Tuesday, March 7, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS #132: "SUICIDE SQUAD", "13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI", "CAMERAPERSON", "HIGH-RISE", "POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING", "MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART", "MILES AHEAD", "LITTLE MEN", and MORE!

Well, I said I would be taking a vacation, and I meant it. I'm giving this report from a basementinSouth Jersey. I needed a bit of a break, and I needed to relax, so I've been doing that.Catching up on some relatives and friends I haven't seen in years. I've been having a little funtoo.I've had plenty of cheesesteaks since I've been in the Philly area, I highly recommend TonyLuke's, although I still like Geno's quite a bit. I'll definitely be going on a diet after this vacation,hopefully. Went to the Penn/Harvard basketball game at the Palesta, that was fun. For somereason I had never been to a college basketball game, despite going to UNLV, a school thatbasically revolves around it's basketball team. That was fun just being in that atmosphereespecially an Ivy League atmosphere; I felt both, right at home, and as though I hadabsolutely no business being there. Still, though the culture shock is amazing, being that I come from somewhere without any culture and now going into somewhere with loads of culture and history. Five or six colleges literally, across the street from each other, that was really awe-inspiring. I'm going to spend couple days in the greater Washington area as well, upcoming before heading back home. I might catch a Flyers game also. It's been nice and relaxing, so I'm not doing anything too stressful, thankfully, but it's nice to finally be traveling. BTW, Frontier Airlines is awful, I do not recommend them, no matter how cheap they are. Traveling is so much worst now than it was back when I last traveled. Ugh!

Anyway, while I'm taking it a bit easier, there were still a few movies that I didn't get to review, so before we get to this batch, I'll talk about them a bit. First one is "Up&Down", one word, which is a small, light little indy rom-com, that takes place, mostly in and outside an elevator at a luxury apartment complex, and is about the little-known actor who works as the elevator operator when not working. It's a cute low-budget idea and conceit, but honestly, it's not really worth looking out for. Another film I finally got around to was "Spinning Plates" a documentary that took a look at three different restaurants and restauranteurs. A struggling Mexican family restaurant in Phoenix, a still-striving Iowa diner that survived generations and multiple fires, and a look at Grant Achatz's Alinea, in Chicago, which has been named the best restaurant in America by the Michelin guide. I enjoy this documentary; I knew about Achatz by reputation, and that interesting to look inside his world, but all these stories were quite interesting, and I think it's a bit incomplete as a documentary, but it was still quite a fascinating little film that showed multiple different and yet distinct but related parts of the restaurant industry.

There's two movies I also wanted to touch on that I didn't get to mention last time because I still had to tell off the morons that still think post-credit scenes should exist, (Scoffs) one was a documentary called "Blood Brother" about a couple American brothers, one who left for a human rights mission in India and came back changed, and the other who goes back the next he goes to see what had happened to him. There's a very devastating scene where a child dies in the film, and there's a chance it was caught on camera, I want to forewarn people about that before going in, so be prepared for some fairly hard-to-watch footage at times, but that said, this was a better documentary than I expected it to be, despite some flaws. The one I came very close to writing a review on, but at the last second chose not to was "Veronica Mars", the feature film that purportedly closed the series and was funded through a Kickstarter from Creator/Director Rob Thomas, so fans of the show really wanted this. I don't know who was a fan of that show back then, or why, but I will never say anything nice about the post-"Buffy" WB/UPN/CW era of television again, 'cause this is legitimately one of the worst movies I've ever seen. I was never angry at this show, I never watched it or like, it felt like a half-ass Nancy Drew to me, so I never thought too deeply about it before, but this is up there with "Kelly & Cal" for the worst film of 2014. (And if you remember how much I hated that movie, that's saying something) If these characters were this unwatchably stupid as adults, I don't want to know what they were like in high school. I Legitimately could write a whole article on how atrocious this movie was, and no, it didn't deter from my opinion that fans are the biggest problem with the industry at the moment, and are horrible human beings, thanks for this "Veronica Mars", whoever you are! (Mock thumbs up, fake smile) Ugh, I- I don't want to think about that movie again, but I am not joking, it is that bad.

So, let's,- let's hopefully get to some better movies. Hopefully. In this latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting off with the Oscar-winning film, "Suicide Squad", and the Oscar-nominated feature, "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi"!



SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) Director: David Ayer

★★★



Yes, I realize that, essentially this movie is a complete disaster, from top to bottom. I'm kinda recommending it anyway. Practically for the same reasons I recommended "Fifty Shades of Grey", it's bad, but it was never gonna be good, so, you're really watching to see, how interesting is it bad. And it's kinda interesting. It's a failure, but the pain of making movies is just as intriguing as the joy of it sometimes, and, this is painful. Really painful. So,what really is so painful about this. Well, from everything I've heard, the production was a disaster and whatever was there from the hastily written, and quickly rushed shoot was throttle to death in the editing, not that this was a good idea to begin with. Look I've hated both Avengers movies, but let's think this through, this is a universe with, eh,hold on, Batman, Superman, um, Wonder Woman, I'm sure other superheroes who for some reason people think matter, right? So, in case a of a break glass, emergency, holy-fuck all disaster, you decide, or this government worker, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) decides that the best thing they can do, is wrangle up, the supervillains, together.... And have them save the world? That's stupid. There's not much middle ground here, that's just stupid. It's not like there's only villains in this world, that would've made sense the same way that :The Dirty Dozen" does, but yeah, if you have a choice, form the Avengers or form the Suicide Squad, form the goddamn Avengers. So,  this was never gonna work, logically, so, well, it actually kinda makes sense to me then, that from there, you should just throw logic entirely out the window, and just sit back and enjoy watching the world blow up, or in this case, get taken down by, some kind of mystical Ancient Egyptian, something, I don't know, whatever the hell it was, eh, (Looks over notes) a ancient witch, that's taken over the body of an archeologist that we cann, Enchantress (Cara Delavigne). So, to save the world from that, we get, the Joker's (Jake Gyllenhal) former shrink, who became his lover, Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, who is admittedly having way too much fun in the role.) Also, we have, Deadshot (Will Smith, in the closest he'll ever come to playing a villain) a successful hitman, Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) who robs banks with a boomerang, 'cause he's Australian, I guess, eh, Diablo (Jay Hernandez, who was so convincing that I thought he was Michael Pena) who has a fiery temper, literally, and a bunch of others who's names I've forgotten and aren't worth remembering'except for one that's a crocodile, Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbata) and all under the orders of Rick Flag, (Joel Kinnamon) who was dating Enchantress, aka June Moone, until all this crap started happening. And something about a brother too, but it's s muddled, the movie might as well just be called, "Cult Comic Book Characters on Display.) And yes, parts of me, liked watching this crap. It's a mess, but it's such a mess' It's a mess worth analyzing. There's talent and possibilities that we get to watch go completely unfulfilled and in disastrously bad ways. David Ayer, is not a bad writer. He's mostly best when he makes cops dramas, but he made really good ones like "End of Watch". He's good with personal smaller stories, not bombastic overblown cameofest blow-em-ups. That's why his last film "Fury"' was so forgettable and was just your average war movie. You can see that this is a talented guy working way outside his genre, And there's other things here too. Some performances are pretty good. Smith, and Hernandez for instance, and yes, Margot Robbie nails Harley Quinn. There some good costumes, and some interesting effects, and the Oscar-winning makeup is pretty extensive and really fascinating. Lots of different kinds of makeup and hair as well, it's impressive. There's ideas here, it's like when you can tell that there's clearly more talented people in the band, then the ones who make the decisions on what they play. It's a fascinating slow-motion disaster, that I think is entertaining enough to watch. It's agonizing and painful, but if "Fifty Shades of Grey"' taught us anything, it's that people can be turned on by pain and agony, and in the case of "suicide Squad'", I can't disagree.


13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI  (2016) Director: Michael Bay

★★



(Long pause, deep breath)

Michael, Bay.

(breathy scoff, longer pause)

