I wish I had more hopeful poetry to present to you in light of the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency, others have, but I only have a lot of angry vengeful prose to present, but Wednesday Morning quarterbacking has failed me. The polls were all wrong, despite some signs of this possibility, and frankly as an American, I don't know what to think other than I'm fairly sickened right now at America. Hillary Clinton will more than likely still win the popular vote, making it the sixth time in the last seven Presidential elections that the Democrat nominee has accomplished that, and still, we've lost the electoral college three times, each time, it was close, and each time, the Republican Party insisted on it being a mandate to do whatever they want. I hope we do not make that mistake this time, and to the GOP's credit, hopefully, I don't think they will this time, but a lot of damage will be done. I'm told that, the deciding factor, wasn't third parties, although they were of no help either, but to supposed blue collar workers, particularly in the Midwest, who for whatever reason feel that they were being screwed by Washington. I say "for whatever reason" because, I do not understand, at all how or why they would think that way nor how why thinking that way would lead them to believe that electing Trump was a solution to that? That's not even going about overthrowing the government the right way, you know! Whatever they feel they struggles are, some of which I can at least understand, Trump is not the one to help them, and for the rest of their worries, there's absolutely no evidence that confirms any of their fears or beliefs, none. Free trade eliminates jobs, it doesn't really and hasn't in the last eight years, but sure, let's say it does, but why elect the person who sends those jobs away? There's not a single GOP program or idea over the last twenty-five years that has remotely worked to yours or my benefit, and have only won national elections on miseducation campaigns, lies and in particular this election, voter suppression tactics, like the elimination of the Voting Rights Act protections. To those voters who determined this election, your fantasy doesn't match reality, and it will cost you in the future. To everyone else, on my side, especially those who were for whatever reason suppressed, we will fight back Trump in every way, but in the meantime, learn your states voting regulation laws, and make sure they count you next time, and get out the vote. Don't let them win just because they can, their are more of us than there are them, and this election proves it, and the demographics still lean towards us, so study what you need to vote while we work on changing those laws to make it a right and not a privilege again. I can think of a few silver linings in this election, #1, the election in 2020, when we'll redistrict the country is ultimately more important than this one, and we have four years to prepare for it. #2: The GOP is more divided than ever and they will have to finally battle within themselves; it's already starting. Even Glenn Beck of all people, came out, realizing that he's been wrong for going after Obama as much, and many in the GOP are leaving the Party seeing what's become of it. And three: We're not gonna simply play dead while all this happens and whatever else that's gonna ultimately be a good thing that makes us all too aware. There's a majority, sure but not enough for them to get everything done, and they've fought us tooth and nail for everything, and I'm not saying that we do the same obstruct everything they did, but we can damn well prevent a lot from happening, and thankfully much of what Trump promised and want won't happen. We're not getting a wall, and if he tries to build one, we'll knock it down; it won't actually be that hard, and he's not actually capable of deporting everyone, and there's more checks and balances than he could ever imagine to his powers. We will stop him, we will prevail and when Elizabeth Warren takes him 2020, he will not win again. I have changed my profile photo on my personal Facebook page to Caution tape, this is a tradition I started in 2002, agter Republicans took the House and Senate, where I would wear caution tape around my arm until the day they were sworn in; I will do the same now on Facebook. It's childish and immature and it was then in high school, but I don't care. It's a warning of what's coming up, and we've got the time to prepare. So, take a few minutes to grieve and mend, and then, prepare to fight and fight hard. Protest have already started across the country; I'd join them if I could right now, as everybody should at this time.
Okay, back to entertainment, for now. There's quite a few movies I've watched over these weeks that I wasn't able to get to review, most of them older movies, so let's run through them real quick: there's three films from 2014 that I just couldn't get around to this time, all of them good. The first one is the great documentary "She's Beautiful When She's Angry" an unfortunately timely movie about the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, including the earliest people pushing for Women's History and Studies courses, as well as the push for Day Care, which they actually passed the Congress, but was vetoed by Nixon, people forget and the fight for legalized abortion, which was done because women were getting killed you fucking anti-abortion pieces of shit! No, it's not anti-baby or anything, it's because women were getting killed from illegal abortions, which they were getting; you want to say you're against it personally, fine, but forcing others to go through or not, either way, that's murder, assholes! Sorry, but it's a powerful documentary and I highly recommend it. Also, I watched Jonathan Demme's film, "A Master Builder", which I really wish I had time to get to, 'cause this is a damn near great film. It's an adaptation of Henrik's Ibsen's play from and starring Wallace Shawn as the dying architect who's confronting his past and present in his dying days. Shawn gives an amazing performance, and it reunites him with Andre Gregory who adapted the stage version and also plays a role in the film. It's the third Louis Malle film that they didn't make with him, and it's really a powerful and special movie. I also got around to Gregg Araki's "White Bird in a Blizzard" another really powerful film; this one, like his film "Mysterious Skin" which made my ten best list the year it came out, is an adaptation of a novel, and a serious one at that. It's not as good as that one, but it's a pretty powerful film in of itself about a teenage girl who has to adapt after her mother's sudden disappearance and how she's blinded by the realization of why and how she went missing. Some really strong performances by Shailene Woodley and others. Let's see what else, um, I'm going through a lot of Mae West movies at the moment, I'll probably talk about one of them in due time, but I watch "Night After Night", which she's only got a supporting role in and wasn't one of the ones she wrote, but it's okay, nothing special. "Goin' to Town" is a lot better, although not one of her best, but you can say that of most of her Post-Hayes Code work. I've also watched Claude Chabrol's film, "Violette", some may know I'm not a Chabrol fan, but I actually did like this one for the most part; here his back-and-forth storytelling and switching up of the genres and tone constantly actually kinda worked there. I also watched a strange Australian comedy from the '90s called "Children of the Revolution" about a guy who, unbeknownst to him was the son of Joseph Stalin and about how he almost accidentally started Civil War in Australia. It's weird; I don't really think I get Australian comedy sometimes, there's always less subtlety than I keep thinking their should be in their film, but I guess it was a fairly interesting if dated political satire.
Is that it? Yep that's it; I'll try to be more upbeat and joyous in future posts, and I've got some big ones coming up, so keep an eye out. (Hint hint, Top Ten Films of 2015 is coming, soon!) So, alright, let's get to it, this latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS, starting with the Oscar-nominated feature, "Boy & the World" and "Racing Extinction"!
