "Downton Abbey", not counting the single nomination for "Star Trek: The Next Generation", with the exception of "Deadwood" sole year being nominated, you have to go back to "China Beach", "Homefront' and "I'll Fly Away", in the late eighties and early nineties, and each of them, were only nominated once, and none of those shows lasted much longer than that single season. Hell, even "Beauty and the Beast", remember that '89 show, that took place in modern times! Go back further, when do we see it again? "Moonlighting", nope that doesn't count even though they seem to take place in more eras than "Quantum Leap", yeah, "Upstairs, Downstairs" winning in '77, that's the last one before "China Beach", And before then, the forever-punchline of "The Waltons" a few years earlier.

The point I'm making is that, this is not a medium that neither appreciates the period drama, and for that matter, even the few that sorta break through don't last long and there's a long, long list of attempted period series, comedy and drama that didn't succeed at all. Yeah, comedy, this sometimes work in nostalgia value, like "Happy Days" or "The Wonder Years", and of course, "M*A*S*H" is the exception that proves any rule, least of which, it's a sitcom, not a drama series, or even today with "The Goldbergs" to some extent, but the sitcom is a more natural art form for television. Dramas, they tend to not play as well in general on television, historically anyway, that's changing, but still, the period drama especially. Not immediate as series go, unusually un-impactful and rarely influential even if they achieve a modicum of critical or commercial success and frankly they're not conducive to television.

So, what changed? Well, "Mad Men" and "Downton Abbey". For one thing, they're really good, some of the best in television history. "Mad Men"'s pilot that Michael Weiner used to get a job as a writer for "The Sopranos" was about seven or eight years old when it finally got produced and he took the time to not simply be a show about, the sixties. It's the era the film takes place in, but-, well, my theory has always been that the world of Madison Avenue advertising, and the character of Don Draper were actually a metaphor for the writing process itself. Sometimes you have a good idea, other times you don't, other times it comes in the blink of an eye at the last second, other times, you have to have the experience to find the inspiration, you have to pretend to be someone else, get inside others shoes, etc. "Mad Men" is essentially a story about a conman, who convinces other to buy his products, while he himself is not who he seems and has attempted to convince himself that he's someone different from who he was. Did you get all that? Yeah, I don't remember any character that enigmatic on "The Waltons" or "Bonanza" and he's the main guy. The show did come along in what many consider the beginning era of the great drama series, that were more literate as well as cerebral, and used a more soap-opera influenced, continuous narrative as a focus as opposed to a more conventional procedural story.

I think if this is such a golden age of dramas, that's what meant by that statement, it's the beginning of a time, where a show that could employ such storytelling freedom became the expectation and not in the past, the exception. Drama series got better, simply be us expecting them to be better, and that includes shows that took place, somewhere in the past. They don't even necessarily have to reflect us as a culture or convey a moralistic ideal like the western and numerous other shows did previously. It's into that world that "Mad Men", exploded. And now, let's look at the Primetime landscape, especially the drama series. "The Americans", "Mercy Street", "Mr. Selfridge", "The Knick", "Vikings", "True Detective" to some extent, "Vinyl", "Masters of Sex", "Penny Dreadful", "Hell on Wheels", "Broken Trail", "The Making of the Mob: New York", "Rebellion", in the recent past, "Boardwalk Empire" "The Tudors",, you get the idea, there's more than ever.

And that's...-, well, it's mostly a good thing. Not entirely one however. I mean, it's like any subgenre, there's good and bad of it. There's just as many "The Playboy Club"'s in this genre as others. Hell, I honestly don't care for a good number of the shows I just mentioned above, and they're probably the best of the ones on now. And there's a few that don't catch on too; I'm probably the only person who really enjoyed "PANAM", but, yeah, I can't say that I'd bend over backwards to defend even that. Curiously network television is the one place where this genre is lacking, granted most of their time is now devoted to reality television, but there's still a few sci-fi and fantasy that sneaks in, but period pieces? Even "Sleepy Hollow" takes place in modern day, and most of the examples in recent years of network trying for a more ambitious period series, have flopped, and flopped badly. "American Dreams" is the last long-lasting one I can remember, and honestly, I have no idea why that show lasted as long as it did, it was terrible and boring; it made "Providence" seem like a watchable series. I mean, when's the last time you ever heard anybody other than me, bring that show up? Yeah, never, and for good reason.

That show took place in the '60s as well as "Mad Men", that came about after the popular NBC miniseries "The '60s", and was trying to piggyback off the success of that. "Mad Men", is much more specific, and much more stylized. Slick, cool, it evolved, but it also knew the perspective of the decade it wanted to pursue and look at. Explore. It also had the backing of a cable network that was on the upstart and was looking for anything to put on the air, so it snuck in and then it stuck out. And, then came the ones that have tried to use their formula, or something akin to it, and show us an era of the past through a very specific lens, a time and place, often through a few interesting characters' eyes. Yeah, most of these shows have quite the elaborate casts, not all but most, and some shows are becoming more and more stylized in that too. "Mad Men", for the genre of the period piece, is the main trendsetter, at least in modern time, and that, I imagine is going to be it's ultimate biggest influence, even above the storytelling and the characters.

"Downton Abbey"'s influence, is probably just bringing back and re-legitimizing the British period drama, and the most beloved of period dramas, the rich country home of the aristocratic rich, but at the end of their era, (While "Mad Men", at least the way I read the ending, while it seemed to be documenting the end of the golden era of advertising, I actually suspect might have been documenting merely the beginning of it, and shows it continuing on, in song, for years to come, reinventing, renewing itself for the next generation and the newest of cultures young and old.) "Downton Abbey", also, at least in America, started as a miniseries. The show was a regular series, but most of the time, especially for PBS series that air under the "Masterpiece" designation, the "series" usually got placed in the "Limited Series" category. Partially because in a sense, they are, 'cause of how England's seasons are structure, but also because, it was so unusually and so rare to see quality period series that weren't miniseries that occasionally when one was, they simply marketed it and portrayed it as a limited series. "Prime Suspect" and "Sherlock" are good recent examples, they're continuing series, but they're also detective shows and each series or season of the series is specific and different, and they don't always come every year, sometimes they're maddeningly random. It's not too unusual to see years go by between new seasons or series of a show; they might as well be miniseries. That said, when they suddenly switched from a miniseries to a regular series, permanently, it opened the door for other British period shows to make it over here, and for that matter British dramas in general."Sherlock", "Luther", "Orphan Black", among others, they crossed the pond in ways few series ever have. "Downton Abbey", was the first one though. It's actually amazing how well the show holds up. Sometimes, I thought it got too caught up in the bad over-expositioning dialogue and yeah, Lady Mary can be a wishy-washy emotional bitch, depending on who she thinks she may be in love with that week, but you also saw the time taken to patiently and quietly evolve every character over the series, and enhance us into the world.

You know, I have mentioned something about fantasy having too many characters most of the time that you can't get invested in, well, I think part of the reason they do that, is because they forget that the world should be enhanced and then the characters start to develop, not the characters come and enhance the world as they come. Castle Downton, is large and a character into itself, and never does the show make you forget that, and life and history happens there all the time, even in it's waining days of relevance. It's actually amazing how engrossing this show can be, although not surprising since Julian Fellowes had written the screenplay for the best recent film of this genre, Robert Altman's final masterpiece, "Gosford Park". Everybody's got a secret, everybody's got a past, and it seems like everybody comes to "Downton Abbey" hoping to get away from their past and start life anew, but unlike with Don Draper, who really never gets that much comeuppance for his ultimate sin, they all come back to haunt you at Downton, but that's not always a bad thing. (Although, fucking an Ambassador to death and then trying to hide the body in another room, um, yeah, that-, there's no spinning that one; it might not be illegal but good luck living that down.[One of the greatest episodes of television in history btw]) The miniseries that turns into a regular series however, that's gonna become more of a thing as time goes by. We're already seeing it with "Fargo", "True Detective", and other such anthology series, but it's gonna eventually evolve to shows that were probably just one-off ideas or seasons of other foreign shows that catch on. Hell, it expanded on foreign series, probably made it way more acceptable to think of foreign series as regular series equal and as relevant as shows on in America. Maybe that's it's legacy, being the show that truly made American television, global and international, even more than Japanese anime and Spanish soap operas, even more than cult British sci-fi series.

It's kinda fascinating how these two shows took two very different time periods, and two really different worlds. While Don Draper may be rich, he started out poor and the show always has a feel of the underlings trying to raise themselves up; you don't usually think of period dramas that focus on, essentially the underdogs trying to claw their way up. "Downton Abbey" is much more classic, and by classic, I mean caste. It's the rich and the servant, and the two worlds; nothing that hasn't been explored, especially in British literature time and time and time again, but by god, the contrast almost always makes the dynamic special. I guess you can also claim that "Mad Men" is a journey through a character's mind mostly. At least, in terms of the overall arc of Don Draper, if you want to read the show as that, although everybody goes through an epic journey into themselves. "Downton Abbey", is definitely more about it's locations and time and place, than "Mad Men"'s is. "Mad Men" documents the changing of the time, "Downton Abbey", reluctantly insists that times may change but "Downton Abbey" does not, at least not until it finally has to.

Yeah, I would've rather analyzed these shows separately, they really deserve their own separate analyses, but I don't know if I could've done them anyway. I could've but they would've taken forever; the shows are just so rich and in-depthful that I could probably do character analyses on each main character for these shows, and still be working on it well into next year. The main thing to note anyway, is just how much, at least in the short term, they've altered our understanding of successful drama series, and even bigger than that, showed the full potential of the period drama series, more than ever before. Maybe this will last into the future, or perhaps television's insistence on bringing more and more immediate material representing the zeitgeist of the era will eventually overshadow this current trend, but these shows didn't ride the trend, they didn't even just start and create the trend, they transcended it. With each Episode by Episode, from Person to Person, they expanded a subgenre and revealed the true depths of what could be in the drama series; I'd argue even moreso than the great shows before it, like "The West Wing" and "The Sopranos" and "Six Feet Under", not that these are better shows, that's debatable but by bringing in the period drama and showing that it too, can be at this level of quality, remain at that level of quality, and be popular and relevant enough to be worth the risk of doing such ambitious drama series as period pieces.... Yeah, we definitely can probably thank these show the most in having this shift go from intriguing anomaly, to full-on trend, to quite possibly a permanent new standard of quality and ambition for the television drama series.





Sunday, May 22, 2016

SPECIAL MOVIE REVIEW: "100 YEARS"!

