Here's this week's edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS, starting off with reviews of the OSCAR-WINNING films, "Spotlight" and "Amy"!
SPOTLIGHT (2015) Director: Tom McCarthy
I'm gonna try, although probably fail at decrying about the loss art of investigative journalism, especially in regards to the continuously slugging troubles of the entire newspaper industry, mainly because every other review and thinkpiece on "Spotlight" has brought it up, and yes, the comparisons the movie gets to "All the President's Men" are both inevitable as well as accurate; that's the clear and obvious film that "Spotlight" will get compared to, but honestly there have been several movies about investigative journalism over the years, or films that were at least made because of or inspired by, or are showing the behind-the-scene story of an article in a paper somebody wrote, or hypothetically couldn't written or were based on a true story. Just off the top of my head, "Nothing But the Truth", "Truth" is a recent one, "Philomena" just a couple years ago got a surprise Best Picture Oscar nomination, "State of Play", that was a good one, "The End of the Tour", recently, that was based on a book that was an account of a writing of an article. The point I'm trying to make here though, is that, "Spotlight" is the first one of these movies in a long time where I really, honestly cared about it. It's one of the toughest things to do, getting an audience fascinated and intrigued despite the fact that we actually know what's going to happen. For those who don't know the first major story, after 9/11, was when the Boston Globe's investigative reporting team, "Spotlight" revealed the true extent to which the Catholic Church had been covering up and settling incidents of pedophilia in the church. Yeah, this is not game-breaking even at the time, but the extent of which however, we didn't know, and in Boston in particular, Cardinal Law (Len Cariou) who routinely relocated pedophile priests to numerous new parishes after every new claim, having them continue to pederast over the years. We know now just how much the Catholic Church, really is, essentially, a cover for the crimes of the cloth. (If you aren't familiar with the extent, I highly recommend Alex Gibney's amazing documentary "Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God" to really show the details of it.) "Spotlight" details the investigation which realizes, just how far the rabbit hole goes. The looking up and the finding of the facts, and how difficult it was. For all intensive purposes, this movie is one of those films where, there's closed doors with every interview they try and papers and cases are closed and sealed and not public and having to get public is a constant search for loophole inside loopholes and literally having to search and search until they finally fall into the one or two mistakes the church makes in covering the fraud. Explaining the details of the movie is not really entertaining, what's really special about "Spotlight" is how personal the movie is, how intense the movie is. How personal the movie is, for the characters and how it feels to us. The struggles of investigating such a-... boy, I haven't had this much trouble writing a positive review in years. It's definitely too low-key to really explain in the normal terms of cinematic language. There's nothing flashy, there's nothing that stands out, and that's the point. There's a reason this film won only two Oscars, one for Writing and one for Picture, you can't quantify the aspects of the movie separately, only together. None of the actors are great alone, but the cast is all spectacular. Tom McCarthy's isn't flashy or groundbreaking or experimental, but it's exactly what the film needs. The movie and the investigation, it is small, it's just that the results of what they find are huge. The movie opens, simply enough, a new chief editor from out of town, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber), who's trying to learn about Boston by reading "The Curse of the Bambino". That's something that's brought up a lot too, the movie does make a point that, Boston is essentially, if New York was a small town, sort of speak. It's actually one of the biggest cities in the country but it's secluded away from most other metropolises, so the Boston Globe is essentially one of the most major newspapers in the country, but it's local, filled with people who've grown up throughout the greater Boston area, and despite the national recognition still has a small-town perspective and mindset. This is especially so, with the influence the Catholic church has over much of the city, and sure enough, as the Spotlight crew finds out, not only how many priests but how many have abused kids, the closer and closer they get to finding out, the closer the story gets to them. The head of Spotlight, Walter Robinson (Michael Keaton) went to high school at a Catholic school across from the Globe, Sacha (Oscar-nominee Rachel McAdams) took her mother to church every Sunday, but eventually had to stop in the middle of the investigation. Michael Rezendes (Oscar-nominee Mark Ruffalo, who is doing something weird with