BOY & THE WORLD (2015) Director: Ale Abreu
"Boy & the World" marks the first time a South American movie, this one from Brazil, got nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, and I do kinda get why. Although on the other hand, it's appeal still seems limited to me. The film, the debut feature from Ale Abreu, is basically an excuse to go from numerous different places, animation styles and ideas to another, seen through a somewhat frightening tale of a little kid, who's never given a name, although I'm informed by Christy Lemire's post that it was Cuca, who travels to the city, alone, in search for his father. His family is a struggling farm family, although Cuca doesn't entirely realize that, so when his Father leaves, he follows, and the movie than becomes, Cuca in the City. It's hard to explain much more than that, the movie is really too episodic, which makes sense. Not only is that typical for this kind of story, but it's basically a road movie, which is already a predominant genre in Brazilian cinema. Seriously, most of the great Brazilian directors I can think of are either known primarily for this genre like Walter Salles or Hector Babenca, either mainly do this genre, or their most primary works are basically some form of this genre. Even Fernando Meirelles's work is inherently episodic and he did "360", a direct remake of "La Ronde", the ultimate episode road trip movie. Although, calling this a road trip movie, it's more of an experience, and engulfment of animation, with just the traveling from one random scene to another, granted since it's a little boy in over-his-head, we are concerned for a bit. Although, strangely the movie that "Boy & the World" reminds me of the most is "Samsara" Ron Fricke's masterful documentary that was almost a mosaic of, well, everything. And hell, for reminding me of "Samsara" alone, "Boy & the World" gets a recommendation from me, but yeah, this isn't on that level, or even the level of other pieces of animation that are basically collections of images and scenes. I guess "Fantasia" is the ultimate example of this, but "Boy & the World" is still unique and different enough and the animation styles are definitely more interesting than say "The Prophet" and more impressive since it is just one person's vision. I like to see what Abreu's gonna come up with next as the world of Brazilian films and South American animation in general, which has been getting more and more worldwide acclaim lately; this film being the most high-profile example. I don't know if it's a representative of the genre to be introduced to it, but it might be a good introduction for Abreu.
RACING EXTINCTION (2015) Director: Louie Psihoyos
I'll be completely honest here, in terms of endangered species. It's not a subject I come into fully sure of what to do. I'm not anti-conservation, but I'm also apart of the Anthropocene or the Age of Man, and frankly, I'm mostly concerned more with protecting my own species survival than I am, That said, the Age of Man, is probably going to be, if it isn't already, responisible for the 6th mass instinction in the history of the planet; a time when most of the species on the planet will inevitably disappear. Now, Darwinian theory aside, it is alarming when the average is that one species a year will probably go extinct, to realize that the current average is six/year. One of the persons in "Racing Extinction" is a photographer who's spents years documenting the last or near last of species, most of which are not "endangered", they're literally the last of their kind. We see quite a few of them in fact, and during one sad sobering seen, we hear the recordings of a songbird, seeking a mate that will never arrive, as he is the last of his species. "Racing Extinction" doesn't offer simple solutions either, there's multiple reasons for this. The increase in carbon monoxide and methane is a big one, the scene of a methane bubble under the North Pole that's lit on fire is stark. (Rising CO2 levels in particular was a big part of all previous extinction, including the one that took out the dinosaurs, which wasn't even the biggest) They also look at the underground animal trade, which led to a major campaign of sharkfins supplies being heavily decreased in China, where Sharkfin soup had become a major delicacy, until footage of shark with their fins gutoff, dropped back into the Ocean showed up. But now they're getting manta rays of all things, because of some old myths about the cartilidge from manta rays being able to eleviate cancer, which is completely untrue and now hunting manta rays are now the major industry in a small Mexican coastal town, even though, they're fairly aware that the animal is pretty close to extinction if they keep the practice up. And there's also some amazing undercover camera work here as they find some of the more illegal animal smuggling operations and manage to secretly photograph some, including an infamous Hong Kong rooftop of thousands of ocean body parts of animals, and even caught an American restaurant that served whale. An american restaurant, serving whale illegally. That restaurant was picketed for awhile, but one guy stayed on, and this guy happened to be an expert at projecting screening technology, like the one they use for the Oscars, that guy, he kept images of the whale literally going for the next week and soon enough, the restaurant was closed. The greatest images of the movie are of the animals and when he finds some ingenious and amazing ways of projecting them onto buildings, buses, cars, Elon Musk was involved with that part, his whole planet is a canvas to show the fragility and beauty of the animals that are, in ever increasing numbers, dying off. Again, I'm still on the fence. philosophically, as I eat a lunchmeat sandwich for lunch while preparing a pork dinner for later, I recognize the importance of protecting animals for keeping with the ecosystem, especially things like plankton which can really destroy everything if they go, which they are, but still, they're going a bit too fast at the moment, and that is alarming, and "Racing Extinction" does a great job at sounding that alarm.