I know as a reviewer, I'm not exactly known for being the first one out there to give his/her thoughts on movies, I'm usually the one, as I really should say more often than I actually do, I always have "The Last Word". Well, let me make that up for  you all, as in this very special blog, I'm going to be writing the very first review of Robert Rodriguez's latest film, "100 Years". If you aren't familiar with "100 Years", well, it won't be released for another, 100 years. Yes, you read that right. The film was made now, and currently is placed in a special high security, time locked safe, not to open until the year 2115, which is when the film will be screened a special audience, including the descendants of the filmmakers, including Rodriguez and actor/writer John Malkovich.

Now, believe it or not, while this is sorta unique in film, in terms of literature, this is actually not as unusual as you'd think, there have been numerous instances, including recently where certain texts are to be placed on hold and not released publicly until a later future date. Probably the most famous interesting one recently was Mark Twain's autobiography became a bestseller after it was finally released 100 years after his death in 2010, for instance, which was indeed the parameters he requested that the autobiography be released under. (Although parts were published years earlier but still, he knew he would be important and famous enough that a century after his death, his autobiography was not only a major bestseller, but the literary milestone of the year. Damn.)

So, deciding it was time to jump the gun, and go see the movie now, by stepping into my Chromoskimmer, which is the name of the regulation ACME Crime-Net Time Force time machine, um,- wait-, ummmm...- which is not, that unusual that I have, and does not insinuate that I am in any way have been or ever was apart of ACME Crime-Net, as an investigator or gumshoe and I am not apart of a secret government crimestopping organization within the CIA designed to catch V.I.L.E. henchman known for stealing famous landmarks and national treasures under the command of Carmen San Diego, the notorious famous criminal and former ACME agent, yeah, that's not, not, not at all, why I own this and have the capability to time travel, that's not, N-O-T, NOT, AT ALL, why I can do this. I'm most definitely NOT, that! I'm NOT an ACME agent, at all, I'm Not! (Whew!) Anyway, while I don't use the Chromoskimmer that often, 'cause you know, you don't want to do something and accidentally start World War IV, again, the release and possibility of being the very first person to see this film, was really too much not to pass up, and beside I needed a vacation, so a couple days ago, as reported on my TWITTER, which you can follow here: https://twitter.com/DavidBaruffi_EV, I spent a few weeks in Cannes 2115, and screened the "100 Years", shortly after it's initial run, and you know, spend some time exploring and whatnot. It was a lot of fun; I thought my name and influence of this blog would've been a lot bigger though. I mean, I was known about, and quoted and published, but I was still, a bit of a fringe figure. I mean, I do gain in popularity after the blog's name change and rebranding late this year/early next year, but, yeah, I really need to hire some publicists to get my name out. But anyway, that's neither here nor there, let's get right to this SPECIAL REVIEW, of Robert Rodriguez's "100 YEARS"!


100 YEARS (2115) Director: Robert Rod-

Actually, hold on a second. Um, before I get to the review,-, well, the whole point of the movie, is that it's basically a time capsule, a time capsule, of we, today believe the future could or might be, in a hundred years. This is- well, there's a whole genre based on this notion, but science-fiction is usually released at the time, because it's also commenting on the times, but here, since this is for the audience, of the future, I think it's important to also to talk, just a little bit at least, about the future itself. The actual future, 2115, the world in which this movie got released into, so let's take a look at that.

Now, this is going to be a bit difficult, I mean, I can definitely discuss a few things, and you know, most supposed changes to the future that might happen, they're not gonna have everlasting imput, but I can touch on a few things at least. I mean, I'm not going to reveal sports scores of the future or anything like that, I am bound to treat time travel with the upmost seriousness and due diligence, it's not to be handled lightly.

(Cell phone rings)

Oh, hold on I gotta take this. Give me a few minutes, everybody.

(Answers cell phone, steps away from computer, while walking away from computer) Hello? Yes, I'll hold. (Pause) Mr. Roseman, nice to talk to you, listen I wanted to talk about Carson Wentz....

(Seven minutes later)

Sorry about that. Anyway, ah yes. setting the stage for "100 Years" by discussing, the world a 100 Years from now. Well, for starters, eh, while the Chromoskimmer is capable of traveling from place to place as well as time to time, I decided to just travel originally from here to the future, staying in Las Vegas, and then taking a hybrid to the Goodman Transport and Transport to Paris from there, it's just easier, less of a burden on the Chromoskimmer, plus it's really cheap, from Vegas to Paris each way, just 20 Euros if you take Southwest International. Everything starting to get cheaper now, after they began slowly eradicating currency shortly after the transporter was finally invented, and air travel, except through space, is basically non-existent, which is good actually, you would not believe the sky and how bright everything is! It's quite amazing, all that gas out of the sky, you can't imagine how blue it really is. Not, overly crazy about having to be naked to transport, but everybody's much more looser with clothing anyway, so that's no skin off my butt. Oh, except for the butt-skinning I got, oh that was, AH-MAZ-ZING! Oh, I really needed that buttskinning, just-, oh, feels so good right now. Buttskinning, are amazing, they scrape off your skin, and then and then they sand it, while massaging your inside, and then reapply the skin to your butt, it's lasers, it's massage, it's-it's really big and I can see why, it's amazing, I haven't felt so great sitting, in forever. Really amazing.

Anyway, I shouldn't talk about what they do have now, but I think I'll start with some things that aren't around in 100 years that might surprise some people. Obviously the American dollar, and currency itself is slowly being eradicated worldwide. Um, in America, the Republican Party, is no longer. They had been severely marginalized after but what was left of them basically imploded shortly after the 2036 election, President Elizabeth Warren convincingly won her 4th term in the White House that year, for the Social-Progressive Party, the SPP, who formed originally as a splinter group of the Democratic Party, originally after Congressman Bernie Sanders original supporters, but spread quickly and over time, the Democrats got more Independents who used to be Southern and religious Democrats, so those are the two main political parties in America now. You're basically either a Sanderite for progressive socialist liberals, or a Chelseaian for more business-savvy and traditional Democrats, named after President Chelsea Clinton's successful eight year run as President after Warren passed away in office.

Other things, that no longer exists, um, the big ones, Catholic Church, shockingly enough, doesn't technically exist in the future, this was a recent development after Pope Leo XVI, disbanded the Vatican. This was after a long anti-religion backlash, worldwide, in general, in the late 21st Century, but this was a bit of a surprise and currently, former Christians of all denominations as well as other religions, the Muslims, the Jews,the Buddhists, the Mormons, the Australian Orthodoxy, etc., they've been debating how to handle this development. Jesus Christ came down, and said he was okay with the disbandment,- Oh, yeah, Jesus came back, during this time, he was mostly cool with it. He had come down years earlier to play in the World Series of Poker, he finished 12th once, he's not bad at it, but he was okay with it, but yeah, the disbanding of the church was shocking.

Also, film and television, don't really exist anymore. I mean, they do, but, television, is basically all on the internet and everything is basically a Youtube channel now, television as we know it ended around 2060, the last year they gave out the Primetime Emmy Awards, Best Drama went to "NCIS", basically because it was that show's last season. Movies are still around, but they're mostly resigned to the internet as well, most of them anyway, a few movies every year have runs in theaters, but it's less and less every year. "100 Years" is truly an exception. They were lucky to be able to find relics of the old technology in order to play the film on, 'cause technology in general has taken over everything, and just advanced so far beyond what anybody imagined. The microchips that we're given when we turn three, basically allow visual art to be shown on a whim, directly into our mind and from the outside perspective, we're all basically telekenetic, and can move everything by simply thinking it. (The chip, does have an off switch of course, 'cause these do cause some problems, but they're still wildly preferred over the alternative.) It's a pretty cool little advancement. Oh, btw, the "X-Men", completely lost popularity after these and other advancements became more popular, seeing those things in fiction, didn't make much sense.

Technology like the flying car, or the jet pack, which may have been fantasy in the past, hasn't exactly evolved on a practical level, teleportation, basically eliminated much of the need for constant traveling. This has also made roads less trafficked and while cars are considered a status symbol, they're mostly brought out for special occasions now, and even then, most of the cars are classic hybrids with gas powered cars being ever-decreasing over time. This has made auto racing surprisingly more different as pit stops are less often, leading to more racing and in many cases, more crashes and injuries. NASCAR and IRL still exist for instance, in newer forms, but they've become more niche than ever.

In terms of sports, professional football's popularity has waned in recent decades, after they adapted in 2035, the new, two-hand-touch motion-censor uniforms, to prevent/limit tackling. The NFL has fallen to 24 teams after eight eventually folded or were extracted. Horse racing has died out completely and horses are only mained grazed now for meat, which has become a major delicacy in many parts of the America. Boxing and MMA are the biggest current sports draw, as well as baseball, women's basketball and the newest sport that's quickly taking over football's spot, swatchball, which is a combination of golf, soccer, football and basketball.

What else, music,music, hasn't changed much, it's as big as ever, although after rap started dying out, there was a weird movement that combining electronica with classical music, that's not bad actually, symphony orchestras making a comeback, at the moment, but still, everyone basically agrees that musically the 21st Century was a bit of a weak century. There has never been a new Beatles or Stones or Elvis yet, they're trying but, the music industry's so overproduced and marketed that it's hard to even identify artists by now.

Let's see, some interesting geography tidbits, uh, the United States now has 58 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, Cuba and British Columbia are now apart of America, and Texas is now separated into three different states, there's Texas-Houston, North Texas and Dallas, which is a bit weird, they're not geographically where you'd think they'd be but, doesn't matter. Internationally, Japan, lost six islands after the last tsunami, mostly in and around Okinawa, but that country is suffering, and that was only a few years after the Polar ice cap melted changing it's and many other coastlines forever, especially Canada, which after careful consideration, broke apart, British Columbia deciding to join America, while Quebec and Ontario broke away into their own countries, Newfoundland doesn't exist anymore and the rest of the country now goes by either West Canada and East Canada, after they were separated by a wall that goes through Regina, Saskatchewan, although it's a really nice looking wall, made of glass both clear and painted, and there's plenty of open doors and roadways in the wall, yeah, much, much, nicer than the one in Berlin, or Israel, and even the current one in South Brazil, very nicely done wall. Monaco is now apart of France, after they're last prince passed away without an heir. There's a few more countries formed out of Russia, they've had numerous Civil wars over the century, back and forth, Siberia currently is trying to earn it's own independence, and they're debating on the boundary lines now. There's no real empires anymore, um, it's surprisingly more peaceful, even in the Middle East, although I'm not even gonna get into how all those countries finally started realigning themselves based on tribal locations, that's,- let's just say in the Middle East, outside of the West Bank, everybody finally got together, drew lines, they screwed over all the oil companies alignments, but at that point, we weren't using that much oil, but still, mostly peaceful now. Saudi Arabia is still a prick to women, but they're allowed to wear to thong bikinis now, it's getting better slowly. Africa's where everything's really a big clusterfuck, and that's still not much changed. There's more countries than ever. That's the common theme, nobody trying to take countries, except for that one time Germany tried to invade Paraguay in 2067, that was weird, but it didn't turn out well, but there's a lot more of countries seeking out their own independence, or join another country voluntarily, that's a new trend and distinction from the past of history.