his posturing, but I can't quite figure out what but, yeah he's kinda squirly weird) is the typical cliched go get everyone reporter, who's going through a divorce and blah, blah, blah, it's not about them. Or about Ben Bradlee, Jr. (John Slattery) the "Spotlight" editor-in-chief, and yes, he is the son of Ben Bradlee, so there is a very direct link with "All the President's Men" in this story as well. Or the lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) who investigating the church at the behest of his clients in a class action suit that fist gets the investigation going, after a commentary piece in the Opinion section catches Marty's eye and he thinks it's worth writing on, or for that matter about all the people who didn't hold the church up to the fire and prevented and/or stopped them or highlighted the previous cases and stories that did stumble their way into the newspaper years before, but were ignored or relegated to the back pages, often by the same people investigating the corruption now. It's about all of them, but it's also about the system, and about the journalism-, ugh. I feel like I'm getting caught in my own ouroboros in this review. It's not that it's difficult to explain, it's that the movie is so bare bones brilliant that there's not enough to explain. It's an expert lesson in film storytelling. Like it's Director, Tom McCarthy is equally enigmatic. He's mostly known as a character actor, the kind who you've seen a million times and can't name a single thing he's been in and he uses those projects to funds his own films. I've written on one of them "The Visitor" in my Canon of Film section already, most of his movies are also character pieces, "The Station Agent", and "Win-Win" were great low-key character pieces, as was his most derided film, "The Cobbler", which he made earlier in the year with Adam Sandler. I'm one of the few people who highly recommended that sly comedy about a cobbler who magically is able to literally step into people's shoes and start seeing what it's like in their lives. I think that's actually what so perplexing to me about "Spotlight", it's actually the film that least fits in with McCarthy's ouevre. Every time I try to pick it apart through one character or one aspect of the film, I get tripped up, 'cause for the first time, he's not creating an interesting character to center his unique stories around he's telling us a true life story that's not about the characters involved. Well, he succeeds more than admirably and is a most deserving Best Picture winner.
AMY (2015) Director: Asif Kapadia
(Depressed sigh) Excuse me a minute, I got to-eh, ugh-, hold on.
(Pulls out and puts on a bulletproof vest as well as numerous layers of guard-dog level foam padding, around his entire body. Arms, legs, neck. I then places on a large motorcycle helmet on my head, shield down. I then, go to the wall, remove a painting where a secret compartment in the wall is, and I flip a switch which layers steel bars surrounded by bulletproof glass in front of the figurative readers, before he sits back down at the computer)
Okay, I actually have to be completely honest with this one, but I never really thought Amy Winehouse's music was that great.
(Quickly ducks as flying objects and bullets come hurling at him)
I'm sorry but-, hold on let me-, alright, let me explain, let me explain. Okay! I know, this is gonna sound sacrilegious to some, but, I do think she was incredibly talented, and I like a few of her songs, in particular, "You Know I'm No Good", although admittedly, part of the reason I love that song is because it was sample for the theme song of the British television show, "Secret Diary of a Call Girl", but still that's a beautiful song, and if you know my musical tastes, in general you're probably really shocked that I wasn't immediately engrossed by Amy Winehouse's work. Yes, she was good, and who knows how much great and better work she could've made had she survived but I listened to "Back to Black", and I'm familiar with most of her work, and she was talented, but she mostly seemed like a shallow throwback to me, and I could think of artists in the same genre like PJ Harvey or Fiona Apple at the time who I thought and still think were a lot better. Hell, I think some of the artists out right now who were probably inspired by Amy Winehouse, like Gin Wigmore, Elle King, and ZZ Ward, their music is way the hell better than Winehouse's. Now, part of this is genre, Winehouse was a pure jazz singer and I think she was at her best doing that, and just that, while some of the other have jazz influence in their work, especially Fiona Apple, but they also have more of a folk rock edge to their work that they can thrive in. They're a little Melissa Etheridge and a little Amy Winehouse, and that was always better to me. In fact, Winehouse's more do-wop and girl group inspired work on "Back to Black", I just never thought was that good. I actually hate "Rehab", and I hate to say this, but yeah I hate to go right for the gallows humor, but yeah, the girl that sang about how she didn't want to go to rehab, um... yeah, it's a too-easy setup. (Her father seems like a piece of work himself btw.)