KUNG FU PANDA 3 (2016) Directors:Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Looking back over my review of "Kung Fu Panda 2" I was surprised to see that I had only given the film only 3 STARS. I must've been particularly jagged and dismissive that day, and I understand why I probably was so dismissive, but as I've looked back on the franchise, and after ranking Po (Jack Black) on my Top 100 Animated Characters List recently, I've realized that, most of that dismissive attitude basically came from, just regular old smug pretentious critic thinking. "Oh, how can a movie such as "Kung Fu Panda 2" really be that great? Well, it was actually, I seriously underrated it, as well as the original "Kung Fu Panda", so I'm not making that mistake again. The "Kung Fu Panda" series, above all is about, identity and all that means and encompasses, in particular, Po's identity. First, as a bumbling son of a bird who runs a noodle shop, then as a martial arts master, then as he comes to terms with his adoption and struggles with that battle with his identity, and in many ways accepting that he may indeed be the only one of his kind. Now, the movie seems to have come to the next logical step in Po's evolution, realizing that he indeed is not alone. This occurs when his father, Li (Bryan Cranston) has gone out to search and find him, and soon enough he does. It's right after Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) has announced that Po is now the new Sensei and that he will begin teaching the rest of the Furious Five, as he now has nothing left to teach them. Po, is already unsure of what to teach, or for that matter, whether or not he can even be a teacher, especially to those who have much greater experience as his fellow martial arts masters. Howevr, speaking of the masters, they have all, one-by-one, first in the spirit realm, and then later when Kai (J.K. Simmons) as he intends to steal all the masters' chi, which he encompasses in jade, as well as the masters. The more chi he gets, the stronger he gets, and ergo, he'll take over everything including the masters, but Po, first needs to find out about his Panda background before he can really defend everyone, and hopefully become a Dragon Warrior. Look, I don't completely understand the martial arts references and stuff, but I understand people, or in this Panda, struggling to find out about themselves, and as he and his fathers, oh his other Dad, Mr. Ping (James Hong) go to the Pandas secret mountaintop village, as well, to discover what it means to be a Panda, it's a delightful journey of discovery. Tigress (Angelina Jolie) also comes eventually to help prepare Po after the others are attacked, what you get at the end, is that really big climax that combines the spiritual, the past of the ancestors, the skills of everyone involved, as well as a combination of all of Panda's life experiences and revelations coming together to defeat the evil Kai, and no, it's not as easy as I made that sound; it's far more complex and complicated. It's a journey of oneself, or in this many selves as there's plenty of character growth ot go around. I've been dismissive of this franchise, and now is my penance where I make up for it. This has so far been an amazing trilogy and I wouldn't be surprised if there was more to come from it. The animation isn't necessarily great, but it uses it's style quite well, often combining some classic 2-D looks with some great 3-D special effects and the films, I think keep getting better. I don't quite rank them as great just yet, but I might in due time the more I think about it, but for now, "Kung Fu Panda 3" is wonderful delight and the perfect extention of the franchise I was looking for.
EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (2016) Director: Richard Linklater
I've named Richard Linklater movies the best film of the year for the previous two years, with "Before Midnight" the best of 2013 and "Boyhood" the best of 2014. I liked "Everybody Wants Some" quite a bit, but I don't think that streak is going to continue. (Or restart, since this is a 2016 film, and unless I missed something he didn't release a 2015 feature) At least not with "Everybody Wants Some!!" but don't let that dissuade you this is still quite a good movie. I guess, in terms of Linklater's filmography, this movie is at least the spiritual sequel to "Dazed and Confused" which, well, I've just gonna be honest here, is also a film that I never thought was as great as some people say it was, even though I do like an greatly admire that film a lot, but there's always been something that held me back from fully appreciating movie. I suspect it's because that movie was basically intended as that generation's "American Graffiti" and while on that level it technically works, it also can't help but be compared to that film, and George Lucas's best movie is a pretty high standard and "Dazed and Confused" just wasn't aiming for that high commentary on nostalgia; if anything, it was going for the lower end of it, but with a more high-brow approach. I guess; "Dazed and Confused" is kind of a weird movie no matter how you slice it really, and probably the biggest thing those two films have in common, other than the fact that they're period pieces, about young kids transitioning to the perils of adulthood, is that, they're both taking place over a specific amount of time, and that time period, that ticking clock, well, it-, it isn't actually that dramatic a ticking clock. A.O. Scott seemed to nail it in the first sentence of his review, to quote him... "Everybody Wants Some!!" is many thing-- a baseball caper, a sex farce, a campus bromance -- but the film's real claim to distinction may be that it's the least suspenseful ticking-clock movie ever." (Nods head in agreement) Yeah, review over, that about covers it.
Okay, let's back up here, as I'll try to explain a plot for this movie, anyway this movie's, eh, Pinto...? Well, he's not a Flounder? Actually, neither of those character even matter in that movies, even though they're the first ones we meet-, sorry, "Animal House" has a weirder structure than people realize, anyway, our "main character," I guess, is Jake (Blake Jenner) who is kinda the one most similar to I suspect Linklater's more typical protagonists; he seems particularly comparable to Ellar Coltrane at the end of "Boyhood". He's a freshman baseball player at a Texas University that's apparently got a nationally-ranked team, and has a few pro prospects. It's his first day and he gets acquainted with the numerous members of the team, as they live in two donated off-campus houses, kinda, but not really a fraternity; they're basically the athlete dorms, only these two are devoted exclusively to baseball. There's too many characters to name here, but they're all pretty interesting types and character that we've seen in other films before. "Animal House" does come to mind, although the movie doesn't stray too far from the bus conversations and bullpen antics of "Bull Durham". Which makes sense, now a lot of great pro athletes do come out of college baseball, but generally, if you're good, you've probably at least been drafted out of high school, and a few of these athletes were, but not in any significant round. One annoying freshman boasts of having a 95 mph fastball, Jay (Justin Street) and they await the first unofficial official practice on Sunday, to see his stuff for real. But basically, the movie is mostly just the first weekend at college and all the fun and debauchery a bunch of 18-22-year-olds, (Well, mostly) can get into during the weekend, and this is back when the drinking age was 18. And that includes women and other such activities. Since this movie takes place in 1981, there's still a roller disco on it's last legs, so that's a popular hangout, but they also visit a punk rock club, and a few other places. Jake wonders if they're just being posers, and yeah, they might be, but as long as they're having fun and sex and girls in their underwear mud wrestling in their backyard, who cares? Jake actually tries to pursue a relationship at one point with Beverly (Zoey Deutch) a fellow freshman who casually mentioned she thought he was cute, and they go to her major's party, which is of course, theater major, so it's a costume party. (Yeah, that's-, that's still true, I can tell you that one for sure) I don't know if that's an accomplishment or anything, there is one kid who's girlfriend back home is in the middle of a pregnancy scare, so he misses a good portion of the weekend for that, and he gets razzed pretty hard for that (and in general) and other stupid college things. They play pinball and ping pong as well, and it's all really episodic. Jake's pursuit of a girlfriend is even episodic and comes in late in the movie, but it's the only thing that seems like a genuine goal. It's a typical mish-mash of characters and kids you basically get in every locker room I've ever been in, and it's enjoyable on that level. Is it anything more? I guess it might mean something to Linklater; he went to college in Texas and baseball's been an occasional theme in his career, including that remake of "The Bad News Bears" he did a couple years ago. In some ways, it feels like he's reflecting on a weekend the same way he might've been years earlier for "Before Sunrise", only, it's not with a girl in a foreign country, it's as a young man on his first weekend of college. The movie is incredibly well-acted, and well-cast; I've never seen, hardly any of these actors before and they're all young and talented, so kudos on the casting in particular. At the end of the movie, a professor writes on a board, "Frontiers are where you find them." That seems like a starting off point to eight other different Linklater movies, although I mostly found myself laughing at the end, thinking of one of my favorite Groucho Marx quotes from "Horse Feathers", the one that begins, "Tomorrow, we start tearing down the college..." and I'll let you guys look up the rest that joke.
