Sunday, August 28, 2016

TOP TEN MINISERIES

So, as promised, this Emmy season, and after two consecutive Top Ten posts that were about feature films exclusively, for some reason, even though that is never a standard I set, I made sure than when I asked for more requests for original Top Ten Lists this time around, that it restricted to television, and I kept the requests open for quite a while, waiting for all requests and to cipher through the best, most unique, most thought-provoking and most unusual and interesting ones I could find, preferably ones that, rarely, if ever, have been done for a Top Ten List before.

My conclusion: YOU GUYS SUCK AT THIS!

REALLY, REALLY SUCK AT THIS. I got a grand total of THREE REQUEST IDEAS, and STRRRR-EEETCHING the definition of words like "Original" or "Unique" and "Television", I had TWO, that I thought we're even pliable. Top Ten Miniseries and Top Ten Police Detective Series.

Okay, I know, I shouldn't be this mean, and I get it, that some people are looking around for ideas and new things to watch but, I-eh, like seriously, these were the two you came up with? I mean, I'll do one of these if it wins, but good lord. Do you know that, since like 1950, back then when there was barely three channels and ever since, that on average, the amount of time devoted to some part of the Law and Order process on network primetime television is about 18 hours a week, and that's the low-end! That's the low estimate. I mean, "Police Detectives, gosh dang it, I can't count 'Murder, She Wrote', she wasn't technically a police detective, she was a crime novelist who solved murders-," like seriously! Do you guys think there's less television than there actually is, or something? Spoilers, on that one, if that wins, then think of the first ten cop detective shows you think of, and eight of them would probably make the list. How about "Top Ten Police Detectives of the '70s," or something just to make it a little tricky, or something?

Alright, look, I-, I know I'm being obnoxious, and I'm sorry again, but-, let's just say that I have high expectations from my audience, and, well, needless to say, in this case, I was.... I was disappointed. Maybe not angry, okay a little angry, but mostly disappointed. (Sigh) So, I decided to throw a couple others into the pool this one time. Just to give an idea on what I might be looking for, or lead you guys towards a different or a more unique Top Ten List. Maybe, you'd say, "Oh, that sounds interesting, I've never seen that one before, maybe I'll pick this one instead." Just, to push you guys towards a different idea, stuff that's more outside-of-the-box and might be more intriguing, you know. For instance, I put down "Top Ten Underrated TV Sitcom Characters". Yeah, all this talk about shows, characters! The things that make us care about what we're watching, how about ranking them, this isn't difficult, and more forgotten or strange ones at that, that maybe get pushed aside or slipped from our immediate consciousness once in a while? Or, eh, you know how I praise critics over fans much of the time, well, did you know I actually have very little respect for television critics?! No, seriously, I hate them, for many reasons, I could've come up with Ten Reasons why they were terrible! Me, complaining, something I'm sure many of my longtime readers, would recognize as a huge change-of-pace for my blog, that recently went on a curse-ladened tirade over the moron fans who tried to end Rotten Tomatoes.

(If you haven't read that post, here's the link below)
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2016/08/4-letter-words-about-rotten-tomatoes_6.html

So, me especially, riding certain critics as a whole, I bet some of you would've probably enjoyed that.

And also the best idea, the one I clearly would've voted for, and boy this is a great list idea; you have no idea, unless you really look into it too, the "Top Ten Most Landscape-Altering Times a TV Show Changed Networks"! Oh yeah, this is a killer list, seriously unbelievable list. It's got everything, a look at many different kinds of television shows, many of them groundbreaking and important, a look at the business side of television, how decisions are made and how the simplest shifts can change the future of a network, and in some cases completely change everything we know about television at that point, plus it goes into TV history incredibly well, where you really can dive in and see just how we got to the television landscape we have now by looking at how much it's shifted in the past. There's so many little things and quirks in television executive decision-making, you'd be shocked, and this is just one kind of those decision, and there's some, in hindsight, really huge ones, and many you don't think about, that- like, "Wow, had that happened, how different would television be," it's really stunning, there's such amazing potential for a great list there, but all three of those, far better and more interesting than your guys' choices. Anyway, I kept the polls open for a good while, let's do the tally and figure out the results, drumroll please!

(Drumroll starts)

And the toke board, stop!

(Drumroll ends)

TOP TEN MINISERIES  19 Votes

TOP TEN MOST UNDERRATED SITCOM CHARACTERS   11 Votes

TOP TEN REASONS WHY TELEVISION CRITICS ARE TERRIBLE   10 Votes

TOP TEN POLICE DETECTIVE SERIES  9 Votes

TOP TEN MOST LANDSCAPE ALTERING TIMES A SHOW CHANGED NETWORKS  0 Votes

And after two suggestions and fifty votes later, the one I wanted to do, the least, wins. And the best one, got ZERO VOTES! Seriously, nobody voted for the best one!?!?!? 

(Deflating sigh, holding back raising voice maniacally)

I'm not angry, I'm just very disappointed. Very, very, verr-ry disappointed. (Long pause) Miniseries, really? That's what interesting to you? You really just want me to tell you, the ten best miniseries out there? You know, I think "Pioneers of Television" did a good episode on them once, do you really...? I can literally find that episode for you guys, see: 


Support your local PBS stations, they have some great television folks. Okay, um, alright. This list, um, yeah, I didn't enjoy doing this list. For one, I haven't seen most of the big miniseries, like especially the really big older ones. And a lot of the newer ones I haven't actually seen either. I haven't seen "Roots" yet.or 'The Thorn Bird"  Or even "The Pacific", or hell, I only am now getting around to the first season of "Fargo", it looks pretty good so far, if you're wondering. It's not that I don't like miniseries, I actually do, but of all the major Primetime television genres, Miniseries, are the, well, the easiest to ignore. There's exceptions, and sometimes the genre can really be the biggest and most important part of the television lineup, but most of the time, they're...- well, they're miniseries, they come in, they hang around for awhile and then they finish and usually you forget about them. Sitcoms are the true genre of television, dramas is a genre that never goes away, Variety, both Talk and Sketch, which are now two separate categories are as big as ever and are usually live so they're more immediate, and hell, even arguably reality television is bigger, more immediate, more culturally relevant and currently, have more culturally impact than all those others. I guess Miniseries for more technical reasons have a bigger presence than TV movies, (Which is a list, I'm telling you now, I'm not doing in the future!!!!!!!!! I am rejecting that idea straight out!) but, yeah, they're kinda the easy one to forget or ignore. They're continuously airing and evolving, they just exist. I know that's changed in recent years, now that shows like "True Detective" and "American Horror Story" came in, and completely changed our idea of what an anthology series was, but even still, only rarely does the "miniseries event", really insist upon and grab the focus and attention and demand the necessity of being watched like the way the actual miniseries events of the '70s were big, and they really, really, were big back then, so big that the other networks refused to program against them, to make sure everybody saw them, huge, I'm serious, huge at the time, you-, you really just don't see that as often. There's always an exception, and miniseries do seem to be big this year, but a couple years ago, I distinctly remember writing a blog about how the Television Academy was thinking of getting rid of the Miniseries category entirely. Yeah, this blog.


And I'm pretty sure I wrote other blogs regarding it later when they reversed that decision and brough back the old modicum, of "LIMITED SERIES", you can see those blogs here: 


"Limited Series" is another term for Miniseries by the way, although there's now technicalities regarding the definition that their weren't before, but.... anyway, it's clear that I've considered and studied miniseries quite a bit, I just haven't really gotten around to seeing as many of them as I wish I had, at least, enough that I can say that I'm, confident in this list. I try to determine "best" over just, "shit I happen to like", 'cause then I'm just an asshole spewing about he likes, and that's a fan, ugh..., but, yeah I'm working with a much more limited sample than I'd prefer. (Beside "Like" is subjective, it's meaningless, tell me what's good and why, not what you like, that doesn't tell me anything.) I keep trying to watch more miniseries btw, it's not like I'm purposefully ignoring them, like, I've literally had my local library lose their copy of "Roots" three different times on me, right as I'm about to get to my turn on the waiting list for it. (Sigh) Yeah. I've definitely seen quite a few, more than I thought when I went through looking for titles I've seen, 'cause I don't have a normal Miniseries list hanging around like I do for movies, but still, this list.... Well, you guys really wanted it; it won big. (Shrugs) 

Okay, let's set a few ground rules. First of all, I'm using the definition of a Limited Series that the Emmys currently have, but I'm not gonna completely stick to it. The definition is fluid and changes quite a bit at times and it's really a guideline instead of a rule. For instance, "In Addition, any narrative series with at least two episodes and a total running time over 150 minutes, but no more than five episodes will be considered a "limited series". Yeah, that, "Five episodes thing, that would knock out quite a few of those older event miniseries, and btw, there's a secondary rule that allows for a vote by a committee to be called challenging that ruling in case a limited series goes longer than five episodes, which many do nowadays, that rule's really in place to distinguish between regular series that only have six-episode seasons, which is the minimum amount a season can have, which is why, certain seasons of "The Big C" and "Treme" managed to sneak into the Miniseries category in the past, (And I'm not counting them here, either) but the main part of the rule is the beginning part: 2 episodes, 150 minutes at least, and tells a complete, non-recurring story and does not have ongoing storylines or main characters for subsequent seasons.. 

That's to account for the new anthology series I mentioned earlier, but yeah, I'm basically using the unwritten rule, "If it was intended to be a miniseries or a limited series, than I'm calling it a miniseries." I won't be so literal with that, for instance, technically I could consider something like the first season of "24" to be a miniseries, since that really wasn't intended to be an ongoing thing and was an actual television event, like a limited series at the time,but yeah, I'd have a hard time making that argument now. (That said, the first season of "24" is the best, but the whole show's really great.) \

That said, I can really cheat here, and include a bunch of different stuff, so, just to get these out of the way, I'm not counting documentaries. Yes, some can make an argument that maybe, "The Beatles Anthology" or Ken Burns's "Baseball" is a miniseries, it's just a documentary mini-series" or somethings like that, um, no, they-, they aren't. And also, I think "original intent" is the big thing, if it was meant to be a miniseries, than I'll consider it, but any TV shows that got cancelled early and somehow stole an acting Emmy because USA Network submitted them into "Limited Series", I'm looking at you two, Jean Smart and Ellen Burstyn, "The Starter Wife" and "Politcal Animals" weren't really supposed to be miniseries and you both know that. (You too Idris Elba and "Luther") then I'm calling bullshit and disqualifying them. Also, it goes the other way around too, if you supposedly started as a miniseries but then became a series, it really better have started and originated as a miniseries. "Downton Abbey" was always a series in Britain, but submitted as a Miniseries here and won their Best Series Emmy in that category, which is fine, I'm a huge "Downton Abbey" fan, but that's,-, that's wrong. Sorry, it better have originated as a Limited Series, or at least have that be the original intent for the series before it became a regular series. 

There's one other rule I'm sorta debating about, and that is, whether I should count foreign programs that were Miniseries in their own country, but might've been originally released theatrically here in America. For instance, I'm disqualifying, "The Godfather: A Novel for Television", which is great btw, and worth a watch if you happen to see it on, it's a television edit of the first two "The Godfather" movies that puts the events in chronological order and even adds a few extra scenes that actually I think improve the story and films at times, but yeah, that was clearly nev-er the intention to make either of those films into a miniseries, but it's not uncommon for some great filmmakers to make a long epic specifically for television in their home country and then have an edited version, (Or sometimes not even edited) and that version would debut in America in movie theaters instead. I'm honestly not sure whether to count those or not, without giving anything away, (Although they would be surprises to nobody who knows me) if I did include them, there's a very good chance they would make the list. 

After thinking this through, if they were shown in American theaters, in their complete original miniseries form, then I'm gonna disqualify them; I will allow therefore for movies that were edited down from an original foreign miniseries and then introduced to America in theaters as a edited version of the miniseries to be counted, since that's the not the original film they're supposed to be introduced as. So from my perspective, I, as an American would've had to have been introduced to them, but only if the edited movie version is NOT the original version/intent that the film was meant to be seen as, 'cause if I would've originally seen the miniseries as a theatrically-released feature, then I must consider that to be a theatrically-released feature, since that's how I rank them normally. This eliminates more than a few films I've seen, and a couple big ones, the Italian six-hour epic "The Best of Youth" that came out a few years ago comes to mind, but more importantly, (sigh) the movie I ranked as the 3rd Greatest Film of all-time, Krzyszstof Kieslowski's "The Decalogue" .Yeah, you can read my CANON OF FILM post on "The Decalogue" at the link below: 


but yeah..., Spoilers, had I decided to count it, that easily would've been number one on this list, but by my own rules I'm disqualifying it; in America, it was first screened in movie theaters, in their entirety, not on television, so I consider the miniseries to be a theatrical feature film, so it doesn't count. 

Okay, I hope that helps you all know what I'm considering a miniseries and what I'm not and I think that's everything, so let's get to it. We're counting down!

THE TOP TEN MINISERIES OF ALL-TIME!(Except not really, it's the Top Ten of the ones I've seen, it's actually an incredibly incomplete list from a rather limited sample-... Please do not consider this a truly legitimate list or ranking of all-time great miniseries, like, at all. Let's just get this damn thing over with. Oh, I mean, ALRIGHT, LET'S START COUNTING DOWN!)

Number ten. Okay, like I said, miniseries have been around in some form, essentially forever. I could really go back in time and retroactively call things like "The Prisoner" as a miniseries or other cult series like that, but yeah, the term, "Miniseries", really comes out of the '70s, and unfortunately I was born in 1980-something, so that really classic style of these major epic narrative miniseries, they're just not exactly things I've gotten around to watching. I've studied their importance and relevance, and I've seen bits and pieces and know some of the tales of some of them. I started watching "Washington Behind Closed Doors" once, looked really good, I've tried to get around to "Roots", and I think I fell asleep watching "The Thorn Birds" once. I almost put "I, Claudius" on here, even though I'm only halfway through it. So, most of my knowledge on this era is more of just an awareness and studying of it, than watching of the actual films so far. I did however, see one classic, epic, important, all-star cast miniseries events from the '70s, one that changed things forever in pop culture and stretched the limits of what television could be and do, and it's a truly, great masterful miniseries.... um, unfortunately, it's, well, (sigh) "Holocaust".