That said, terrorism is still a thing, mostly in the Middle East of course, but they're not as successful as they had been in the past. Most of them are suicide bombers, either that or environmental terrorists, but like I said, with religion in general on the decline, only the most extreme radicals are making a push towards the terrorism strategy, mainly out of desperation. The last major conflicts took place is in Palestine, Israel, Lebanon, those places are still on fire as always, but thankfully, more sane leaders have started stepping in the political and business worlds worldwide.

Culturally, the world has only gotten more sexualize, especially in comparison for America's past and present, particularly after the voting and legal sex age was lowered to sixteen. Parental rights continue 'til eighteen, ans well as other notable age milestones by law and traditions, but along with more sexual freedom, as well as a more interconnected planet than ever before, most everybody meets and greets each other through the internet in some way. Twitter doesn't survive, but Facebook, Google Plus, shockingly AOL, they made a comeback and a new social media outlet, called AGENDA, created by a young computer upstarter from Ethiopia, who's since become that country's first Gay Irish President, it's literally an continuous recording of your entire life that's automatically updated to the internet based on your every action. It caught on huge, especially among the younger crowd who are obsessed with documenting their every movement, it's a faster-than-ever way of checking on someone. It was controversial for a bit, because people were using it, very exclusively for stalkers, and it in turn, was hated by companies like AshleyMadison.com and Tinder, who didn't want their clientele to necessarily have their public whereabouts known at all times, but it overall proved to be a massive success and is a solid number four behind Instagram as essential social media sites.

Businesses, like I said, since the continued devaluation of currency have been noted for being sluggish, but on the other hand, there's more work and artisan products now, on all levels, and therefore while the banks are crumbling towards irrelevance, so are big chains retailers and items. There's still Wal-Mart and McDonald's surviving but Yum Foods filed for bankruptcy, so there's no Taco Bell of KFC anymore, but they've been replaced with better local alternatives in most of the country and the world.

This does mean that cultural drugs and highs are more refined than ever. Marijuana is now legalized and hemp is the major trend in everything from fashion, to energy, to even furniture and silverware, but more prescription drugs as well as lifestyle drugs in pill forms are more popular than ever. Overdoses have become the second highest cause of death among people ages 35-50, right after heart disease, and is the highest cause of death now among people ages 12-29, and especially the famous and rich struggle more with addiction than ever, especially with a new drug called Jumping Jack, hitting the club scene, that's basically molly on speed, mixed with a Red Bull. It's called jumping jack, because, not only does it get you jacked up for partying, supposedly, it always makes people use

The other major health concern, now that AIDS, Cancer, the common cold, and the chicken pox have been eradicated, is over-eating. That's been curbed in recent years, especially with processed food items on the way out, but heart attacks are up, and cancers cause by too much fat and carbs is still a major problem. The joke is that, people either die before 50 or live 'til their 100. This has also led to increases in retirement age around the world, in America it's now 80. Thankfully, universal healthcare worldwide has made hospital debt a thing of the pass, and healthcare in general is better than ever. Broken bones, can be healed in hours, not weeks or days, the most invasion surgical procedures, well, the ones below the neck, are quicker, and more easily handled, often without even physical insertion, throw pills or even lasers and remote-controlled arms from another room.

Yes, most everything is controlled almost beyond oneself, it's like everybody's life is now  played out almost like a video game. Strangely, video games themselves, have mostly died out, they're still around, but not as popular or as strong a field of influence over pop culture. Books made a comeback surprisingly, especially after hemp paper became more widely available.

Major collectible items from today, including old lamps, video gaming systems and cartridges, VHS and DVDs and similar film hardware, classic cars, somewhat surprisingly denim, a material that's not as popular as it was a new fabric that combined denim is cargo, was invented so jeans aren't quickly becoming a thing of the past, old currency of course. Diamonds have fallen in interest and in price, but rubies have gained value. Also, board games, especially old board games, way up in value, especially if altogether.

Things that aren't valuable that one-time were, baseball cards and trading cards in general, they especially fell in price severely, only the rarest of the rare are worth anything, caviar and truffles and more common now, so their prices have fallen, music recordings have died out, CDs and cassettes are only for hardcore collectors, although vinyl remains popular. Kitchen equipment, old, new, even the oldest of fondue pots are being re-collected now. Comic books, have fallen out of favor, since it's just become too easy to animated film, and images, there's little need to tell even a hand-drawn story in comic book form now. Also,

Also, fashion wise, there's more of an androgynous vibe across the industry, there's still certain clothing that's clearly for men and for women, but the line is getting blurred,  starting mostly around the late '20s, when straight men, tired and worn down from their limited clothing options, decided to be more adventurous and experimental, and that involved adapted such items as the jump suit, the skirt, and even the off-the-should top as their own, styles that had previously been the domain of women's clothing and that trend has evolved since. Sneakers and long-hair are now generally accepted among almost all offices and workplaces, and only a few professions, hospitals, military, police, post office, clergy and lion tamers still require uniforms for work of some kind.

It's generally, a few exceptions noted, a peaceful time at the moment worldwide, a rare one at that, but it does seem to be longlasting, even the disagreeing sides have come to more terms than others, and as I've noted before, they've even invented time travel. (Shockingly, I don't want to give too much away, but peanut butter turned out to be very important in time travel, who knew?) Overpopulation is a major problem, but after we've started to control the breathability and water on Mars, and began colonizing it, it seems more and more likely that the overpopulation problem, will subside as space technology, sponsored by Windex, continues to grow.

Anyway, that's the world of 2115, it's a much different and in many ways much of the same world as before, but many of the same as well. Some can't tell whether it's a Renaissance of the beginning of a new Dark Ages but there's a lot of contradictions and it's shockingly easy to hide famous stolen landmarks now, so I've heard. Not, that I have an experience with that. Anyway, it's an ever-changing world in and outside the film industry, and now, a letter from the past, about the future which I was in a couple days ago. Let's now, take a look at and review "100 YEARS"!


100  YEARS (2115) Director: Robert Rodriguez

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It would be easy to make a weird joke about how this is just a sequel/remake of Rodriguez's "The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lava Girl", it's not, thankfully. It is however a long commercial for Louis XIII
Cognac. For those who don't know, that perticular Cognac takes 100 Years to make, and the movie imagines what the world might look like, although it does give us three separate visions, of that future, all of which are green-screened, but are beautifully done, although most of the audience admittedly was confused by it than anything else. Malkovich, who wrote the piece, plays John, he's the only character given a name, and him and the Girl, (Shuya Chang) go through the same story, intercut three times, in three different worlds, each one centered around the opening of this bottle of cognac that's only now, being opened up and revealed to the rest of the world. The congac, is of course the main MacGuffin, in each of the universes, one that's more sci-fiction, that's relatively close to modern times of the actual 2115, the other two, the more Edenistic world and the more, "Blade Runner" universe, got chuckles mostly from the audience, but knowing the skill involved in Claudio Miranda's beautiful, masterful photography, I was certainly impressed. The effects, are fine, not special themselves, but they hold their own. The story remains the same, a fellow connoisseur antagonist, (Marko Zaror) is waiting when they arrive for the cognac, and in each universe, spoilers, the cognac is the thing that causes and saves the problem. It's short, just under 15 minutes if you include credits, but they worked hard at it, and for what it's worth, the cognac works. I was lucky to have a sip even though it currently goes for almost $3,000 U.S. dollars a bottle, the price significantly dropped since then to roughly, the average of $700 U.S. dollars in today's money, but it's still impressive. As a short film that makes us contemplate the lengthy time-period of 100 years, I think it failed. It's way too short, and not worth the wait, at least 100 years of waiting to see. Most seemed happy and excited in the audience, but for a story to cover what it means to go through 100 years and contemplate the future, it needs to at least feel like it's gone through a long time contemplating that. Rodriguez is a fine director, and he had amazing people working under him, but this might've been more ambitious and better in the hands of maybe someone like Terrence Malick, somebody who actually does contemplate the theme of time passing more thoroughly in their work. Still though, "100 Years", is gonna be worth watching, and even if it is a glorified commercial, everything's a glorified commercial nowadays (The screening I saw it in, was before a feature film documentary about the history of Hostess cakes, so, it's a commercial that came before a documentary about Twinkies strangely enough. (For the record, I don't recommend the cognac with the Twinkies, not a good pairing. A little better with the Ho-Ho's but I'd much prefer pairing with with a nice aged Gouda, or just some vodka injected-chocolate strawberries. If you must have a meat with it, I'd recommend something gamey like the quail or the duck, preferably with a mole sauce). So, it's been 100 Years for "100 Years" and like every bottle of cognac, it's memorable and fulfilling at first taste, but eventually, the bottle runs out.



(LAWYER'S NOTE: This blog is pure fantasy, nothing about it is true. Do not confuse this for an actual review of the movie "100 Years") 








Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MOVIE REVIEWS # 117: "THE DANISH GIRL", "THE MARTIAN", "STAR WARS: EPISODE VII-THE FORCE AWAKENS", "WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE", "MISTRESS AMERICA", "THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E." "I SMILE BACK", "THE WALK", "EVEREST", "INFINITELY POLAR BEAR", "MINIONS", "Z FOR ZACHARIAH", and "JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE"!

I actually did watch a lot more movies than I'm reviewing here, but I'm just not up to reviewing a lot of the older films this week, so real quick, eh, "Last Year at Marienbad", strange surreal masterpiece, I'll probably write about that one someday in the Canon of Film. I had to sit through a boring comedy called "The Details" from 2012, it had a good cast, kind of an interesting set-up but I fell asleep. I was gonna write a review of a Bollywood film called "Ra.One", which is one of the strangest damn things I've ever seen, and I'm including that by Bollywood standards. It's about a guy who invents a video game that goes out control and infiltrates the real world, kills him, then he becomes the character from the game and now his family has to adjust-, it is fucking insane, but it was way too ridiculous and stupid for me, and ironically boring as hell. Bollywood, does everything need to be 3 1/2 hours long? I watched a nice, sweet documentary called "If You Build It" about an attempt by a local high school shop class to actually start rebuilding a town that's gone under economically, and I watch "The Words" which sucked. It's from a couple years ago, it's about a guy who stole somebody's book one day,-, eh, Woody Allen's retold versions of this story four or five times and he's not even great at it, but he's a lot better and more interesting than this piece of dull boredom. Probably the highlight I most enjoyed was a Chinese-American Lesbian romantic-comedy called "Saving Face", I know we have way too many of those but this is a really sweet, sexy and funny movie, probably the one I most recommend out of the bunch if you can find it.