THE LOBSTER (2016) Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
(Checking library website, realizes "The Lobster" is suddenly due the next day)
(Sigh) Goddamn, somebody must've requested it. Well, two in the morning, let's start it tonight, whatever this is, and turn it in tomorrow. Maybe I skip back and forth between it as I'm watching Youtube videos.
(Fifteen minutes later)
What the hell's going on in this movie, anyway?
HOTEL MANAGER (Olivia Colman)
"Now the fact that you will turn into an animal if you fail to fall in love with someone during your stay here is not something that should upset you or get you down. Just think, as an animal you'll have a second chance to find a companion. but, even then, you must be careful; you need to choose a companion that is a similar type of animal to you. A wolf and a penguin could never live together, nor could a camel and a hippopotamus. That would be absurd...
(Remote control drops from hand)
Now, have you chosen what kind of animal you'd like to be if you end up alone?
DAVID (Colin Farrell)
Yes. A lobster
Why a lobster?
Because lobsters live for over one hundred years, are blue-blooded like aristocrats, and stay fertile all their lives. I also like the sea very much.
Okay, you have my undivided attention. What in the hell is this piece of strange surreal-, what the fuckery am I watching? Did Charlie Kaufman and Roy Andersson get together on something, and added Wes Anderson's detached approach to acting. Wait, are they hunting each other? The loners? Aren't they already loners, isn't that why they're here? What's Rachel Weisz's voice over doing here, I haven't even seen her show up yet? Who directed this again?
Yor-, Yorgos, Lant-i-mos, that's a Greek name? Greek directors? Oh wait, is this the guy who did "Dogtooth"!?
(Check IMDB.com, ding)
Okay, it is the "Dogtooth" guy, okay, now I know what I'm dealing with here. Alright, I first heard about "The Lobster" last year, when it was up for some nominations for the European Film Awards, which came as a bit of a surprise there as the movie had only just begun to scratch the public consciousness there. A few months into 2016, the movie had reached America and slowly but surely had started gets talked about and, yeah, I get why. Okay, so, the concept of this movie is that, in a suppsedly dystopian future, if you're single at a certain point, you have to go to a hotel and fall in love in 45 days, or else they turn you into an animal of your choosing. I have no idea why or how they do this, but that's just what happens. As proof, the recently divorced David also brings his brother with him, who is now a dog. Anyway, he befriends a couple people at the resort, one with a limp, Limping Man (Ben Winshaw), who eventually ends up getting paired with Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden) a girl who gets a lot of nosebleeds, which they have in common, (Except they don't, but whatever,... once they're assigned kids, all their problems will be sorted out) and another with a lisp, Lisping Man (John C. Reilly). They're not allowed to masturbate while searching for their partner, but everyday the maid (Ariane Labed) will grind on their penises until they're erect, just to see their response times and whether or not it improves. Every few nights, the whole crew goes out into the woods and attempts to tranquilize a bunch of Loners, who are people who have rebelled and have chosen to live in the woods after escaping from the Hotel, deciding to live alone. They're lead by their leader, Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) who has her own set of strange rules, like only listening to electronic music on headphones so that you can only dance alone. That's when we finally meet Short-Sighted Woman (Weisz) and where her and David start to fall in love, (They're both short-sighted) and have to keep their affair secret, through a creative use of body movements. (I'm definitely gonna marry the first girl who gets what making a fist and putting it behind your back means), and, I think I'll stop there. This movie, is possibly the most surrealist film post Luis Bunuel I've ever seen. It's somewhere between Charlie Kaufman, Eugene Ionesco and any other strange surrealist artist. Lanthimos had already sprouted his surreal card with the Oscar-nominated "Dogtooth" a movie about a family that separates their family from the real world to a ridiculous degree, but I also admired his previous feature "Alps" about a gymnast that becomes, essentially a prostitute for people who are grieving their most recent departed by acting as the person they've lost until they start to get over it. He's interested in behavior, particularly ones that's different from the norm, but in "The Lobster" the whole world is basically screwed up, and now, we have the results of that screwed up universe, trying to figure how to circumvent it, and that's probably the smartest part about "The Lobster" and why it's his best film so far this year, because it's not that these are, more enlightened characters that are trying to save them or stop them of something like that, they've grown to understand this universe in these terms and have lived or have accepted it, and they're not going out there to change the world, just survive themselves. That's the real key to the movie, and once you accept it on those terms, "The Lobster" is incredibly funny and dark and saddening and shocking, basically everything but maybe "hopeful". You know, there's a refrain that critics often want something different than every other movie out there, well, "The Lobster" is definitely one of those ones that's actually different, and yes this critic likes it a lot.