Anyway, I have to bring this up in order to discuss "Amy" the Oscar-winning bio-documentary about Winehouse's life, 'cause I think it does effect how I watched and view the movie. I know each film should be put in it's own little sphere and analyzed on it's own terms, but-, I guess I found myself waiting for the moment where I would recognize Winehouse as one of the greats, and, I just never saw it. I heard some great music and a very talented artist, and I do recommend the film, barely. The movie is made entirely of found from Winehouse's life and death, cut with, the voices of her friends and family, not their faces curiously enough, we get continued credits informing us of who's talking next over the old television footage, home movies, publicity footage, etc. It's mostly entertaining, although I don't get the decision to not use talking heads, but use talking heads, that's just confusing. But, we do get to see a little bit of Winehouse, at her barest, realest, the footage of hew winning those Grammys when she wasn't even allowed in the country, her struggling with her addiction. We see a lot of her growing up with her family and friends, much of it with her not in those damn up-dos that I never thought looked right on her, thankfully. We see the story behind that "Rehab" song, which is actually sad and powerful, how they tried to get her into rehab, but she convinced her father that she could clean herself up on her own, and of course after that song exploded any/all privacy left with her. She also, was a bulimic since high school and it's this combination that led to her inevitable death, on top of the general bad decision-makings she had. Yeah, I wish I did find a deeper layer in her work through this movie, I'm kinda searching for a reason for this film to exist, but I'm having trouble seeing it. It doesn't help that I watched this shortly after watching "Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck", which is also a documentary on a late legendary musician who died young, and full disclosure, I didn't become a Nirvana fan until much later in life, but the deeper you dive into him and his music, there's no answer to explain it, but the more complex an individual Cobain becomes and he that movie really dives into the numerous tortures that soul lived with/through. Unfortunately, I don't get that with "Amy". I came into the film, believing that Amy Winehouse was a very talented young woman who was an out-of-control drug-addict bulimic that died and I really didn't come out of the movie finding her or her life more complicated than that. I know, a lot of rock'n'roll legends die young, and we think their work becomes greater and more rich in their passing, and their lives become more fascinating afterwards, but I don't get that with Amy Winehouse, and "Amy", it's a nice a tribute, didn't convince me otherwise. Sorry.
HE NAMED ME MALALA (2015) Director: Davis Guggenheim
Oh boy, I'm going to be tough again on a bio-doc about a young modern influential public figure, and this one.... (Deep breath) Okay, if you don't know who Malala Yousafzai is by name, then you'll probably know her by reputation. This Pakistani teenager came out against the Taliban who had been burning down schools, particularly those that taught girls. As a result, a hit was put on her and she was shot in the head, and she survived. This was when she was 15-years-old, she's written a memoir about her life, and the significance of her name, "Malala", named by her father after another famous Pakistani young martyr who stood up to others and it cost her, her life, she survived, her family moved to England and continues to be a symbol as well as a constant advocate and presence in the pursuit of women getting education. In 2015, at the age of 17, a year and a half after getting shot by the Taliban, she became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She's definitely one of the most interesting people alive, and yes she is powerful and fascinating person, and who knows what she will do in the future. She is getting an education, and she is definitely inquisitive and wants to learn, on the other hand, she already knows quite a bit, and some of the more interesting scene were actually of her, just being, fairly normal with her family. We see her having fun occasionally, we see her book collection, but she's still fairly, standoffish as a person. Understandably so, but still, we don't get to see too much of her, personally. I mean, there's a little, but even Director Davis Guggenheim, who is an excellent documentarian normally, he won an Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth", he made "Waiting for Superman", among others but he's struggling to get, much more than a few, not necessarily stock responses, but it's clear that, Malala is not exactly the kind who will let her guard down and let herself be, oh, what's-the-word, vulnerable. And, I get why, but-, it doesn't necessarily make for the most documentary. I'm actually, very close to giving this film a straight negative review; I think for the moment I'll keep it at 3 STARS, cause she is somebody who's story needs to be told and needs to be documented; I question whether or not, at this point in time, this is the best way that we can tell her story. Time may be needed, or maybe she's just, not the kind of person who will ever open up, and that's fine, understandable even. I mean, even if she were to bare whatever part of her soul is left for her to bare, she's still a seventeen-year-old girl. An impressive one, probably the most fascinating and important seventeen-year-old on the planet; certainly more interesting than the famous seventeen-year-olds I had to grow up with. That said, she's still got her life ahead of her, a full life ahead of her, one that will probably have many many more interesting things for her to do, to see, to, yes, learn. I'd feel sorry that she's placed in such a spotlighted point, but I don't think she feels that way, so I won't. Maybe she's too much of a symbol now to ever be so personable. I don't blame her for this again, if anybody has earned the right not to put every emotion and her entire life story documented for all of us to see, it's her. It's just hard to then find a portrait documenting her, at this time, more than just as an essential historical document.
