Thursday, March 30, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS #133: "13TH", "DEEPWATER HORIZON", "AMERICAN HONEY", "KEANU", "TRAIN TO BUSAN", "THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK-THE TOURING YEARS", "THE FITS", "HOOLIGAN SPARROW", "I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER", "GOOSEBUMPS", and "A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND (aka X+Y)"!

Hey Everyone, we're back with movie reviews! Yeah! I know, it's been awhile. I delayed a bit 'cause I finally took a vacation for the first time, in a long time. Like, last century, is the last time I traveled out of town like that. Air travel, has definitely gotten worst. First things, first, Frontier Airlines are terrible. Traveling from Vegas to Philly, which had a seven-hour layover in Denver btw, so I won't be using that travel agent again. (Although the airport was nice, and everybody there seems really cool and laid back) But, uh, everything that could've gone wrong, did go wrong, and I barely was able to board both planes, and-ugh. I took Spirit Airlines on the way back, and they sucked too, but compared to Frontier, they were travelling on a cloud. Yeah, they rip you off every chance they get, but Frontier was doing that, only much much worst, and they were absolutely incompetent at everything, so yeah, I'm very pro-Spirit Airlines, very anti-Frontier Airlines. Anyway, I spent two weeks in South Jersey, I went to see some family that I haven't seen in years! I did a few things that were cool, went to Philly a bunch of times, saw some of the places, at some great cheesesteaks. The food overall was great back east, I don't know why, they do food so much better. Saw a Penn/Harvard basketball game at the Polestra, that was awesome. Also caught a Flyers game, that was pretty cool too, even though they loss. I also spend a day in Washington D.C. took a Greyhound, which is a thousand times better than MegaBus, the Frontier Airlines of the bus industry! Ugh, but went to see some old friends down there. We went to the Lincoln Memorial, I got to see Union Station. I only had a day, so that was basically it. Lot of walking in D.C. shockingly, I didn't realize that would be a thing, but it was, and that's okay. So that was a lot of travel to and fro too, went to see my friend in Virginia and slept on her and her fiance's couch for the day. Virginia seems nice btw. So yeah, I was busy, although mostly I was relaxing and hanging back. I bought a souvenir or two, but my family is South Jersey people and I love Philadelphia and I just hadn't gotten back up in so long; it was really nice, enjoyable. Lot of snow, which you don't see much of out here in the desert, but-, Anyway, I took it easy, did some writing as well, on my blog and elsewise, sure, it was a working vacation, they all are for writers anyway, but I needed my batteries recharged and I got them, so, hopefully I'll try doing that again sooner rather than later. I miss so much of it already.... Not the fucking Frontier Airlines though. That I don't miss. Seriously, they fucking sucked and were absolutely awful. And god, airline travel has so gone downhill. I know, they're crunched and whatnot, ugh. I swear, I would rather travel by Greyhound next time and travel across country, that's how bad they were. (Greyhound was better than Spirit too btw, but eh, they seem to be trying, and they felt like they cared so...)

Anyway, I've seen a lot of movies in the meantime, I didn't have time to review "Addiction Incorported" which is a nice doc about the tobacco industry. I also got to "I Am Ali" a documentary about Muhammad Ali, which seemed to ironically be about everybody else's experience with Ali, curiously enough. It was okay. I also got around to Michael Winterbottom's "The Look of Love" about Paul Raymond, the so-called UK's Hugh Hefner, who was played by Steve Coogan. I normally look forward to the Winterbottom/Coogan movies, both "The Trip" films as well as "24 Hour Party People" and "Tristam Shandy: A Cock & Bull Story" are some of my favorite films they've done, but-um, this one, just wasn't up to those levels. I was really disappointed with the movie actually. It was done more as a straight biopic and I kept waiting for Coogan to turn to the camera and explain everything in more detail, and you can kinda tell he wanted to, but it didn't go that way. That's a shame too, 'cause I think the movie would've benefited from that. I'm not sure why they went in this direction instead.

Anyway, I'm back, and I'm rejuvenated, jetlag's worn off, let's get to it! Time for MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting off with the Oscar-nominated features, "13th" and "Deepwater Horizon"!



13TH (2016) Director: Ava DuVernay

★★★★1/2



A few minutes into "13th" and I was yelling at the screen. Not because of anything incorrect or wrong, or bad that's being done or said or portrayed in the film, but because of how frustrating and distressingly accurate it is. I'm not learning anything new in this new from Ava DuVernay's documentary, "13th"; maybe others will. That's not really relevant to be honest, all this movie is, is frankly another detailing of history, mostly modern history, nothing that everybody shouldn't have long already known, and if you didn't, it wasn't that hard to look up and read about. Much of it, I've lived through, some of which I didn't. "13th" isn't about the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, it's about, one element of it. Six words, ... "...Except as a punishment for crime...", that part. Other than that, the article expresses how slavery and involuntary servitude are outlawed and essentially everyone in America is free. Whatever that means. It's the loophole, that allows us to, make criminals out of people; it's a loophole we've been using for years, not even just against African-Americans, going back to the Chinese Exclusion Act, going back..., going back..., going back.... and yes, how the modern-day incarnation, as I should say, the modern-day incarceration of that is basically, we've incarcerated over 2.3 million of our citizens, mostly African-American and other minorities, into the prison systems of this country, for long and extended periods of time, for laws ranging from loitering and vagrancy back in the Reconstruction days as depicted in D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation", to transporting an ounce of crack cocaine, not powder, crack cocaine, which by the way, chemically there's no distinct difference between them other than the form, for decades at a time. I'm not saying that some of these laws should be, disregarded, but simply put, that's not justice. You'll hear other terms you've probably heard dozens if not thousands of times before, "War on Crime", "Mandatory Minimums", many of them, came from laws and a prison expansion system that was advocated and enforced by Presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., yes, Clinton, who, maybe, as much as I admire him, did more irrevocable damage than the rest combined with one 1994 Crime Bill that even he admits now was a mistake. Hell, many Republicans concede that mistake now; I can't help but look at Newt Gingrich being interviewed, one of several talking heads in the documentary, regretting and speaking thoughtfully on the subject. (Grover Norquist, seems more out-of-touch and desperate to rewrite history more than anybody, however.) If there is something or someone here that I'll probably look closer into, it's when they decide to finally bypass the history lesson and talk about ALEC, which is the American Legislative Exchange Council, the group most famous or infamous depending on how you want to look at it; they're the ones that draft much of the Conservative legislation that gets placed into law, mostly through state, but they're also heavily funded by conservative corporations, many of them, have a financial interest in keeping the model of the incarceration system we have now. Yeah, it's not just the 14th Amendment that corporations have perverted in this country. It's a daunting enemy to face in order to change, although despite what some recent events may indicate, we have inched our way closer to changing. Several corporations left ALEC, although a few still fund them, the CCA, which is the largest prison industrial complex left, but the system is inherently racist and through such laws and loopholes since the amendment was adapted, the institutionalizing of Black people has only continued and only grown. One thing that Director Ava DuVernay, who directed "Selma" a couple years ago, brings up that we have more than ever, is the power to show the world what's happening at our disposal. There's a montage at the end of the movie, which shows video footage taken of several young African-American men, being killed by police, each one with the graphic stating that the footage is being used, under the permission of the deceaseds' families. Much like Emmett Till's mother, insisting on an open casket, the images must be spread. 28 years ago, Michael Moore's film "Roger & Me", got some criticism because it included a scene where one of the subjects he interviews is shown killing and skinning a rabbit, which she would sell either as a pet, or in this case, for food, he commented that, for all the controversy that that scene got, nobody noticed the part of the movie where he showed an African-American shot and killed by police. You damn well notice it here, we can't help but to not notice it quite frankly.