Anyway, other than that, after my Canon of Film blogpost on "The Lost Weekend", I was informed of a podcast called "The Canon" that somebody does. It's a weekly podcast that each week, discusses one movie and determines whether or not that film is apart of "The Canon". Here's the link:

http://www.earwolf.com/show/the-canon/

Now, before you ask, I checked, they've been doing their show for a couple years, but I've officially been doing the "Canon of Film" since the beginning of this blog almost six years ago. Even though I do not have a copyright on the term, it's pretty clear they stole the idea from me, nobody's ever used the word "Canon" to describe any kind of collection before I did. (Okay, well, there was that "The Bible" thing but nobody ever read that) Okay, I kid, I'm sure it's just a coincidence and that they in no way that they blatantly stole from me. Anyway, it's a decent podcast, the one or two I listened too, actually a lot of the podcasts on Earwolf seem pretty interesting, so I recommend checking them out if you're interested in podcasts. I'm not really much of a podcast guy, although I did participate recently in Geekcast.com's Top 50 Video Game Franchises Poll, but-eh, unlike when I did the Top 100 Television Shows, I will not be revealing my ballot for that, because I am not a video game expert. Sorry, I'm just not, I'm still kinda befuddled that video games have stories, eh. I filled it out the best I could, I put "Super Mario Bros." number one, "Madden" #2, "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" #3, "Sonic the Hedgehog" I think was four, anyway, you get the idea. My history of video games, especially modern games is severely lacking, I think I have "Pong" in the top 20, (Which I looked it up, it does count as a video game franchise) but anyway I hope they put Tetris on the list. I'm not a "Gamer", naturally, there are games I like, but usually they're not the ones that everybody else seems to like, so I'm not even gonna pretend like I know what I talk about, like I do with music sometimes, as in regard to video games.

I do know, what I'm talking about with movies, and we got a lot of movies and movie reviews to go through right now, so, let's get to this week's edition of our RANDOM MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting with the Oscar-winning film, "The Danish Girl" and the Oscar-nominated Best Picture film "The Martian"!


THE DANISH GIRL (2015) Director: Tom Hooper

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"The Danish Girl" remains one of the most divided films among critics and audiences. I can kinda see why as a film, although I'm not exactly sure why so much of the brunt of the criticism goes against Tom Hooper, the film's director. I've liked all his films so far, and yeah, this is probably his worst yet, but "The King's Speech", was a great film, so was "Les Miserables". He's a good go-to director; his flaw is that he's probably not a natural storytelling, the quality of a Tom Hooper film is probably closely in conjunction with the quality of the story he's telling. There in lies most of the criticism, that's necessarily a fault, I make the same complaint about David Fincher and people are amazed that I dare criticize some of his films, but it seems like Tom Hooper is open season because,- I don't know, because he doesn't make cool action superhero movies. (Shrugs) That's the best I can tell at least, that and some people are still pissed off "The King's Speech" beat "The Social Network" at the Oscars. (And no, it shouldn't have beat it, but that shouldn't diminish how great "The King's Speech" is, which is a great film.) "The Danish Girl", I'm not sure how great this film could've been. The screenplay, definitely a few eye-rolling moments, like a really unnecessary shot of Gerda Wegener (Oscar-Winner Alicia Vikander) chopping carrots, which, yeah, way too on the nose. Gerda and her husband Einer (Oscar-nominee Eddie Redmayne) are both painters in Denmark and she in particular is successful, both with her work getting shown in galleries, eventually anyway, as well as getting commissioned work. Einar, in a pinch, often has to pose as Gerda's model, when her subject is unavailable, and that often means Einar wearing women's clothes, something that, we find in a scene that sounds like something out of Ed Wood's "Glen or Glenda", we find out that he enjoys. They even go out to one of those numerous gatherings/parties where the elites hang with the artistic community,-, I usually call them New York parties, but I don't know what to call them while their in Europe, anyway, they go out to one of those parties with Einar disguised, supposedly as his cousin Lili, but things go somewhere else and eventually, Lili slowly but surely starts to, uh,-, I was about to right take over, but...- (sigh) for those who don't know, Einar/Lili is the first person to go through a gender reassignment surgery; this was back in the twenties. There was very little understanding at the time about transsexual behavior, much less, the notion that somebody may have been born into the wrong body. He and his wife go to many doctors, all of them, until the last one believing he was insane or some kind of abnormal. They get so support and help from an old friend of Einar's Hans Axgil (Mattheas Schoenaerts) who begins to have a slight affair with the overly conflicted Gerda. Gerda's inspired by her husband's real persona of Lili, using her as the subject of her painting, while struggling to understand what's going on with Einar. She's actually portrayed incredibly lovingly and is spunky as well; I can why Vikander was singled out. Redmayne also impresses me here, I was not at enthralled with his work in "The Theory of Everything" the year before, but here, we actually see him with a tricky role, here playing, what seems like two roles, but it's two parts that actually has to be one very convincing role. It's very good, maybe not perfect but, still quite good. I think this is a difficult story to tell, but one that I'm gonna give a pass on because I think it's more-than-worth telling. There's one scene of gaybashing, but other than that, I appreciate how the movie is actually quite loving and beautiful. There's characters who are, unknowning and perhaps misinformed, but few people are mean-spirited towards Lili and usually they're trying to help. Even the scene where Lili confronts somebody after her first surgery, who had a moment with her before the operation, without knowing he was biologically a man, that could've gone horribly the other direction and it didn't. It's quite delicate this film, and maybe that's a flaw to some, but I think that's a feature. It should be delicate; it's a delicate tale of someone trying to find his true self at whatever the cost, and maybe if it's trying to hard to be sensitive about it, so be it. I can't say I love "The Danish Girl", but I definitely appreciate it.


THE MARTIAN (2015) Director: Ridley Scott

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Among the earliest of award controversies, was whether or not "The Martian" was a comedy or a drama, after a controversial vote among Golden Globe voters that placed the film into the comedy category. The movie would go on to win the Globe for Best Comedy or Musical, and after watching the film, I'd say that, yes, I can see it being a comedy. Actually, the more I think about the film, the funnier it does get. So, "The Martian" in the title, is actually an Earthling Matt Watney (Oscar-nominee Matt Damon) an astronaut, in some near future, that's never specified, after we've sent astronauts to Mars, so, uh, whenever that'll be. (You know, when I was young, it used to be that we'd be trying to get there by 2020, that's only four years away, is somebody getting on that? In fact, I remember NASA saying the first attempt was gonna be 2017, that's next year? We-, we really should be heading there right now, especially now that we know there's water there. Anyway, after he gets knocked out and presumed dead, after being knocked out during a storm. The astronauts have to get out of there and out fast, and they left. That's when he awakes, and finds out about the two thieves, the Wet Bandits were trying to rob all the houses on Mars, so Damon sets up numerous traps in a comedically-filled slapst-, wait, wait, wait, sorry, that's not happens, I think I'm combining other films here. (But, wouldn't that have been absolutely hilarious if it did turn into "Home Alone"? No, just me? Really? "Oh my God, we left Kevin on Mars?" AAAAHHHH! Oh, c'mon!? That's funny!) Anyway, yeah, he's stuck on Mars, alive and alone, on a planet. He has to find a way to survive, which requires growing his own food, which, seems hard but he's a botanist, so he manages to colonize Mars, by growing potatoes. and science-ing the shit out of all the other problems he has, like, figuring out how to contact NASA, or anybody from home, surviving long enough to be there when they send help and go back again, four years later, and about a thousand other problems that involved really inventive, or sometimes primitive problem-solving skills from the highest and most creative minds in the world, and a shitload of luck, and in some cases, just pure insanity. It's a weird hodgepodge. Not bad, hodgepodge, just weird. I guess, in one way, I can look at this as sorta the light-hearted response to more adventurous serious recent sci-fi films about people lost in space, like "Gravity" or "Interstellar", 'cause this could've been done, straight. keep the entire focus on Matt Damon, instead of cutting back to Earth, where NASA's trying to circumnavigate the multiple shitstorms involved in the nightmare scenario they're going through, as well as, eventually with the rest of Watney's crew, after they're finally told that he's survived. I have no idea about the science of this film, I assume there's a lot of (Shrugs, probably possible) but that science doesn't quite matter, it's the process in which they get him out and how he manages to survive. It's actually kinda strange that this movie does indeed try to be so light with the touch, especially from a director like Ridley Scott who does have a bad tendency to be so overwrought, and I think he is here too, but in the opposite direction. The movie could've been a lot bolder. I mean, it's cute, and that's certainly not a bad thing for a movie to be, but I can't say it's special either, despite great work from Damon, who's basically now one of those actors now like Tom Hanks who just has to show up and make me smile 'cause we know he'll just be good and this is that right kind of laid back, serious performance that's just sarcastic and jokey enough to be believable. I'm honestly very conflicted about the movie; I just don't know what to make of it, other than I like it. Everything's good, all the performances are good, Jeff Daniels, Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Pena, Kata Mara,... for a movie about a man alone on a planet, this movie probably had too big of a giant cast. I think this film could've been told a little differently and a little better, so that's why I'm so apprehensive about it.