10. Holocaust  (1978, NBC)



Um,-eh, look, I'll be straight with you all, I really didn't want to put this on the list, it's-, well, it's kind of a downer to even talk about or even bring up at all, nowadays, even considering how groundbreaking and important it was at the time, and it was and in many ways still is, I never hear it brought up anymore, even when you narrow down major miniseries events of the '70s, this one gets pushed aside the most often, but once you see it, you can't really forget it. The joke is that it was so powerful that it caused more changed than the real thing, and sadly that's not entirely untrue. The miniseries stirred more political interest in the event and even caused some laws to be rewritten in Germany so that more people could be convicted for their crimes, extending the statute of limitations in order to prosecute people. "Holocaust: The story of the Family Weiss" follows each member of the Weiss family for over a decade as we see how Germany disintegrates into the Holocaust after Hitler's rise to power. Spoilers, all but one of them, end up dead by the end. The secondary story follows Erik Dorf (Michael Moriarty) a young German man, a family friend of the Weiss's who joins the Nazi Party and evolves from essentially a good man, who was honestly just looking for a job to inevitably turning into a mass murderer. Oddly, his is the most memorable performance in my mind, although looking back, this was another all-star cast. The movie was directed b legendary Marvin Chomsky, a legendary TV Director who has dozens of TV Movies and Miniseries under his belt, including a couple episodes of "Roots" "Attica", "Billionaire Boys Club"-, oh hey I did see that one. Huh, maybe I should on here inst-, no, no, "Holocaust" is too important and too good to leave off if you've seen it. Arguably, at the time, it was the best, most accurate and most graphic depiction of the Holocaust brought to film at the time, and that's definitely something worth mentioning.

Number nine, number nine, number nine: Okay, this will sound like I'm making it up to show how embarrassing and young and naive I was, but trust me, if you find people who knew me back then, they know I'm not kidding when I say this, but, my favorite book as a kid, was "Heidi". Yeah, that "Heidi", the Johannes Spyri one, about the little Austrian mountain girl that goes to live in the city, and then comes back, yeah, that one. And no, I'm not ashamed of it. There's been numerous attempts to adapt it to the screen, the most famous version is probably the Shirley Temple one and that's a good version, probably the most infamous was the 1968 TV movie from "Marty" director Delbert Mann and won John Williams, yes that John Williams, an Emmy for the Score, that aired on television instead of the last couple minutes of the Raiders-Jets AFL Championship, where the Raiders scored two touchdowns in the final minutes to win, that nobody saw, 'cause they cut "Heidi" instead. (Sports Fans: Rule #1 Always watch 'til the end of the game, you never know what going to happen.) However my favorite was a Disney Channel miniseries. (Uh, oh boy, back then, the Disney Channel didn't just create low-rent not-as-witty-as-Nickelodeon crap to put on the air, they actually had some quality inventive series and specials, it was more of a "Little House on the Prairie"side of family programming, but still, it was good.) It got what most of the version of "Heidi" got wrong, they would always start in the middle with Heidi going from the mysterious Grandfather and almost right to her adoption in Frankfurt, trying to rush the whole story, but meanwhile, the story is how she has her home in the mountains, and we see her at home with her loving Grandfather, and then we see her taken out of her environment; that's the whole crutch of the story, the two very different worlds she lives in and inhabits. Now, I didn't end up putting that miniseries on this list, although I thought about it, although I bring it up to make a point that, many of these miniseries are based on larger novels and the great advantage of miniseries is that you can really dive into the text and expand upon it to it's fullest the way regular movies can't. That doesn't mean you can't stray from the original text if you need to but the best way to take full advantage of this medium, is to spend the extra time and hours in creating and exploring these amazing worlds that the characters inhabit, and make them seem as real and believable as anything else. Okay, it's a TV movie, so you'll probably be a little limited, but still, it can be done, even with much more fantastical novels.


9. Gulliver's Travels (1996, NBC)



My favorite book, when I was slightly older, while I still admired "Heidi" was probably "Gulliver's Travels", but my first introduction to it, officially was this '96 miniseries which aired on NBC, and was made in collaboration with Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson's Productions, and I'm surprised this miniseries doesn't get brought up more often. It's pretty clearly the defining version of "Gulliver's Travels", unless you really want to count the Fleischer Brothers movie, which, I guess is important for being the first animated feature after Disney's "Snow White..." but I really wouldn't. Jonathan Swift's novel is what most fantasy should be, it's full of action and adventure and it's purely absurd. The movie adds an extra level that the book never had where Gulliver is put on trial for competency after he arrives home, after nine years at sea, and starts talking about worlds of giants and thumbelinas and islands the sky and all these bizarre amazing things. (In the book, he actually returns four times in that span, and each time going back out to sea, this device, actually makes more sense to some extent; it's more believable that he couldn't return and got caught in this most strange of odysseys. For a miniseries the effects aren't bad and surprising hold up and feel believable. It's a fantasy, but it comes off, especially at the time as quite extraordinary. Ted Danson is completely believable as Gulliver, by far the most effective I've ever seen of somebody playing that role. This is one of the most unadaptable great novels to portray in film, and I'm surprise there's not more admiration for this film. It's not the most adult project, but for TV movies, this is kinda like the James Cameron movie I always wish he made. It's a great introduction to the novel and I bet if more people were aware of it now, it'd be a childhood classic, kinda like another great miniseries that almost made this list, "A Christmas Carol", the one with Patrick Stewart. (Which I also consider the best adaptation of that story on film as well) I gave the edge to this one, 'cause of the difficulty in adapting the material as well as the accomplish of it. This is one of the bigger TV miniseries events that I remember as a kid. Miniseries were around in the nineties, barely, although, usually they were only two-part miniseries, about the lengths of TV movies, which, during that time, weren't particularly bad ripped-from-the-headlines melodramas, slightly better than Lifetime movies, or worst case scenario, bad remakes of half-assed "Pygmalion" rip-offs that starred Vanna White as a statue of Venus. No, seriously. There's a reason TV movies and miniseries are the bastard children of the Primetime networks schedules most of the time, but this one is an exception that stayed with you. NBC did a bunch of other sorta event two-part miniseries like these, "The Odyssey" for instance, "Uprising" was a popular one, "The 10th Kingdom", which was a weird "Alice in Wonderland" re-imagining the same way "Tin Man" was a weird "The Wizard of Oz" re-imagining, only it really sucked. (What? Yeah, I said "Tin Man" was good, shut up.) but I don't think they ever really match the awe and amazement of "Gulliver's Travels". Maybe a few we're bigger in scope, but I don't think anything was as fantastic or magical or as memorable.

Number eight! It's somewhat difficult to even determine what a miniseries even is, in England, the way they schedule their shows already makes it a bit borderline to begin with. That's why they can kinda get away with taking what are really regular series over there and then making them become miniseries over here. For instance, usually when a series jumps five or six years from one season to another, that's usually when the show jumps the shark, ("Desperate Housewives", what the hell were you thinking?) but it's not unusual over there, and they quite a few shows that we'd consider "Miniseries". Some of them like "Sherlock" take root in the Prime Suspect tradition, of having a myster spread over a few movies, with a recurring detective character. Others are more traditional, luxurious costumed period pieces, "Brideshead Revisted" is probably the most famous of these, one that's so famous they recently re-did that one as a feature film, although some of their more non-traditional ones also received that kind of treatment years later, like "The Singing Detective" for instance. If I ever get around to finishing "I, Claudius", I probably would find a spot for that one. Of course, they're big bread and butter is taking some of their great novels and turning them into full miniseries as well. "Pride & Prejudice" is often listed as one of the better Jane Austen adaptations, there's plenty of Charles Dickens miniseries. "Little Dorrit", "David Copperfield", "Oliver Twist", "Great Expectations", "Bleak House", they've all gotten the miniseries treatment multiple time. So which British miniseries did I pick? Well, I haven't seen any of those, so I can't really pick them, so I went with the one I did see, the one with the cross-dressing lesbians and turn-of-the-century dildos. No, seriously.


8. Tipping the Velvet (BBC, 2002)



"Tipping the Velvet" is the most controversial pick I've got on this list, there's been nudity and sex on network programming before and BBC's standards are a bit more lax, but still this is a pretty salacious miniseries and caused a lot of controversy. Based on the Sally Waters novel and adapted by Andrew Davies, most known here for having created the original "House of Cards" miniseries that's since been adapted into the Netflix series, "Tipping the Velvet", does something that I think is really difficult in the genre, romance. Like really sexual, erotic romance, even in the best of circumstances, rarely seems believable, and it's especially difficult when you only have a few hours to establish and care about the entire series. Alright, it's only three parts, but still, that's a lot. I think it helps that it's a gorgeous erotic setting; it takes during the era of music halls in the Victorian 1890s and Nan Astley (Rachel Stirling) falls in love with a male impersonator at the show, Kitty Butler (Keeley Hawes), oh-eh, I think that was actually a thing, (Internet search) yeah, that actually was a profession, female would perform act as men on stage, sometimes they were called "Mashers", although I'll be damned if I know how accurate the performances are. It doesn't really matter, this is for all-intensive purposes a Harlequin romance novel put on the screen, but then again, you can say the same things about Jane Austen's work at the time. This is definitely the most unique and unusual entry on this list and it's a great whirlwind romance about characters and a world that, frankly I, literally can't think of another piece of film that even tries to dip into this world. Controversial, sexy, a lot of fun, completely unpredictable, and an erotic beautiful world that few people have ever seen. True erotica is hard to pull off in film, and they did it in a three-hour miniseries. If more TV Movies with Joan Collins's name above the title were like this, I think they'd be better respected. The fact that it's also a landmark in LGBT literature and television, and for good reasons, gives it a few extra notches for me.

Number seven: Miniseries only have to technically be about 150 minutes long, minimum, that's only two and a half hours, and that was the typical trend of the genre when I was growing up. There were a few notable exceptions, but typically miniseries could basically just be TV movies that needed two nights to finish, basically "Gone With the Wind" only replace the intermission with the 11:00pm news and come back for the second part of the miniseries event tomorrow. This was back when networks were also more likely to put money into television movies than they are now; I don't really get why, I think they basically just thought they were a good cheap time-filler, and you can probably date that back to those wheel schedule detective series from the '70s, like 'Columbo" or "MacMillan & Wife". It took me a while to even determine that this indeed was a miniseries, 'cause a lot of people I know, swear it was a single film, and like a lot of these, you can watch them as though they really were, but Miniseries do have to air in multiple parts, that's a big requirement for me. You can edit some of them down to a three-hour feature film I guess, and if you cut out commercials it'll feel that way, but let me be clear, if they needed to spread it out over more than one night of television of Primetime television to air the thing, than it's a miniseries in my book. I've heard this one counted as a TV movie, it even says it's just a TV movie, and it took me awhile to double-check it, but I was write, this aired in Two Parts, so that makes it a miniseries.


7. Separate but Equal (1991, ABC)



I know he was a bit old at the time for the part, really, but Sidney Poitier as Thurgood Marshall, c'mon, that's the ultimate! "Separate but Equal" is the story behind the famous "Brown vs. Board of Education" case, that desegregated the schools in the South and in turn, made Jim Crow laws in the South unconstitutional. In essence then, I guess this is a courtroom drama, although really, I never think of it as such. The miniseries has two parts, (Well, I said that already, but two parts to the film) the first is the taking up of the NAACP of the case, and then how they began building the case, and the people involved behind that. It wasn't just the single case that was brought up in regards to it, Things like the testing with the dolls for instance, the gathering of information that proved that the laws themselves didn't work, much less weren't Constitutional, basically that "Separate was not equal", which it didn't by the way. The second part I think of is Richard Kiley's performance as Earl Warren, the California governor who took over as Supreme Court Justice after Justice Vincent passed away between the first time the case was brought up to the court and the second time, and it's his influence that leads to 9-0 decision, and his fight trying to convince the judges to completely agree is fascinating. Naturally, it wasn't needed a unanimous decision in the Supreme Court to reverse the law, but his belief that a dissenting opinion shouldn't be given, to make sure the precedent was stand is actually almost if not more interesting than the first half. These are two of my favorite miniseries performances of all-time, and it sheds an even greater light on the intricacies of what we already think about regarding a Supreme Court case that we all actually think we know about through history books. If you're like me, you probably saw this miniseries in a history of political science, and I'm glad I did; maybe it helps that I'm a bit of a buff for this kind of stuff, but still, I think this one holds up. It shows the situation and the world where the case evolved, it gives us insights into the professional and personal lives of the people who fought the case and into the minute dynamics of the case and decision-making process itself; it's actually quite elaborate and finding and creating fascinating drama in the devil of details is something that's not always done well, especially not this well. It was directed by George Steven, Jr., who is of course of the great George Stevens who directed films like "Shane" among others, but he's mostly known now as a producer and even then, he's more well-known live and Special Class programs on television, he's known for the Kennedy Center Honors, things like that, but don't let mislead you, if he really wanted to be an artistic filmmaker, he's capable of it, and this is his best example of it. 

Number six: Man, I really wish I could put something else up here, other than "Holocaust" that kinda represent that classic, sweeping historical epic miniseries of old on here? Just having "Holocaust", eh,- I must have seen something else I can kinda justify to take up this spot that's like that? Big, historical, over-arching epic, that's you know, still full of tragedy but is at least a little more fun to watch!