Mike-el Bay, Michael Bay, tsk, (Sigh) Michael Bay. Believe it or not, I have somehow managed to avoid you until now. Well, not, somehow, it was actually quite a deliberate thing I did. Trying to shove your movies further and further down on my Netflix and Library queue lists. and just, finding reasons to put you off, and to be honest, that was unfair. I really should've given you a fairer shake before now. To be honest, this is the first time I've sat through one of your movies since, "Armageddon". which until I saw "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi", was the only Michael Bay movie I ever watched. Some of you, might be shocked by that, the only one? Yes, the only one. I said I managed to avoid it. His previous two films, "Bad Boys" and "The Rock", were critically-panned so I didn't watch them, 'cause even at ten years old, that was my standard for watching movies, and it should've been yours too. And since, then, he made "Pearl Harbor', which was panned even worst than "Armageddon", and a sequel to "Bad Boys", "Bad Boys II", and I didn't watch the first, I certainly wasn't gonna watch the second. Now, what about the "Transformers" movies? Well, no, I didn't sit through them, although ironically Michael Bay, wasn't the reason for that. I actually skipped over those because I have NEVER liked "Transformers"! I have no fucking clue why this of all things is popular and made a comeback, and apparently has like seventy-five different variations and multiverses and-, ugh! This, was a stupid toy. Really bad toy, forget the TV show, which also was awful, even as a kid I thought it was stupid, seriously, all I ever think about when I think of "Transformers" is that scene in "Big", where Tom Hanks talks about how the transforming toys from one thing to another isn't that interesting, and he actually comes up with a better idea for a toy in the meeting! And yes, robots turning into bugs is a million times better than cars turning into robots. So, I steered away; I didn't even watch them for purposes of analyzing all the Oscar nominees, 'cause I really couldn't, and to be honest, that's a betrayal of my own code, and a bit of a dick move on my part. I hear people explain all these ways "Transformers" have evolved and are better, or whatever, and I still just question why the fuck anybody was watching it to begin with. I'm fairly certain "Captain Planet" was on at the time, and I would watch that instead, but yet, we don't have that movie. (Seriously, stop, bringing back the crap, bring back something was good to begin with!) As to "Pain & Gain", it's on my Netflix, in fact, it's fairly high; I'm definitely getting to it sooner than later, Top 25 right now. That one, I did try to actually get to it other ways earlier, but it didn't pan out. So, yeah, I've avoided Michael Bay, for the most part. Do I regret it? (Sigh) Well, he can surprise me. I mean, let's look again at "Armageddon". I mean, I just described "Suicide Squad" as a movie that's such a horrible disaster that it's actually recommendable and worth watching, and I know plenty of people who would describe "Armageddon" in much the same terms. It's the epitome of Bay, and overblown kinetic action movie, full of inconsistencies and plot contrivances and is basically just dumb fun, completely with a moronic plot that involves getting together a bunch of the wrong people to save the world from a horrific situation. They're actually quite similar movies in hindsight. Yeah, I can use "Armageddon" as a justification for recommending "Suicide Squad", definitely.

Except I can't 'cause "Armageddon" is awful, one of the worst films I've ever seen, truly. Yes, Michael Bay, is as bad as everyone makes him out to be, and in all the good and bad ways that entails, but don't let any of those arguments convince you that's there's some legitimacy to this movie, there isn't. It is just insanely bad storytelling. From the fact that the editing is too quick to say anything other than a witty line, before cutting to something else, to the fact that, there's no way I buy that they did all that training to be astronauts in the amount of time it took for them to be astronauts, hell, I don't think there was enough time, just in travel time between the locations of where they trained, he's-, yes, he's not good when serious, and has an awful tin ear when it comes to dialogue, but he also isn't that great with character either. I mean, is Liv Tyler onscreen for more than six minutes in that film? As far as I remember it, Willis is upset she's sleeping with Affleck, then, there's the one romantic scene, out of nowhere, as so we should suddenly care about them, and then, a few cuts at the end, and then, the running-in-slow motion Baywatch shot at the end. And she was the character I cared the most about, and I can't remember hers or anybody else's character name! Say what you want about Roland Emmerich's mindless, shallow, disaster movie dribbles, at least, he knows how to contextualize the disastrous events happening around his characters, which, he actually does manage to formulate into characters interesting enough to follow. Bay, has characters in his movies, basically because common decency says he has to. This is where I think, "13 Hours..." comes in at.

Now, obviously the story of Benghazi is a complicated one, one that, most people would probably not think that Michael Bay may be entirely sophisticated or nuanced enough to tackle. They would be right, but let's consider the film anyway. The movie, does effectively portray the confusion of the day when, on September 11, 2012, four Americans, including the Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Lescher) were killed after an attack by Libyan militants. Their success was in part due to, timing, as well as the fact that the U.S. Military was unable to put enough military muscle in place to protect the Ambassador, partly because of GOP-influenced budget cuts, partly due to the fact that we were fighting two other wars in the middle of all this and removing assets from one part of the world to the other could be just as dangerous, and-, yeah, the military from the pencil-pusher perspective, while Bay, makes them out to be, disreputable entirely, and I don't necessarily disagree, in reality, it's basically a big game of Risk, they're playing. Due to build up somewhere else for a future attack, do you retreat if possible, or do you gamble and hope that what protection we have there will be enough to survive against whatever attack may or may not ever come? Sometimes the answer is C, and this is what happens. I can also think of a movie where the option was A. and this is still basically what happened. That film, I'm thinking, is the one I think Bay, probably intended "13 Hours..." to be most like, and that Ridley Scott's masterpiece, "Black Hawk Down". That's actually a really interesting comparison, 'cause that's a movie, that seems like Bay could've directed and done well, there are real characters and people involved in the story, but the movie is pretty much just a confused kaleidoscopic mess of action as one disaster partakes into another and then another, and pretty soon, something that was only gonna be a routine mission turned into an 18 hour shootout on the streets of Mogadishu. (If you can call them streets) I don't remember any of the characters in that film either, but the emotion of the film, is still effective. "13 Hours..." could've been done like that, and not even bring up the political situation to do it, which to Bay's credit mostly does feel minimized here. The problem is, that there's no other real emotion, at all. Even in the action. We get introduced to a few characters sure, and a few interesting ones, like the parts played by John Krasinski and James Badge Dale, who are former Navy Seals, but who are actually now CIA as apart of Global Response Staff, which is a fancy term for basically saying that their the bodyguards for ambassadors and other American dignitaries around the world. That's actually an interesting profession, that's probably worth exploring itself, but that mostly get dropped in favor of cliche and confusion, and not confusion in that we're confused because of how overwhelmed we are, 'cause of the situation, we're just confused and overwhelmed, because Bay thinks confusing and overwhelming us, is the same as the characters being confused and overwhelmed.


CAMERAPERSON (2016) Director: Kristen Johnson

★★★★1/2




There's few names and words given for the professions of  "Cameraperson", out there. Cinemtagrapher, that's a big one, expresses the idea that there's an artistic value in the job, as involves lighting choices. Videographer I've heard as well, although that's a word that could be a catch-all for nearly every behind the scenes position involving the camera, including editing people. But, to some extent, most people whose job it is to hold up a camera, to position, shoot, and record the action, they are just, the cameraperson, and maybe moreso with documentary features. There's a few exceptions but you don't normally think of a documentary cameraman or women, as being artistic; documentaries don't get Oscar nominations for Cinematography. "Cameraperson", is the catch-all for all those positions, but they're there and their often the ones framing the action. Kristen Johnson has been one of those camerapersons for years now. Her IMDB.com page is a who's who of documentary filmmakers that she's worked with from Laura Poitras, to Kirby Dick, to Michael Moore. When she got to a part of "Cameraperson", where she showed some of the unedited raw footage of "Fahrenheit 9/11", I paused the movie, remembering the scene very well, and immediately looked up Abdul Henderson, the Army officer who said in that movie that he would refuse to go back to Iraq if he were to be deployed again, just to make sure and check on how he has doing, suddenly concerned about his safety. I checked, he's doing pretty well actually; last word, he's a member of the staff for the Congressional Black Caucus with a focus on Veteran's Affairs. "Cameraperson" is basically a collage of several hours of footage that Johnson has shot, all while working as a documentary cameraperson, just the random and powerful things that somebody in that position gets to record. Could be as simple as literally a wedding, while other times you're recording people losing their shit, or keeping their shit when they should be losing their minds, or just seeing events that would under normal circumstances would make people self-reflective or self-destructive. It's a weird, most of the time we think of camerapeople, at least in movie-making terms as a fairly glamorous position, where you're out to get the perfect shot, and there's tons of rigging and tracks laid out and several rigs and lifts and jigs that are maneuvers around, but oftentimes, it's a simple as picking up your camera, making sure the batteries are charged and record and keep recording There's some shots of her own homelife, she's a mother with a couple kids, and in general seems like a fairly non-descript but interesting person going through her own daily struggles that aren't too dissimilar to anybody else's except when she's at work, she seem people who make start breaking and throwing all their suicidal parent's old shit and toss it all about the room, in an emotional, messy anger-fueled rage. The meditative tone is fascinating, it actually reminded me of one of the best documentaries made this decade, Ron Fricke's "Samsara". (Fricke being one of the few filmmakers it seems that Johnson hasn't worked with) but that was a collage of, everything it seems, without any particular rhyme or connection that we would regard as person. This is more like, getting a video diary from somebody's life and experience, but instead of the usual kinds of video diaries out there, we get one from the perspective of the person, behind the camera. (Pun unintentional) That's probably what ultimately makes this so powerful, it's a look inside a profession that we don't generally think about, from the one kind of filmmaking artist that we don't generally here from, even within their profession, the generic cameraperson is the low person on the barrel, but they do watch and see a lot, and taking a look at what they document is quite powerful.


HIGH-RISE (2016) Director: Ben Wheatley

★★★



I'm not particularly familiar with the work of J.G Ballard, the novelist behind "High-Rise", who's known for being somewhat of a provocateur and a somewhat prophetic subtext to his work, especially his sci-fi work. I've seen two films adapted from his films, Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun", which is probably one of Spielberg's weakest films, although that one is probably not a good example of Ballard's overall work. The other one, I've seen, probably is, I suspect and that's David Cronenberg's "Crash" a movie about people who have a sexual infatuation with car crashes. That's a weird movie, for sure, but it does put Ben Wheatley's adaptation of "High-Rise" into a better context, cause this movie feels like a car crash, just one of the excess. The literal "High-Rise" in the movie, is one of those things that's clearly metaphorical, but basically, the higher up you live in the high-rise building, the more well-off you are. Dr. Robert Laing's (Tom Hiddleston) is directly in the middle. He is, I guess the center of the movie, since, most of the action seems to center around him, but really, the main character is the high-rise itself, and what it does to the people inside it. Built by Anthony Royal (Jeremy Irons) this place, is essentially life and the world, overall, inside a building. It even has a supermarket, so therefore, there's little reason for any of the residents to leave, and the world itself become so insular and inevitably violent and self-destructive. Cinematically, the most-obvious comparison is Luis Bunuel's "The Exterminating Angel", a movie I actually greatly admire, but that movie was done for comedic satire on the upper class, and "High-Rise", is going for more admittedly, but I don't know if it succeeds. Also, in hindsight, I kinda see how people can see Ballard as prophetic. This idea of the high-rise, actually mimics Josh Harris's obscure art project, "Quiet: We Live in Public", the one where he put 100 people in a dorm-like structure complete with everything they could've had or wanted and all of it was online. (If you've never heard of Harris, as an internet luminary, check out the documentary "We Live in Public") Still, I was actually surprised that this movie, was based around the '70s, especially the pre-Margaret Thatcher '70s of the United Kingdom, 'cause the film really reminiscent of Bret Easton Ellis to me. Even though, there's various people on the class spectrum, this movie, feels like a lot of his stories. It's feel like this is one of Patrick Bateman's favorite movies, although not one he's ever admit to admiring. As some of you might be aware, I've always been critical of Ellis, his naval-gazing on nothingness has never fascinated me, but in reality, that analysis is a simplification, cause that's not simply what he does. He's also making points about the rich and their place in society, and in many ways how it often contradicts with our expectations of them, and in some cases, humanity's more primal and perhaps, animalistic nature. It's about how we indulge in our excesses. "High-Rise", is more complex than that, although the elements are all there, but it's also out of place and time. Ellis, is typically a modern writer, although he can confused for representing the eighties with stuff like "American Psycho" and "Less than Zero" to his credit, but yeah, this movie is time-period specific as well. That's part of my ambivalence, I can see why some would react to powerfully to this film, but to me, it came off as more production design than it does movie. The subtlety gets lost, in a high-concept metaphor that's about a time and place that's barely relevant to today. I like excess, I like over-the-top and I like the power struggle, but, like with Ellis, at a certain point, and no, I'm not whether or not it's what happens to the dog, it just becomes that naval gazing on an idea, that frankly, I tune out on. I'm on the fence personally, but I think I'll recommend it just because, but barely. This was supposedly one of those unfilmable novels for years, and I do get why, conceptually this works better on the page. That said, I don't know director Ben Wheatley, couldn't have adapted and modernized this? Ben Wheatley, is a bit of an enigmatic director to me. I panned his previous film "Sightseers" for instance, but then placed it as an Honorable Mention on my Best Films List, 'cause I did rethink that movie after awhile, and realized it's comedic value. I suspect there might be something like that at play here, and he's portraying this excess as satire, but I don't suspect, "High-Rise" will gain much more ground from me in the future, especially since the movie is mainly about adapting the novel, while with "Sightseers" he was documenting an original idea from his two main leads. That's part of what makes me question his as a visionary director; I don't necessarily by so far that he takes an idea and tranforms it to his perspective, other than how he just shoots a decent idea very well, similar to my conflict with David Lynch at time. This is a tricky one for me. I think I admire it, but at the same time, sorta hate it.


POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (2016) Directors: Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone

★★



(Sigh) I don't think this joke's funny enough for a full movie, anymore. I mean, I sorta laughed and got the joke, but...- (Sigh) You know, here's the thing, is there anything really parody-worthy anymore in the music industry? I guess, you can say that this is more of a parody of some of the ridiculous barrage of music documentaries their are out there, and yeah, actually, there are way too many out there. I mean, I know there's always been, but it feels like there's way too many, authorized, unauthorized, and everything in between. The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter", The Beatles, "Let It Be", U2's "Rattle & Hum", Madonna's "Truth or Dare", and now we get, Shawn Mendes's "The Journey. (Seriously, that's real! I know, I could've picked on Bieber or One Direction there, but there's way more crap than just their big screen atrocities.) However, even that idea was being done as far back as "This is Spinal Tap". I don't know, this still feels mostly like I'm trying to look at a pop music industry that's already such an overblown parody of itself, that even someone like "The Lonely Island', who I like in small doses, but this just feels like one-two- many unnecessary layers.

So, in this universe, Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), as opposed to, Conner4Fake I guess, is a pop music superstar. One that's the most vapid and innocuous pop stars around, one who makes a bragging rap talking about how humble he is. That's funny, I guess. He goes on his own, and still has some success, but his latest album is a gigantic failure, and the tour continually turns into more and more of a shitshow. Now, originally, he was a part of a three-piece group, but Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) went to grow pot in Colorado and Owen (Jorma Taccone) who produced a lot of the tracks, is basically just the guy with the ipod that's behind him on stage, complete with a robot head. I'm pretty sure that was a Daft Punk joke more than anything. The problem with "Popstar..." is that it's just too disjointed. I think this film probably started somewhere real, with the documentary style beginning, again, in the vein of "This is Spinal Tap", but all the celebrity cameos and over-the-top parodying of celebrity culture, including a continuous joke parodying "TMZ", it just loses itself and gets bogged down in an uber-meta parody of the modern-day music industry, which, is, like I said, already a big parody.

Actually, that's part of the problem, I don't know what they're parodying. Are they parodying other music docs? Are they parodying celebrity culture, the music industry, bad rap groups? I mean, they're a parody of a parody.  I mean, compare this to, say, some of Garfunkel & Oates' wonderful, but not as well-known or popular television series, which play up the fact that they're basically a little or unknown comedy folk duo act, and the show is about their stumbles and trials and tribulations, that feel believable, even though both Riki Lindhomme & Kate Micucci are actually at this fairly well-known and respected character actresses in their own rights, outside their group. And while Samberg is famous enough for everyone, we still don't know this band and group of there's very well. They're funny as The Lonely Island, without adding on this facade that somehow these blatant ridiculously comedic songs of there's are in some way in this alternate universe, taken as realistic and believable pop hits and they became major music superstars from them. (If there even is such a thing anymore as major music superstars. Seriously, in my day, NSYNC, as crappy as they were, they sold twice as many albums in one week than Flo Rida has sold in his entire career! It's so different now, it's not comparable. It's almost not even worth parodying to be honest.) They're a fictitious persona of a fictitious persona, while G&O are on stage with their comedy songs, they're still just G&O and therefore you can relate to them. Even in a mockumentary, you still need believability to care about the characters. I care about Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins, enough to remember their names, thirty+ years later, but there's nobody interesting in "Popstar..." to care about. Therefore there's no reason to watch, and no reason to recommend it either.


MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (2016) Director: Zhangke Jia

★★★★1/2



Zhangke Jia's is one of China's best filmmakers right now, and one of their most unique. He loves multiple narratives, and it's clear that his movies are saying something other than just the stories that he tell in the foreground. His "A Touch of Sin", spanned parts of China and generations in order to look at the place the country was and was currently going. That film made my Top Ten List the year it came out, and "Mountains May Depart" is doing something similar. It tells three stories, each in different time periods, but this time, he's following a few main characters, and the time period are interesting ones. The movie begins in 1999 Shanghai, then goes to 2014, modern day, and then, the last section takes place in 2025, and even that section spends a good deal of time, not in China, but in Australia. The movie begins, centered around Shen Tao (Tao Zhao), who the story circumnavigates around in each of the three stories, inevitably, the first one, is about her friendship with two young men, a worker named Liangzi (Jing Dong Liang) and a future entrepreneur named Jinsheng (Yi Zhang). I guess you could think of this as a "Jules et Jim" sort of friendship, but eventually, she makes a decision for one of them, I won't give away which, but the decision irrevocably breaks their friendship. The next portion, in modern-day, (BTW, in a touch that I've noticed has become more and more common lately, Zhangke has chosen to play with the format ratio, with each section be a different ratio'd screen. I think Xavier Dolan's "Mommy" has been the best use of this so far, Wes Anderson played with this idea a bit as well, but I don't hate how it was done here; it's another nice touch and will probably become a more common practice in the next five or ten years.) involves Liangzi's who's spent most of his life as a coal miner, begin to get sick, and Tao being at his side. Coal is a big industry in China, but it's also one that's being fazed out, and people getting sick, is as common as it is in America. The obvious parallel involved here, is how the changing country is leading to worst and changing conditions, and inevitably, more people leaving the nation and becoming immigrants somewhere else. In 2025, the scene has changed to Australia, where Tao is now a Professor, who's teaching, essentially Chinese as a second language, mainly to immigrant Chinese kids, as the old language is dying and much of the last part of the movie is spoken in English. (The first two parts being in Mandarin and Cantonese). She begins a relationship with one of her older students, Dollar (Zijian Dong), which is the Westernized name he took, Tao eventually went with Mia, and it's clear that Dollar is a reincarnated spirit of Liangzi, if not literally, then spiritually. Things come to ahead when they're booking a trip back to China, for a visit, before eventually moving to Toronto. Tao, is, I think the spirit of China, to some extent, in much the same way that the Luisa character is the incarnation of Mexico symbolically in Alfonso Cuaron's "Y Tu Mama Tambien", and yet, curiously, the most notable song that represents her, played at both the beginning and ending of the movie, is the Pet Shop Boys "Go West", which is pretty literal anti-Communist interpretation of that song, which specifically requests that going towards the West is the way to go, something that I don't think Tao feels is right in her heart, while society and economics might dictate otherwise. Zhangke has called this his most personal work, and since Zhangke's big motif is survival in the modern age, and at the behest of the modern technology, yeah, this movie might make sense as his most personal. He's a controversial director who doesn't explain his movies, but there's clearly added symbolisms to his work that, only on repeated viewings and study do they really become clear. I enjoy that about him, his films can come off as meditative mosaics at times, where you really wonder what exactly he's talking about, but I think ultimately, it's his exploration of what it means to be Chinese, an individual in particular in China today. There's a scene late in the movie where Dollar has brought Tao to translate a conversation with his father, as he's announcing that he's not going to college and it gonna live on his own. The conversation is about freedom, and what exactly that means to both generations, and for that matter, what exactly does it mean to Tao. That part, we never get an answer to, curiously, I guess, it's just being able to go back to your home and dance to The Pet Shop Boys, whether or not the song is even playing. "Mountains May Depart", but, the soul of the country still lives in some of it's people? The surviving ones? (Shrugs) I don't know if I entirely get everything about the movie, but it's a movie that worth exploring to find out about it, and I think that's Zhangke Jia's best asset as a filmmaker. He doesn't beat you over the head, but he calms invites you in and shows you, just enough to feel and understand where he comes from, and you fill in the symbolic blanks about what he may or may not mean, and his work is so strong and good that whatever interpretation you come up with, you're gonna be more thought-filled and more enlightened than you were before. He makes movies that demand you to think and demand repeated viewings, and in a world where sometimes watching something once is probably one-too many times, his most are pieces of fresh air over a constantly droll film scene.


MILES AHEAD (2016) Director: Don Cheadle

★★★



Some of you will have to bare with me, unlike other musical films recently, like the Frank Zappa documentary I reviewed last time, I'm actually quite unfamiliar with Miles Davis, other than just his reputation. I've of course heard the name over the decades and basically, I associate him as being the greatest of the greats among the jazz men. However, jazz is not a particular area of expertise for me. I don't hate the genre by any means, in fact I quite admire jazz, but yeah, Miles Davis is just not somebody I've been as introduced to or as engrossed with over the years, so my knowledge is minimal. It doesn't help that "Miles Ahead" is a improvised incoherent mess of a movie, but I didn't mind it. Cheadle plays Davis and directs the movie, and I think I know what he was getting at, but trying to explain it....- basically, oh boy. I mean, there's a composite journalist character Dave Braden (Ewen McGregor) although I don't know what the hell he would ever be writing about, there's too much to write about. There's his wife Francis (Emayatzy Corinealdi) there's his drug problems, his problems with thugs and underworld individuals, there's his reclusiveness, there's his regular proto-physiological meanderings,- I mean, the movie's jumping from time and place all the time too, so don't think it's just confusing in subject matter, it's a confusing mess, all the way through structurally as a story as well, but emotionally, I think I got it. I mean, for one thing, it's jazz, so jazz is improvisational to begin with, and life is also improvisational, not just in the literal day-to-day, but in the emotional as well, and it's not simply, that there's one thing or event that determines your emotions, there's often other things going on that does it, and sometimes those moments are years a part but feel like their happening now. Boy, the way I'm describing the movie, it sounds more like Charlie Kaufman's "Synecdoche, New York" than it does any typical music biopic I can think of. I guess that works here. The movie is better listened to, than actually watched, although you do wanna watch, 'cause Don Cheadle really does give one of the best performances of the year and of his career in this film. I mean, this is a passion project that he is absolutely perfect for, to that end, there is no doubt about and he is amazing here. I can't think of anybody else I would dare cast as Miles Davis. Him and the music are basically the two things that salvage this movie, and give it some sort of structure. "Miles Ahead" achieve it's goal to me, in that it's made me more intrigued and interested in the life and work of Miles Davis, so for that reason I'm recommending it.


LITTLE MEN (2016) Director: Ira Sachs

★★★★



Ira Sachs has been one of the most underrated of American filmmakers in recent years. This guy's made one amazing movie after another, recently, "Married Life", "Keep the Lights On", his best film being his last film, the tragically sad but wonderful melodrama, "Love is Strange", about an aging gay couple, played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina, who had to begin to live separately with each other's families after one of them loses their job and they both lose their home. That movie was most reminiscent of Leo McCarey's masterpiece, "Make Way for Tomorrow", also about an elderly couple who have a separation forced upon them, and find themselves unable to cope with the modern age that's passed them by. "Little Men", is not nearly as dramatic, and it's also got nothing to do with the Louisa May Alcott novel, although I wouldn't have at all been surprised if it had. Sachs seems to be an old soul, and has an affinity for telling classic stories, or taking the trends and motifs of those stories and rework and re-imagine them for the modern times. Even a movie like "Keep the Lights On", which mostly takes place in hotel rooms, and involves a lot of graphic nudity and sex, is basically a romance story about a couple who are having a relationship in private and we see them talking and exploring their relationship. It could've just been, "Same Time, Next Year", in another era. And "Married Life", for that matter, was somewhere between Alan Ball and Douglas Sirk. I haven't seen his films before that, but I'm definitely interesting in seeing them eventually. By contrast, "Little Men", seems particularly small. It's not a story that I haven't seen told before, or told with more style or intrigue, but it's told well. This understates drama is about two little boys, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and Tony (Michael Barbieri) two 12-year old artistic boys who become friends, after Jake's family moves back to Brooklyn, after the family patriarch passes away and they leave them their place. Jake's parents, are Brian and Kathy (Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Ehle), Brian's a stage actor who's currently got a gig, but Kathy is the breadwinner as a successful psychoanalyst. Brian's father also left them the lease that he's kept on a store downstairs, which Tony's single mother, Leonor (Paulina Garcia) a Chilean dressmaker runs her shop. She was good friend with Brian's father and has hired a lawyer, Hernan (Alfred Molina) in case, what she expected to happen, does happen, and that for Brian to insist they write out a lease and that she start paying rent on the place. This friction between the adults, of course bleeds into the two friends as they struggle to keep and continue their newly-formed friendship. It's not done in a clichéd or unique or unusual way either, this is just a hard, straight-forward simple conflict of a tale. And also, one that's about the two kids struggling to keep their friendship, despite the perils of the adults; that's a nice twist to the story, and a logical one at that. "Little Men", is a good little story about friendship between kids and how that can get in the way because of the business of parenthood and adulthood. It's a simple tale told well, something that Ira Sachs is currently doing better than most directors today.


FORT BLISS (aka EMULSION) (2014) Director: Claudia Myers

★★★★




I'm sure there are movies out there that are about female soldiers coming back from war, from before the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, but I honestly can't think of too many. Women in military positions is nothing new, although women in combat, in the theater, that's a bit newer, and one of the more interesting trends in recent cinema that's come about has been the fact there's been more movies made about them. I mean, thinking back to, well, I guess I have a few options here, but the first movie I can think of with that idea was "G.I. Jane", and that was a movie that was basically constructed to be about how women were just as capable at being a soldier as a male, and even then, the character Demi Moore played was still constructed to be practically superwoman. I know, there's more male soldiers fighting still, but there are a lot of women doing a lot on the battlefield, but maybe even more interesting a subject, is what happens to these young women after they arrive home. This has a popular subject to explore in indy films lately, and I find myself thoroughly enjoying most of them. The best of these is probably "Return" from Director Liza Johnson and starring Linda Cardellini.  This one here, is called "Fort Bliss", a movie that I've also seen referred to as "Emulsion", for some reason, is about a girl who was a medic in Afghanistan, Sgt. Maggie Swann (Michelle Monaghan) who comes home to Texas, a single mother who's kid, Paul (Oakes Fegley) is not interested in seeing her. She's been living with his father, Richard (Ron Livingston) and his new fiancé Alma (Emmanuelle Chriquí), who he now considers his true mother-figure, and the woman he wants raising him more. She's got a couple military acquaintances that she still hangs around, a Sgt. Donovan (Pablo Schreiber) for instance, and we do see some flashbacks to her work in the military while she muddles over whether or not to re-enlist, and/or whether or not to fight for her child's custody rights, which Richard has threatened to take from her. She does manage to befriend a local mechanic, Garver (Freddy Rodriguez), which helps, a bit. Not a lot, but we get a couple different senses of her military experiences, good and bad, as she struggles to conflate that to her life back home. Basically, it's a battle of career vs. motherhood, but in this scenario, the mother is definitely not home, and is always working. And might not come home. "Fort Bliss", is quite a good examination of the good and bads of both sides of a soldier's life. Monaghan, who's one of the more underrated actresses around to begin with, is channeling some of her best work here. She's forgettable in major films, but in films like this, and also a similar role she had in a really great, overlooked film called "Trucker", we realize how she can really be special when given the chance. "Fort Bliss" was written and directed by Claudia Myers, and it's her first feature film, since her debut, "Kettle of Fish", way back in '06; I've heard of, but haven't seen that film, although I'm definitely interested in looking that film up now. (What's with female breakthrough directors not getting the opportunity to make a 2nd film for years on end? That's some Hollywood bullshit for you.) "Fort Bliss", is another entry in a subgenre that's ever-growing and will continue to grow as their becomes more and more to examine, and like most of the other entries, this one is solid.


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