"13th" will make you pissed off, angry, make you want to scream, make you want to get up and stand up, and insist and demand change, and accountability on those who have gone out of their way to oppress and dehumanize the nation through the criminal justice system, and make you feel a little hopeless that anything can ever really change, but hopeful enough to know that someday it will, but, it won't be easy. It's one of the few movies of this kind, that reminds us that the fight doesn't end simply when this system crumbles, 'cause one will someone reemerge from the ashes later on, and the battle will continue that way. The trick, I believe, is to not let small victories blind us from the fact that you can never stop fighting for the larger even after it seems like it's been accomplish. How Sisyphean, I know, but.... If there truly is one message in "13th" it's that, fear is the real enemy. The manufactured fears of those who were willing to go along with these laws and conditions, and the fear of those who are willing and even wish to combat it, but might not, because of the possibilities of getting hurt more than they are now, or that they might not be strong enough, or that the change we so desperately need won't come. Overcoming fears of others and within ourselves is the first step towards humanization and the first giant step, into ending the incarceration crises.


DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016) Director: Peter Berg

★★★



Have-, have we been giving Peter Berg too much of a pass? I'm reluctant to say that, 'cause I'm not sure he's made anything, bad, per se. Well, okay, I haven't seen "Battleship" yet, so maybe he has. Anyway, his true breakthrough as a director was his third feature, "Friday Night Lights", which is probably still his best movie as well, but, there was always something about that film that, through me off. You see, "Friday Night Lights" was based on a famous nonfiction book by journalist H.G. Bissinger, it's a non-fiction work, and for years before it was made into a movie, it was looked on as the quintessential investigative look at our nation's obsession with high school football, especially in places like Texas where high school games are everything. "FNL" displayed that accurately and it was different than all other sports movies in that regard; it didn't play like a typical sports movie. It was grittier, and dramatic, and compared to "Remember the Titans", which is the movie that it will always be compared to, for better and worst, felt much more realistic while that one, was much more formulaic in structure. I bring it up, 'cause was there something else about that movie that was strange, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but, the fact that is, Berg, almost always seem to be more insistent on documenting and recreating reality than he probably is, structuring a narrative, and it shows. Sure, he can make a blockbuster if he wanted to like "Hancock" for instance, but with "FNL", and couple years ago, "Lone Survivor" and now with this film, "Deepwater Horizon" and "Patriot's Day" it's clear that he's picking a lot of real-life subjects who, not only fascinate him, but he outright loves and admires. They're usually male or male-heavy people who achieve some major physical accomplishment that, is in the act of their normal daily routine or obligation, that sometimes involved them sacrificing their lives. Whether that's playing high school football, or fighting in the Afghan War, or in this case, working on a doomed deepsea oil rig, Peter Berg, is basically a hero-worshipper. There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't necessarily make for a great movies, to come at a subject like that. From a place of admiration and respectfulness. "Deepwater Horizon" is of course the name of the infamous BP oil rig that exploded and led to eleven deaths and several injuries, on top of, the biggest single environmental disaster in history. It's telling that the movie doesn't go into the environmental impact the disaster had on the Gulf Coast, and instead chose to dwell on, the rig workers who were there, and show how and what it actually means when an oil rig, begins to leak oil and break. Honestly, kinda the only real great accomplish of the film, and to be honest, I didn't really know that before. That's the one thing that hero-worshipping can lead to, infatuation, so that, you can learn everything about someone or something and show us in as great a detail as possible, what exactly happened on "Deepwater Horizon". The movie earned two Oscar nomination for Sound Editing and Visual Effects and both nominations are deserved, especially Visual Effects. They might not be the most unique or imaginative effects, but that's not what was needed here, and the effects to an amazing job of informing. And it was intense even though, he know what's about to happen, but yeah, I wouldn't know how an oil rig does break and what that means and we probably should when something as volatile and flammable as oil can explode. The acting is pretty good too by the way, but (Shrugs) yeah, I can't say that the characters are the reason to watch the movie. (Although John Malkovich doing a southern accent is, fascinatingly strange.) They're all well-acted and for all I know portrayed accurately, but if you ask me to give you a name of any of the characters, I couldn't do it. Still, though, for all that I learned and because it's something that deserves to be documented from the perspective it's documented from "Deepwater Horizon" is worth a watch. Just, really wish Peter Berg would come at material from a different perspective.