SAN ANDREAS (2015) Director: Brad Peyton
(Slight growl under breath) No, no no. No-No,no-,no. No-no, NO! NO! No, no, no. No. Just, NO! No! No! NO! NO!. NOOOOOOOO-OOO! NO!
Oh, where to begin here. Okay, "San Andreas" is the infamous faultline- fault-line, (Faultline is not one word? Really? Okay.) it's the infamous fault-line that separates the Pacific tectonic plate from the North America plate and it conveniently for this movie, cuts through the state of California; it's the reason why, at least back in the day, I don't think it's a widely believed myth anymore, but some hypothesized that when the big earthquake hits California, that the state, or at least part of it, might one day become an island or just sink into the Ocean entirely. So, it's a perfect set up for a disaster movie, it's already California, Hollywood, it's earthquake heavy, it's a famous location that people already think (or thought) could be the location of such drastic disastrous events, etc. etc. Now, you'd think a movie that was named after a famous piece of geography, would know thing about the region, like, how Hoover Dam works, or where the Colorado River goes. (Okay, technically the Colorado River used to go down towards Mexico, but it hasn't done that in decades. Or, maybe not make up a place in Nevada that's supposedly near Hoover Dam, which is where the famous seismologist Dr. Lawrence Hayes ([Sigh] Paul Giamatti, what the hell are you doing in this movie?! Please tell me you really wanted a yacht or something so you did this. [Sigh]) goes to seek out the evidence that he can accurately predict when the next big earthquakes will arrive and this leads to the big earthquake that kills one of his assistant and destroys Hoover Dam in exactly the way that it would absolutely not happen. And btw, the San Andreas Fault is about 350 miles away from Hoover Dam. Look, I know there's other faultl-ines, but seriously, if the fault shook enough to destroy Hoover Dam, then it probably would completely annihilated Bakersfield, Barstow, probably Fresno. Okay, Giamatti, is the established character actor who's sole purpose is to give the made-up science as exposition sound credible, he's never even seen in the same scene as the main story which involves, (Depressed sigh) a, let's see, let me check the "Hack Writers Mad Libs Guide to Disaster Movies" and under dangerous noble profession, he wrote down, "Helicopter Rescue Pilot", okay, a helicopter rescue pilot, Raymond Gaines (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) who's getting a divorce from his wife Emma (Carla Gugino) because plot convenience, and she's about to marry a new asshole Daniel (Ioan Gruffodd) who's trying to befriend their daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario) who's about to head off for college, and before a bunch of shit happens, meet-cutes and befriends Ben (Hugo Johnson-Burt) a British college graduate and his younger brother Ollie (Art Parkinson) and they all end up in trouble, most of the time, they get out of it. Daniel does a few things that aren't as unreasonable as they want to make it seem, but they treat him like the Billy Zane character from "Titanic" because of it....
Oh, God this movie is painful, and yes, I'm focusing on the sketchy geography and science, but this movie would've been bad anyway. I mean, a good disaster movie that's dumb and stupid, like "2012" for instance, it's over-the-top and just a spectacle of bad; "San Andreas" is caught between taking things too seriously or trying to be humorous and it decides on neither and it makes the movie just unbelievably boring. It's just a film about a family getting back together because of disaster. It's like "The Impossible", only stupid. It's not even stupid, it's just inept. Just-ugh. Look, I've never thought Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock was necessarily the greatest actor, but that said, nobody gave a good performance in this movie. Nobody could give a good performance in this movie. These aren't characters, they're plot devices. Archetypes of plot devices. It's copying the formula of every other movie like this. I'm seriously wondering if this movie wasn't cut-and-pasted together from some other shitty script with just the names and locations changed. I'd call it formulaic, but it's so beyond formulaic that I practically just want to call it copying. This movie is like, you ever grade papers in like high school or something, and two idiots who sat next to each other are clearly copying each other's paper, and they're so dumb they get caught right away because they both got all the same answers wrong and had all the same misspelled words, misspelled in the exact same way? That's what I think the first draft of "San Andreas" was, and then somebody cut and pasted the rest to make it look like they weren't copying from someone else. I don't know who was copying who but I'm just gonna presume/hope this was the one copying, 'cause I don't want to know the moron who copied this work, if that's the case. "San Andreas" was just an utter pain to get through, and no, there's nothing in this movie I can honestly recommend. It's a bad version of a story we've seen 100 times, the effects aren't really that special, at least in my mind, I've seen way better and more fun disaster effects...- this is basically a horrible Syfy channel movie that somehow got a budget and a theatrical release and has none of the camp fun of those movies.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2015) Director: Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz
"Goodnight Mommy", is one of those movies that I've been trying to, um, damn, what's the word, absorb and consider as much as I can. Watching it, was difficult, not that it was bad, but this is very deliberately-paced film that, leads to admittedly a pretty good twist that I didn't see coming. And yet, I'm still a little standoffish about the movie. This is an Austrian film from Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, a couple people who've done work separately but have started to work together on films in recent years and the movie begins with two kids, playing out in a very big backyard. It's not so much a backyard as it is, well, it's practically a landscape. I'm not sure where their home is, but it seems to be away from everything. The kids are two twin brothers, Lukas and Elias (Lukas Schwartz and Elias Schwartz) and then we see their mother, (Susanne Wuest) later as she arrives home after some severe accident that's never explained, she arrives wrapped in bandages, around her face. Soon however, the two boys begin to suspect that there's something off about her behavior, even for her having gone through a horrific incident, she stills doesn't seem to resemble her mother in her behavior. The movie, and I think this, on top of, honestly I just found the movie more slow than I did intense, but other than that, it also was a bit, inconsistent in terms of what exactly the mother's problem was. There's some scenes, I guess work for atmosphere, or maybe they were supposed to be symbolic and not literal, or maybe they were dreams, but they definitely give off an impression that there's a definite possibility that this person is not only not their mother, but possibly not even human. After a while, the kids begin to question their Mother's identity, challenging her, and her behaviors and actions. They do eventually consult a Priest (Hans Escher) at one point, to look into it, but that goes nowhere. They eventually start to take action into their own hands and that's when this psychological horror-thriller, begins to turn into a torture porn. And an intense torture porn at that. I guess I'm recommending the movie 'cause I think this is a film that needs to be seen, and because, like I said, the twist at the end is indeed a good twist that I didn't see coming and it makes the devastation at the end that much more powerful when do figure out what exactly is going on, although I still wonder if it contradicts some of the events that we saw before. Overall, "Goodnight Mommy" is an impressive, well-executed idea for a movie, although I think the film suffers from being way too moody; I suspect this movie could be better with a less ominous and more observant tone, maybe a deceptive tone perhaps, maybe. I don't know; this is the kind of foreign movie that I suspect will lead to an American remake, and actually, I find myself kinda interested in that possibility, if that were to happen. Might be interesting.
DANNY COLLINS (2015) Director: Dan Fogelman
Hmm. This is a perplexing movie, albeit, it's still a mostly fun one, but yeah, the more you look into this movie, the stranger it becomes and seems. First of all, let's start with the Director, Dan Fogelman. He's an interesting guy, who's very inconsistent, but mostly he's worked as a writer and producer; this is his first feature film. Previously, he's bounced around, working with Disney, he was a writer on "Bolt," "Tangled" and "Cars 2", which, I know some people love "Tangled", I didn't, but he's also written "Fred Claus", "The Guilt Trip", "Last Vegas", yet he also did one of the very best recent rom-coms, "Crazy, Stupid, Love", so I'm torn, this guy's got a lot of interesting, yet average work on his resume, and he hasn't directed anything since a short film called, not making this up, "Shit Happens". So, what's this story about? Well, Danny Collins (Al Pacino) is a very famous, aging rock'n'roll singer, who's currently touring the latest volume of his Greatest Hits, but years before he became known for a horribly cheesy-so-bad-it's-good "Sweet Caroline" rip-off called "Hey, Baby Doll", he apparently was a young folk singer in his twenties, (Eric Michael Ry) doing an interview with a no-budget magazine from some stoner interviewer named Guy LaRoach (Nick Offerman, nice cameo) that was read by one, John Lennon. 40+ years later, Danny's longtime manager Frank (Christopher Plummer) tracks down the letter, which was sent to LaRoach, who then sold it off 'cause that guy was a roach. Now that he's gotten the letter, all-framed at his surprise birthday party his latest wife, Sophie, (Katarina Cas) threw, which wasn't that different from the typical parties that he's been having for the last forty years of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll, although he's less involved in all three of them then he used to be in his youth, he decides to go out and change his life. It's not that unusual a story, although the John Lennon note however, that is actually based on a true story. Not for Danny Collins, but that happened to a famous British folk singer Steve Tilson, who, I've never heard of myself, but he seems to have had a very successful, long-lasting and lucrative career, but there definitely is, nothing else remotely related to Tilson in this movie. Instead, Collins, decides to leave his California mansion and moves into a Radisson in New Jersey, run by Mary (Annette Bening) who is obviously his love interest, and they do have fun patter, as he has with everyone in the