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."
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line in the beginning about how "sluts" are just women with the morals of a a man, which is really, kinda offensive and outdated to be honest, not all men are sluts either, ladies!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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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.