6. North and South: Books I and II (ABC, 1985; 1986) 



Alright, this'll do. Yeah, "Holocaust" is great, yeah, it's worth watching once, I don't think I could do it again. This one, however, and, yes, I'm cheating here a bit as this is actually two miniseries, but yeah, I think I can re-watch and enjoy "North and South" once more. For those unfamiliar with author John Jakes, he's considered one of the great modern American historical-fiction authors, and he has books about, pretty much every war America's been in, and his three most famous are about the Civil War as told through the Main Family of the South and the Hazard family of the North. They're kind of a more evolved and elaborate "Gone with the Wind" essentially, but we see both sides of the battle and it's an uber-all-star cast. The first miniseries, based on the first book, takes place before the war, as both Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) and George Hazard (James Reed) meet at West Point and become fast friends and compadres, even fighting alongside each other in the Mexican-American War, and- if I try to explain everything else that happens, we'll be here all week. Just trust me, the book themselves are long and melodramatic and sprawlingly epic and so are the movies. The second one, called "North and South: Book II" which is based on the sequel book, "Love & War" takes place during the Civil War and the battles each side fights on and off the battlefields with each other and themselves, and by themselves I mean, their families. There's a lot of people in these films, and a lot of big, big actors, sometimes in just cameos. The series still ranks as the 7th most-watched miniseries event of all-time, and they eventually, eight years later, made the third book of the trilogy, from the book, "Heaven & Hell", and we don't talk about that one. The first two though, they're really good. If you want to know kinda the gist of what many of those old miniseries epics of the past not only feel like, but really went for, these big overblown, epic spectacles with multiple sprawling narratives and a who's who of the best actors alive coming together for these stories, you can do a lot worst than to start with the "North and South" films. This is eighteen and a half+ hours of finding out all the dynamics and intricacies of these two very large families, (And again, we're not including the third miniseries, which again, we don't talk about here) Miniseries were created to tell these big stories on the small screen, and this is one of the biggest and it holds up. And it's a lot more fun than "Holocaust", although normally I am more of a WWII buff as oppose to the Civil War era and you should probably watch both of these, but that said, eh, if I only have room for one, I'd much rather go down on "North and South". Have fun folks. 

Number five! Let talk about biopics. That's not necessarily a genre that's totally embraced nowadays, and no, it really doesn't have the greatest reputation. Even the best lives are hard to cram into a coherent and interesting two hour movie. For all the talk about Oscar bait, what's the last straight biopic to win Best Picture? Eh, you might be able to argue "The King's Speech" or "12 Years a Slave", but those films focused on very specific aspects and time period of their character's life, you gotta go back to "A Beautiful Mind" before a truly straight biopic won, and before that um, well, maybe "Braveheart" but that's debatable, I'd probably say "The Last Emperor" as the previous definitive one. One where you're really, truly looking at, every aspect of a person's life from the beginning to the end. Well, the thing is that it's hard to find a natural narrative with people that easily fits into a movie, people are complex, and contradictory and, you know, they're human beings. Faults and praise for all. That said, miniseries are kinda the perfect medium for biopics, for this reason, you can take the show and all the sides of the more interesting and complex figures and maybe show how much more interesting they actually are.


5. John Adams (2008, HBO)



It's very easy to simply glance over John Adams when studying our founding fathers and the American Revolution and yet, you can quite literally say that he was right there at the beginning and was literally the last one standing at the end, granted, it was only by a few hours but still.... David McCullough's biography was brought to life by HBO, beginning with Adams as a Boston lawyer, defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre until long after the republic was founded, and became the first former U.S. President to see his son become President. Yes, he's surrounded by what we think of as far more interesting and in many cases, important figures. He was Vice President under George Washington, he got Thomas Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence, and then fought with him as President, along with Alexander Hamilton, and he traveled to France with Ben Franklin to fund the war, there's really a lot to his life, and much of it is contradictory, and yet was all essential in studying the American Revolution. Paul Giamatti's given many amazing performances, but this is probably the part he'll be most remember for; it's basically the role he was meant to play. This is the absolute only medium a biopic on John Adams could've been pulled off, and that's why I'm ranking this one so high. Also credit to director Tom Hooper, who parlayed the success of "John Adams" into an Oscar-winning film career, and he's got a lot to cover here as well, telling a story that's spread over fifty years on two continents and lord knows how many locations. Another perfectly cast film as well, this is the one American Revolutionary film that really strips down to the real aspects of the Revolution and the characters involved. It doesn't glamorize. I've been in Independence Hall, where the Second Continental Congress drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence, and they made it look even dirtier and grindier than it actually was in that great second episode of the series, where Adams went toe-to-toe with John Dickinson over whether to actually forcefully declare independence, even though, them already meeting for a Continental Congress was indeed illegal to begin with. It's a fascinating life, and I think few people have simply glossed over John Adams since the miniseries and book came out since, and that's a true testament to a historical piece, in that it actually makes us rethink and give us a greater appreciation of our history.

Speaking of history, Number Four! Yeah, uh, "Holocaust" is not the only time World War II shows up on the list, and it was pretty inevitable.


4. Band of Brothers (HBO, 2001)



I'm probably the one ranking "Band of Brothers" low, and admittedly, I think I admire it moreso than I like it, but that said, it's-, it's still really damn good. The story of Easy Company, the 506th Parachute Regiment is regarded as one the greatest military troops in American and also one of the most successful, managing to survive nearly every major battle from D-Day on, and were one of the first regiments that would be assigned to duty in Germany, and in particular towards Hitler's famed "Eagle's Nest", which was essentially his version of Camp David. To be honest, I think it loses a few notches for me, because, I don't really get the sense of the particular characters and personalities in the series; to me they're all just soldiers and while they were a Band of Brothers, they come off as anonymous to me, but I often think that about a lot of war movies and honestly, it's kind of the point. They weren't Alvin York's or Audie Murphy, they were a team that completed some of the most amazing and dangerous missions of the most vicious of wars. And the thing I really enjoy about "Band of Brothers" is that you can kinda actually pick any episode and watch it at random and be really enthralled whether you know what happened before or not, and that's something you don't typically get with miniseries actually, that was kind of a new thing when HBO started dipping their toe into miniseries and series in general, they were stand-alone and you can catch up and not know anybody or anything and really get involved in the particular incident they were depicting. It's quite great.

Number three: There's a couple miniseries effected by the disqualification of Foreign miniseries, a few of them were by this director, who made a habit near the end of his life of having either miniseries edited down to films or movies evolve and extend to miniseries. Probably his most famous example, "Fanny & Alexander" was actually disqualified because I'm pretty sure that was intended as a feature film but evolved strangely into a miniseries. Still, I'm not sure I would've selected that one over this feature film, which I prefer both the miniseries and the theatrical version of more anyway.


3. Scenes from a Marriage (1973, SVT)



The Youtube clip is a trailer for the feature film but rest assured I'm referring to the six-part miniseries of "Scenes from a Marriage" here, it was shockingly hard to find a decent Youtube clip for the miniseries that wasn't a review of it. I've already talked about both the movie and the miniseries when I added them to my CANON OF FILM, you can read that post at the link below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/09/canon-of-film-scenes-from-marriage-5.html

Man, there's a lot of links to other blogposts of mine on this page. Boy I've written a lot on a lot of subjects. Anyway, so I won't go into too much detail here, but "Scenes from a Marriage" is one of the best and most influential of all of Bergman's work. Pretty much any movie that showcases a couple over an extended period of time is basically a reworking of "Scenes from a Marriage". Richard Linklater and Ethan Hawke have said that "The Before Trilogy", particularly "Before Midnight" is meant to be compared to "Scenes from a Marriage" and that makes sense. The miniseries spreads out over twenty years in the life of a couple, from marriage, children, divorce, remarriage and re-connection. In a career of memorable performances in numberous Bergman film, Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann's greatest and most enduring characters or Johan and Marianne. In fact, for Bergman's final film project, he mad a sequel thirty years later, revisiting the pair in and where they are in life now called "Saraband" which oddly was a TV movie in Sweden originally that actually extended worldwide when it was released theatrically. Huh. I can recall a few incidents of that kind of thing happening, but usually that's it's an American TV movie that got released elsewhere with added nudity and violence, and that wasn't the situation here. If you're interested in looking stuff like that up though, you should seek out Elizabeth Montgomery's nude scenes in "The Legend of Lizzie Borden", talk about bewitching.

(Audience boos)

Oh, lighten up, she was awesome and amazingly talented, I'm just saying, we missed some parts of her career it would've been nice to have seen.

Number Two! Most of these movies don't exactly have big-named directors attached, at least in terms of theatrically-released big-named directors; it was usually actually considered a downgrade for most when they go from feature films to television directing, and occasionally the downgrade is deserving. Usually a good miniseries or TV movie might be a stepping stone to a bigger and better things for some, or they just like working in television and will work on that for most of their time. That said, I don't know if you can say that about the three films at the top of this list and their directors. For one thing, Bergman wasn't at any low point career-wise, he just felt like doing longer stories and television was a better medium for his vision. For the names at the top, they were probably some of the first big named directors to really realize the power of cable in order to help tell stories that otherwise might not be able to be told. And there's definitely no story on this list that needed to be told in the television medium more than this film.


2. Tanner '88 (1988, HBO)



"Tanner '88" is by far the strangest and most original miniseries on this list. For one thing, it's the only one that's not based on an actual event (well, sorta) or is adapted from a previous piece of art; it's completely original at the time and you can argue that there aren't too many things out there like it today. Secondly, it's the only comedy on the list. Yeah, comedy miniseries, they're rarely thought of, but they're not unheard of. Not only that, it's a mockumentary, and a mockumentary that takes place in real time at that, supposedly. Most miniseries were events that aired at dates close to each other in order to keep the event feel of the series as well as to finish the story quickly and not required audiences to come back over sporadic periods of time, but "Tanner '88" details a Presidential campaign of form Michigan U.S. Representative Mike Tanner (Michael Murphy) and slowly but surely, almost accidentally manages to find his way within an earshot of getting the nomination as he's in a three-way race with Michael Dukakis and Jesse Jackson as the convention draws near. Yeah, this was shot, made and aired on HBO originally, during the actual Presidential campaign, complete with cameos from some of political heavyweights of the time. You could've confused this as a documentary about an actual candidate, if you weren't familiar with some of the actors beforehand. It was created by Garry Trudeau the political satirist behind "Doonesbury" and currently has gotten back to television with the Amazon comedy "Alpha House" and Directed by Robert Altman, who won an Emmy for the series, his only Emmy by the way and he considered the miniseries his greatest work, which is saying something from the guy who made "Short Cuts", "The Player", "M*A*S*H", "3 Women," "The Long Goodbye", "Gosford Park" "McCabe & Mrs. Miller", frickin' "Nashville", man he's got a lot of masterful films. And I can't say I disagree with either, this was wa ahead of it's time. First of all, there wasn't political anything on television at the time, "The West Wing" was a decade away, So was reality television and this surreal blend of satire of political and the media swirling and coming together to broadcast the most improbable of Presidential runs...- I'm writing this in 2016, "Tanner '88" feels more relevant and maybe prophetic than ever before, and write your own topical political joke here. Way ahead of it's time, and growing more important and influential with each passing year, "Tanner '88" might just be Robert Altman's best work, and certainly analysis of his directing is complete without taking "Tanner '88" into account. The more people who seek out and find "Tanner '88", and it's available in the Criterion Collection by the way, but the more who see it, the more people will begin ranking it as one of the greatest miniseries of all-time, and you're forgiven for having missed it when it originally aired; we're only now catching up to it ourselves.

 And, now,

(Drumroll)

The Number One, Miniseries of all-um-, on this list!

(Drumroll ends)

I didn't have an obvious clear-cut number one miniseries in my mind when I was given this topic, so I had to really think about this one, so I guess in that respect this was a challenging list to figure out. What really was number one? It had to be something that's undeniably great, it had to be important, it has to be something that naturally fits into the sphere of the miniseries, one that, makes it's almost impossible for the story to be filmed and shown in any other manner, one that's both powerful and effective and legitimately meaningful but isn't necessarily beating you over the head with how horrible something is. That's a hard thing to balance really. Miniseries are big, important events and they usually, the most notable ones anyway, they carry a sweep of grandeur and importance to them, they're about something real. It's easy to just show misery and pain and the tragedy of all, but that's not enough. You gotta be able to transcend the subject matter and let the material explode. Great characters we care about, amazing performances that never let you go, performed by the best actors, given the best words and dialogue to speak. Give us a take on something that even transforms what we thought we already knew or had seen before. When I really realize that, that was the standard I was looking for, then the number one choice, suddenly became blatantly obvious to me.

(Takes out a red ribbon and pins it to shirt, sighs with a tear.)