AMERICAN HONEY (2016) Director: Andrea Arnold

★★★★1/2



Compromising positions. After pondering and trying to get an understanding of "American Honey", for about half of it's 2 hour 40 minute runtime, there came across a scene in which our young heroine, Star (Sasha Lane) has to eat the worm at the bottom of a bottle of Mescal. Why? Well, in order to impress three cowboys, cowboys in the J.R. Ewing sense I might add, who have agreed to buy magazine subscriptions from her, if she eats the worm. She's technically an adult, of course, but being shorter than everyone, less experienced than everyone, and especially old, rich white men, that she, is trying to get something out of, It actually made me think back on a lot of movies about young females recently, including the last Andrea Arnold feature I saw, "Fish Tank". Other than the fact that, at only about 5'6'', I do occasionally, in the wrong setting feel like I'm looking up at people too often, literally quite often, I don't quite know what it feels like to be such a young woman as shown in some of these movies, but in a sense, that's what all these films are about. That, particular unusual state in which girls, are far more used to being in than boys are. And I mean that, with it's double meaning, too. Compromising, both in terms of awkward and uncomfortable, possibly dangerous, and in terms of, deal-making.

Titled after a Lady Antebellum song, "American Honey", Star is eighteen, a young poor girl who watches over two young kids, who belong to a creepy groping ex-boyfriend of her mother, Nathan (Johnny Pierce II). Her mother is long dead from a drug overdose and decides to, nearly on a whim, leave the kids with their actual parent, Misty (Chasity Hunsaker) and accepts a job offer from Jake (Shia LaBeouf) Jake's job, along with everybody else in this group of runaways, rebels, freeloaders, and all-around outcasts is that they sell magazine subscriptions door-to-door. In case you're wondering, this takes place in the present day. I've heard of this profession and based on, what little evidence I can find, it doesn't seem particularly credible and upstanding, and I honestly have no idea who orders magazine subscriptions this way, but apparently they're successful. Oh, Jake, is the groups' best seller, but he isn't the boss, that position belongs to Krystal (Riley Keough). Explaining any of these characters in simplistic terms is gonna be difficult, particularly her, because she only makes sporadic appearances in the movie, but the closest comparison I can come up with, is that she basically runs this operation the same way a pimp would. Not a madam, a female pimp, like, "Hustle & Flow" if they were all powhitetrash. Not a dumb one, at that, either. She's running a small little empire of sellers and let's just say, without giving too much away, I suspect that interpretation is something that occurred to Sasha at one point too. Any person who's ever had to work in sales or branding of any kind, myself included can tell ya, you're not selling a product, you're selling yourself. Double-meaning intended there too. Sasha, soon gets used to the group and the dynamic, although still goes out on her own to sell more often than she should. There's one scene where her and Jake try to sell to a rich Christian housewive's house, and while Jake tries desperately to keep up the charade about selling for points for school or travel, or whatever-the-hell-it-is that house, she can only see the hypocrisy in the house, and how the mother may be trying to sell God to them, the daughter is dancing like Miley Cyrus in the backyard to some Rhianna song. There's a few songs that come up a few times, "American Honey" of course, but "We Found Love" gets brought up a lot, "Dream Baby Dream from Bruce Springsteen as well. They're used as calling cards basically, the kind of thing that happens when a group of people do nothing but travel from town-to-town listening to the radio and trying to find ways to keep themselves entertained.

I'm going, back-and-forth trying to figure out how good a movie this is. It's not as viscerally powerful as Arnold's "Fish Tank" but it's not trying to be. It's an episodic epic that is about the perils of escaping your homelife, not the hell of one troubled youngster's homelife. It reminds me oddly enough of something like "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken" which was just as absurd and ridiculous a story about a young girl running away from home and joining with a traveling group of societal outcasts, The acting is top-notch, even though, outside of LaBeouf and Keough, most of the other actors are fairly new to acting. Sasha Lane, was discovered on Spring Break and auditioned for the film on a lark and got the role and other than that, the only other person who's name I recognize is Arielle Holmes, who wrote and starred in the autobiographical feature "Heaven Knows What" which, actually depicts a much more difficult and treacherous life than this film; she plays a "Star Wars" obsessed magazine seller named Pagan. Make what you wish of that oddly symbolic name choice.  I'm honestly not sure what to make of this movie, it's basically a story of a lost girl who-, well, I guess she finds, something. The ending of the movie, other than the obvious joke that can be made about European directors and films always ending their films with their characters in/near the water, but it's two-sided too, depending on what you think she'll decide to do next, either continue on with the life of selling magazines door-to-door in this makeshift cult-like family of, slightly more elaborate prostitutes, (And, yeah I'm grouping the men in this as prostitutes too, 'cause that's how Krystal basically treats and runs them) or get away and leave them or be tossed out from them, and have to...- well, (Shrugs) well, I don't know what would happen or what she'd do if she doesn't stay, and I doubt she does either. She's got no life to go home to and no life where she's at. She's good at one thing, and one thing only, getting herself into and out of compromising positions.