hotel; he's basically a Picaro-esque character to them, but he also goes and see his son Tom (Bobby Cannavale) for the first time, as well as his pregnant wife Samantha (Jennifer Garner) and his young Granddaughter Hope (Giselle Eisenberg). You can, pretty much guess, most of where everything goes from here, plot-wise, but it's done really well, and mostly it's a really delightful movie. It's well-written but it's definitely the acting that really pushes everything over-the-top. It's fluff, but it's really entertaining fluff, in fact, the movie really kinda falters most at the 11th hour when Danny, starts to slip into his old habits, and it's, I guess good drama structure, but-, I don't know, I wish once in a while these feel good movies would evade that last hike into the abyss sometimes, take a cue from "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and just tell a happy celebratory story, with nothing more than happiness and celebration. Anyway, that's me, and that's a minor complaint; "Danny Collins" isn't anything deep or great, and whether and it's a lot of fun, and there is actually some good music with the film too, as he starts to write songs again, the music was done by Ryan Adams actually the former frontman for the alt-country folk band Whiskeytown and one of my favorite folk rockers, and I guess he's also semi-responsible for that "Hey, Baby Doll", which, yes, that ridiculous horrible song is alone, enough to watch the movie, but outside of that you get, a wonderfully-acted nice little fun movie.
JAMES WHITE (2015) Director: Josh Mond
Okay, this is a weird pet peeve of mine, and I'm fully aware that I'm guilty of this in my own writing as well, but-um, I'm not big on naming movies after a very generic character name, even if it is a main character. I mean, I definitely get it in certain situations, especially if it's like an incredibly well-known name, maybe a symbolic name, and if it's a great movie of course, nobody will care about the title, but after "Danny Collins" this week, and now I'm reviewing a film called "James White". I'm just-, (chuckle under breath) I'm not saying that's an inaccurate or wrong title but-um, yeah- you know, colors are symbolic name-wise, not always but, white, usually represents purity or cleanness, sometimes ironically cause James White (Christopher Abbott) is definitely not any of those things in this movie, he's kind of somebody who's trying to be Hunter Thompson, but just basically got the sex and drugs part right and not much else, but still, this character could've literally been named anything- there's nothing about it that inspires his name to be a title, let me put it that way. If you're going do that, but you better at least make it a far more memorable name. Anyway, yes, James White is a wannabe journalist, mostly he's a trainwreck. He's the black sheep of the family and he's always heading off to go to some bar or somebody's living room floor. One night, he ends up back at his home, when his family is practices Shiva, as apparently his father had died. We meet the rest of his family, most of whom are pretty your cliche successful Manhattanites, including his successful writer mother, Gail (Cynthia Nixon) is dealing with being the head of the family. James is going off to Mexico for, however long with some teenage girl, Jayne (Mackenzie Leigh) that he's dating at the moment. But, shortly after, his mother comes down with cancer, and it interrupts his, alcohol and drug-infused laze and soon, reluctantly, he ends up returning, since the rest of his family is too busy with, lives and now the story becomes him watching over his rapidly-dying mother. "James White" is a good movie, but I'm having a hard time racking my brain to call it "special". It's directed by Josh Mond, first time directing a feature but he's been very well-known in independent circles as a producer on such films as "Martha Marcy May Marlene" and "Afterschool" among others; he's proven to be quite an assured director. The best thing about the movie though is Cynthia Nixon's performance. This is an Oscar-quality supporting performance, and-I mean, I know she's been around awhile, I'm already a huge fan of hers and she's been action since "Little Darlings" if anybody remembers that movie, but- I don't know how they made her do it, but they made her look so awful in this movie. She is, incredible here as somebody who is very quickly becoming a physical shell of her former self. She's fifty years old, she's actually somewhat to play this part, really, this could easily been a part that say, Susan Sarandon would've been given and it would the ninetieth time she'd have played this role and she would've been good in it, but I don't think she would've been this good. The movie is actually much more about her than it is James, and I think that's a detriment to the film, but this is one of the better Supporting Actress roles I've seen in a while. It's the probably the one main thing that's powerful enough to remember this film by. Other than that, you could easily dismiss this film as just a regular good independent film about upper class millennials during their quarterlife crisis, it could been, a edited plot from "St. Elmo's Fire", or something from Nicole Holofcener's early films but there is more of an emotional hold in "James White". Still, terrible fucking title- I seriously can't get over that. I mean, seriously next time, if you're gonna do that, give your main character a more interesting name at least. You're a producer Mond, you should know that.