1. Angels in America (2003, HBO)



Fine, you want to say it's just a straight stage-to-screen adaptation and point out a flaw of it's flaws in adaptation, you can, but, god damn, it's a great play, and I can't imagine anybody doing a better filmed version of it. Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize winning six hours, two-part epic stage production, "Angels in America" took over a decade before being adapted into the miniseries, and like Altman with "Tanner '88", Mike Nichols, director "The Graduate" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" among loads of others, considered this his greatest career accomplishment. "Angels in America", like the plays, as oppose to a cast of dozens, only has a few major actors, but they play multiple roles as multiple stories are told circling around the AIDS crisis in 1985 New York City, and jumping from there, to literally almost seeming anywhere and anytime from the Heaven to Earth and back again. Prior (Justin Kirk) is dying of AIDS and when he needs his lover most, Louis (Ben Shankman) unlike 99.9% of every other story that starts this way, leaves him, fearing the burden of having to care for someone so ill who might not survive, and finds solace in a married Mormon lawyer Joe Pitt (Patrick Wilson) who's married to Harper (Mary-Louise Parker) who's trying to cure both her marriage and her husband's homosexuality by avoided it and diving into valium-inflicted fantasy worlds. Joe works with Roy Cohn (Al Pacino) the infamous real-life lawyer and Republican strategist who was McCarthy, Nixon and Reagan's right-hand man, who is also dying of AIDS. He's taken care by an African-American gay male nurse, Belize (Jeffrey Wright), neither of them get along with the other. I'm only scratching the surface of the main plot threads by the way, and don't think you know where it's goings, the "Angels" in the title, they're literal in the production. Kushner is attacking on all cylinders here and it's his writing as storytelling at his best. Looking back through all the miniseries, this isn't just the best, this is the most essential one I've seen, and one I will gladly see multiple times over. Started with the era of Roy Cohn's influence and ending after the fall of the Soviet empire, decades after AIDS was a death sentence, "Angels in America" is strangely, probably the hopeful piece of art that's come up of the AIDS crises, and it remains inspiring, tragic, funny, surreal, absurd, pretty much every possible emotion is shoved into this play, and the movie brings it all out for the world to experience. I have a lot of important and great miniseries that I have to get through, but I have a hard time imagining that something will top this, number one, for now, is "Angels in America."

Hope you all enjoyed that. It's almost time to start finalizing our Emmy predictions folks, let's get back into the swing of things. (And pick better topics next time I do this!)









Tuesday, August 23, 2016

WHY IS PAT ROBERTSON STILL ON THE AIR? NOT WHAT HE SAYS, BUT WHY IS HE STILL ON THE AIR SAYING IT!? HOW RELIGIOUS TELEVISION IS MONOPOLIZING THE DIGITAL NETWORK MARKET AND PROMOTING MAINLY TO THE POOREST AND LOWLIEST OF THE POPULATION AND WHY/HOW THEY STILL GET AWAY WITH IT. (I'm gonna probably get in some trouble with this blogpost, aren't I?)

So, like every Olympics, I and everybody else, complain about how NBC’s coverage is, oh, what’s the word, um, incomplete, I guess. Sometimes it’s been terrible or barely adequate or mediocre, although it’s got its moments and high points and dammit, they’re trying. Basically, my complaints about the Olympics and other similar events really basically thread the same needle however, and it's this belief I have that, certain important culture, sociological, political even, certain important events are so important whether literally to the future of the free world, or at least, are or should be ingrained culturally into the culture landscape, that they should be widely and readily available to as many people as possible, and while it’s easy to say that the internet is surpassing that, television is still the best and most readily available tool out there to provide that, and it really pains when I observe that they’re not doing that. It’s the same complain that I had when I bitched about the NCAA Tournament Finals being on TBS instead of CBS this year, or hell, it’s the same complaint I made in the nineties when they canceled “The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show”, “There shouldn’t be a world where Looney Tunes isn’t easily and readily available to everyone, it shouldn’t be relegated to cable television!” I said that, when I was like, I don’t know, 13, 14, however old I was when they canceled that, and now we have a generation of people who are all grown-up celebrating the twentieth anniversary of “Pokemon” by walking around with their phones, until hopefully, they get run over by somebody who was Pokemon Go-ing, while driving. (Yeah, still think I was wrong about letting Looney Tunes slip away from us, 'cause I sure as fuck don't!) So yeah, I don’t like how I have to go stream on Roku, or borrow my friend’s account so I can stream the Olympic basketball on Roku, or Olympic boxing, or wrestling, or whatever cool sport that I used to be able to watch when NBC seemed to air all the Olympic events, instead of the ones they choose to air on the main channel. And I think it’s still important now, maybe more than ever, ‘cause more people are without the easily accessible capabilities of the modern world, even in America than you think. There’s a reason why the Redbox machines are still around, but the Redbox streaming service, completely flopped, not only was there too much pliable competition, but the people who rent from Redbox aren’t the ones who stream on the internet. If they could do that, they wouldn’t be going to the Redbox in the first place.

So, here’s the thing, as somebody who, coincidentally, currently doesn’t have available my normal streaming services, ‘cause of, circumstances, I do pay closer attention to what’s being broadcasted to those who don't have all those extra services and what’s more readily available on the basic networks of television than others might, and while we’re probably a few years away from the Super Bowl going on ESPN, or the Oscars airing on ippv or some other obnoxiously moronic and stupid backwards choice in culture like that, what I actually look at and care about and more-often-than-not nowadays, worry about, is, “Well, if we aren’t inundated with these cultural and societal events and milestones and-eh, (Sigh) I don’t know, whatdoyacall-‘em, eh, these major significant moments that we so associate as apart of ourselves, as well as with television itself, then, what exactly is there now on the most basic of television anymore? Without cable or satellite, just a half-broken antenna and a converter box, what do you get to watch? Well, there is a lot more than there used to be with digital, but a great deal of the programming however, and this doesn’t get talked about enough, is religious programming.

Okay, I’m going into a touchy area here, so let me be clear, it’s not that I have any problems with religion or all denominations, okay I do, but I don’t actually object to it being on television, in theory. This isn't even a new phenomenon either, hell, at the very first Emmy awards, Milton Berle lost the Award for Most Outstanding TV Personality to Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, so you know, it's as much apart of television and our broadcast history as everything, so even though I don’t get wasting time on Sunday mornings for some preacher or sermon, I would counterprogram that with, I don’t know, anything I can find really, perhaps an Educational/Informational program that actually was both of those things, and didn’t suck. (Seriously what kids wants to sit down every week and watch “Pet Rescue”, ugh. I already wrote a blog on the damn E/I logo, you can find that at the link below:

However, the fact that there are so many, and yes, there are many and they seem to be on all weekend even on some of the major local networks and affiliates, and in the case of who I’m going to talk about, his own broadcast network, but many of them are only available on these obscure digital channels that only air religious programs, and are, as far as I can tell only/mainly readily available to, well, the poorest of the poor, that’s-eh,-, yeah, that’s-um… (Sigh)

Okay, real talk now, and yeah, this’ll probably be the part where I piss off some of the religious folks who might be reading this, but here’s why I, and most of us nowadays, really hate religion, and it’s not because you guys don’t believe in science, or think religion is science, or whatever…- no, it’s really not that. It’s that, when you go back through the history of religion, not the stories in the Bible, the history of religions, what you realize is that, they are essentially nothing more than a body under which, a small group can have a certain amount of power over a wider group. You see, religions, used to essentially be governing bodies through most of history, in many places, they still are, and pretty much all religions act in this manner, as though they are a governing body. That’s why it’s such a huge fucking deal, when a bunch of old white landowners put it into law that government and religion are supposed to be separate; ‘cause until then, they weren't any other faux sort of separate governing body, was basically a pawn for the major leaders of whatever church was in charge, usually monarchs. And that’s still how religions work, the infrastructure of most religion is of a governing body, one that, in this modern world, in many ways, especially is essentially in competition with the government for control of, the populace. And whether or not you think there’s an imaginary all-knowing being in the sky or not, when you realize that, that’s really what religion’s about, it really begins to irk you the more you look into most religions histories, even and especially sometimes modern day ones, those post-U.S. Constitution ones like, Scientology and LDS come to mind in particular, even though they’re more cerebral than a typical religious governing structure, they’re still essentially a way of controlling others, and that’s why we don’t look to highly on those people who do nothing but preach they’re damn religions everywhere, and nothing else. Yeah, that’s not devotion, or believing, that’s brainwashing. And yeah, all religions are basically cults until they get popular and/or enough power and don’t, you know, off themselves with Kool-Aid or whatever, until they get recognized as a religion, from a respected governing body, so there’s that too, but yeah, there’s something disturbing about the idea that, religion, now that there’s competition, and you know, things like the Renaissance that happened that made us realize that, the church wasn’t the be-all and end-all of knowledge, so now many religions, really seek out and pick out the weakest and lowliest and most uneducated and poorest of people to “spread their word”, so, sorry if you guys got caught up in that, but…. (Shrugs) yeah, look most of the teaching and main lessons we’re supposed to learn from most religion, when they’re not perverted by people like this, they’re fine, decent rules to live by, but still, those that pervert those supposed words of the lord, (sigh) and especially those that then spread their perverted wisdom and guidance of the Lord and Savior to the masses, that’s who we’re talking about here. And yeah, in many ways, this is an extension of such practices, and that’s why this abundance of religious programming really for people who don't get CNN, while the people who do don't have that same option, it really bugs at me, pisses me off in many respects.

(Deep breath)

Anyway, again, if it’s just, airing a sermon once-a-week, or something, I wouldn’t have a problem with it, hypothetically. Religion has a place in this culture, and I don’t have a problem in general with it being represented on the airways, but that said, currently there's I don't know, 50 or so channels on my digital television, and at least 9 of them are devoted full-time to producing nothing but religious televangelism programming and that's not including another 3 or 4 that devote some time to it, like more than Sunday mornings to it, that's quite a bit. If that was the percentage of religious programming you got on your cable packages, trust me, you wouldn't buy it, and yet it's free? That’s where we come to, Pat Robertson….

You might be familiar somewhat with Pat Robertson as some old-ass dude who shows up on your Facebook wall occasionally where there's an article about how he's something unbelievably offensive and beyond stupid; I get that on my wall about once a week or so, (Thanks "Right-Wing Watch", I do not want your job) and doesn't actually garner that much impact and influence as he used to, and that's all true, and it would be really, really easy to just, find a bunch of examples about how all the absolutely stupid moronic shit he's said over the years and point to, hell, I'm sure I can just type, "Pat Robertson Saying Stupid Shit" on Youtube, and sure enough find somebody who's already put a few clips together. Ooh, Anderson Cooper did a good one, but let's see, oh this one has him agreeing with Jerry Falwell about the ACLU being responsible for 9/11, that'll work. 



Yeah, he's an easy target. I don't want to go after him for what he says, there's hundreds of others who do that, what I'm actually kinda curious about it, "Why is he still on the air"?! I mean, yeah, I know why he's still on the air, but seriously, why is he still on the air? Why does he still have a forum that goes out to numerous of these poorest people to vent the stupid shit he vents? In fact, these are broadcast television stations, you have a get a government license from the FCC to be on the air and follow certain rules and guidelines to remain a broadcast channel, why has he and all these others been consistently given one? How do they get away with this, other than, "1st Amendment, freedom of speech", yeah, that's the given, I grant you, but still, there's other ways to make this speech, without using the airwaves, that's a different thing altogether.

Well, that's the question I keep asking myself, and I don't really have a clear answer for why the FCC is so lenient on this, I've tried and really struggled to find one, in fact I've had multiple plans to do this blogpost before and I've abandoned them until now, 'cause I really could never find a good enough answer, and I still don't, but (Sigh), you know, this really needs to publicized and brought up more, so we're gonna try and investigate this the best we can, so let's start at the top. Once again, Pat Robertson, why is he still on television, why is he influential, why is he still influential, why is he still important?

For starters, he might not be, 'cause even though "The 700 Club" claims it's in syndication still, I can't find a station that still airs it, outside of Freeform, (I'll get to Freeform.) although I know as recently as a couple years ago, I could find him on Channel 17.1 in Vegas, which is, a station that,-, huh. Okay, huh. Hold on, I'm looking up, stuff on it now, and.... Huh.

(Long researching pause, sporadic typing)

I'll get to that in a second, but they did air "The 700 Club" as recently as 2010 here; I know this, 'cause skipping through the channels once, I happened to stumble into the middle of an investigatory piece about the Nevada Senate Campaign that year between Harry Reid and Sharron Angle, which at the time was the biggest Senate race in the country, between a highly-respected and knowledgeable and powerful moderate-to-Liberal Democrat in Harry Reid, and a diluted batshit crazy Tea Party Religious psychopath, Republican Sharron Angle and I paying particularly close attention to that race. Oddly the piece was actually fairly benign, although it certainly skated over the insanity of a woman who in the Legislature was so anti-anything the government did, they pressed started nicknaming the voting roll calls, "41-to-Angle", and got her start in politics by forcing a high school football team to not where black jerseys because "black is the color of evil", and no, I did not make that up, look it up. Anyway, Robertson made some comment praying and hoping Angle would win, but I remember it was channel 17 KEEN-TV or KTV here, so they used to air it, and before that, a couple local channels used to air "The 700 Club" in the mid mornings and afternoons until they got picked up by some national affiliates decades ago, um, hmm, that's strange. I'm trying to find KEEN-TV's television schedule and although they seem to air a bunch of religious programming now, wow this channel is shockingly hard to find online.

(Long pause)

Okay, this is weird, I'm having an incredibly difficult time, even finding the channel's website. It's Youtube page:

https://www.youtube.com/user/Keen17TV 

has, not added anything new in five years, Huh? That's peculiar, even for these places, hell, there's like new Roku channels for churches and preachers every week, why would they...-

(Checks television)

No, they're still active, still on the air at least, as atrociously annoying as they ever were. Hmm.

(Two minutes pause, delayed)

Okay, I found their wikipedia page finally, and it says that they're a CLASS A Television Station, that's a classification given out by the FCC with rules they have to follow, owned and operated by, huh, who's LeSEA?

(Searching)

Hmm.

(Searching)

Okay, LeSEA is one of one of the major Religious Broadcasting Networks in the country, but it also says that they still play "The 700 Club", but they also have shifted their focus on "The Harvest Show" one of "The 700 Club"'s competitors, somebody named Lester Sumrall, who's dead, and I'm not particularly familiar with, started it. He even predates Robertson's actions to some extent, but I seriously doubt their programming has reached 90% of the world's population, there's no way you can do that with eleven television stations, a satellite ministry, 3 FM radio stations, five shortwave stations and a magazine; that's some stretching-your-numbers bullshit there. 90% of the world population,- I doubt Coca-Cola has that kind of reach.

http://lesea.com/about-us/legacy/

Let me find the schedule, there's gotta be a website for the actual station, somewhere:

 http://keen.lesea.com/

(Grunts) Finally, well it looks like a LeSEA website, and it promotes "The Harvest Show" now. Let me check their schedule, where is it.

http://keen.lesea.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2015/09/keen-program-schedule-2.jpg

Okay, there's "The Harvest Show", right in the prime "The 700 Club" spot, right befor-.... you gotta be kidding me!?!?!