EYE IN THE SKY (2016) Director: Gavin Hood
I'm sure that the more I were to analyze "Eye in the Sky" the less and less sense it would make, although that's not particularly something I don't care much about doing; the movie isn't about whether everything would happen exactly as it would in this hypothetical situation, the movie is about that intense crucial moments where there's a literal life and death decision that has to be made and just how difficult that process is to make, not only the internal struggles, but also the actual built-in safeguards and firewalls to make sure that a decision like that isn't made with due diligence and rashly. Even at the highest rungs of the military, if you're gonna kill somebody, you better damn well make sure you get every possible clearance and there's no other reasonable and necessary choice. This has been a bit of a theme in recent years from Director Gavin Hood. He first came to my attention after winning the Foreign Language Oscar for the South African film "Tsotsi". That was an okay film, although it bares little resemblance to that one, starting with the underrated "Rendition", about the governmental process that was exploited during the Bush administration to illegal hold and arrest foreign-born citizens under suspicion of terrorism and ties to terrorism. He then made, "X-Men: Wolvering", which I haven't seen yet, so I'm not gonna judge that one and then he made the intriguing "Ender's Game" based on a young adult novel, that, actually is sort of the opposite of "Eye in the Sky". Now, I liked "Ender's Game" for what it was, even though, it's basically a wet dream fantasy for video gamers who hope one day their skills may lead them to actually saving the world, but the whole main undercurrent of that film was the lack of a decision-making process at the head of this governmental organization, at least, not a highly-present one that made it clear that they were preparing young kids to go on, what was essentially a suicide mission. Now, I'm sure there was a conversation involving the higher-ups and that eventually led to their numerous decisions, but we didn't see that in the movie, and we certainly didn't see the soldiers themselves get a say in the decision. In this case, they definitely do, represented on the ground as a Somali mole, Jama Farhi (Barkhad Abdi, from "Captain Phillips") as well as in the air, sorta, as two drone pilots, Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) and Carrie Gershon (Phoebe Fox) who are outside the Las Vegas desert awaiting their orders. (They're the "Eye in the Sky" in the title) They're all focusing in on a safe house in Nairobi, where they've got a camera inside and numerous one's outside and a capture mission in place, but it soon turns out that the capture mission must then lead to a kill mission, and there's a decent chance there will be civilian casualties. Since this terrorist is a British citizen, there's a debate over whether they should kill. The main people on the side of firing onto the safe house are Col. Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) the Egret Operating Chief in charge of the capture mission, and back in England, her superior Gen. Frank Benson (Alan Rickman, in his final onscreen performance [he did voice work for "Alice Through the Looking Glass" marking his final film performance]) and there's numerous other heads and equal members of Parliament, the executive branch, not to mention that fact that this act of war on a sovereign nation would be the first from the UK, on top of the fact that they have to find the U.S. Secretary of State, who's in Beijing at the time, because one of the terrorists and suspects has a U.S. passport, and while all this is going on, and they're trying to get the clearance to destroy, and convince others that it's the best thing to do, a nine-year-old girl, Alla Mo'Allim (Aisha Takow) goes and sets up a bread stand, right in front of the house, as they're about to shoot, and now, the whole process of determining whether the collateral damage estimates justify the hellfire strike, has to start all over again. "Eye in the Sky" is about the horrible decision-making process that no soldier on the ground, in the air, or in a boardroom wants to make, and yet, is essential that they do indeed make from time to time. There are some great performances all-around, especially from Rickman, in that brilliant understated way in which a veteran actor like him, who has seen more atrocities than he could reasonably count first hand and knows that it might be hell to live with if one doesn't move onto the next one as soon and as emotionless as he can. It is a hauntingly striking last great performance from him. That said, it's not quite fair to just single him out, everyone is solid here, and a great script with tight directing take something that could've honestly been done as a stage play, seem way more epic and intense on film. Does it actually all make sense? I don't know, but it seems plausible enough to me, despite a loophole or two that you can forgive because, it's possible that, in such an intense moment, something could be easily skipped over or overlooked, but I'm reminded of what Aaron Sorkin once said, that it's not necessarily important that the audience understands everything that's going on, as long as the characters do, you'll feel like what's happening is important. That's how I'd describe "Eye in the Sky", and why it's worth recommending.
THE WITCH (2016) Director: Robert Eggers
What "The Witch" lacks in a compelling, interesting or memorable title, it makes up for with a particularly bizarre font choice that makes the title look like this: "The VVitch"? Va-va-itch? The Ve-vitch" The Roman numeral for 10-Itch"-, no that can't be it, you wouldn't have VV, it'd just be X for ten. Yeah, I-eh, I don't know what the hell they were thinking there; it's the most distinctive thing about the movie, and I'm not one who usually pays much attention to box-art or fonts or those sort of strange promotional materials things, but (Shrugs) that-eh, that stood out; I'm half amazed my library was able to find the film when I requested it. That's not to say that this is a bad movie, it's not, it's quite impressive and moody for a psychological horror thriller, and a debut feature at that for Robert Eggers, who despite some previous promise with short films is mostly known as a production designer until now, and it does show. The movie, like many historical tales of witchcraft and fear-mongering, takes place in New England in the 1630s, which is technically about 60 years before the Salem trials but still...; I'm sure there's been other time periods were witches were ostracized by the public, but I guess, since most of the other time periods are probably in the middle ages or earlier, this is the one that's most used but.... (Shrugs) Anyway, the setting and mood is effective; in some ways, it could've been confused for a more modern-day film in a more desolate American location, like "Winter's Bone" for instance, but that's only tangential similarities; it's clearly placed in a forest-filled New England, where a family has decided to settle, away from many of the other early settlers, only about a decade after landing on Plymouth Rock. This family, led by it's religious tyrant of a patriarch, William (Ralph Ineson), his wife Katherine (Kate Dickie) and their eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) who they suspect is the reason for some of the suspicious and horrific incidents that begin to happen in and around their home and to heir family, especially involving their younger children. In the beginning, she makes an offhand joke about being a witch, but it's clear that she's teasing. That said, it's clear also that the father in particular, as well as the mother start to suspect the worst as their quickly becoming convinced of some sort of supernatural force is on hand, especially after their crops begin failing. I, frankly, wasn't particularly sure what to make of the movie itself; I'm recommending it, mainly because I think the creepy mood it suggests works overall, I'm not really sure this worked as a psychological horror or not. It seems like one of those movies where it seems like there are two many things could be scary or perpetuating the feat into it's characters, that you actually stop caring 'cause if everything's scary then nothing is scary. (This is my problem with Kubrick's "The Shining" btw, which, yes, remains horribly overrated; I stand by that). I guess that kinda works here however, because it's done to full extent here, but I can't honestly claim the movie is special like some have claimed. It's better than the average horror movie, and to it's credit, that is a bit of an understatement from me, 'cause I don't generally think much of the average horror, but I can also think of some better recent ones I'd rather revisit than see "The Witch". I'm torn on this one, and I'm already only lukewarm on it, but yeah, I'll recommend it; I suspect horror fans will enjoyment it more than some.