KEANU (2016) Director: Peter Atencio

★★★



So, I gotta be honest, I like "Key & Peele" fine enough, but as right now, I can't say that I've ever fully embraced them. They definitely come at comedy with a different and unique perspective, and they're definitely funny. I do like their show quite a bit, and Keegan-Michael Key I consider to be a particularly good and talented actor. Although that said, when I heard Dave Chappelle's joke about how he had to stay home and watch do his show for five years, I kinda thought, "Yeah, that's, that's about right." I mean, sure that's not entirely true, they're distinctive enough, they like to play on their background of being mixed race, that's distinctive, and that background definitely puts a different perspective on material that's otherwise well-worn, plus they like to play up the fact that they're some of the nerdiest African-Americans to become famous, even in comedy, so they have that base of appeal out of them. I can see why they're huge and big, but I've always been a little standoffish in terms of fully embracing them. I kinda feel the same way about "Keanu", which is really funny at points, but basically is one of those movies with one main joke, although admittedly, it's a funny joke. So, Jordan Peele is Rell, a stoner who can't drive and has just been dumped. His cousin Clarence (Key) is the one who he calls to get comfort and help. Clarence is a little more, eh, put together, but he's clearly weak, even in the eyes of his wife Hannah (Nia Long) who's out of town on a business trip, and he and Rell really like George Michael. It's a running gag, and it's funny, I don't know why but it's funny. But the real MaGuffin is Keanu, a little kitten that Rell finds and in his fragile state, becomes obsessed with. Keanu is then kidnapped by a gangster named Cheddar (Method Man) and Rell and Clarence decide to try and get him back. This leads to, the rest of the movie, as everybody inevitably wants Keanu, and will go to great over-the-top absurd lengths to get him. It's really, very funny, when you say the bit out loud, in practice, it's a little more hit-and-miss then that. There's great scenes where they, for reasons, decide to try to pretend to be hardcore gangsters in order to impress the other hardcore gangsters, and that's basically the other joke. These are two dorks who are way in over their heads, but they kinda get away with because they're Black, sorta. And by Black, sorta, I mean, in the movie sense, the depiction of African-Americans we typically get. This movie, is basically a response to nearly every other gangster movie out there, both the dramatic ones and the comedic parodies of them. There's some great supporting work here from Will Forte as a white gangster rap loving drug dealer and Tiffany Hadish as one of Cheddar's closest and toughest henchmen. There's also a bizarre, surreal scene with Anna Faris, who's playing herself, for some reason, as a stoned out-of-their-mind celebrity. That's kind of a good in-joke if you've seen Gregg Araki's "Smiley Face", which is another one of those stoner comedies about a stoner who's basically fails miserably at, well, everything she tries to do, but yeah, that's,-, that was weird. Funny but weird. I think the thing that holds this film back for me is that I know, Key & Peele are capable of so much more of so much more and this movie, is cute. It's like, one a nice kitten video on Youtube, it's entertaining and adorable while you're watching it, but if you never see it again, you'll never miss it or remember it later. I haven't Jordan Peele's directorial debut, "Get Out", yet, which is apparently a straight-up horror movie about being an African-American meeting his white girlfriend's family. I've heard good things, but the one, kinda really interesting thing about "Keanu" to me, is actually how similarly nightmarish that premise is. Starts off with something simple, but a main character ends up in a situation that gets scarier and more frightening the longer they're in it; that's basically the plot of "Keanu" as well. Peele is credited as a co-writer on this, and I can see the connections. I'm gonna withhold any other thoughts in that realm until I see that movie, but that's the most interesting part of the movie. The constant nightmarish scenario of having one's identity be their downfall. That's what I think of as Key & Peele's signature approach. In that sense, I'll give "Keanu" a pass, despite it being more disappointing than anything else.


TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016) Director: Sang-ho Yeon

★★★1/2



"Train to Busan", begins solemnly enough with a simple story about a busy father, Seok-woo (Gong Yoo)  and his  daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim)  travelling to see the girl's mother. They don't exactly explain what happened between them, but she lives in Busan, which, is South Korea's second-largest city, and is a major metropolis sort on the very southeast tip of the country, on the Korea Straight across from the Japanese island of Kyushu. (I do take every opportunity to look up geography, don't I?) Anyway, the girl is determined and he owes he owes her a visit, and they can use the time together travelling on the bullet train to get to know each other a bit. There's a lot of movies like that being made in Far East Cinema lately, and I've enjoyed most of them and this one looked promising.

Then, a zombie movie breaks out. Okay, that's a bit, odd, but, fine, could be an interesting, different approach...- I really wish I knew that was coming before I watched this, 'cause that was a bit of a bait-and-switch for me.

Anyway, so, yeah, "Train to Busan" is sorta like iF "Snowpiercer" was a zombie movie, and wasn't ridiculously stupid. Anyway, there's been something that happened, and zombies have begun overtaking the city, and they've, um, a few have boarded the train and begin-, um, they begin, to attack. Sorry, give me a second here. (Clears throat) The-eh, the zombes, at-tack, um...- uh,...- um...- I'm sorry, who made this film again? (Looks back at top of article) Sang-ho Yeon? I'um, I'm not familiar with him, have I seen anything he's done?

(Looks up filmmaker)

Uh, he's an animator. Okay, that's something, haven't seen his films though. Seems to have made zombies a motif before,...-, okay. Anyway, sorry. Uh, the zombies, they-uh, um, um- (Deep breath)  Um, anything important about his personal life? Anything interesting, I should know? Nothing on Imdb? , Uh, how about Wikipedia? (Searches....) No, nothing? Um, any other sites... (Searches more) Interviews, profiles?  Huh, um, I'm not finding much. (Sigh, continues searching) No, I'm not finding what I'm looking for here...- Uh,...- (Sigh, quiet)

(long thinking pause, David struggles to write anything for a few minutes before taking a deep breath full of frustration)

Okay, I-, I'm- I'm just gonna have to say this,  'cause there's no way I can get pass this-, there's a few movies that-, no, wait, I'll get to that at the end. Um, look, the way, the zombies are attacking the humans in this movies, the running and the grabbing of the full body, the tackling, the mouths open at all-time, trying to bite at will, um, this is very similar, creepy similar to how my brother attacks me, when he's in the middle of an episode. I've talked about this before, but for those who are unfamiliar, I watch my autistic brother every day. You can read about it; I've discussed it a couple of my past blogs before, some of the more elaborate posts are below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2012/08/why-ill-never-watch-temple-grandin_19.html
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2015/07/the-worst-thing-about-having-autistic.html

Ye-ah, I-eh...-, I don't want to read more into this, than I think there is, but it's-, it's very similar, distressingly similar in fact, and I have the bite marks and scratches and scars to prove it, and when he, my brother's,  in a bad mood, this is what it looks and feels and seems like, when he decides to suddenly spring himself on me or whoever, (At least when he's not biting his own finger and attacking, which usually means I'm trying to grab his arm down so he stops biting his finger, which is when he will often start trying to bite men) and that's really, um, tainting my view on this movie. That's the reason for why I was searching a bit more, but as far as I can tell, I can't find any indication that that's what the director was going for, or that he has experience with this, although his movies, from what I can gather, do seem very personal to him, and I'm not gonna lie, the idea that zombies can be used as a allegory for having to deal with an autistic relative, and how that can overwhelm and eventually suck everybody into the world of the syndrome/disease/condition/whatever word you want to use, that's-, that's actually not a bad reading of this movie, but I don't think it's an intentional one, and I don't want to do a disservice and judge it on that basis.