Jim Bakker, really, this sonofabitch fraud is still around?! (Sigh) Okay, this Wikipedia page is all really old, like probably out of date, 'cause this station is now a TBN channel, for the most part, oandthem and LeSEA have come together at some point, and anyway, this leads me to Jim Bakker, who I didn't think was still around, but oh well. Well, it circles me back to Pat Robertson either way, so okay, Robertson, the main architect of this formula.

Robertson was a son of a notoriously anti-Civil Rights Democratic Senator, back when the Democrats were Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond at their worst, and Pat was an ordained Southern Baptist minister, and in '61 he bought a local Portsmouth, Virginia television station, and founded CBN, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and rebranded the station WYAH-TV. (It's-eh, supposed to sound like W-Yahweh, the name of the God, get it?) Mostly he aired religious programming throughout the day, with occasionally speckling in some reruns of public domain documentaries and some "secular programming" in between, which is basically how these stations still get away it, they basically play and replay a bunch of religious programming and sneak in one or two other things. For instance, going back to KEEN-TV, my local station that's under some scrutiny, you'll notice on their website, they're really big on promoting they're "Family Friendly Programming". What is they're "Family Friendly Programming"? It's reruns of "The Lone Ranger" and Roy Rogers. No, seriously, that's it's they air two episodes of both of those every weekday, that's they're big push. Look, I know these things have to be "Non-Profit" for some reason, but-eh, yeah, they literally air the least they can literally air, with no attempt to actually show, anything else, other than religious broadcasting, and most of that, is basically just sermons, or some asshole with a Bible talking to a camera for an hour or half-an-hour, however long they're on. (And if you have to go back to "The Lone Ranger" and "Roy Rogers" to find "family friendly", even for free to air, you've really got problems.)

Anyway, as you would've suspected, Robertson's station struggled financially, what a shock, so they held a telethon, and after suggesting that they only needed 700 people to donate ten dollars a month to keep the station open, at the last second he got the funding. That's where the title of "The 700 Club" comes from. For those unfamiliar, that's the television show that Robertson broadcasts on, it's been the central program under the CBN umbrella ever since. It promotes and advertises itself as one of the longest-running television programs in history, which is way more deceiving than it looks, 'cause Robertson's basically kept it on the air irrelevant of ratings forever. Anyway, the CBN is still around, and "The 700 Club" is still the centerpiece of the channel, which is mostly a cable channel, although it has a heavy online presence and if you have more of a tolerance to it's bullshit than me, than, you can see some of their programming here as well as some of their, "News" shows, There special report "Homosexuality: A Christian View" they seem to find particularly important, sigh.

http://www1.cbn.com/700club

Anyway, the show has evolved over the decades from a Variety show to eventually the news-ish program it is; it originally was hosted, (Slight pause) by Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Yeah, I told you this would all come back.

Now, say what you want about Pat Robertson, most of it will be accurate, but something you actually can't call him is a fraud, and at least legally. Bakker is a fraud, and the legal system has said it too. Robertson fired Bakker in '72 over "philosophical differences" and he started TBN the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and he would ask and pray for donations from viewers hoping to build, some bizarre time shares or whatever it was. After a sex scandal, which led to the fraud scandal he was then imprisoned for five years for numerous counts of defrauding the public. Apparently he went back to being a televangelist, with TBN, after a few years off, and they've begun working with LeSEA among other, although all of these networks are basically intertwined with each other in order to, do nothing but preach to America.

Robertson, who still holds his annual telethons for CBN, for all I can tell, basically puts all his money into CBN, and in most other respects seems like a legit guy. He's a businessman, who is legitimately successful, and does have actual international influence, albeit limited, and after his disastrous Presidential run in '88, he removed himself from being as an active member of any church, so he's no longer a baptist preacher, his CBN is an international broadcast channel that's not limited anymore to local television stations and Roku, He also dived into cable television which had financial success called the CBN Satellite Service and later CBN Cable Network, but because religious programming is consider a public service, they weren't allowed to be a non-profit, so the channel was evolved into a for-profit channel, the CBN Family Channel, and then, become just "The Family Channel" before becoming "Fox Family Channel", and then, ABC Family, yes that channel, before becoming Freeform, it's latest incarnation, which Robertson, for all-intensive purposes doesn't have any real control over, other than the fact that, he still requires the channel to air "The 700 Club" three times a day. They definitely would rather not and they sure don't promote it like they do air it, but it's built into that network's long, confusing and arduous history and they can't seem to get rid of him, even though they badly want him to be off the air. They've been trying to rebrand themselves for decades now, from the channel that aired "The Waltons" all the time to the channel that has interesting if not great series involving complex modern families. But "The 700 Club" is Robertson's baby, and the flagship program of CBN, and other than online, or if  you actually subscribe to the cable channel, Freeform is where "The 700 Club" currently remains.

At least, CBN is a cable channel however. Most of these channels, they're primarily on basic television. But, that's the thing, why are we letting all these channels take over basic network programming air time? I don't get it. The same way I don't get why, NBC doesn't just add all their subchannels to digital, for the Olympics at least? Why have the other networks allowed them to overrun with the basic programming with all these religious channels and programming? Hell, why doesn't the FCC strengthen the standards, sure you could argue they're providing a public service, but 22 hours a day/7 Days a week, a bunch of random people proselytizing about religion? Yeah, I don't know any denomination of any religion that insists on pounding that much religion into us, certainly not any Christian denomination. That's the other weird thing, these televangelists, many times, don't speak for the actual religious denomination they're corrupting. If they did, you'd probably see the Pope on TV more often, but you don't, do you?

It's not like, the networks don't have the channels, or the ability to do that. Before NBCSN the channel was available to all on digital under the name, "Universal Sports" and many other networks also put correlated digital channels underneath their main channel, so why not just, put those more cable channels on digital? They already own them and are under their umbrella, especially since, cable's dying anyway, it's not like they're losing much? Or have some other independent channels created to take over these seemingly unlimited amount of extra digital channels we have, there's three channels currently I get, that are nothing but a sign telling people who to call if you want to buy time on the channel, we could've seen something else? Well, whatever money they think they'll lose rebranding their channels for a more open market, there's these other people coming in and swooping them, I don't even get it, if I was one of the major networks, I would've completely fought for as many viewers as possible, even if it's only temporarily and for the major events that only take over more than one channel for a little while, why not do that? I don't know, and I don't know how or why the FCC lets them get away with having legal Class A networks by meeting the most minimal amount of requirements and then have them promote mainly to the people with the least amount of modern technological advances, is even worse.

So, there's really plenty to blame for this, all around, but yeah, if there's still gonna be a market for them to overflow, I think it's time we start looking at it closely, and figure out exactly what we can do to mediate their influence.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

CANON OF FILM: "BLAZING SADDLES"

BLAZING SADDLES (1974)

Director: Mel Brooks
Screenplay: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Alan Uger based on a story by Andrew Bergman



I recall once reading that John Wayne dodged the draft for WWII due to a foot deformity and that he hated horses. I know the first part of that statement is true, I doubt the second one is, but I recalled such anecdotes often while watching the last scenes of "Blazing Saddles", where the "heroes" are riding off into the sunset towards their car-and-drivers, it really personifies all that "Blazing Saddles is trying to do. After Mel Brooks's failed second feature, "The Twelve Chairs", he started to stumble upon an idea to really take a sharply satirical look at feature film and genres. In the same year, 1974, he would make arguably the two greatest spoofs of all-time, look before "Airplane!" officially got credited with creating the comedic subgenre, with "Young Frankenstein" and of course, with "Blazing Saddles". I used to think it was just a satire of Western movies, which it is, but looking at it again, it seems more like it’s pulling the rug out from under them, and probably pulling the plug out of film, Hollywood, and basically film altogether. Most westerns, were morality plays or “oaters”, where the good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black, but those don’t play particularly well anymore (or then for that matter), because they overlooked prevailing thoughts and attitudes of the time. Here, they’re embellished and placed in an absurd reality of a Mel Brooks film. “Blazing Saddles,” has a plot that’s about as difficult to explain as most David Lynch movies, but the film is actually more in the tradition of the best Marx Brothers movies, which basically ignores plot and instead moves from one hilarious scene to the other, and because Mel Brooks is behind it, as well as numerous other comedy legends like Andrew Bergman, Norman Steinberg and Richard Pryor (Who was originally supposed to play Black Bart), it’s incredibly funny. People who think that violence and sex and drugs are the “taboo” subjects to make comedies about nowadays, would be astonished as everything from race, sex, disheartening bodily odors, the entire Western genre, the Western filmmaking style, filmmaking in general, and about fifty other subjects, that get annihilated in the film. 

Pretty much from the first joke about “Campfire Songs,” to the numerous breaking of the third wall, there’s not a subject that isn’t parodied; it even has a score that sounds similar to the music from “Shane,” when the Count Basie’s orchestra isn’t leading it. The bulk of the story involves an old Western town that’s supposed to be destroyed for some sort of project, and under the veil of misdirection, the Governor (Brooks) of the state names Black Bart (Cleavon Little) Sheriff, which, well look at his name. Anyway, once he gets to town he hires an old drunk, Jim (Gene Wilder) as his Deputy, with him being basically the only one he can trust. Meanwhile, there’s… I wasn’t kidding when I said the plot was complex, if not completely indescribable. This helps anyway, the more things in the movie, the funnier it gets. The movie is basically a bunch of scenes, like the notorious campfire scene. My favorite is the scene involving the Ku Klux Klan after Jim and Bart attempt to crash their meeting. This movie eventually had to break off the backlot and attack the studio itself; it’s the final yank of the rug, completely glorifying all of Western mythology, even using the pie fight ending that Stanley Kubrick didn’t use in “Dr. Strangelove…” Rug pulled, everybody now on the floor, like a half build old Western movie set in a studio basement. Brooks would use this idea of simply taking a genre or a film and make jokes about it, like "Spaceballs", "Silent Movie" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights" and probably my favorite of these second-tier Brooks films, "High Anxiety" but in terms of absolute wall-to-wall comedy and absolute destruction of it's target, "Blazing Saddles" is his best pure satire. 



Sunday, August 14, 2016

MOVIE REVIEWS #122: "THE REVENANT", "CAROL", "EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT", "MUSTANG", "TRUMBO (Roach)", "THE PEANUTS MOVIE", "CHI-RAQ", "EXPERIMENTER: THE STANLEY MILGRIM STORY", "THE NIGHTINGALE", and 'MEET THE PATELS"!

Well, busy week for me. I get up, I turn on the Olympics, although I don't understand why they put many of the cool sports on cable, I mean, sure I love seeing as much beach volleyball as everybody else, but you do know that USA has a basketball team competing too, right, NBC? Plus there's rugby now! And boxing, they never show the boxing anymore, I don't get that; '92 watching Olympic boxing in the morning was one of the best things about the Barcelona games. De La Hoya, winning by knockout for the Gold Medal, that was awesome! (Sigh) I swear, NBC, one step forward, two steps back when it comes to Olympic coverage. And they've locked it up for like another decade, so we're stuck with it here in America, but still, we're winning a lot, so I guess I can't complain too much, although for the Olympic network, it sure seems like they could show more Olympics than they do on the main channel. Doesn't all have to be live, (Although more of it should be) but still, you got some extra time, get rid of Ryan Seacrest and the replay of the Primetime and show other stuff late. Really be the Olympic network; give us so much Olympics we don't know what to do with it. And except for the green pools in water polo and diving, it seems like Rio has held up nicely as an Olympics site, although I'm definitely promoting and hoping Los Angeles wins their 2024 big. If they gave it to Tokyo twice and London three times, I think it's legitimately time for L.A. to get it a third time. Hell, Beijing's getting the 2022 Winter Games, so why not go to L.A. for the Summer again?

Anyway, between that, and trying to catch up on more television in lieu of the upcoming Emmys, and yes, I think I'm starting to get the appeal of "Mr. Robot", now, and double-checking Fivethirtyeight.com to make sure Hillary's still ahead in the Polls twice a day, I haven't been able to catch as many of the movies I would've preferred, but I still watched quite a few recently. There's a couple I didn't get to review, two from 2012, one of them is an independent film called "The People I've Slept With", I'll start with the obvious joke, "If I made that, it would've been a much shorter movie."

(Ringshot)

Hahaha, joke stolen from early Woody Allen. Anyway, this is a movie about a young Asian woman, who sleeps around, because, she can? There's some stupid line in the beginning about how "sluts" are just women with the morals of a a man, which is really, kinda offensive and outdated to be honest, not all men are sluts either, ladies! Anyway, she ends up pregnant, and naturally, she has to go back through who she's been dating in order to find the kid's father, 'cause now she wants to get married. I will commend the movie for being an Asian-American film comedy, and that's a bit unusual, but no, this movie really isn't that funny or memorable and the main character is really not as interesting as she wants us to think she is and that's a shame.

The other movie was "The Man with the Iron Fists", which is definitely a more interesting film, although that's not necessarily a good-thing. The movie was written, directed and starring RZA, yeah, the rapper from the Wu-Tang Clan, and feels mostly like Tarantino-esque fan-fiction, which is basically is. That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's definitely that's full of wonderfully fucked-up ideas and Russell Crowe's character and performance alone might be worth a viewing; he seems to be having more fun that he ever has with a role, but yeah, I can't recommend this film either. RZA's a great musician, a decent actor, and he has ideas as a director, but it never came off like he had a really coherent vision for the film. There are some interesting shots in the movie, where I just wonder why the hell he decided to shoot them that way. Anyway, it might be fun as a curiosity for a bad movie night, but I mostly bored by it, and couldn't about any of the characters.