THE DARK HORSE (2016) Director: James Napier Robinson
I suspect that there is an interesting life story here to be told in "The Dark Horse", in fact, I suspect there's several good stories, but I don't think the movies tells them well, or they at least don't weave them together in a way that makes them work together. "The Dark Horse" is a New Zealand film that originated from what I suspect is a more powerful and interesting documentary on it's main subject, Genesis Potini (Cliff Curtis) a bipolar chess master who's at the beginning of the film, is just released from a mental hospital and soon is placed in the care of his brother, Ariki (Wayne Hapi), who's a member of a violent triablistic motorcycle gang, and he's dying, and is hoping to ensure that his son, Mana (James Rolleston) is protected by him if something should happen. Meanwhile, Genesis starts working as a coach for a local chess team, the Eastern Knights, and that includes a major tournament that requires, funding, transportation, and a bunch of other typical movie sports cliches, only with chess. Which, okay, I am somebody who has a lifelong love of chess; I think I've brought that up once or twice here, and it can be a base for a good movie, even a good sports movie. Off the top of my head, "Searching for Bobby Fischer" is probably the best example but there's been some other ones like "Fresh", which isn't a sports film but uses chess metaphorically as an inner-city kid circumnavigates the criminal underworld to get revenge, there's also "Queen to Play", a French film about a housewife who becomes chess master, there's also that recent Bobby Fischer biopic, "Pawn Sacrifice", which was about as good as that story could've been, and there's also the Broadway musical "Chess", which is a lot better than it probably should be, but there's just as many times when trying to take chess and adapt it to a feature film level of epic grandeur needed for a feature film, and it just falters, and this is probably the way that movies like this fail, by throwing in so much drama outside of chess that it inevitably makes it seems trivial or small. The Oscar-winner film "Dangerous Moves" I thought suffered from this a bit, but "The Dark Horse", is probably a prototype example. It's so all over the map. He's bipolar, so there's that problem to overcome, he's Maori, if you know anything about them and their place in New Zealand culture, you know that alone is a major struggle to some extent, there's the poverty part that invovles, there's the motorcycle gang, and now you throw on top of all that, the fact that these are a bunch of ragged poor kids competing to win a supposedly more high-class game favored by the more elite members of the country,..., and then there's the brother and his relationship struggles involving his son, and... (Sigh) that's the thing, there's a point where you kinda have to realize that you can't just throw in everything to make the movie seem more dramatic. It becomes so dramatic that it just tunes out. I mean, this movie literally reminded me of that line Will Ferrell gave in that "Comedian on Oscar Night", the one with him, Jack Black and John C. Reilly, where they're like, "Yeah, I'm gonna take that part about the guy with no arms and no legs who teaches gangbangers "Hamlet". That's unfortunate, 'cause from what I can tell, Genesis Potini really is a fascinating figure who lived an interesting life, and Cliff Curtis to his credit, does give a really strong performance here, and I know I'm in the minority on this, but the drama just came off as forced and overbearing and the actual chess competitions and playing came off as an afterthought, and both of those problems really hinder this film. It's not the worst problem to have, wanting to tell too much of a story, but that's the ultimate problem with "Dark Horse".
SWEET BEAN (2016) Director: Naomi Kawase
I'm a bit of a disadvantage here as this is the first film I've seen from the acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Naomi Kawase and there's a reason for that, none of her other films have received an American theatrical release. Now, at first glance, that's not necessarily strange, most international directors don't get theatrically released in America, even if they're from highly productive film countries. I mean, one of my fellow internet critics is Indian, and he's a great critic who constantly writes about movies and has been published by some really well-establish news outlets, but he's Indian and I literally have almost no idea what he's remotely talking about when he talks about the Indian film scene, because unless you're seeking those movies out, especially Bollywood movies, they generally don't end up here, with only a few exceptions, and that's true of most foreign countries. That said, it is a bit weird when that director's films have been recognized at Cannes for 20+ years, as Kawase's work has been. Very strange, it's not like Japan's a country without a tradition of bringing it's great filmmakers to the world, but.... Anyway, this is probably not the film I or most anyone else should be introduced to Naomi Kawase with. That said, not really knowing quite how to analyze it a 100%, I still liked it a lot. It's basically a simple story on the surface, a simple enough story. The movie involves a guy, Sentaro (Masatoshe Nagase) who runs a Doryaki Stand, Doryaki is a sweet dessert snack, I believe, from which red bean paste is stuffed in between two small pancakes, so it's a doughy thing with filling inside. Every culture has something along those lines. Anyway, one day, a septuagenarian named Tokue (Kirin Kiki) walks in and sees that Sentaro doesn't have much joy out of his work and claims that she can make them better and insists on a job. He eventually gives in and turns out, she's made these for half a century and quickly becomes his assistant as sales begin to explode. Other than that though, Sentaro doesn't know much about her and, without giving too much away, essentially the movie is about what happens as he tries to find out more about Sentaro, which leads eventually to her being ostracized by the town that had just fallen for her and her doryakis. You can throw this movie into the category of food films, although I noticed that one of the times this movie was screened was at a Miyazaki Film Festival, which makes sense. This is a slow, meditated but tranquil movie that actually does remind me a lot of Miyazaki's work, even though it's not animated. I'm told that her work is a bit slow and it made with a Shintoesque pace, reminiscent perhaps of Yosujiro Ozu, another Japanese filmmaking legend whose films didn't reach internationally 'til very late in his career, for fear of them not being applicable to more western tastes. That said, I can take of leave Ozu myself somedays but I'm taking this one, barely. It tested my patience a bit, but overall, I thought it worked. I wish I can see more of Kawase's work to compare it, but, I guess I'll have to settle to getting to that later.