That- this, happens to everybody to some extent I'm sure to some degree, but because of this, there are certain movies that I have a difficult time discussing for one reason or another, 'cause of how personal they can be. Hell, I recently refused to give a rating score to "Life, Animated" but that was a documentary, that's naturally gonna push some personal buttons, but it rarely happens to me in regular films as well. For instance It took me years to realize just how awful, "Mercury Rising" is as a film, 'cause of how accurately it portrayed an autistic little boy, and to this day, there's a scene in "The Miracle Worker", that most everybody else who watches it, laughs but just horrifies and frightens me, 'cause I've been through similar situations enough times before, so...- yet, I guess add "Train to Busan" to this list, and that's gonna be a difficult to truly analyze this for me.

That said, giving it my best shot here, if there is another reading of the movie that I'm missing because of this, I don't see it. I'm recommending it, 'it's  a good movie and it's very well-made for a director making his first live-action film, but that said, I don't see it as anything more than a normal zombie movie. At least, structurally, it's not. It's basically, group of people trying to outrun the zombies and not get attacked, and this time, instead of, being locked up in a house or traveling some other way, they are themselves, stuck on a train, hoping that, the outbreak doesn't get to, wherever they're heading, Busan being the end of the line. It's an interesting twist, but as a zombie movie, whatever personal things I might observe in the movie, I don't really see much of it that doesn't make it more elevated than the genre per se, other than great craftsmanship. That's, generally not enough for me, but it's very well-made and powerful, and the characters, they're not entirely stupid either, they're thinking through the situations the best they can, so, yeah, I don't think it's more than a zombie movie, but it's a very good zombie movie.


THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK-THE TOURING YEARS (2016) Director: Ron Howard

★★★1/2



So, when I took a Rock'n'Roll History class back in college, which, by the way, if you have the opportunity to do that, absolutely do it. It's fun, it's a great easy  class, eats up a couple electives, totally worth it, but anyway, my Professor said that he had met two people in his lifetime who had seen The Beatles performing live. When he asked them about the experience, they both said, simply, that everybody was screaming at the top of their lungs and that they could barely hear the band perform. Oh, having a rock'n'roll history class probably isn't advisable to watch this movie, although i suspect a lot of people already know quite a bit about, you know, the greatest rock band of all-time, so....- "...The Touring Years" is a look at The Beatles, through old footage, starting from their earliest, pre-fame days, most notably their touring of Germany before hitting it big in England, And then, of course, Beatlemania. It's actually cool to see so much of the footage of their performing, and where they went. We, as Americans know about the Fab Four coming to America for the first time in February on '64 and appearing on Ed Sullivan but I didn't realize it was only a ten-day tour of the U.S. and off they were back home and elsewhere, and how their continues and ever-growing fame seemed to keep exploding. It's actually kinda surreal watching it now, seeing sometimes hundreds of people hospitalized at concerts for trying to just get up closer to the group. You know, as  much as I love The Beatles, seeing them so hugely popular, is strange. The Beatles early work is of course great, but it's hard to see, in hindsight why it would've gotten this popular, based on the songs they sang. They weren't exactly unusual topic-wise and sound-wise, who knows. Yet, when you actually see The Beatles, and how they talk and interact with others and each other, it does seem to make sense. They're funny together and they're quirky, witty, observant, caring. The movie interviews a lot of the people you'd expect and a few others you probably wouldn't expect. I like Whoopi Goldberg's stories about seeing the band at Shea Stadium, but, it still feels odd. The movie was directed by Ron Howard, who of course was coming to age right around the time The Beatles became popular, and the movie does seem more or less like a fan appreciation piece than much else. That said, it's The Beatles and there's so much of the band to look over and analyze and go over, that a closer look at just the band, at the peak of their fame and see the process of their creativity and it places much of their music into new and fascinating contexts. I don't know if I would enjoy this film as much if I wasn't interested in The Beatles so much. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but I don't really think there's too much that's special or unique. I've seen quite a few Beatles documentaries over the years and there's better ones out there to me. I can't say, don't watch it, but I think the people most enjoyed by the movie probably won't have much need to see it, while those who probably should, might not enjoy it as much. I don't know, maybe watch it, and then, get a copy of "Rubber Soul" to make them listen or something.