Anyway, that's enough for now, and this is a big week, lots of Oscar-winning and nominated films to get through, and a ton more, so let's get to it. This week's edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS!


THE REVENANT (2015) Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu

✰✰✰✰1/2



Well, before I bring up anything else, I have to say the cinematography for "The Revenant" is un-fucking-believable. Emmanuel Lubezki won his third consecutive Oscar, the first Cinematographer to ever do so for this film, and it's, just-, it's really hard to describe without actually seeing it. Not just the look of the movie, which is amazing enough, but especially for much of the first part of the movie, the camera angle and movement. I'm not even sure I can describe it, it's weird. I mean, it's even weird when you consider the context, but it's even weirder in execution. It's s not a low-angle shot, it's shot at a small angle, but then the camera is always looking up from that angle; it's almost like we're seeing the movie from the perspective of somebody who's 3 ft. 6 in, and is therefore always has to keep looking up at everyone. And the camera moves constantly in elaborate steadicam long-takes. It might on dollies, but wow if it is, it's...- Normally it's a bad thing to notice the cinematography, but Lubezki is constantly changing that perspective more than anybody arguably ever has. "The Revenant" (For those who don't know, and honestly I didn't, the word means "ghost or spirit, or one who returns) is loosely-inspired story based on Hugh Glass, (Oscar-Winner Leonardo Dicaprio) who, on a western expedition was attacked and mauled by a giant grizzly bear. And survived. There's already been a couple movies made based on his myth, and I'm fairly certain he was the guy that "The Simpsons" satirized with their Jebediah Springfield guy; he's one of the more forgotten myths of American folklore, in the Paul Bunyan mythos, but he was an actual person and there's no grandiose mythology here. It's a gritty and brutal, well, it takes place in the Great Plains, but essentially it's a Western. The crew is traveling west and they've lost a lot in battles with numerous Native Americans and it's the cold of winter. Hugh is travelling with his son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) who's part Pawnee Indian, is a bit of an outsider in the group, particularly to John Fitzgerald (Oscar-nominee Tom Hardy) who is supposed to look at Hugh after the bear attack, but instead, leaves him to die and kills his son. This begins, the revenge part of the film, which is the majority of the movie, a long, grueling, torturous slow-speed revenge story and most of that is all a good thing. It's not much on story, I can see why the movie conspicuously didn't get a screenplay nomination, but visually, the movie is always fascinating, even though it does slide into some surreal fantasy moments at times, it's understandable. It's a movie, essentially about a guy fighting his own body as much as it is a revenge story between a money-hungry villain getting his comeuppance from the man who wronged him. Inarritu's filmography since he finished the "Trilogy of Death" with his then screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga, has been eclectic to say the least. The only truly consistent aspect is that darkness is constantly looming ahead. You really couldn't three different films like "Biutiful", "Birdman..." and "The Revenant" if you tried and it shows a range that I really remember that he had before. Ambitious and overabundant, "The Revenant" shows he will go to the lengths to get his movie made. The film was famously a nightmare of a shoot, and DiCaprio's really often fought the bitter cold while shooting. His performance is intriguing; it's famous for finally winning him his Oscar, which was something apparently something people thought he was long overdue for, (I wasn't one of those people) but it's a quiet and subtle performance, filled with, painful grunts and he's crawling and being buried alive, and all that. I might have more respect for the film than I like it, it does drag on and the story is fairly simply, arguably not big enough to justify the epic qualities of the film, but I can't deny the craft involved. It takes skill and determining and the highest quality of both for this film to have been made, and I hope people realize that when they're watching it.


CAROL (2015) Director: Todd Haynes

✰✰✰✰✰



Todd Haynes is one of the most genuinely romantic directors out there. His films are always so wonderfully soft and made with elegant care, often using inspirations from the past, not just in time period but in style of film to be inspired from and uses them to tell tales of the ways things were through the guise of the elements of the ways we thought they were. His best film, "Far From Heaven" an homage to Douglas Sirk's films was a beautiful film about a Connecticut housewive who not only finds out her husband is secretly gay, but she begins an casual affair with her African-American gardener. At first glance, "Carol" seems like, a similar tale that probably is a reference to other films of that era, only with the symbolisms of the past stripped away, and he does use some stylized influences, probably most notably, the films of Morris Engel & Ruth Orkin, a less-remembered directing pair that are unfortunately a little outside even my wide sphere of knowledge, but no, his more direct inspiration is actually somebody who I do know quite a bit about. "Carol" is an adaptation of a rare Patricia Highsmith novel, you might recognize her name, her work has and continues to be remade into films from some of the greatest of filmmakers today. She wrote the novel that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train", which I consider one of Hitchcock's very best films, although you might recognize her more for her most famous creation, Tom Ripley. I've seen three films and there's at least three others that I'm aware of, the best of which is probably Liliana Caviani's "Ripley's Game" with John Malkovich and Dougray Scott, however I think more people are familiar with Anthony Minghella's adaptation of "The Talented Mr. Ripley", which is his best film as a director, and is also slightly more interesting and better in my mind, then the original French film that was an adaptation of that novel, entitled "Purple Noon", from Director Rene Clement. Since her passing in 1995, there's been almost a dozen more adaptations of her work, including most recently Hossein Amini's "The Two Faces of January", and later this year, they're remaking her novel "The Blunders" entitled "A Kind of Murder" from TV Director Andy Goddard. Yet, with all that inspiration, this is by far the most interesting of her works yet to be adapted and it's clearly one of her best. She was an out lesbian for most of her life, but until recently, she never wrote anything personally about it, all her character were typical, male usually, at least the protagonists, and also on some symbolic level either bisexual or homosexual, and also naturally, they were usually murderous. She's a crime novelist more than anything, and that really makes "Carol", which is a straight-up lesbian romance, based on her own experiences, really stand-out. This is the girl who gave us "Strangers on a Train" and Tom Ripley, and now, here's her version of "Brief Encounter". Published under a pseudonym, and under an alternate title "The Price of Salt" she didn't admit to having penned the novel until late in life, after the book being out of print for years until it got republished under it's current name. The movie itself has been in production for almost twenty years now, from Nagy's original adaptation was written. The main girls are Carol (Oscar-nominee Cate Blanchett) a divorced housewife who's fighting her alcoholic husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) over custody of their daughter, and a young girl Therese (Oscar-nominee Rooney Mara) a young shopgirl who's got more than a few young male suitors. They meet while Carol is Christmas shopping and soon enough they begin to develop a friendship that begins to slowly turn into romance. Carol divorced her husband, it's insinuated after she had an affair with her childhood friend Abby (Sarah Paulson), however, it seems they've now amicably broken up. Therese has never been in a serious relationship but she's intrigued more by Carol than any of the guys who are around her. One of them gets her work as a photographer at a newspaper, some of them aren't so friendly to hear about her sudden romantic tryst, which climaxed on a post-Christmas vacation, which is where they find out just what extents Carol's husband would go to to get full custody of her daughter. I saw a lot of criticism of this movie, and I don't think I get most of it. It's the main movie I've heard being called "Oscar bait" this past year and the movie did get multiple Oscar nominations although it was snubbed for Best Picture and Director among others, so even if it was "Oscar bait," which is a term btw, that I've never actually found that believable but (Shrugs) they didn't exactly take it. They probably should've though, it's a based-on-a-true romance, and the fallout, emotional and literal results of the affair for all involved. It's the one movie I seem to love and admire the more I think about it, and it reminds me of just how great and unique a director Todd Haynes actually is.


EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015) Director: Ciro Guerra

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I might be chalking this up to unfamiliarity, as well as just, eh, going more towards my tendencies of being a superficial intellectual snob, but I really didn't quite get this movie. "Embrace of the Serpent" is the first film from Columbia to receive an Oscar-nomination for Foreign Language Oscar, and it's the first film I've seen from Director Ciro Guerra, and it's visually incredible, but hmm-... I think it's the storytelling device of telling two stories at two different time period that really troubles me. (Especially since, as the movie continues to point out, they're the exact same story) They are the same story, both center around a Shaman named Karamakate. Karamakate is the Guide in both stories, told thirty years apart. The first takes place in 1909, and recreates the travels of Dr. Theodor Kuth-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) who was the first Westerner, a German ethnologist, to go to this part of the world. Young Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) promises to help them as they are not only exploring, but are searching for a mythical cure-all plant called the Yakruna. A quick google search for the Yakruna plant, mostly comes up with images and links to this movie, so I will presume if it does exist it hasn't been found yet. The movie's second story, is led by Dr. Richard "Evan" Schultes (Brionne Davis) who I'm told is the father of modern Ethnobotany. He's come with Dr. Kuth-Grunberg's book, in search also for the plant and now an again Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) is his guide. This time however, his entire tribe has been slaughtered due to Western-, well, just because of the West basically, like everything else we ever do, we took over the area, mostly for potential profit, most likely in that area of the world, rubber. Karamakate is wiser and older, the last of his line, but he's lost all his former ability to connect with the plant-life world. He was there when the first Westerner came and is now there as he is the last of his tribe. Even the Spanish mission forbids the kids to speak indigineous tongues, so the languages themselves are dying out. Purportedly nine languages in total are spoken in the film, and I can appreciate the skill. The movie was shot in black-and-white mostly, to recreate the photographs that were taken of the actual explorations into this now-non-existent part of the world, however, I wonder about that decision too. To me, the two time period were way too similar, and with the same story being told twice, it really makes me wonder, why not shoot one time period in color to differentiate them. I mean, I get why they didn't, don't get me wrong, but I found myself having a difficult time to care. With these kind of movies, it's an emotional core and tone they're going for at the center and they either get it or they don't for the viewers, admittedly, I can easily see myself ten years from now, revisiting this film and declaring it a masterpiece of tone on par with "Apocalypse Now" or something from Terrence Malick, but the reason I'm still reluctant is the device of splitting the stories into each other; I think that was a mistake. I've always been told to "never do two" when you're writing, and this does feel like a reason why. I think the movie might've actually had more power if they were told, chronologically one after another, combining them, oddly makes them more like, being told the same thing twice in a row, as though the person talking doesn't think you heard what they were saying the first time. I have a feeling I might prefer a re-edited version that limits this cross-cutting and tells the story with more continuity, or chronologically, really. I know, I'm nit-picking, and I can totally see why some would think I'm being hard on this film, but I genuinely had a difficult time determining or even caring which era we were in at any given time. Like I said, that was probably the point, but I think it ultimately lost itself by doing that, and making the movie just seem like it was beautiful images instead of a story. Still though, it's definitely deserving a watch multiple viewings. It's one of the best films about the Amazon and certainly about this era and time period and gives us a look, albeit idealized look at some Ancient civilization of people that frankly have been mostly written out of history books. In many ways that makes "Embrace of the Serpent" might be one of the most important movies of the year.


MUSTANG (2015) Director: Deniz Gamze Erguven

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Despite the film being France's submission for the Foreign Language Academy Award, the movie is probably more accurately qualified as a Turkish feature. The movie takes place  mainly in Turkish, takes places in northern Turkey and it's first-time director, Deniz Gamze Erguven is a Turkish-born woman. The movie, is based around five orphaned young sisters, Lale (Gunes Sunsoy) is the narrator, I believe, and I think the youngest of Sonay (Ilayda Akdogan), Selma (Tugba Sunguroglu), Ece (Elit Iscan) and Nor (Doga Zeynup Doguslu). Forgive me, I don't recall exactly which girl is which, or which one is the oldest or which ones, do what in the movie. (I've really gotta start taking more notes when I'm watching these films.) It's the last day of school, and they're hanging out by the Caspian Sea with some of their male classmates.When they get home, they each got punished and admonished by their Grandmother (Nihal G. Koldas) and their strict Uncle Osman (Erol Afsin). They were seen by the neighbors. What were they seen doing? Honestly, not much. They were wearing their schoolgirls clothes, which is not as sexy as that sounds, even in this context, they were playing in the water, most they really did, other than some of the boys being a little grope-y, was chicken fighting. You know, when you're in the pool, and two guys put a couple girls on their shoulders and the two girls try to knock the other off their guy. Yeah, that.  I know it's a different culture, and religion, and even hypothetically, at least, the actions of the guardians aren't even particularly hostile, but they are outdated. They make every attempt to keep their kids segregated from the outside world, shamed for what they did, or what others would say. The girls manage to occasionally sneak out for awhile, once to a soccer game where only girls were allowed to watch because of all the havoc and violence the men fans had caused, (I'm sure there's some commentary there about Islamic sports fans and religion and whatnot, I'd watch Jafar Panahi's wonderful film "Offside" about that in regards to Iran, but again, I'm not 100% sure on all the details) They then begin boarding up the doors and putting bars over the windows shortly after a few such events and quickly after that, they begin marrying the girls off, as in arranged marriages. There's one ominous statement after the oldest girls get married off and leave when they say that, "That was the last time all five of us were together at the same time." There's a few movies that have similarities to this one, although the most obvious example would have to be Sofia Coppola's film "The Virgin Suicides", also about a set of five sisters, each of whom were basically also, forced to stay at home and not have more than essential communications with the outside world, including with kids their own age. (And of the opposite sex) That's a good film, and was a promising debut feature from a talented young female director, but "Mustang" is much better. Coppola's film was an outsider perspective, multiple ones in fact, of the young almost mythic girls in the neighborhood, seen mainly through the few young boys who had contact with them, but "Mustang", brings us into the home and is shown directly from the girls' perspectives. We see how they're literally imprisoned and how the parents are outdated and overreact to their supposed "shames" and why they feel willing to do whatever it eventually takes to escape. The movie ends on a happy note, I won't give away what note that is, other than to say that I was so happy that the movie did end that way; if this movie went with the alternative, which it very easily could've and, frankly I'm not sure I would've been able to take it.  "Mustang" might have more of a symbolic resonance for some, but it has an emotional resonance for all.