STAR WARS: EPISODE VII-THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) Director: J.J. Abrams

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Really, IMDB, I need to put the episode number in the damn title?! (Sigh, brief pause) "Star Wars", I'm not a fan. I hope you've all noticed that repeating refrain of "Not a Fan". I'm keeping it, but that's not to say that I don't like "Star Wars", I like it a lot more than "Lord of the Rings", in fact, I've liked all the "Star Wars" films I've seen, including this latest one. I've only see, the first three, and "The Phantom Menace," (Yes, I didn't hate it, outright like so many others apparently) I didn't watch the sequels at the time, 'cause it wasn't important. I didn't consider it then a major, relevant or important movie franchise, and now..., well, I still don't, I'm just watching it 'cause everybody else thinks it is. They're wrong, but whatever. I'm trying to catch up; not going out of my way on it, but I'm getting to them. (Annoyed sigh) Anyway, "... The Force Awakens", is a pretty damn good movie. It's got some good writers involved, including Lawrence Kasdan who wrote "The Empire Strikes Back" and "The Return of the Jedi", ("Empire"'s the best of the "Star Wars" films btw, and the older I get, I'm more and more convinced "Jedi" might be the second, and no matter how old I get, I will NEVER call it, "A New Hope" [middle finger] fuck all of you on that one.) Okay, this movie takes place after "The Return of the Jedi", thirty years have passed and a new group called the "First Order", a splinter group that grew out of the Galactic Empire that's just beginning to increase it's pull on the universe, it's lead by, or figureheaded by, a black-helmeted man named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and among his numerous invasion and conquering tactics, he's seeking to find the elusive whereabouts of one Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), eh, I'm a little rusty on my "Star Wars", but I'm fairly certain that he was had a major role in the series beforehand, can't recall all of it, but we're certainly told he's important. Anyway a droid named BB-8 (Performed by Brian Herring and Dave Chapman, voice consultation by Bill Hader and Ben Schwartz, wow, I didn't really think they could fit all those people into that thing machine, seemed small) is given what is believed to be a map to his location by his master Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) a Resistance Pilot, there's a Resistance. He ends up getting away from the First Order, with the help of a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega), but he's separated and presumed dead from the attack, so now Finn, is being attack by the First Order as he searches for Rey (Daisy Ridley) a Jakkuvian scavenger and resistance fighter who's also a first class pilot, and manages to escape the forces again by stealing an old aircraft that turns out to be the Millenium Falcon, the famed warship of interplanetary smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), he and his pilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) track down the ship, and are about to let the fugitives head off, or get captured, until he realizes they're looking for Skywalker and agrees to help them out by seeking out the guidance of his ex-lover General Leia (Carrie Fisher), who also happens to be Skywalker's sister. Whew! I think I got that. Basically, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" falls somewhere in the "Star Wars" scale, especially when Kylo Ren gets involved, but the movie ironically felt more like "The Da Vinci Code" with me, a religious quest to search for a mythological but real member of a supreme religious order, he might as well be the Holy Grail (Oh, I hope I didn't give away that about "The Da Vinci Code"? Eh, screw it, the holy grail is a person in that film) and people fighting over it. Of course there's some legendary historical significance going on, especially with these characters. I should also point out that this is one of Harrison Ford's best performances in years; there's a few moments we're he's stubbornly stoic, but he's looser here than I've seen in a long time, it's really nice to see. "The Force Awakens" is a good beginning to a next generational "Star Wars" franchise, and sets up a pretty intriguing basis for future events, which is good. J.J. Abrams admitted that when he directed the two recently "Star Trek" movies that one of his first ideas was to bring a little "Star Wars" into that franchise, which, honestly had mixed results at best, but they were at least interesting. But here, he's more at home, it's clear that he's probably the right choice to helm the franchise and more than that, he's smart enough to bring in some talented people to help take George Lucas's originally strange space odyssey and expand upon it in believable manners. I can see, that if I was a "Star Wars" "fan", being excited at this film. For me, I think it was mostly exciting as a good action-adventure story and not much else, but that's good enough for me and I hope they can keep it up with the sequels to this, sequel, if they ever decide to make one. That said, can we stop calling these "Episodes", episodes implies television, and I just realized how much that annoys me, I'm already in way too many conversations by morons saying, "What television programs would you consider as films," and that's not helping.


WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE (2015) Director: Liz Garbus

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I have two immediate thoughts that come into my mind when I hear the name Nina Simone, the first one is that I was constantly recommended the artist, among numerous others when I would look up/order CDs online, on Samgoody.com, (Is that still a thing? [Shrugs]) when I was a teenage and would order or pre-order my obscure Liz Phair and Ani DiFranco CDs, 'cause I teenage boy at the end of the century, and I listened to good music and not the crap that everybody else insisted on listening to, and along with Jewel, or Paula Cole, there would be a selection of names of similar artists, most of which I knew, a few like Kirsty MacColl, Edie Brickell or Suzanne Vega I didn't know off hand, but would look up later, but I never got around to Simon; I guess I figured she was somebody on the outskirts of even the Lilith Fair artists that I gravitated towards, but I stopped thinking that after she turned up in somewhere else strange that I hadn't foreseen. It was at the end of Richard Linklater's "Before Sunset", the second of his "Before Trilogy" and suddenly the conversation between Jesse and Celine after moving from the streets of Paris to her apartment, suddenly moved to the recent death of Nina Simone, and they talked of having seen her on multiple occasions, and the way they talked about her, made me suspect that perhaps she was a somewhat older artist than the modern contemporaries that apparently she was grouped with, but I still wasn't sure of much more than that. I never really had the time to seek out her work before or since, so, I wasn't quite sure what to expect with "What Happened, Miss Simone", the Oscar-nominated documentary from Liz Garbus, the go-to documentarian who I know mostly from "Bobby Fischer Against the World". Her subjects are usually biographies, usually historical in some way, and this does seem to be a subject that requires being told, especially since she seems to have been partially written our of music history, and yet remains an integral part of it, outside of the genres she inhabited. Simone's original goal was to become the first Black classical pianist to play at Carnegie Hall. She did play there, but she didn't play Bach, she instead played jazz, which she later infused with soul, and then eventually, the political militarism of the Civil Rights Movement. It's not an understatement to place her in the same league at the time as Aretha Franklin or Gladys Knight as among the most important African-America female musicians and people of the era. She lived next door to Malcolm X, she toured with Bill Cosby and Miles Davis, but while others would continue to have hits and influence, Simone was practically blacklisted and found it hard to find work and inspiration. It didn't help that she was a difficult character to begin with. She would hit her kids sometimes, and others talked about having to tiptoe around her, and she would often yell at members of her audiences to sit down and be quiet during performances, or she'd walk off stage. She wasn't identified as bipolar until she had moved to Switzerland, after a move to Liberia, swearing to never go back to America. She ended her career performing and recording most regularly in France, often at nightclubs for only a couple hundred dollars a day. "What Happened, Nina Simone", titled after a Maya Angelou quote is an apt title. This is a story of, what exactly happened to someone so talented. Not that she ever lost her talent, she didn't, but she was such an enigmatic presence that her lack of presence was too unique to not notice. We get a few glimpses from the people who know her best, but they still seem to have barely known or understood her at all either. Her music, btw, is quite special and all of it was good, and musician-wise, she was incredibly talented. During one scene, we see her singing one song while playing another on the piano, and keeping the song in time the whole time, something even the best of jazz artists couldn't imagine doing. She had that ability though, it's probably that same ability that led to her more erratic behaviors as well, but that's why we should look back on her and marvel.


MISTRESS AMERICA (2015) Director: Noah Baumbach

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Okay, I have quite a few thoughts and remarks on "Mistress America". Number one this exchange that I immediately wrote down after hearing:

Brooke: So what's going on at college
Tracy: I don't know, everybody's really excited about the frozen yogurt machine in the student center.
Brooke: I watched my mother die
Tracy: What?
Brooke: I was with my mother while she died.
Tracy: I don't know any dead people.
Brooke: That's cool about the frozen yogurt machine. Everybody I love dies.

Okay, I'm gonna call it, Greta Gerwig has officially turned Noah Baumbach into Whit Stillman. Actually a lot of this movie feels like something Whit Stillman might have made; Gerwig you might remember worked with that elusive writer/director once for "Damsels in Distress", a film that I panned and just found surreal; my thoughts haven't changed from that film, but that was before I really digged into Stillman's work, most a film that I find more masterful every time I see, "The Last Days of Disco". His second movie this century, is actually coming out later this month a Jane Austen adaptation of her novella "Lady Susan", called "Love & Friendship", which not only makes perfect sense to me knowing Stillman's oddly off-kilter sardonic dialogue and look at romance and friendship, it's also, frankly the generic title that very easily be given to everything Jane Austen ever wrote. But, I digress, this isn't a Stillman film, this is a Noah Baumbach film, but this his third collaboration with Gerwig, and the second time she's been a co-writer with him. Gerwig came out of the Mumblecore movement and is used to not only writing, but also improvisation as her breakthrough role was in Joe Swanberg's "Hannah Takes the Stairs" which she also co-wrote. She starred opposite Ben Stiller in Baumbach's "Greenberg", which curiously he co-wrote with Jennifer Jason Leigh, but since then, between other projects including a wonderful film he did earlier in the year, "While We're Young", his most commercial comedy to date and a movie that has nothing to do with this movie, him and Gerwig seem to have become each other's muses. I can think of a few director-actress combinations over the years, but I can't think of too many who were writing partners with each other. Their first collaboration was "Frances Ha", which was shot in black and white, and seemed to resemble a French New Wave, I actually thought it was much more of a remnant of No Wave Cinema, the punk era NYC independent film movement, that was probably inspired by the likes of Andy Warhol and Robert Downey, Sr. and probably inspired people like Jim Jarmusch and Vincent Gallo. I- I got a lot of crap for only giving that movie 3 STARS at the time, a lot of people ranked that film a lot higher and I do see, frankly it is an incredibly well-done and well-made film, but I mostly too annoyed at Gerwig's frustrating character for me to completely endrose it. I know I just praised Lena Dunham's series "Girls" recently despite that show's insistence on perpetual adolescence and lack of maturing in those characters, but that's a half-hour at a time and multiple characters, and an hour and 45 minute character piece, I-eh, got quicker to my last nerve than normal. Plus, Gerwig, Gerwig's just an unusual actress. I can't think of any other modern female actress who's really succeeded at going out of her way to create a very distinctive character, and I'm talking like, how Marisa Tomei always plays somebody with a New York accent or accent or something, no, no, no. "Damsels in Distress", "Lola Versus", "Frances Ha", in this film, "Mistress America", that remake of "Arthur"to some extent, she's not only playing a type, she's creating a type. I'll be damned if I can explain it, some kind of quirky city girl, in her twenties, but not completely matured yet, still holding on to pipe dreams of her youth, that stumbles around from friendship to relationship and sometimes from apartment to apartment, usually either living on somebody's couch or one step away from it, but still probably came from money, but is still trying to go all Mary Tyler Moore and live on her own, despite not really being capable of it. That's probably the closest I can come to explaining her character, but you know it when you see it and she is almost addicted to these roles. I'd call it typecasting but she's writing half these roles for herself..., and I can't tell anymore if she's playing herself, playing the same character over and over or what she's saying, but she's clearly saying something...-