KUMIKO, THE TREASURE HUNTER (2015) Director: David Zellner
I just looked it up, and, (sigh) well, I guess the word is bizarrely, although I'd rather not use that one, but bizarrely, this movie is actually based on a true story. "Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter" is based on a young Japanese woman named, Takako Konishi who, committed suicide back in 2001 in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, after she came to America, (Sigh) after mistakenly believing that- god this sounds so surreal I-, the young woman, here her name is Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) apparently had gotten ahold of a VHS copy of "Fargo", the movie "Fargo," and no, I did my Canon of Film article on the movie because I was reviewing "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter", I swear that was a complete coincidence, and she thought the movie, was real, and not only that it was real but, spoilers, the money that Buscemi's character buried in the snow and didn't get back to finding because of, um, he dies beforehand, it's not that memorable (eyes rolling)... anyway, she thinks the money's still there and using the movie in order to help find it. Okay, for those who don't know, outside of the horror movies, the most infamous use of the "Based on a True Story" trope, is "Fargo", which is, if you don't know, it's a complete lie. The Coen Brothers entirely made that story up, they only said it was based on a true story because they thought, A. It would be funny, which it is, but you don't realize they're doing it until you look it up, but, B. they thought that the pretense of it supposedly based on a true story which give the movie more of a heft and seriousness to it, and yes, this fooled and shocked and unnerved a lot of people at the time, but I didn't anybody actually did this. Now, I'm gonna mention now, that no, we don't see Kumiko commit suicide in the movie, and for all-intensive, this is also that's "Based on a true story", but moreso than "Fargo", not a difficult hurdle to hop over but still. This is by far, one of the strangest stories/films I've seen plot-wise in awhile, and I guess that's why the story did fascinate director David Zellner. Zellner, I'm not too familiar with Zellner as a director, he's starting to direct more features, but outside of his short films I mostly recognize him as being an indy-film character actor. He has a part here, when Kumiko finally makes it to America as a police officer who tries to help out Kumiko. She has a little English, but he couldn't find anybody around that spoke Japanese. He tried the girl at the Chinese restaurant but that didn't work, and he tries to explain to her that her quixotic journey was not a documentary, just a fictional film. The movie, is two-parted, one part in Japan, which is not particularly fun for her; Kumiko is already lonely and too old, at least according to her mother (Yumiko Hioki) who's pressuring her to move back home, and/or get married, and she's doesn't have much of a satisfactory job. It's clear, that she's possibly somewhat mentally ill, although it's not clear what. The second half is her making it to America and struggling to get by. I guess if there's a movie that this film actually reminds me of, it's Werner Herzog's "Stroszek" which was also about foreigners who struggled in their own country figuring that the best thing for them was to come to the American Great Plains where they'd be able to strike it rich. It actually was Herzog who endorsed this movie and presented it to a wide audience, and I first heard about it two years ago actually after Kinkuchi was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for her performance. I definitely recommend the movie, it's just one of the most unique and strange films I've seen. I don't quite know how to handle it, or how much to appreciate, but it's definitely too unique to ignore and dismiss. So, I'm highly recommend it just an an oddity if nothing else.