TRUMBO (2015) Director: Jay Roach

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It should come as no surprise to anybody that Dalton Trumbo (Oscar-nominee Bryan Cranston) is one of my heroes. Not only would he make any shortlist of the greatest Hollywood screenwriters of all-time, but his legacy as being one of the most outspoken people on the Hollywood Blacklist is pretty legendary. He was one of the Hollywood Ten who refused to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was even jailed and cited for contempt for being a Communist back in the '40s. He was outspoken, and his family would've probably gone broke, if, of course, he didn't simply just work for more below-the-line studios under pseudonyms, him and his fellow blacklisted writers. Trumbo famously won two Oscars writing under multiple pseudonyms. It's amazing how much he actually wrote. Typing over a bathtub while smoking and drinking. He wrote anything and everything, from horrible b-movie schlock to classics such as "Roman Holiday". The movie makes this seem like this was a well-known fact, but from what I remember from watching "Trumbo", the 2007 Peter Askin documentary on Dalton Trumbo, his family wasn't even aware that he wrote "Roman Holiday" 'til years later, so that scene of them watching and cheering as Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) accepts the Oscar, seems a bit off. I get why they change, but it also underscores the bigger problem with the movie, as much as I love and admire Dalton Trumbo, his life isn't really a great story for a biopic. The movie knows this, and expands it greatly, making, what even the documentary tried to do a bit, was give us a sense of what it was like for the blacklisted and a sense of what Hollywood was like during this time. In a few ways it succeeds, like how actors like Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg, in a wonderful piece of casting) who was a registered Democrat all his life and even contributed to Trumbo's and the Hollywood Ten's legal fees, was still blacklisted by the John Wayne (David James Elliot) led Actors against Un-American Activities community, until the point where he basically either had to name names or go broke. That's the one thing that kinda helped the screenwriters, they could be anonymous, actors, most of them couldn't during this time. Now, depicting the entirety of Hollywood during this time, on both sides is difficult. Louis C.K.'s performance as Trumbo's fellow screenwriter friend, is a composite character of a few different people for instance, but they do try to do it. Stephen Root and John Goodman in particular, as Hymie and Frank Kozinsky, the brothers behind King Brothers Production, which was the king of the schlocks before Roger Corman came around, are particularly fun and inspired performances, Goodman especially; I'm about ready to start calling for him to one day soon be given an Honorary Oscar for his lifetime work, I can't even remember the last time I even saw a somewhat bad performance from him, and he's really good here. So is Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper, she's got a couple good scenes in the beginning as she leads the charge for the Anti-Communist movement. (Oh, Hedda Hopper, okay, she's a bit hard to explain for those not familiar with this era, there's not really a good equivalent today, um, she was a failed actress in New York and Hollywood who somehow turned that into a career as the most influential gossip columnist in the movie industry, rivaled only, and I do mean, "rivaled", they hated each other by Louella Parsons who worked for William Randolph Hearst's papers, but despite that, Parsons was a lot better, and didn't out people as Communists in her columns, [That's actually somewhat surprising considering who she worked for] imagine if Stacey Dash had actual influence, today, kinda, like the kind of power that could end or make careers, and you kinda get Hedda Hopper. [Oh and if you want a good period piece with Louella Parsons as a good side character in a fun little Golden Age of Hollywood film, check out Jennifer Tilly's performance as her in Peter Bogdanovich's "The Cat's Meow".])  Anyway, as to the film itself, it's directed by Jay Roach, who's kinda got one of those strange yet interesting careers, in theatrical releases he's usually known for bad and/or forgettable comedies but when he's directing for HBO, he's won four Primetime Emmys, for his work on some wonderful television movies like "Game Change" and "Recount", and most recently he and Cranston worked together on the filmed version of "All the Way", for which Cranston won a Tony recently. That does, kinda explain "Trumbo", I heard criticism that the movie basically is a really good TV movie that made it's way to theaters and has a great performance at the center, and yeah, I can't really argue that. I don't even know how good Cranston really is at this too, btw, he's good don't get me wrong, but this performance doesn't read as special to me, but then, there's really not a lot for him to do. This is probably as good a live-action film you can get made about Dalton Trumbo; it's really kinda difficult to put his life into a narrative. It's hits the marks of course, how Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel) begged for him to work with him, how Kirk Douglas (Dean O'Gorman) used his power to put his name on the credits of "Spartacus", the first time a blacklisted writer was given screen credit after he was blacklisted, but yeah, it's really not so much a story, as putting the events in the order in which they occurred, or close enough. I am glad to see a positive portrayal of a heroic screenwriter on film, and the story of Dalton Trumbo needs to be constantly retold, but ironically, film might not be the best way to do that.


THE PEANUTS MOVIE (2015) Director: Steve Martino

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Do I actually have to clarify that I'm a "Peanuts" fan, and a big one at that? Aren't we all huge "Peanuts" fans? I can't imagine a world or a scenario where anybody isn't, unless they somehow lived under a rock in the depths of the Amazon or something and never heard of Charlie Brown and Snoopy.... In fact, outside of something like that, just on general principle I probably wouldn't be friends with you if you weren't a fan of "Peanuts". Hell, I probably would turn you into the U.S. Government under suspicion of being a terrorist or alien or something like that, it's so ridiculous to me, but then again, I've ran into people close to my age who've lived in America all their lives and presumably had the available of a working television for most of those lives, who have someone never seen an episode of "M*A*S*H", so I don't know anymore. All I can say is that I consider "Peanuts" to be one of those things that's so ingrained in our psyche that it's impossible to imagine somebody who doesn't love them. I follow the comic strip to this day, which still gets reprinted in most newspapers even long after Charles Schulz's passing. In fact, if you ever check the list of the most successful dead celebrities, I think Forbes puts it out every year, the people who make the most money on their fame after they've passed away, Charles Schulz is third or fourth on that list, like, right behind Elvis Presley and, Michael Jackson might've surpassed him, but not too many others and I don't think he's falling off the top of that list anytime soon. So, naturally, I and everybody else is at least interested in this new "Peanuts" movie, even though, it's the notorious Blue Sky Studios making it. Blue Sky is the studio that's, pretty much the bottom rung of the computer animation industry. I guess they have a film or two I liked, "Robots" I kinda defend more than I probably should, but they're most famous for their "Rio" movies, two of the vapid and forgettable animated movies I've ever written reviews for, and they, for reasons that I cannot fathom or understand, still to this day, continue to release more movies in their "Ice Age" franchise. I, I literally have no idea who keeps watching those that makes them think we want more of them. I didn't even think the first one was that good. My best guess, they must've replaced "The Land Before Time" sequels as the go-to DVDs to be played at pediatrician's waiting rooms. So yeah, putting them in charge of this, very worrisome, even with the blessings of the Schulz estate, hell,his son and grandson wrote the screenplay, and Paul Feig working as a producer. That said, this shouldn't be hard; you can basically re-animate three or four classic episodes of "The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show" and shove them together, and I'd be happy. They do decide to go with a plot and a story though, mostly centered around Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp) and his fascination and love with The Little Red-Haired Girl (Francesca Capaldi) which, I'm not crazy about but actually sense as an homage to Schulz, who based that character on a beloved longtime friend, although admittedly I've never really been fond of those episodes. He spends the movie, trying to find ways to grab her attention and confess her love to her, mostly some hair-brained scheme that, naturally being Charlie Brown, completely backfires. He tries out for a talent show, that doesn't work. He learns to dance, that doesn't work, etc. The pattern repeats over the school year, which is the kind of school year that seems to go from the cold winter beginning to the end of the Summer about as suddenly as the second Christmas happens in "Rent". In fact, most of the movie, curiously enough is in winter and everyone's in their snow outfits; I'm not sure why they went that way, but that's not a horrible decision I guess. Like the original television specials, there's no major actors in any of the kids' roles, as they're all voiced by kids, and they seemed cast incredibly well. I never once thought any of the character's didn't sound or seem like who they were. Snoopy's fascination with the Red Baron is a little overboard here, I think they continued to focus on that because it's probably the one place they could've really shown off something special with animation, and it does provide us with the one celebrity voice in the film, in Snoopy's novel the love interest Fifi, who I didn't realized had said anything until the credits rolled, is voiced by Kristin Chenoweth for some reason. Bill Melendez, who passed away in 2008 still voices Snoopy and Woodstock using old recordings of him from past animated works, which is also a very nice touch. So, overall, I can't say I'm overly enthralled with "The Peanuts Movie", I still greatly prefer some of the original "Peanuts" feature films, like "A Boy Named Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy, Come Home" much more than this one, but as a nice homage to Peanuts, I don't see anything harmful or wrong with it. Maybe it's too referential, there's a scene for instance that's blatantly bringing up their famed Television Christmas special that really doesn't fit the rest of the film and there's no real reason to have it in there, and there's a couple other things like that, and yeah, too much focus on Snoopy's obsession with the Red Baron, but I can forgive all these things enough to recommend it. I mean, it's "Peanuts", it's-, it's not gonna be bad or ruined entirely, it's too good to begin with and even Blue Sky isn't that incompetent.


CHI-RAQ (2015) Director: Spike Lee

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Oh boy, this one's gonna take a lot of explanation. Man there's a lot to take in and I know the first reaction that I suspect many if not most will have is that Spike Lee has just completely lost his mind. I know he's a controversial director and I know some people who constantly dismiss or berate him, saying things like "He's a racist" or some shit like that, frankly I've just never understood. Yeah, he's not always gonna make a great movie and some of his movies are just strange and "Chi-Raq" belongs in the strange category, but I've always said I'll take a bad Spike Lee movie over a lot of people's good movies. Hell, I think I'm the only one that recommended his other film from this past year, "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus", and that was Spike Lee's erotic vampire thriller! No, correction it was Spike Lee's remake of an erotic vampire thriller!  And yes, even compared to that "Chi-Raq" is strange, but man is this film loaded. (Deep breath) Okay, first of all, the title, is pronounce, like "Iraq", so "Shy-Raq", "Chi-Raq", and that's on purpose, 'cause, something very unusual for a Spike Lee movie is that, the movie doesn't take place in New York at all, it takes place in modern-day Chicago, and we're gonna have to talk about modern-day Chicago for a minute, 'cause, for whatever reason right now, Chicago is going through one of it's worst times, ever. You know how all the Republicans, talk about how much more violent and murderous the country's been in recent years, since Obama too office especially. Well, that's total bullshit, in fact, the crime rates in most of the country, particularly the violent crime rates have continuous gone down and they're down to their furthest they've been in decades at the moment, but that said, there are a few places in the country where that's not true and Chicago is the prime example. In the last few years, there's been more young men killed by gunfire in Chicago then there has been in Iraq during the entire (Iraq) war, hence the title, Most of it, is because of the gang warfare that's been going on there, and the sad thing it's not just them killing each other, they're actually terrible shots and people, especially teenagers and younger kids, mostly African-American, are getting killed in the crossfires most of the time. So, it's no real surprise that Spike Lee would decide to explore aspect of modern-day Chicago, it's right up his alley, it's a message movie about the current gang culture, in the poorest African-American neighborhoods, a look at the human aspects of it, from multiple difficult complex perspectives, I mean, this is right up Spike Lee's alley, couldn't be more prime for him to come in, and basically shoot a documentary if he wanted and he's done work like that before. Um, well first of all, if you want a good documentary on this area of Chicago and the people trying to survive in this world of bloody sidewalks and wailing gunfire, check out Steve James's wonderful film, "The Interrupters", so he didn't need to do that, so what did he do instead? Oh boy, well,

(4 HOURS LATER)

Okay, I stopped the review here on purpose, because I wanted to go back and-, well, I don't recall if I read Aristophanes's "Lysistrata" before, I heard about it of course, but I went online to find a copy, and looks up some notes on it, and yes, "Chi-Raq" is an modern-day adaptation of the play, it's even written in verse. Yes, the dialogue is often in verse for most of the movie. But, I'm not even gonna get into that aspect, "Lysistrata" is an infamous Greek comedy, about the women withholding sex from their husbands in an attempt to stop the Peloponnesian War. It's graphic, it's sexual, and you can look up some pretty interesting modern theater interpretations on Youtube, and most theater companies have at some point done their own adaptation, at least, most college ones; doing this in high school could probably get you in trouble. It wasn't tame even 2,000+ years ago, and now there's so many interpretations I guess something like this was inevitable. So, back to the movie, there's a long prologue and then, multiple shootings beginning with Chi-Raq (Nick Cannon, his rap/character name is Chi-Raq) is almost shot at one of his performances, because, I don't know, something to do with Twitter, and because he's the head of the Trojan and the Spartans, led by Cyclops (Wesley Snipes, who has one eye, yes) were angry, yes the rival gangs are Trojans and Spartans, they have colors and everything, fill in the two stand-in gangs you think they obviously represent, and turn it Greek. Her girlfriend, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) after a particularly violent night, after which ended with a little girl, murdered, her mother Irene (Jennifer Hudson) begging in the streets for somebody to have seen something and the local priest, Father Mike (John Cusack) to absolutely explode during his eulogy at the girl's funeral. (I never realized 'til just how much religion comes up in Lee's films until now, the church is surprisingly prevalent) There's an all-star cast here, I'm not gonna be able to name everyone, although Samuel L. Jackson plays a familiar character for a Spike Lee movie; he's known as Dolmedes and basically acts like a Greek chorus, although it's probably more accurate to think of this as an extension of his role as the radio DJ in "Do the Right Thing". Now, this movie gets ridiculous, and surreal and it's just a wild and crazy mess of a movie, but so is the original play, and frankly, believe it or not, this isn't actually that unrealistic. They even point it out in the movie, this happened very recently in modern time. Lysistrata's influence isn't the play, it's Leyham Gbowee, a Liberian Peace Activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize after she stopped the Second Liberian Civil War, by gathering together the women of the country, and through many different protests, including a sex strike, was able to stop the war. That happened, this century; this was very recent. Now could/would that ever happen in Chicago, today,....