THE LADY IN THE VAN (2015) Director: Nicholas Hytner
Okay, this was the point at which I just got sick of this subgenre. What subgenre am I talking about? Well, it's hard to exactly pinpoint, but it's recent trend of popular films that basically feel like quirky American biopic stories from fifteen years ago or so, about somebody who was interesting or weird and helped out a community or a person over that time. Think "Erin Brockovich" but with Maggie Smith. Okay, that's-, that's not accurate or fair at all, and to be fair I can think of quite a few good movies in this subgenre. Uh, "Kinky Boots" comes to mind, a little earlier you can go to "Billy Elliot" I'm not sure that was a real biopic or not, I don't think so, and there were other wuirky films of that time, "The Full Monty", but more recently, "Made in Dagenham" that was good, "Pride", that was actually a lot better than it should've been. Probably the best most recent one was "Philomena", that was Stephen Frears; he's usually a good enough filmmaker to get away with it as he did there, you see my pattern here. None of these are really great movies, except for "Billy Elliot", they're mostly okay, quirky, real-life stories, but they don't add up to much. Maybe ten years ago as a quirky American independent film, these could've worked, but not now, and British films wise, lately there's been some awful ones. "Woman in Gold" is particularly dreadful one, this one, "The Lady in the Van" is not that unwatchably boring, but it's of no consequence or importance either. The Lady in the Van, is Miss Sheperd (Maggie Smith, speaking of her, and to be fair, she is always amazing, but she can show up in anything and get a Golden Globe nomination, as she did here, actually) Who is Miss Shepherd? Well, mostly, she's a quirky, weird annoyance that lives in a van on Alan Bennett's (Alex Jennings) driveway. Bennett, the real one, who wrote the screenplay and the original stage play of "The Lady in the Van", for those who aren't familiar, was an original member of "Beyond the Fringe" a famous comedy troupe that was a predecessor and inspiration for Monty Python, and he's been a great writer writer, comedian, playwright, etc. He's written a couple of Nicholas Hytner's more famous films, like his first and probably best feature, "The Madness of King George" as well as his previous one, the really lousy "The History Boys", which is sorta like if "Dead Poets Society" was about homosexual pedophilia, (What the fuck was that? Ugh) He wrote this based on his own experiences of having Miss Shepherd and her scrambled eggs-colored van move onto her property one day and just, not leave for fifteen years. He didn't overly concern himself with her, despite having to completely rearrange his life around for her, but eventually, he soon discovered her surprisingly diverse and eclectic life. She escaped from a mental institution at one point, that's not too surprised, she also studied to be a nun and before that, was a classically trained pianist in her youth. Yeah, the old lady who lives in her van and smells mostly of urine and lavender. I don't know, I just couldn't be charmed by this film, maybe I've just been seeing one-two many of these Richard Curtis meets British Meryl Streep movies, (That's still just Richard Curtis meets Maggie Smith, I hope you guys know what I mean.) and it's just work me thin. There was a montage in Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind" there was a montage of him, going to Princeton, not working or teaching or just being a strange figure that just acts weirdly and hangs around writing equations on the walls, and other obtuse things; that segment was meant to represent the part of his career where he was known as "The Phantom of Fine Hall", where he was still recovering from his schizophrenia but hadn't completely gotten well enough to teach and communicate with students yet. It was a montage 'cause while it was a huge, important section of his life, not much happened. This movie feels a bit like a feature-length version of that section of John Nash's life to me, and it's not horrible or anything, and more stuff happens, presumably, but is it really a film worth seeking out for? (Shrugs) Would you rather hear about John Nash's entire life or just the one section where not that much happened?
LILA & EVE (2015) Director: Charles Stone III
Charles Stone III seems like a name that's been more ever-present among the African-American film community to me, than he probably actually is. I'm actually a bit shocked and kind of confused to check his Imdb.com page to find that he hasn't directed a feature-length film in over a decade until "Lila & Eve". Except for a short, a few episodes of television shows and TV documentary about TLC, he hasn't done much directing. I'm not, quite sure why, I haven't seen "Drumline" or "Paid in Full" yet, but I've heard quite a few people talk about those films mostly positively and I myself enjoyed his last film, the Bernie Mac comedy, "Mr. 3000". Now, he comes out with "Lila & Eve", and, well there's no real way to sugarcoat this, but this film was terrible. It's not horrible on concept, but it's basically some strange shallow fantasy about grieving mothers of dead sons, who decide to take the law into their own hands. "Death Wish" meets "Menace II Society", only not nearly as interesting as that would sound. The two mothers, are the titular Lila (Viola Davis) and Eve (Jennifer Lopez) two mothers who meet at a 12-step ground for women who've had a son murdered, mostly through gang violence. Lila's son Stephon (Aml Ameen) was killed by a local kingpin. Eve convinces Lila after a meeting to go and visit the intersection where her son was killed and soon enough, seemingly by accident, they up becoming murdering vigilantes. Lila tries to hold together what's left of her family and job but in the meantime, Eve keeps coaxing and getting her more and more investigating of her son's death and the general underworld of the area that led to Stephon's murder, and gunning them all down. (Sigh) There's a decent idea here, but you gotta really handle it well and really know how to handle it. Even the best movies of this genre, few of them are really great, in fact, I'm not really sure I can argue that any of them are, but there is a level here. "The Brave One" comes to mind as one, that's as outlandish as this one, but still seems plausible enough and gives it's story the correct amount of seriousness for that film. This film, not only does it just look and feel overly dark in general, the lighting choices here are somewhat questionable, but there's nothing intriguing or new here, unless you didn't think that Viola Davis could give a bad performance. Yeah, I see people bashing Lopez's work here as well, which, yeah, but her character's so preposterous: I'm not sure how to play it right. Maybe Sharon Stone could've done it 20 years ago? But, I didn't think Davis's work was any good here either. At least her character, was somewhat of an actual character and a real plausible human being, but it's still nothing that she shouldn't have been able to pull in her sleep, and yet still, there's a few moments of her, where I'm wondering what she's doing. Still, this was bad, straight from the page. I get the temptation to make a vigilante movie like this, but from a story perspective, they're rarely good, and this is really one of the worst and most forgettable and uninteresting ones I've seen. This is another one of those movies where the plot twist at the end is so blatantly obvious and so early in the competition that you're basically just waiting around for the film to end, if you can stay awake through the scenes that don't have gunfire in them.