Okay I can keep going on this tangent but I have other tangents to get to for this film, 'cause Noah Baumbach even without Gerwig's influence has constantly confused me himself. I think I'm finally getting a hold of him now. At first, he was an indy darling who was known for his dialogue. His characters were upper class, although they were on the quirky, educational, intellectual side, the best of these was "The Squid and the Whale", but lately he's become a stylist, somewhat in the Todd Haynes vein, but each of his films is different in it's own way. "While We're Young", for instance, is very commercial, but his latest projects seem to have been inspired from different eras of filmmaking and kinds of films. "Margot at the Wedding", could easily seem like at Altmanesque riff, or possibly Jonathan Demme's work, that film didn't work. "Greenberg" is his first straight character piece, and I've mentioned his latest films. "Mistress America", is probably his strangest yet. On top of Stillman,
the strange thing about "Mistress America" besides the tone is that, it's just a bizarre hodgepodge of styles. Like I said, I'm starting to get that that's part of Noah Baumbach's and Gerwig's aesthetic; it feels like "St. Elmo's Fire" in the city for the first half and then it becomes a classic screwball comedy, almost a stage-play for the second half, with extra characters and a country house and slamming doors, and pot and even a little sex and characters coming in and out of doors and hiding behind things and revelations, reveals, twists- I don't know what he's going for this mix of Bret Easton Ellis mixed with Preston Sturges,- my initial instinct is to dismiss this, but I can't quite do that. Okay, enough stalling, the story begins with Tracy (Lola Kirke, you might recognize her from "Mozart of the Jungle", if you don't go watch "Mozart in the Jungle", amazing show, it's on Amazon.) she's a college freshman from Jersey who's moved to New York and lives on-campus, but is still struggling with the college experience in her first semester. She's a writer, or tries to be, but is mostly disenfranchised with the experience, especially after her first friend and would-be-maybe boyfriend Tony (Matthew Shear) starts dating a very possessive fellow-student Nicolette (Jasmine Cephas Jones), it's shortly after this that she gives into her mother's (Kathryn Erbe) idea to meet up with her soon to be stepsister Brooke (Gerwig), who's a 30-year-old who lives in a Times Square apartment and, that's about it. She-, (Sigh) she's, well, she's hard for me to describe, but she's a typical New York party girl. No college education, hustler, seems like the life of the party even though the party seems to be passing her by. She has a plan to open a restaurant, which her sketchy off-screen boyfriend, who was currently in Greece at the time, according to her, skims on the money she's earned for the restaurant,- actually I'm not even gonna describe how this ends up at a Connecticut mansion of Brooke's ex-best friend and boyfriend's Karen & Dylan (Cindy Cheung and Michael Chernus) house at what happens, it's basically the whole second half of the movie, and even if I did explain, it's not believable. Actually, come to think of it, this whole story is just strange, which is probably why Tracy takes advantage of the experience and begins writing a short story about Brooke while going through all these experiences with her. It's out of love, but she's a writer, and yes, all writers borrow and steal from all those around them, myself included, (Sorry, um, Friends, Family, that girl on the bus that winked at me that time, well, all of you, really.)

I swear, I'm writing this much about "Mistress America", just to try to get a handle on it myself. I feel wrong dismissing this film like I did "Frances Ha", it's not as frustrating to watch, it's actually quite funny and sharp, but it's a such a bizarre mix that I'm still at a lost for it. Tone-wise it's two different movies, but structurally it makes perfect sense. This film could've come out with the eighties, perhaps with Ally Sheedy in the Lola Kirke role and-, and-,.... wait, who was the eighties version of Greta Gerwig? Was there one? Diane Keaton? No. I-eh, Mia Farrow-, no that really doesn't sound right. Melanie Griffith, eh... (Shakes head) Not Demi Moore, um....? (Shrugs) ...Like I said, I think I have to recommend it and recommend it strongly just to tell people, to experience it and try to get a grasp of it. "Mistress America" is one of the more unique films of the year, possibly one of the best, and whatever Gerwig is doing, and I can't a grasp on her, somewhere between Kathryn Hepburn and Judy Holliday if they grew up listening to Bjork music shtick, you got something here. Whatever the hell it is, it's fascinating to say the least.


THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.  (2015) Director: Guy Ritchie

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Okay, first of all, I have a little knowledge about "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." the TV series; after the James Bond book and movies starting becoming a phenomenon, television in the '60s also starting to take a turn toward the spy genre. Let's see, "Mission: Impossible" is probably the biggest and most well-remembered of these shows, and "The Man from Uncle" is probably a good second, although, if ask me, all of these shows basically remain also-rans to the series that was actually a satirical parody of these shows, "Get Smart". In fact, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was probably the show "Get Smart' was most satirizing. Still, though this doesn't seem like too wrong-headed a project to make into a feature film. A spy comedy-thriller, about an American and Russian spy who have to work together, there's definitely potential in that. Of course, the buddy spy has been done a few times too many now, so this idea isn't new, and updating it for modern times is also fairly problematic, the whole point of the show was the Communist/Capitalist USA/USSR interplay, and making any attempt to modernize that will just not work. Yet, oh, dear, Guy Ritchie is directing it. Oh-kay, I've never gotten the appeal of Guy Ritchie. "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" was okay, not really great or special, (Although unfortunately it and his second feature, the way overrated "Snatch", have become seriously influential) but I've hated everything he's done since. Hell, honestly I might argue "Swept Away" is one of his best films, which I don't think is as bad as some people do, although yeah, the original is better and don't bother with it. Lately, Ritchie's been trying hard to expand his ouevre outside of just these British gangster films that are also style and no substance, most notably with his two "Sherlock Holmes" movies, I only saw the first one, I'll get to the second one, someday, maybe, and now he's doing "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and to his credit here, he has toned down the style was low, at least technically. No excessive dolly shots and quick cuts, and just driving us dizzy with his erratic camerawork. That said, "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.", is, entertaining, for almost an hour and then I fell asleep. Actually the title is a bit of a misnomer, the first man from U.N.C.L.E. is the American Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) who's a professional thief who was so good that the C.I.A. hired him and he intern became their best spy. His current assignment involves Gaby (Alicia Vikander) a German, mechanic who is the daughter of a famous Nazi scientist Rudy (Sylvester Groth) although he was forced to be a scientist during the war, but now he's forced to be a scientist for Nazi sympathizers Alexander and Victoria (Luca Calvani and Elizabeth Debicki) and since he's building a nuclear bomb, the Russians are getting involved and he's paired with his future regular partner Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer, who's Russian accent for some reason makes him sound like Bobby Cannavale. Yeah, he's-, I normally like Armie Hammer, but he's not good here.). From here, you can probably predict the steps that'll happen and that's the problem. It's shockingly boring. I had the same problem with "Sherlock Holmes" come to think of it; Ritchie is not good when it comes to doing anything other than that one unique little set of films, which I'm already not a fan, but at least it's his sorta movies. Him trying to be mainstream and good for all time zones, he just doesn't know what to do. This isn't as bad as some of his other films, which is kinda disappointing actually, it's not a train wreck, but it's not a special film either. It's a movie that's, unfortunately been made a million times now, and even a surprise Hugh Grant appearance doesn't really improve upon it. Come to think of it, it's actually a bit weird that this is a notably British film of an American show, granted one that Ian Fleming did have a major part in, but still, I guess the UK was as involved in the Cold War spycraft as much as the Americans were, but eh. The movie has some nice scenes, the patter between the main actors is forced, it's not natural, the action scenes are okay, nothing special, although the way they do get the bad guy at the end is pretty inventive, but "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was a disappointment. Like I said, I'm not overly familiar with the series, but I can't imagine fans of the show getting enthralled that they got this as a movie remake. I don't think they'll hate it, it's not a movie to hate, but it's the kind of movie you may enjoy as you're watching it, but you'll forget everything about it instantly.


I SMILE BACK
(2015) Director: Adam Salky

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Okay, let me give you guys a little bit of high-concept awards analysis here, 'cause I'm not normally a conspiracy theorist when it comes to awards, I know there's some who think there is and there's some who like to hypothesize about the supposed award conspiracies, I tend to think A. there's more math than conspiracies, but also, I never bought into the notion, completely that certain awards are fixed or whatever, but there is a few patterns you notice a few trends, and just a few things that make you, raise an eyebrow or two, and-eh, one of them is whenever Sarah Silverman gets nominated for something, I have to presume she must have been above and beyond good, 'cause, I'm pretty certain everybody in Hollywood has pretty much agreed to never give her an open mike on live television, so that SAG nomination she got for an obscure little film called "I Smile Back", got my attention. Of course, that's me and my personal emotional feeling towards Silverman, who I absolutely love btw, she's one of the funniest and more important comediennes out there. I got some slack a few years ago when I myself nominated her for one of my madeup little awards for The OYLS, for Best Supporting Actress for a film called "Take This Waltz", that was directed by Sarah Polley and she's played a recovering alcoholic in that film, and I guess I can reveal this now, I came pretty damn to giving her the Award, 'cause her performance in that is really important and really special in a way that I think a lot of people missed. So, I was a little torn going into "I Smile Back" 'cause at least this is a pretty similar role for her. She plays a mother named Laney, who's a drug addict. At first, it seems like she's relatively normal, she's got two kids, Eli and Janey (Skylar and Shayne Coleman) and a husband who's, written what he describes as a modern day Bible, literally comparing it to "The Bible" about getting insurance. He's an insurance salesman, and he's claiming that getting insurance is a way of getting ahead of God, so it's-, it sorta makes sense in the movie,- anyway his name's Bruce (Josh Charles). We see Laney, already kind of an outcast, especially at her kids school, where she's ostracized for dropping off and picking up her kids at the wrong part of the school, and generally being a bit overwhelmed and disappointed with her life. The story it's not that surprising story wise, it's pretty cliche actually, but what story about drug addiction isn't  to some extent. She starts by hiding her drug use and seemingly relatively normal, free spirited, loving, but she's also sleeping with the husband of their closest couple, Donny (Thomas Sadoski, in the kind of role he's born to play) and his wife, Susan (Mia Barrow) is pretty clueless about it almost as clueless as Bruce seems, but he's aware that she's fallen off the wagon and the minute she admits it, he sends her to rehab. She's recovered mostly fine, and seems loving enough but she's also beginning to struggle with the supposed source of her addiction, her father, Roger (Chris Sarandon) leaving the family when she was young. The movie is brutal to watch. She's the kind of addict who goes into bad situations just to feel something, and she gets into worst and worst situations as the movie goes on, and makes bad decision after bad decision, even when she seems to be making a good decision. This is a powerful performance. It could've come in a stronger movie, but that's a minor quibble, it's a movie about an addict, and it succeeds at that, and I won't give away but the more you think about it, but there's an air of destiny in the film that gets harder to ignore. "I Smile Back" is a powerful performance by Silverman more than a movie, but it is a reminder that while she is one of the best stand-ups out there, it's a nice reminder that she is indeed an actress first, who happens to be a great comic also.