SLOW WEST (2015) Director; John MacLean
No, this movie isn't directed by the Bruce Willis from "Die Hard". yes I was disappointed too. "Slow West" instead, is a modernist western from, New Zealand, (Light confused pause) oh-kay, that takes place- well I think they mentioned it being around the Colorado Territory, so, let's presume past the Civil War, late 1860s, early 1870s, although, honestly the exact location doesn't matter much here. The movie follows a young Brit, Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a lovesick teenager who's gone to America in search of his true love, or, who he thinks he can convince into being his true love, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius), who he's pined over for years and Rose has desperately tried to keep permanently friend-zoned. She's had a troubled life and now however, she's gone off to America and Jay have gone after him. Already a foolhardy proposition as he's definitely not adequate ready for the American west. This is immediately spotted by Silas (Michael Fassbender) one of those silent brooding stranger types that all westerns have. He helps the boy and makes a deal to help search for the girl while helping him get through the terrains, and by terrains, literal and metaphorical ones. Soon, at a rest stop that, ends in three killings that are completely irrelevant and unrelated to everything else that happens, mostly, pretty much, Silas finds out that Rose is a criminal and there's a $2,000 bounty on her head and her husband. It's not so much that Jay is unfortunate, for picking up a bounty hunter, it's actually more problematic that he's not the one out for him, and as he gets closer to what's-her-name, everybody else gets closer by following them. Oh, she also a vicious killer and not that nice a person besides that. Yeah, "Slow West" is a bit-um, well, I hope say weird, there's actually much stranger modernist westerns out there, it's actually kinda worst than weird because it's actually quite conventional a tale, it's just trying so damn hard not to be. I wasn't overly impressed honestly. It's an interesting first film from Maclean, who's actually mostly known beforehand as a songwriter before this, most of his previous credits are actually on soundtracks until now. Mostly, I get the sense that this was, maybe a forty-five minute movie that stretched to make a suitable feature length film. I suspect MacLean can probably do better the next, or at least he should strive to in the future, so for that reason, I'm gonna give this a marginal negative review; there's nothing wrong with it, per se, but yeah, I'm not really enticed to go over on "Slow West", it's-, well, it is a bit slow, a little aimless which, I think is a detriment here more than a benefit. Maybe if there were more interesting characters or a greater world they're creating, perhaps, a la, "Unforgiven", but this movie isn't that good or interesting. Performances are pretty good though.
TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) Director: David Lynch
Okay, this is gonna sound sacrilegious but "Twin Peaks" was terrible. I know, people think it's this great television show that-, yes is influential, but that it was revolutionary and went off before it's time and that the show was one of these great television shows-, look I absolutely love David Lynch, but I've given "Twin Peaks" a bunch of tries and it doesn't work as a television show. I'm actually kinda disturbed that they're bringing it back, although I'm glad to see Lynch working again. That's one of the reasons it took me forever to get to "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", which, I guess is a prequel, it's mostly just ,an attempt to give the series a somewhat satisfactory explanation, or answer questions. It kinda does that, and it's good. It doesn't change my thoughts on the show, but it's good. The reason the show doesn't work is precisely because David Lynch's dream logic and style, works in movies, because they can approximate the length of a dream, two or three hours, just long enough to feel like an experience, but with a television show with that feel and format, it's one hour, each week, and you're constantly building up and building up a story and in this case, a murder-mystery, (Another thing I can't stand, all these television shows that have the whole scenario of the show/season being about solving a crime or finding/searching for something, it's getting really, really old and tiresome and most of those shows are incredibly overrated.) and now, you're dragging the audience around and there's no end in sight and, then, creepy midget guy (Michael J. Anderson). Yeah, this show was overrated as hell, in fact it's downright terrible. That said, "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", is a movie, and as a movie, it works. It sorta explains the show a bit better, I wouldn't say it made it good, but it does create this world, this fantasy, sexual and otherwise, and like all people who live out their fantasies, it's all fun and fucking until someone gets hurt and we get to see what happened exactly to Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) as well as Teresa Banks (Pamela Gidley) and a few other people, plus we get a better sense of Dale Cooper's (Kyle Maclachlan) place as we realize just how synced into Laura Palmer he was. "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me", is everything that makes the series fascinating and intriguing, without all the delayed satisfaction. It's probably a key to most of Lynch's work, it's got a lot of motifs that we find in "Mulholland Dr.", which was also a great movie made from an abandoned television show, and "INLAND EMPIRE" as well. The young women, the sexual underground, the white picket fence world at the surface, the angelic dreamlike quality of the tone of his series. There's even a great Maguffin in that damn ring, as we see how it works. Does it make any sense? I don't know, and I don't care. I'm not waiting two years and 30+ hours to find out if it does or not, it's a dream, and in the surreal, it doesn't have to make sense. Well, it doesn't have to make sense for a couple hours anyway.