THE FITS (2016) Director: Anna Rose Holmer

★★★★1/2



I've spent the last few hours trying to figure out exactly how to approach "The Fits" the debut feature from Anna Rose Holmer. It's-, it's definitely one of the more unique and fascinating films out there, and I really don't have a solid idea how to discuss it. They two words that pop up the most, are "magical realism", which, this movie definitely is, but that seems a bit too simplistic. I've seen comparisons to Celima Schiamma, one of my favorite filmmakers, I can understand that, especially considering how Schiamma's major theme is teenage girl outsiders struggling to find their own selves, but she's never struck me as much of a surrealist, at least not as a director; she's done some writing of other films that might qualify, but...- Anyway, "The Fits" follows eleven-year-old Toni. (Royalty Hightower, which, let's get this out of the way, is an absolutely awesome name.) She's an athletic little girl, who we first see training as a boxer with her older brother Jermaine (Da'Sean Minor). She then notices on the other side of the gym, a few girls training for their local dance team, and decides to try that out instead. So, yeah, I guess you can see this as a gender-flipped, "Billy Elliot", but it's not about the dancing, although there's a lot of it, and a lot of montages of her and the other girls training and practicing and getting better and better. (In fact, come to think of it, I'm not sure we ever even see Toni's parents, which, it's fine, it's her own life, and she's clearly strong and independent, so, it didn't bother.) Then, however, a few of the dancer start getting sick. In a particular way. While this is Holmer's first feature film, she's been working in film for awhile, and while the obvious place to go with these random "The Fits" they call them, where the girls start staring up into space and then go into uncontrollable spasms and outbreaks, seem to be linked to contaminated drinking water in the gym itself, and to make this a Flint, Michigan parable, I'm not sure about that. For one, Flint, or any location is listed by name, and the location they shot in, from what I can gather, appears to be Cincinnati, but also, this is apparently, a thing? She first heard about it while working as a producer on the documentary, "Ballet 422", which is infamously documentary for me, 'cause I absolutely hated that movie, and it made my Top Ten Worst Films List last year, but looking it up, this is not a unique phenomenon. There's incidents of similar Mass Psychogenic Illnesses or MPIs happening with dance troupes before, and recently, and this movie, I guess could be about one such, anomaly. It never fully explained what causes these fits, but it's made clear that they're happening, they don't the reason for them, and drinking water is the main culprit, but Toni, probably suspects it's something more like this. That it's some kind of spiritual recharge or reaction to obsessive dance training. Which, is definitely also probably, professional dancers don't get that good overnight, and anybody who overloads their creative and physical mindset with an artistic obsession can perhaps completely break down one day. Hell, "Shine" was essentially about that and most people consider that a beloved film. Still, though, the main aspect of the movie isn't what it's about, hell, explaining this just took a lot of research, it's how it's about it. And Holmes takes a surrealist and poetic approach that's quite unique. I guess Benh Zeitlin's "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is probably the closest in terms of aesthetics for what this movie is going for, but in terms of emotional appeal, the movie feels more Jim Jarmusch to me, especially naval-gazing reflection on society Jarmusch. I can easily see Holmer making a different version of "Only Lovers Left Alive" sometime in the near future and getting away with it. I guess, the hardest thing to getting a crack on is that, this film is so unusual subject matter-wise and approach, that I don't have a clear idea on how to look at it. I think I'll take a better look at it, some time in the future, after Anna Rose Holmer makes more movies, perhaps it'll make more sense then.


HOOLIGAN SPARROW
(2016) Director: Nanfu Wang

★★★★★




Ye Haiyan, is a badass. She's the subject matter in the documentary, "Hooligan Sparrow" which is an alias she's know as, but she's not what the movie is about. Ye Haiyan, is the famed artist and sex rights advocate most famous, for going to work at a brothel, for free, to anyone who was poor and in a migrant position in society. In case you're wondering, while I live in Nevada and know the brothels in my state are pretty well kept places, the legal ones anyway, the ones in China, yeah, they're not like that. She's in favor of legalized prostitution, and she often uses nudity and other graphic images in her protests and basically she gets attention and oftentimes gets results. Director Nanfu Wang, went to China and followed her for about a year, and it's her, who is the real star of this guerrilla documentary. The first place we see her go, is to protest outside a middle school, where six girls between the ages of 11 and 14, were raped by the school Principal and another government official. They were, taken out of class, and found later in a hotel room the Principal took them too. Despite this, at first the police said that their wasn't any evidence that they were raped and no charges were filed. A few days later, one of the parents of the little girl, she released a photo of stained panties to the press, where the girl had been bleeding for four days. That, made the officials look silly and eventually charges started coming. To understand this crime in context, you have to understand the corruption in the Chinese government, and to some extent the way women are generally looked upon in the country as well, cause, as ridiculous as this crime sounds, this wasn't unusual. To paraphrase "Casablanca", in China, human life is cheap. My initial instinct, is to think, that on top of everything else, the Principal was stupid for taking kids out of class, and to the hotel room, as gifts to the other government official, but no, that's not stupidity, that's arrogance. He presumed he's higher up in society and he can and should get away with it, and he almost did, and others do. Still, though, that's not the subject of the documentary, the film is a look inside the country, from the perspective of one of it's biggest political dissidents. We even see and hear them when Ye Haiyan is taken away by Police and threatened and we see Nanfu herself, put into positions where her life and footage is in danger. She doesn't reveal exactly how she got this footage out of China, but at one point, her life is threatened and the cops are after her as well. And by cops, I mean both the regular cops and the Secret Police, many of which, we see photographed by Wang, as they're looking at her, and of course Ye. This movie is an inside look at the protest and propaganda machine, but also an inside look at the treatment of dissidents in China, from the perspective of the filmmaker, who by filming a purported dissident, is now herself a dissident. Everyone's constantly followed, people are held in jail for days or even years without trials. They have no protection, and their lawyers are constantly filling out wrongful arrests reports. When she's free for a moment, she's hounded by reporters asking about her experiences and protests, and how she's captured the nation's imagination, and the next moment, she's and her 13-year-old daughter are being evicted. One photograph of her stuff out on the street, after her latest eviction, was recreated, with her original own pieces of furnture in New York by Ai Weiwei, another controversial China artist/protester. If "13th"'s message is about how everyone has a camera to document the corruption and crimes in America, then "Hooligan Sparrow" is about the cost of that freedom and just how difficult and dangerous it is in other parts of the world to be one of the protesters and maybe more difficult is documenting such dissent accurately. Every moment, every shot that's taken, the filmmakers are in fear, and we feel that fear. "Hooligan Sparrow" is one of the most startling films and documentaries I've seen this year, and one of the most powerful. One of those films that's absolutely essential; it needed to be made, and yet the fact that it got made at all, is itself one of the most amazing things ever accomplished in recent cinema.


I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (2016) Director: Billy O'Brien

★★★1/2



Well, that's exactly the kind of thing a serial killer would say, isn't it? (Screw you, I like that joke.)