THE WALK (2015) Director: Robert Zemeckis

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I was worried going into "The Walk" admittedly. Zemeckis, a good but inconsistent filmmaker, telling a story that really didn't need to be adapted to a film, because it already was adapted into a great film. For those who are unfamiliar, "The Walk" tells the story of Philippe Petit, (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a clown who performed one of the greatest illegal pieces of performance art ever by tightrope walking across the top of the World Trade Center towers. This story was first told in the great James Marsh documentary "Man on Wire" which won the Academy Award for Best Documentay in 2008 and remains one of the greatest documentary features I've ever seen; I ranked it pretty high on my Ten Best list the year it came out and I've never forgotten it. I was actually thinking of revisiting that film for a Canon of Film entry at some point. It's unfortunate that that film exists, because if it didn't I suspect this movie would've garnered quite a bit more acclaim. Even I'm struggling to figure out how many stars to give the movie, because this story is told amazingly well here...- I mean, this is a weird problem, two movies about the same subject, one that tells the story so spectacularly that the version, that happens to tell the story, really damn well, dare I say greatly, just looks, somewhat lacking next to it. That's really unfair, and a damn shame, but that said, this is a pretty great telling. Petit is an eccentric character, a street performer who can juggle, do magic, drive a unicycle, he's also a famous mime, but mostly, he's a tightrope walker. He narrates the story for us, standing on the torch of the Statue of Liberty, over his shoulder, the Twin Towers. I have one personal memory of the towers, flying pass them while on a plane leaving Newark International Airport, they were the most magnificent buildings I had ever seen, they were huge and legitimately a hundred stories tall each, not a skyscrapers that's large but has a giant lightning rod on top of it. I liked the first half of the movie, in it's quirkiness, and use of Petit's narration, as we see his early career as a youth who's fascinated and later trained by a legendary tightrope walker, Papa Rudy (Ben Kingsley) helping him with his circus, although mostly performing on the streets. We then see him as he meets his fellow accomplices in his coupe, starting with a young folk singer, Annie (Charlotte Le Bon) as well as Jean-Louis (Clement Sibony) who helped Petit gave a sliver of fame by helping him tightwalk across Notre Dame Cathedral, and yes, "accomplices" is the right word. In '73, only one of the towers was completely finished and he only had a small window to get the tightrope put up, sneaking to the top of the towers, tie and tighten the rope up, bow-and-arrow it across 140 ft. tighten and tie them up there, and, about fifty other things, and months of planning and scheming, it's incredibly elaborate. We only see glimpses of it, but it's still amazing. And the scenes of him actually tightroping across the towers are just unbelievable. Incredible camera and special effects work. "The Walk" is quite thrilling, and Gordon-Levitt's performance is quite inspiring. I mean, if you're unlucky enough to have not seen "Man on Wire" yet and decide to see "The Walk" first, I don't think you'll be disappointed, and let me know if you do that and then seek out "Man on Wire" to see how they compare, I'd be interested in knowing about somebody that had that kind of experience.


EVEREST (2015) Director: Baltasar Kormakur

1/2



(Annoyed, frustrating groan, while banging back of head onto the back of my chair) Okay, look I have a very elaborate system to determine what films I have to watch next and when I see them; I don't want to get into the specifics, it's not worth it, the main idea is to take as much control of what I see, out of my hands as much as possible. Make sure I don't watch something just because I might want to see it, or not watch something right away that I probably should watch, and it's a long, elaborate process that involves several streaming options and netflix and library queues and daily, weekly and monthly updates and.... anyway, it's very John Nash from "A Beautiful Mind"-like in structure and practice, so I don't want to labor on it, other than to say that, the fact that I'm watching a film like "Everest", is proof of that system, because at this point, I'm so sick of movies about mountain climbing that I just to vomit at the thought. I know, it's not-at-all true that I've been doing nothing but see a bunch of these films, but god it sure feels like it. I don't want to simplify it, there's good movies about this professing, especially documentaries like "Touching the Void" or even recently, "Meru", but ugh, it feels like I've watched a thousand of these films, and not that I ever had the inclination to even go hiking, which I'm pretty sure is just walking, only stupid, much less climbing a goddamn mountain, but man, I really don't want to see this hobby or profession or whatever in a movie again. Bring back all the romantic-comedy leads that were in advertising, please! Anyway, that's part of my mindset for why I just have such a strong negative reaction to a film like "Everest," and this is btw, the second film I've seen in the last year about people climbing Mt. Everest, after the documentary "Beyond the Edge" which I didn't care for, although it was about Sir Edmund Hillary's expedition, which was actually somewhat interesting to learn about, as a story of exploration. "Everest" is not about Hillary, but is instead about survival. There's a couple commercial adventure crews, because, now for enough money and a willingness to risk death, anybody can climb Mt. Everest now as apart of a group and there's guides and whatnot. It's a grueling process, it takes weeks of being in Nepal and making numerous practice runs up and down the mountain at a couple different bases, just to get used to the air and the oxygen, on top of, you know, actually climbing. This story is one of the great survival and disaster stories of the mountain, in '96 when several died after an unexpected storm hit them right near the top of the peak, where the oxygen is too low to survive for long, but in situations where getting down is a dangerous proposition. Some survived, many, including some major names in the history of mountain climbing didn't make it, or make it out without serious permanent injury. Let me, put it this way, it doesn't help much, that there's whole crews of characters and only a few of them stand out, even though there are big-name actors in the film like Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin, I can't recall who they played, there were dozens of characters there and honestly, I bet the story would've been more interesting told from one of their perspectives, there was also people at home, and at the base camps, so a lot to keep track of and only a short time to learn about, so, already I don't care as much about the characters, which is bad, considering,-, well, it's a movie called "Everest" and it ain't about Sir Edmund Hillary, there aren't too many directions this movie can go. It doesn't help, that literally, the most common metaphor used for the purposes of plot and storytelling, is climbing a mountain. You get an obstacle your characters need to overcome, and then you keep putting obstacles up, the higher and tougher the obstacle the more they have to overcome, and then when they get to the top of the mountain, then, falling action, they get down, and everything ends up, well not necessarily happily, but a new condition. That's pretty literally the plot and I hate to say it, but, yeah I can kinda predict what would or could happen here. The effects are, okay I guess, but mostly it just reminded me of probably the first movie I can recall about people being stuck in the mountains, "Alive", a movie I've spent the last, I don't know, 25 years or so, trying to forget existed. I wasn't gonna be prone to enjoying this movie to begin, but ugh, yeah, this movie, honestly this movie just put me to sleep. There's an old IMAX documentary on the expedition from '98, I have to imagine that that film might be more worth your time to seek out, especially if it is in IMAX, that might've kept me awake, but for "Everest", eh, it's just a boring movie about mountain climbers to you, and another boring movie about mountain climbers for me.


INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (2015) Director: Maya Forbes

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"Infinitely Polar Bear" is the charming little directorial debut from writer/director Maya Forbes; she's been known mostly as a behind-the-scenes writer and producer mostly for television shows dating back to "The Larry Sanders Show". This story is apparently based on the real life experience of her childhood and having to spend part of her time being raised by only her father, who suffered from bipolar disorder, back when nobody really knew or understood what that was. For most of their life, sisters Amelia and Faith (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide)  recognized their loving, absent-minded, crazy father, Cam (Mark Ruffalo) as somebody to love, but as his disorder started to take over, their mother, Maggie (Zoe Saldana) had to leave them. This was in Boston, in the late '70s, maybe early '80s,  the two met during the sixties where his bipolar disorder could easily be confused with, well, living in the '60s. He's actually from a prestigious family, although one that's losing it's prestige over time, but they're still able to pay for him to have a small apartment to live in, despite everything. He sometimes takes his pills, but he's mostly off of them, which wasn't the worst idea at the time, it's difficult to completely determine what pills were useful or not back then. Anyway, in order for Maggie to get a job and support her kids, she has to go to New York, they're in Boston, and go to Columbia for eighteen months to get the business degree she needs, and this means that, fresh out of the hospital Cam, has to take care of the kids, until then. She comes up every weekend, but it's still a pain. The kids, are shockingly realistic, being both unimpressed by, smartassed towards and yet, still easily manipulated by their father. The older one, even has a good speech about having to take care of him instead of him taking care of them. I don't think there's much to the movie after that, we get a few scenes where we learn about his father's family, and we learn about his past as a lighting designer for the local PBS station, but the movie is light and mostly joyous in general. There's actually not much to it, but I think that's the point. It would be pretty easy to simply document a character going through the perils of bipolar disorder, this is actually a movie about how well somebody with bipolar disorder, can actually be a good parent and a good person. A flawed person who isn't perfect, and we see those rough days and the kids embarrassed to bring their friends over to their house and whatnot, but it's a loving little movie. Mark Ruffalo's performance is the centerpiece, I've- I've realized lately that I'm kinda, unsure about Ruffalo's work lately; he seems to be taking or performing role with a lot of physical stuff going on; I was turned off a bit by his work in "Spotlight" partly for that reason, but he's also such a go-to actor for these slightly off-kilter, slightly high-strung roles. It's no wonder he so wonderfully played a role based on Larry Kramer in TV's "The Normal Heart" so well. He's delightful enough here, while still being off-kilter and unpredictable, or sometimes, too predictable as needed. I have a hard time calling this film "special", but it's delightful to watch, and there's enough to appreciate to recommend. It's not the deepest look at the syndrome, but it's probably the most positive depiction of it I've seen, that doesn't shy away from depicting the illness, so tough wire to walk along, but I think they walked it well enough.