MAN UP (2015) Director: Ben Palmer
I was gonna give this a negative review, but, eh, it's just a little meet cute romance and frankly we don't have enough of those around, (And most of them recently are just really awful straight-to-DVD garbage bin bad) I'd rather see more good ones but, eh, this was okay. It doesn't really work. I tweeted rather vaguely about watching this film a little while back, mentioning that I was just gonna comment on how I loved the soundtrack until, during the climax they played Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again", which, for those who aren't familiar, I can't stand how overplayed that song is; check my Top Ten Most Undeservedly Overplayed Songs on Classic Rock Radio List in my Top Tens tab at the top of the page. Anyway, the fact that I was paying attention to the soundtrack, probably more than I should've should be a red flag on how interesting the rest of the film is. But again, up until then, it was a pretty decent soundtrack. So, the main character is Nancy (Lake Bell) a 30something complete fuck-up who her family desperately wishes would clean herself up or at least, have a somewhat decent relationship, whichever comes first. Currently, she's supposed to be on a blind date, but is instead drinking the contents of her hotel room's minibar. She eventually, tries to have fun, but yeah, it doesn't work and she then has to take a train with her parents Burt & Fran (Ken Stott and Harriet Walker) as there's a family getogether she's supposed to attend, and bring something, but she never gets that done, plus, she's also supposed to go on another blind date that a friend set-up, but there's a pretty meet cute with her and Jack (Simon Pegg) who's supposed to meet someone else on his own blind date. She, decides to play along, because, eh, why not, and they turn out to have a good time together. You can probably figure out the steps of this story, ahead of time if you really wanted to, but actually, it's still got an interesting twist or two here and there, nothing that's too outside the genre expectation, but it more or less flows from one situation to another fairly well. And Lake Bell and Simon Pegg, are wonderfully delightful in these parts, particularly Lake Bell; she's one of the best actresses around for these kind of roles right now and she doesn't get these roles enough. This is her first leading role since "In a World..." a wonderfully delightful indy film that she wrote and directed herself. Glad to see her recognized and they pull off what would've been shaky material in the wrong. So, yeah, I can forgive a Whitesnake song on the soundtrack to enjoy this rom-com, despite a few squirmy moments. We need more decent rom-coms anyway.
SUNSHINE SUPERMAN (2015) Director: Marah Straugh
Carl Boenish is the man credited with inventing, or at least popularizing BASE Jumping. I never really thought of jumping off of high places as being something that needed to be invented, but yeah, I guess somebody had to be first. BASE, is actually an acronym, for Building, Antenna, Span and Earth, the four large heights in which somebody must jump off of to officially be a BASE jumper, and Boenish was the first to accomplish this, as well as the first to publicize this sport, and also the first really document it. He was also a videographer and was one of the ones that found ways to film skydiving, from the perspective of a skydiver. He even worked on John Frankenheimer's film "The Gypsy Moths". The documentary "Sunshine Superman" is about him, and it's okay. Not great by any means however. He died after making a very sudden and unexpected base jump off a mountain that most everyone thought he wouldn't and shouldn't have jumped off of. That's part of what makes base jumping so much more dangerous than sky diving, believe it or not, because even though sky diving is from a greater height, jumping on a mountain or a building, means you're at a lower height, and falling, essentially right next to a large object that, if you fall wrong, or jump wrong could easily kill you. I think the movie was supposed to be about his life, it had interviews, most of them somewhat interesting especially with his wife, although I think it also tried to mostly be about BASE jumping in general and that was okay too, but, everything was vague. I mean, okay you like BASE jumping and the short history was sorta interesting and it seems like Boenish was an interesting guy, but was he? The documentary is pretty short; only a little over 80 minutes and it was either tryiug too much into that time, or tried to find other things to pad the movie with to get to that time, I'm not sure which, but the movie was all over the place and erratic in general. There's nothing wrong with it, but I can't say it's worth recommending. Boenish's own footage that the movie showed a lot of was really cool, on it's own, but it's kinda like those Youtube clips of people doing similar things now, you're mostly not impressed as you are, concerned at how crazy they are, although Boenish doesn't himself seem crazy, neither did anybody else in the movie. I think if the movie wanted to focus more on the thrill of BASE Jumping and a look at the people who do it, I would've enjoyed it more, similar to other extreme sports documentaries like "Steep" for instance, or a lot of the recent mountain climbing documentaries out there. Yeah, that's the other thing, there's too many other films of this general genre out there that are better and more interesting.
FINDERS KEEPERS (2015) Director: Bryan Carberry & J. Clay Tweet
This isn't by any means a perfect analogy or anything, but you can essentially take most documentaries and categorize them the same way that we categorize sections of the newspaper. Some are headlines, major news stories, politics, some are sports, some could be weather, some are in the living section, some are in the editorials, etc. "Finders Keepers" is one of those that would probably be found in the "News of the Weird" section. The movie is about two people, the first one is Shannon Whisnant, a junk dealer, who one day bought a storage unit in an auction, and inside a barbecue grill, he found a human foot. This could've been the fifth strangest episode of "Storage Wars" but the story just begins, because this led to a dispute over ownership, of the foot, between Whisnant and it's original owner John Wood. To be honest, it's actually kind of an interesting case, 'cause not all laws regarding to property ownership of body parts have actually been written yet. I can actually think of one famous incident of somebody stealing a corpse for instance, a famous celebrity in fact, Gram Parsons, and the perpetrators, who were friends of his trying to give him his last requests about his death, were charged only with stealing the casket, 'cause stealing a corpse wasn't a crime, so, this is actually intriguing. On top of that, these are two interesting characters, for very different reasons. Wood, has had a difficult life; he lost his foot in a plane accident that ended up in him also losing his father, while he's always suffered numerous financial and personal foes over his life, including drug addiction. Whisnant is an eccentric who dreams of being famous and thinks that, finding this foot is the key to his fame and tries to exploit it every way possible, first by selling the right to see the grill the foot was stolen in, on top of numerous other press events and interviews, while fighting for the right of the foot, which he claims, somewhat legitimately that he bought and therefore should own. Wood also went into the showboating and business side of this for a bit, especially when he was deep into addiction, but eventually, they both decided to have there case settled on an episode of "Judge Mathis", but even then, their stories didn't end. Mathis got Wood some addiction treatment and his original plans for the foot, and why he was preserving it started to take effect, thanks to some caring locals. Whisnant tried everything to remain famous, including making an appearance or two on a reality series, but eventually the pseudo-fame he was getting was beginning to blind him. He ran for President this past election; he's also had some recent arrests, and as the documentary progress, his life definitely turned upside down and his good-natured behavior seemed to devolved. By the end of the movie, he had sworn to take the grill and throw it into the Ocean, fearing it was bad luck. "Finders Keepers" is definitely an unusual and entertaining documentary, way more than I thought it would be. It followed these guys for years, and the fascinating parallel lives they led was way more intriguing than I could've ever expected. "Finders Keepers" does what I think "News of the Weird"-style docs should do, and that's find the deeper story within the crazy story, and it really accomplished it. These are two of the most memorable characters on film this year and-eh, it'd be interesting to see where they end up in the future.