Anyway, this movie, confused me. I like the idea of a sociopath with serial killer tendencies trying to save others from a real, active serial killer; I mean, I saw it work on "Dexter", which I think in hindsight was pretty damn good even during it's later season, but something was off about this, and then looking it up, I realize that this was adapted from a YA novel. Oh boy. You see, I'm of the generation, that came right before the modern incarnation of Young Adult Novels boom, so my recollection usually aren't good, but I could see some of the hints of more my era of that kind of writing in this. Personally, my rule was that, if you were old enough to be called a "young adult" than you were probably too old for "Young Adult" books. Lately, I don't think that's as true, but keep in mind, this post "Harry Potter"-boom in the genre is very recent. My classes were still reading things like "The Outsiders" even though that was like fifteen years after the bad movie about it was made. I generally ignored this book section, and I think with a few exceptions, and ironically I'll be talking about one of them a little later in this blogpost, my generation at least, didn't really read them and they weren't that good when you did. The only people I know who read these books on their own were people who read everything, and since I'm an exact audio-visual learner, I vastly preferred to watch film and television instead, and it's not like I was inclined to reading to begin with. Rest assured I read a lot, but, not this genre. I tend to read more non-fiction, even today, unless it's something I feel I should take a look to at least say I have an opinion on. Anyway, that's my mindset, and "I Am Not a Serial Killer" is definitely not something I'm going to seek out in it's novel form, but I kinda liked the movie anyway. The main character is a teenager, John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records), he's got serial killer tendencies. The school shrink tells him that, as well as everyone else. And, he's obsessed with serial killers. He works with his mother, April (Laura Fraser) who's an undertaker. Yeah, I can see the jokes already on how this is a bit "Six Feet Under" meets "Dexter".. No, Michael C. Hall, though, instead we get, a string of murders that seem suspicious, and an old man who John suspects did it, Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). He's a bit too old to pull off some of the strange murders, but, there's an explanation for that, and who he is/was and how he's eluded capture until now. Smartly, Crowley calls the cops at one point, who he also kills. So, it's all up to this mopey sociopathic teenager, to save the town from a real serial killer. I won't give away much more, needless to say that the movie does have some twists and turns in it, and despite it being a bit of a mixed bag in terms of tone, but there's more than enough to recommend. It's a good concept, even if it's not particular as strange or unique as they think it is, the story itself is interesting enough to keep my interest and is a good take on it. I've seen some people, make an argument about how, the main character, isn't necessarily as serial-killer-ish as he or the story claims, well, A. He's not a serial killer, did you see the title? and B. I kinda buy into it. I've done some research on sociopathic behaviors before, 'cause it is something that fascinates me, and I do like the idea of the struggle of a character trying to be and act more human, while knowing inside that he's not. I think it's hard to get that dynamic on film completely right, but I also know how difficult that can be, so I can appreciate the attempt. Serial killer tendencies doesn't make someone a serial killer, and that's actually a good kind of person I want trying to catch them, the same way it's better for drug addicts running drug treatment programs and being peoples' sponsors, because they've been through it and know what the addiction is like. Find somebody who thinks like a serial killer, and they're probably more likely to catch a serial killer when given the chance; I buy that. So, it's a mixed review, but there's a lot of good ideas here, that are interestingly approached and done well enough, and the way they end up taking down the killer is pretty epic, I gotta say. That was inventive.


GOOSEBUMPS
(2015) Director: Rob Letterman



Alright, what am I reviewing?

(Gets handed DVD)

Oh, crap. (Sigh) Well, I guess I had to eventually get to this sooner or later. So, in more evidence that nobody seems to give a shit about anything nostalgic that I give a shit about, we have a "Goosebumps" movie. Okay, I do remember "Goosebumps" and them becoming really popular as a kid, but I never read them. I don't really know why; I just wasn't interested in the genre; I didn't like the name "Goosebumps", or the logo, and frankly, since they were really popular, like most things that caught I of course hated it without bothering to try it. I swear, peer pressure, just never worked on me correctly, except that one time I talked about before, where I caved in and watched "Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers", so people would stop making fun of me for not watching it. At least stupid crap like that is stuck in the past, and not relevant today.



(Bangs head against wall multiple times, sits back down, frustrated sigh)

I genuinely despise and hate, most all of you? Why!? WHY!!?!?!? (Deep calming breath) Uh, different rant, we'll save that for another day.

Anyway, in regards to "Goosebumps", uh, you know, as far as I can tell, there's nothing inherently wrong with the series, we certainly had worst at the time, and honestly, I haven't read any of them, but they seem like they were just short little horror stories for kids and I'm okay with that. I liked "Are You Afraid of the Dark?" at that time, and anthology stuff like that; I honestly don't know why I had such a, negative reaction to the trend originally, I really should've given them a chance then and, I think movie could be cool. A nice introduction, an anthology of three or four of the better "Goosebumps" stories, introduce them to a new generation, hopefully intrigue others. Could be like "The Twilight Zone: The Movie" or something like that. I can appreciate that. So, alright, let's give "Goosebumps" a fair chance now. This'll be fun, I'm looking forward to this.

(Twenty minutes in)

Huh? This, is kinda, not what I was expecting. It-eh, doesn't seem to be an anthology movie. The main kid, is Zach (Dylan Minnette) and him and his mother, Gale (Amy Ryan) are moving-, huh, that's a weird spelling for "Gail", him and his mother Gale are moving to Madison, Delaware, which is-, okay? It does sorta feel like a bit like "Eerie, Indiana" to me. Which is not a negative, I loved that show as a kid and it still holds up even today. In fact, why the hell doesn't that show get a movie reboot, that would've made a great movie!? (Seriously, the parts of the past, you guys decide bring back, I-eh, ugh.) Okay, he's the new kid at school, mother's a Principal, kinda embarrassing, I can see that. Annoying new friend named Champ,  (Ryan Lee), girl next door's kinda interesting, Hannah (Odeya Rush). Got a weird, possessive father (Jack Black, really? That's a bit of a weird casting choice for a horror film, but okay.) Alright, eh, it's got the making of a "Rear Window" kind of thing here. Still, feels odd. I don't know, I'm still confused. I guess this isn't an anthology. Oh well. What "Goosebumps" story is this based on, anyway?

(Read back of DVD cover, reads out loud description)

After moving to a small town, Zach Cooper finds a silver lining when he meets the next door neighbor. Hannah, the daughter of bestselling "Goosebumps" author R.L. Stine-  Wait, WHAT!?!!!!

(Continues)

R.L. Stine is very mysterious and a prisoner of his own imagination. The monsters that his books made famous and accidentally unleashed and begin to terrorize the town.... Um, okay, TIMEOUT!

(Timeout symbol with hands)

TIMEOUT! TIMEOUT! Um, okay. I have to re-calibrate my thinking here, again.

(Long pause)

Okay, like I said, I never read the series, but-eh, this-, this seems like a weird-, um. Well, I'll ask anybody, if there are any "Goosebumps" fans out there, was this the movie, you were expecting? Am I, I don't know if there was some kind of storytelling device in "Goosebumps" that makes this more logical, but-eh,-. I'm not saying, this is bad, by the way, it's actually not that horrible, if I'm being completely honest here. I mean, I kinda think this is an interesting idea. An author's creation coming back onto him, and we get to see all the creations, and they do look quite amazing. I'm definitely more interested in knowing about many of these creations now than I was before the movie; I just have a hard time believing that this is the "Goosebumps" movie people were expecting. I'm not normally one for kowtowing for a fanbase, but this just seems like an odd choice. They make some jokes about just how huge R.L. Stine actually is, and yes, he is big, but I don't know if he's big enough for this treatment. I personally don't know that many of these monsters or characters, so to me, this just comes off as though, if you didn't like candy, but you got to tour Willy Wonka's. It'd be cool and awesome and nice, but you know, it's not something you actually enjoy too much. I mean, if this was Steven King, I'd at least know about the characters that are coming at, but I don't know these characters, and I don't think they're as much apart of the cultural mindset and memory

But then again, I'm lying a bit, I did actually enjoy this. I didn't know what was coming up next or how it would manifest itself. Sure, it's just a monster mash, literally, but at least these were different and unique monsters, just coming at us. It was strange, and unique, fun. If this didn't have the name "Goosebumps" on it, and it was just an arbitrary story about a horror writer's characters coming to life, I might actually enjoy it. (Sigh, scratches head, confused)

Do I have a star rating here? I don't quite how to judge this film. It's not what I would've expected or done, but I don't know how to judge it from a perspective of a "Goosebumps" fan, but from my perspective, it was fun, but shallow, like it was an in-joke for people who know something I don't but might like to learn about,

★★1/2

I don't know, I'm conflicted on it; maybe if I wasn't so confused by it, I might've given it a pass, but I just find myself baffled by it, more than anything. R.L. Stine has a cameo, so I guess he was okay with it; it still seems like an obtuse approach to something that would've worked well enough and maybe better with a more obvious straight-forward approach and just tell a "Goosebumps" story, instead of using them as inspiration for a completely secondary and different story. This feels more like a "Goosebumps"-influenced amusement park ride than anything resembling a "Goosebumps" story or movie. Or maybe this is what "Goosebumps" is, and I just wasn't aware of the conceit and turning a narrative inside out as a way to approach an anthology is in tune with the books, but a lot people are gonna be introduced to the series through the movie, it was my first technical introduction, and if I'm just confused by it, I can't imagine what other younger people would be from it. Might be a fun cult movie years from now, but in the meantime, I'm just not seeing it.


A BRILLIANT YOUNG MIND (aka X+Y) (2015) Director: Morgan Matthews

★★1/2



(Sigh) "A Brilliant Young Mind" is a, "based on a true story" about an autistic math prodigy...-

(Long thinking pause)

Actually, that's about all I got.

Oh, there's also a, love, story, sorta involved also. Okay, I'm not being too fair here, but, yeah, this movie, struggles to, be-, just be, really. Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is an obsessive math prodigy, somewhere on the autism/asperger's syndrome spectrum, the kind that can only eat prime numbers amounts of their food, so the mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins) has to work around the menu items at the Chinese takeout. His father Michael (Martin McCann) died in a car accident years earlier, and since then he's struggled to connect emotionally with anyone, especially his mother. In flashback, we can see that for some reason, he was able to connect to him. Connection, and the struggle to make them, or to even understand that one can be made is a difficult part of being autistic and for the loved ones of them, it's also hard to believably portray in film, in an entertaining way, and that's gonna be what the ultimate problem with "A Brilliant Young Mind", which, btw, was titled, "X+Y" in the United Kingdom, so it might be found under that title.  He is a math prodigy and he finds a mentor, Martin (Rafe Spall) who begins teaching and training him for the, International Mathematical Olympiad. This is a real thing by the way, and it's very competitive and difficult, and just to give a sense of how difficult this is, this is, according to the film, the most difficult question ever given in the IMO:

Let A,B,C,D,E,F be a convex hexagon, such that AB is parallel to DE, BC is parallel to EF, and CD is parallel to FA. Let RA, RC, RE denote the circum radii of triangles FAB, BCD, DEF respectively, and let P denote the perimeter of the hexagon. Prove that RA+RC+RE is greater than or equal to P over 2. 

This is contest for teenagers by the way, and I have experience in teenage knowledge competitions; I wasn't necessarily the math guy on any of those teams, but I like to think I'm solid at this, but, good lord. If you can answer that one, kudos to you. Anyway, the IMO is being held in England that year, and the bulk of the story takes place as he joins other math prodigies in England and they travel to train for the IMO at a camp in, eh, Taipei? Okay, that's weird. Anyway, it's there that he meets the other members of his team, many of them far more eccentric and problematic than he is, who is mostly shy and quiet and doesn't like to be touched much. He does befriend his Taiwanese partner for the trip, Zhang Mei (Jo Yang) and they slowly begin dating. Meanwhile, there's a subplot about his mother getting with his longtime teacher, who himself is a bit of a mess-up who used to be a prodigy himself, and then there's the bringing home the new girlfriend, which is uncomfortable. This whole movie's odd, I think I know why. This is Director Morgan Matthews first feature that wasn't a documentary; this film was actually inspired by a TV documentary he made called "Beautiful Young Minds", I haven't seen that movie, but having done some research into the real Nathan Ellis, I suspect he ran into trouble adapting this story to the genre. I think he's going for trying to, understand the feeling that someone like Nathan feels like, over plot, but then, the plot elements sorta come in and out, and they don't all seem natural and there is a good reason for that. I won't go into it, entirely but things were changed from the actual people and events, and this is material that probably would be better, just as a documentary. It's a flawed attempt at trying to express this feeling, but I do appreciate the effort. That said, like, this movie, is so internal, internal with a character with whom everybody including the audience struggles to internally get into, that frankly, I found myself bored. The film I was reminded most of was "The Theory of Everything", and that's a problem with that film too, and this one, isn't even that interesting.




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