MINIONS (2015) Directors: Kyla Balda and Pierre Coffin

✰✰1/2



Oh, what a missed opportunity this is. I'm sorry, but who thought we needed a backstory on the "Minions" from the "Despicable Me" movies. Don't get me wrong, I liked them, always did, but they're Minions, is there really any explanation other than, "They're minions" that you need. I can easily imagine them on their own in a movie, but a prequel? That's just overthinking, it's like explaining where my sex slaves come from, what explanation would be satisfactory? None, there sex slaves. (Voluntary sex slaves, just so we're clear btw, I'm not that kind of pervert) What? We're talking about a movie about a bunch of characters who voluntarily work as someone's slaves for free because they all would rather have that then freedom, you think there's that big a difference; there's more "Fifty Shades of Grey" comparisons than some of you might want to admit to for a cartoon, but ye-ah. See why I would've avoided taking the prequel route. The other thing I would've avoided, which was the first problem with "Minions", the voiceover narration. I love Geoffrey Rush, but why am I hearing his voice at the beginning? The whole point of the Minions was that, you didn't need to hear them or understanding their inner workings in their mind or what's going on, they were expressive enough in their Minionese as it's called (Pierre Coffin, on top of co-directed the film voiced all the minions) and through the physical comedy we would follow their adventures and misadventures. It was classic, comedy reminiscent of Harpo Marx, or just the silent era in general. You could've had them literally doing anything, and I think I would've recommended the movie. "The Minions" could've just re-did three or four old "Three Stooges" shorts with no dialogue whatsoever and I probably would've recommended it. So what happened here? Well, let's start with, who the Minions are. Well, the Minions are in love with the idea of serving an evil master, mind, and will go to the edge of the world and back in search of the most evil person around to be their master. Well, they don't find Diamanda Hagan, (There, got rid of that Channel Awesome reference), or any other master 'cause they're ineptness usually leads to them, accidentally killing their masters. This goes on throughout history; I have no idea if the Minions are reproducing or if they die out or if they just live forever or whatever, but they spend some time on their own in Russia in some frozen cave building a life and underground city for themselves living off of, I guess, ice or whatever. I-eh, I have no idea how they're biology works-, They're Minions, for fucks sake, I shouldn't even be thinking about moronic things like that. (You see what happens when you introduce a narrative to explain "Minions"?! They should just exist, again, just like my sex slaves. Okay, I'll stop with the sex slaves jokes, which btw, aren't true, I'm only being facetious) Anyway, after a few years of being bored, three minions, Kevin, Stuart and Bob, decide to head off into the world in search of the most evil mastermind they can find. They up in, 1968, which makes me wonder a bit how old Gru (Steve Carell, cameo at the end) is, but anyway, after some very funny scenes of them just bumming around New York City, they end up hitching a ride with, what I'm just gonna the opposite of "The Incredibles", led by the Nelsons- ha-ha, I doubt they actually were going for the "Ozzie & Harriet" reference, but the Nelsons, Walter and Madge (Michael Keaton and Allison Janney, who deserve more screen time) who are heading to the ultra secret Villaincon in Orlando. Yes, there's a villain convention, apparently. And in Orlando, 1968, which is a sly joke, 'cause Disneyworld didn't open 'til '71, so there's nothing there at the time, which makes it a great spot to hold a villain convention. At it's there we meet many villains, and the Minions eventually find the most evil of all, Scarlet Overkill (Sandra Bullock) who's determined to steal the Crown jewels and become Queen of England. She's helped by her husband and inventor Herb Overkill (Jon Hamm), and btw, it's nice to see a supportive husband to an evil superwoman instead of the other way around, and also they're also genuinely loving and supportive of each other, however, they're not supportive and loving of their newly-acquired minions, who they try to destroy, but surprisingly keep failing at, despite their presumed and in many ways earned dominance among the villain community as the best super-villain working today. (Certainly the best and according to this movie, first female super-villain). Unfortunately, even at it's best, and there is some good stuff here, "Minions" just feels like a wasted opportunity, like the filmmakers understood and knew that the Minions were popular, but didn't understand entirely why they were popular and completely misunderstood how we wanted them to be portrayed. Also, another weird sidenote, this movie has one of the most shockingly unexpectedly good soundtracks of all-time. There's no original songs like with Pharrel's "Happy" from "Despicable Me 2", but there was strangely a lot of The Beatles and The Doors in the movie. I- I guess I get it, late '60s and all, but the last thing I expected to here in an animated montage sequence involving the Minions was "Break On Through". I want to recommend it, even despite all this, but it's just so underwhelming, I can't really defend it too much, despite some of the lunacy of the ideas.


Z FOR ZACHARIAH (2015) Director: Craig Zobel

✰✰✰



Who directed this? Craig Zobel, really? Huh, okay. (Long silent pause, scratching head) Not the director I'm thinking of, right-, oh, yeah, that guy. Really? (Another long pauses, hum) Okay, I'm gonna need another minute on this, 'cause that was not the director name I was expecting to look up on IMDB. Alright, "Z for Zachariah" is an apocalyptic parable, that I'm told is loosely based on a young adult novel and while I don't think it's the most entertaining movie, it's certainly well-made and definitely well-acted but definitely not a film I would've thought that came from Zobel. Okay, Craig Zobel is kinda underground even as an indy darling. His debut feature was a sharp dark comedy called "Great World of Sound" about people who worked for a scam music producing agency that would go out looking for talent. You ever run into people who say that you might be or remind them of someone that they're looking for for a movie or a TV show, and then they hand you a card with some production company you've never heard of, asking to tryout or promise you that they can get you in the industry if you pay them? Yeah, it was one of those companies, and it was a dryly funny piece that was also smart and observant. His second film, also dealt with a scam artist, but was much, much darker, a film called "Compliance" and it involved a man who was prank calling a fast food company, claiming to be the police who were busy searching and arresting a relative of one of the workers, a young woman, and one-by-one, managed to convince numerous people, over the phone to sexually assault the young woman, under the guise of being essential and necessary to the investigation. That was, believe it or not, based on a true story that happened, amazing on more than one occasion, and was centered by two amazing performances by Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker and it was an effective albeit disturbing and truly uncomfortable film to watch, and those performances were award worthy. Now, he wrote and directed both of those films, and they were low-budget, had few major stars and were really effective in setting a distinctive tone and perspective of his work. "Z for Zachariah", feels almost as far away from those two films as possible. That doesn't make "Z for Zachariah", bad, but it does make it seem un-emotional perhaps. There's three main characters, the first we meet is a farmer, Ann Burden (Margot Robbie, almost unrecognizable). It's post-apocalypse and she finds bathing in a radioactive pond, a former scientist, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor). They go back to the farm, he gets taken care off with some of the few medicine he conveniently has that he can take to stave off, death, by radiation poisoning, for awhile anyway. Whatever it was that happened to everybody's it's pretty clear that he was somehow involved. The two characters get to no each other and there's a parable about her being a god-fearing Christian and him, having an engineer background of some kind, when he suggests a way to create electricity going through what's left of the town, by building an aqueduct that would collect the water from the pond's waterfall, out of her father's church. He was a former pastor and she's reluctant to pull down the church he built for the wood, but eventually she agrees, although building this thing will take time. They get close to each other and the issue does come about that, well, they're seemingly the last two people on Earth. That is until a third person, Caleb (Chris Pine) comes into the picture. He's also drifting around, looking for working gas pumps and others who might be surviving and helps with the activity, under the hope that turning on the energy in the town might actually get, whoever else to come as well, plus, while she looks and talks more like Jennifer Lawrence from "Winter's Bone", there's an obvious attraction between him and Ann and this leads to a tension-filled love triangle. The title, it's implied comes from a Children's Bible book in the movie called "A is for Adam", although we never see the last page. The Book of Zechariah, (Yes, I check, it's spelled wrong in the title, although to be fair, I didn't know it was spelled with an e either) does have an apocalyptic bent towards it but all of Zechariah's prophecies also took place before the fall of Jerusalem, although it was written by two people purportedly. I don't know, not quite sure what to make of that, or anything else in the movie really. It's good, it's compelling enough, and the acting is top-notch as I mentioned.


JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (2015) Director: Amy Berg

✰✰✰✰



(Goes to bureau, opens drawer, reveals extensive CD and cassette tape collection. Stares for a moment before pulling out Janis Joplin's "Pearl" album, just stares at the cover photo of Janis Joplin, leaning on the arm of the '60s-iest loveseat ever made, feather boa mane-like around her hair, legs crossed, smiling. After a moment, takes out the CD and puts it into DVD player. Switches TV to DVD, and let's the album play from "Move Over" to "Get It While You Can". Returns to computer desk CD box in hand, and holds it up before putting it aside)

I love this CD, and I just adore Janis Joplin, probably one of my favorite artists, which is probably no shock to anybody who knows my musical tastes; there's a shockingly high portion of my CD collections and Pandora lists of artists who you would easily consider as people directly inspired from her. This here I'm playing was her last solo album, and last album, period; people forget she was generally a lead singer in bands for most of her successful career, and even this album, she's the lead singer of a band called Full Tilt Boogie, but she was the lead singer for Big Brother & the Holding Company, and her previous solo album was with the Kozmic Blues Band. Janis is somebody who I think we needed a lot more of in rock music and music in general. She died as everybody knows, of alcohol poisoning while in the middle of "Pearl", and "Janis: Little Girl Blue", the haunting Amy Berg documentary that was produced for PBS's "American Masters" that got a brief theatrical run late last year, is one of the more detailed looks at why this Port Arthur girl was so blue, and could sing them so well, and it's surprisingly elaborate. I didn't know that she started out as a folk singer, hell, I didn't even realize that she played guitar, working coffeehouse circuits around Austin, where she was in college, and named the Ugliest Man in School, and no I'm not making that up. She wasn't a natural beauty, she was definitely sexual and fit in in the freewheelin' '60s, but you put her next to Grace Slick or Michelle Phillips in that time and Janis may have been the pin-up girl of the hippie movement, but most of her town dismissed her as some butch eccentric quirky girl who didn't fit in. She went to San Francisco and back a couple different times before eventually moving to the West Coast permanently when she got a singing job. She was alright addicted to meth, alcohol and using heroin at that time, and she needed constant supervision to keep her clean for recording and concerts, and that was often her request. It's easy to forget that, Janis was a real anomaly, most female singers at that time, in rock'n'roll at least, were either folk singers like a Joan Baez or they were probably something in the more pop world, like a Diana Ross or somebody, she was the one that had a band full of guys behind her and went home every night alone while they had groupies all the time. (Hmm, that's funny, Amy Schumer had a weird joke about stand-up comics like that on her recent HBO special, huh.) She was a mess, who was probably not loved, so she went on destroy herself from within, even despite the occasional affairs with Pigpen from The Greatful Dead or Kris Kristofferson or Country Joe MacDonald, or maybe most surprising as a possibility, Dick Cavett, although I have seen many of her appearances on his show, so I can actually see it. You hear all that pain in her music, everything pouring out. Most of the movie, is old narratives quotes from her, some talking heads and a lot of archival footage, many of which we've seen before from "Festival Express" or "Monterey Pop" or "Woodstock", there's a lot of footage of her, a lot of it we haven't seen before. Probably the aspect that most fascinated me was how she started doing her signature runs in her song of words after getting stoned out and going to see Otis Redding do that; I never knew that, I was thought that was instinctual to her but it makes sense. Even on her worst days, she was one of the greatest performers of all-time, all of her performing footage is essential and immaculate. You know, when I gave a lukewarm review to "Amy" recently, I think part of it was I didn' care for the movie's structure, but another thing was that the film itself didn't really reveal as much about Amy Winehouse's personal life that went into her music; I was trying to see that connections, and they showed some, but I think it ended up showing that, Winehouse was probably a more natural disaster who despite everything was mostly well-liked and beloved and coming off as showed she didn't really have the pains that might've been reflected in her work. With Janis, and looking deeper into her life story and background, I can see and feel it, she was a person out of the wrong time and place, who's inner demons were too deep, and experienced life so she could feel anything at all, while Winehouse, I-, I just still consider a talented young woman, of her time, despite the retro style of her music, who was more or a less a tragic addict without much real reason for needing to be. I have no idea what music Janis Joplin would be making ten, or twenty years after the hippie movement had died out and she happened died with it, but boy could it be fun to imagine. There's a beautiful little snippet of her talking about how her latest producer wanted "Pearl" to be the album she looked back upon 25 years into the future, while she with him again, recording their best and most adult and artistically provocative and mature work, and it's just haunting. I guess I shouldn't penalize Amy Winehouse for the time and era she grew up, I doubt anybody could've had the emotional inner confusion and pain that Janis had today.