I mean, yes, "Chi-Raq" is surrealistic fantasy gone run amuck, but holy fuck, is it surrealistic fantasy run amuck. It's over-indulgent, it's message-y, it's beyond absurd, it's full of just, some of the strangest sequences of film, I've seen in a long time. I mean, this is like Spike Lee channeling Luis Bunuel of all people. I mean, he's known for aberrations and flights of fancy, dating back as early as the musical numbers in "School Daze", but this whole movie feels like one of those sequences. And yet, you know, it's weird to think about it, 'cause we really forget just how of much of a classical filmmaker Spike Lee actually is and can be, we know he's stylized, but his influences are firmly in the traditions of the greats, I just didn't think he had this avant-garde a project and idea within him. Part of me is tempted to throw this away and call it is a disaster, but it's way too interesting to do that with. I legitimately have left, well over a 1/4 of all the interesting aspects of the movie out of the review, there's way too much here to tackle in one review, and I can't pan a movie with this many interesting ideas that comes at you in so many different directions. In a comedic direction, a political direction, a religious direction, a tragic direction, a Greek tragic direction, a commentary on modern media and journalism, a look at the deadly warzone that is Chicago in 2015,... Most movies, if they're lucky, have a couple interesting ideas and once in a blue moon we might get something that actually borders on an original idea. This movie has dozens of ideas, and it doesn't necessarily all work, but I'd much rather watch this over and over again, then even really good movie that only have a few original ideas. This is a movie that made me want to read stuff and look shit up; I can't probably count on one hand, maybe two, if I'm stretching, how often that's happened. I can't pan this. Albert Einstein once said, "If a cluttered desk equals a cluttered mind, than what does a clean desk lead to...?" or something to that effect, well, "Chi-Raq" is a cluttered desk, and I love a cluttered desk, so I love this movie.


EXPERIMENTER: THE STANLEY MILGRIM STORY (2015) Director: Michael Almereyda

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This is another example of an interesting and important guy, but maybe not really an important or interesting enough of a life to have a biopic made of him. I suspect most everybody who's had even the most basic sociology or psychology class has heard of Stanley Milgrim, (Peter Sarsgaard) He's rather infamous for a particular experiment, and the movie begins with showing exactly how that experiment took place. There would be two subjects coming in to participate, each would go on the opposite sides of a door, but they would be able to communicate, and one would give a test while the other would take the test, just a simple memory test. However, after each wrong answer, the instructor would be give the testing subject an electric shock, with the shock being more higher and higher charged the more wrong answered they'd get, each time, able to hear the pain and screams of the subject as he's shocked more and more. Except they weren't really shocking the guy, the test was to see exactly how long the actual patient, the tester would continue to give the exam, with nothing more than, brief and calm insistence by Milgrim, although it wasn't even really Milgrim, but one of his assistants, that it's critical that they continue the test. Most projected that very few of the subjects would continue 'til the very end, where they were shocking the patient to extreme levels of electric shocks and at some point, the screams and yells suddenly stop. There's some footage of some of the testing, and it's an exam that's been replicated since with similar results. It's actually shocking when you think about the results, how people who were not particularly vicious or anything, would be so willing to basically kill somebody they don't even know if somebody that's presumably in charge insists it's important. (The original tests came out during the era of the Nuremberg Trials, so thoughts like these, were in the public consciousness.) Now, the movie itself, is okay. It's told through an interesting device of having Milgrim talk to us and show us many of his other famous experiments and where he got some of the ideas, "Candid Camera" believe it or not was a big influence, and we also see some of the struggles he has with his family, and his continued work. He died in 1984, while on a speaking tour after his experiments became en vogue again, due to, well, it being 1984 and all. Considering how little their actually is to Milgrim's life, in terms of a real narrative or anything, I was actually at how entertaining the movie actually. It might've helped that I already have a keen interest in the subject. but still, it's an interesting way to not fictionalize or glorify a real-life subject that's doesn't really have a natural narrative film structure to his life, but manage to make an interesting film and character out of him. The film was written and directed by Michael Almereyda, a director who's recently come back into the spotlight after not making a feature for almost a ten-year period; his most famous film to me anyway, is that infamous modern-day "Hamlet"' that starred Ethan Hawke, which I enjoyed a lot, although I never hear that much praise for that film nowadays, but I'd recommend it. He's a talented filmmaker and it actually makes sense to give him this kind of material, 'cause he's interested in finding creative ways to tell familiar stories and he does a pretty good job here; the movie's probably better and more entertaining than it has any real right to.


THE NIGHTINGALE (2015) Director: Philippe Muyl

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(Sigh) Is it just me, or does this genre, rarely work the way it's supposed to. Well, I guess that's just me, I can certainly think of some examples to compare "The Nightingale" too that actually are really stellar and amazing films, but, eh, I don't know if this is one of them. This movie was China's entry last year in the Foreign Language Oscar category, and it's a particularly strange one considering is Philippe Muyl, which, if that name doesn't seem Chinese to you either, it's a French director, his first feature film since 2002's "The Butterfly", which is actually very similar movie, in fact, this film apparently originated as a remake of the film, although it evolved slightly from that, but that fact doesn't surprise me. No wonder this movie feels like every other movie like it, it already a movie like it out there. The movie is the story of a Grandfather, (Boatian Li) who is tasked by his daughter, Ren Quan Ying (Xiaoran Li) to travel with her daughter Ren Xing (Xin Yi Yang) with him on his pilgrimage to his birthplace. It's the young girl, the Grandfather and a caged bird, a nightingale, heading to Western China, and eventually getting lost in Guangxi Province, and having to find a way to get to the village, by any means necessary. I think this is another reason I hate these kind of movies, these subtle tales about how great traveling on the road is and roughing it, and how horrible modern technologies like cell phones and IPads are. Okay, I don't actually like IPads, that much myself, but still, this theme of coming back to nature has never really worked for me that well. And that's really the message, I mean there is a subplot, one that seems way more interesting actually between her and her husband (Hao Qin) as they seem to be fighting since their work literally keeps them continents apart. Don't ask me why, but she's in Paris, and he, I think is in Hong Kong for most of his work, he's an architect, although they're fighting out their problems in a Paris hotel room during this adventure. That's an interesting idea, the family splitting up and trying to figure out how to make it work, kind of thing, but that's not the focus of the movie, but instead it dwells on this, admittedly somewhat crazy and dangerous journey between a grandparent and young kid. I can think of some other similar road movies, eh, I guess the obvious one to me is Walter Salles's "Central Station". Although, any Walter Salles movie is basically a road movie, he makes them more often than Wim Wenders even, but that one also involved an old person and a young kid, traveling across a vast country, this one was Brazil, but that one had a lot of stakes to it. The kid's mother had passed away suddenly, the old woman was the only adult he knew, she was a letter-writer for people who couldn't read, although she didn't even send the letters she wrote, and they're looking for the kid's father, meanwhile, she's also breaking the law by taking the kid..., what I mean is, there wasn't just a gorgeously shot travelogue disguised as a story of two people travelling across country. and honestly, that's all "The Nightingale" really is. I mean, the biggest revelation here is that, the little kid learns to like nature, or realize that she doesn't need her technology all the time, except that's not true at all they were constantly trying to figure out how to get their phone or Skype to work so they could contact people, so, no, really there's not much here. I think I might actually be being generous to this film. Is it shot beautifully and it looks nice, but yeah, I think I expect a little more out of Chinese cinema than this.


MEET THE PATELS (2015) Directors: Geeta Patel & Ravi Patel

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Okay, um, well, I don't really know much about dating. That is, a surprise to, literally nobody who knows me. there's a few reasons why I'm eh, (Thinking pause. Checks resume) eh, that I'm, the.-age-it-says-I-am-on-my-resume, which is accurate enough, and still haven't gotten married, or for that matter, gotten close, or for that matter, ever dated anybody. Yeah, that's reason A., I don't ask anybody out, ever. The few times I have, have gotten mixed results, and frankly, I wouldn't know what the hell to do even on the few occasions where people have said yes. Frankly, my bigger concern, is something I don't think gets talked about enough, is that, men, at least from my perspective, have absolutely no idea how to even relate to a woman. I mean, I hear all these complaints by women, about how they're constantly harassed by men, and how annoying it is that, if they show the slightest amount of positive engagement to a member of the opposite sex, that the guy immediately thinks they're attracted to them and want to date them, and fall in love with them, and, to be fair, yes, that's really repugnant and terrible of us, and we really shouldn't do that, but, that said, I think that's because a lot of men, especially ones like me, who are quite shy in introverted, are really don't any basic knowledge of body language, or even able to tell when somebody's attracted to them, or not, and they're trying to pick up, whatever "Signals" there supposedly are, and...-, I think men, are just confused. I know, there are times I can think of where I've worked with someone pretty and been encouraged to ask the girl out, even though I had no interest in being with them, but you know, you're taught to try to find somebody who likes you, to ask them out, to, do a bunch of things, and seek out those with common likes and dislikes, and all that, and even be friends with somebody before asking them out, and then, you end up "friend zoned" or, well, not "friend zoned", that's stupid, but suddenly you can't tell whether you missed an opportunity or thought there was an opportunity when there wasn't.... I think the point I'm trying to make is that,...- well, actually I'm not trying to make a point, what I'm actually trying to do is put together of my thoughts and personal experiences regarding "dating" so I can then discuss "Meet the Patels", 'cause I think they accurately go over a few of them hiccups that I think people don't talk about enough, or that they don't talk about them in a way, that helps both sexes understand where they're coming from enough, but I'm not doing a good job of it, and that's because I don't really date, and have stopped looking, not that I ever good at even looking anyway. (Many of my "personal experiences" don't involve dating at all, [well actually, all of them don't involve dating] but one of the major things with me, is that, by my count, I'm had at least, eight, maybe nine different women come up to me, and talk about how they had a crush on me at some point and would've liked to have been with me, or gone out with me, or were trying to be with me, like, blatantly obviously trying to be with me, and giving out every signal possible, and apparently I missed all of them, and never found out until years later that I missed out on these possibilities. That said, Experiences #2, involve the few times I'm fully aware of the possibility and have somehow found myself in such situations, and somehow I still manage to say no to these requests, if you heard some of these scenarios they don't seem believable, but yes, I am that dense, and yes, I've said, "No", to these, despite, no real reason not to, and reasonable people wouldn't. I'm not going to go into all of these, you can ask me privately, let's just say that "The 40-Year-Old-Virgin", feels more sadly realistic to me than it probably does to all/most of you. Ugh. Still a great movie though) Anyway, uh, "Meet the Patels", is a documentary about, dating, more specifically the dating life of Ravi Patel, who like most Indian-Americans, struggles with the conflict between some of the old ways, particularly the tradition of arraigned marriages, and the modern ideals of dating. Ravi is an actor of some note; he jokes about how he's often cast as a doctor, and he's approaching thirty and has decided to let his parents, begin the process of setting up dates and having him arranged a married. Okay, now two things, arranged marriages are not what everybody thinks they are in this context, even in India, you don't meet your wife one day and then a few days later you're married like in "Monsoon Wedding". (Another great movie if you've never seen that one, check it out.) basically, it's more akin to hiring your parents to be a matchmaking service, and boy do these parents know the ins and outs, and by whole family, I mean, every Patel in the world. Yeah, this is a bit outside my understanding too, "Patel" is a very popular name in India, and the name itself, is a reference to a particular caste of people, so it's kinda like "Smith" or "Jones" in America, but there's also a thing where the Patels, always marrying another Patel. It's not as incentuous as it sounds, although the Patels are very friendly to each other and really common. It's practically having an international calling card. You need a room for the night, go to the motel, and Patel will be the guy at the front desk, and pretty soon you're staying at his family's house and having fun and getting together like family and then, the next day you're off to your destination. So, the movie, directed mainly by his sister Geeta, is a documentary about these dates through all these Patels. If you think they'll run out by the way, no, there's a whole industry behind this. There's a profile book that's passed all around to other Patels of all the available ones, there's numerous meetings and conferences, even one Patel get-together that's pretty much a long, extended speed dating thing, there's setting up dates from their parents, all across North America, so he's travelling all the time just for dates at one point. Not to mention all the Indian matchmaking websites he keeps joining. The movie details a lot of, just, the unknowns of dating. He's been in the dating world, although only a little bit, and their parents don't know about those experiences, although the sister does and they get brought up occasionally. There's also several other little asides and interviews about the struggles of dating while Indian, 'cause since the tradition is arranged marriages, they also, both sexes, are often confused by the rules of the dating game that it seems like most people not only know and have mastered, but that it just seems completely natural to them. And when you're a Patel, and once you decide you want to get married and there's literal lines of people that are being set up for you, you're probably less likely to know anything about modern dating. At one point, the sister talks about being through the process since she was 20, and Ravi tries to turn the camera onto her, since she's been at this way longer than he has. This is a really delightful documentary that's been praised as the next "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", in fact, it's already in pre-production for Ravi and Geeta Patel to direct a live-action version of the documentary and I suspect that could actually be more fun than this film, although I'm glad I saw this, 'cause I bet when that film comes out, too many might not realized how much of it is based on actual experiences. (It'll also, more than likely, be better than "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" a movie that gets less and less interesting as time goes by, and yet for some reason, they made a sequel recently, and suddenly. Oh well, I'll get to it at some point, I'm sure.) Anyway, "Meet the Patels" is surprisingly insightful, not just about dating in the modern time for an Indian-American, but dating in general, if anything, they probably could've dived into that stuff even more than they did, but I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway.