Thursday, April 27, 2017

INTERNET PERSONAS: THOUGHTS ON THE PERSONAS THAT MODERN INTERNET ARTISTS BUILD AND THE PERCEPTION OF THEIR WORK AND PERFORMANCE IN THE DIGITAL AGE! (Ironically NOT, I repeat NOT, in light of the recent Alex Jones revelations.)

(Frustrated sigh)

So, this asshole!



Okay, this is gonna be hard to believe, but I actually had this blog planned out, before all this Alex Jones shit happened. But, since it coincides,... (Sigh) So if you don't know Alex Jones, lucky you; I feel envious. He's a prick through and through and his and he right-wing hate-filled bullshit and conspiracies on his program, "Info Wars", 'cause apparently he's at war, with info, which should be a clue that he's full of shit...- Anyway, he's in a domestic battle with his wife over custody of his kids and in court, his lawyer argued that his radio "character" wasn't the "real Alex Jones", but that he is a "performance artist". He's performing a character, of piece of shit conspiracy nutjob that real piece of shit conspiracy nutjobs listen to.

(Sighs)

Look, I'm, not gonna spend my time here focusing on this guy, 'cause he's not worth it, but from what I can gather, there's nothing listed on his website and nothing on his radio and streaming broadcasts that indicates that he's performing an act, which would make him a fake, so "The Daily Show" is correct about that. If he, in fact, is a performance artist, fine, but I don't care, 'cause either way, many members of his audience thinks it's real, and have been directly inspired by him to believe things that are outright lies and even commit gross acts of violence against innocent people based on his inflammatory claims. He doesn't present himself as entertainment, which is why him suddenly calling himself that, while no surprise to anyone, doesn't excuse the actions he's inflamed and inspired, nor does it make his behavior excusable. As an artist, I can't say how talented he is, although he's pretty good in the three minutes of screen time he has in Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly". (Shrugs) Basically as the previous holder of the chair at "The Daily Show" once put it when talking with Jim Cramer, "I get it, we're both snake oil salesman, but we label our bottle, "Snake Oil"...."

But, this is actually a good way to segue into the conversation of "persona". No, not the video game that I have no interest in covering and have no knowledge of anyway. And, no, not the Bergman film although I wouldn't mind talking at length about that. No, I mean, persona in the sense of what, well, the perception of the person that others see you as. Especially an exaggerated one that might be manufactured and shown to the public. You see, I was actually influence to discuss this because of a Youtube livestream that Lindsay Ellis hosted a couple weeks ago on her Youtube page, Chez Lindsay:



Now, I'm not entirely familiar with every one of the Youtube personalities that are brought up or even the ones involved in the conversation itself, but as someone who, technically is also an internet personality, (I mean, this is a blog, you're not reading it in the New York Times, yet) who does try to generate a persona, this itself is something that intrigues me.

Now keep in mind, this isn't something that's internet exclusive. Everybody has a persona, in particular every famous person and celebrity. They go out of their way to portray themselves and give people the perception that they want, whether this comes in the form of an actor picking particular roles or when somebody puts themselves out there politically as either a liberal, conservative or something in-between, or whatever. Every aspect of them, is apart of what makes up a persona (Or one aspect can be a persona itself too). Some might be close to their real-life personalities, some aren't, but either way, it's a persona, and I've been thinking a lot about it lately, 'cause I do think that there are, (sigh) issues out there, when it comes to understanding the differences between one's "persona" and the "person" themselves, and in particular with celebrity. Internet celebrity, particularly female internet celebrities have been dealing with this for awhile, but I see it all around in mainstream. That's one of the reasons I so vehemently defend Lena Dunham several times on this blog, because anyone that actually looks up all the crap that she's accused up thoroughly and understands her perspective and persona, and those are two different things by the way, will see that she most of the time she's getting crapped on unfairly and incorrectly, mainly by people who are fucking idiots who don't know and don't give a shit, because they don't realize her perspective and confuse it with her persona. They take things literally that are clearly satirical and wit, mainly 'cause they're insistent in seeing negative because the persona she gives, at least in the main acting and writing performances is one that upsets them for one reason or another, not realizing, well, A. half the time it's supposed to upset you, and B. it's not relative to the actual person, and she has never claimed that it does.

I have a Facebook friend who bashes Amy Schumer every chance he gets for similar reasons as well, and frankly I don't understand why, and most of that is the same thing, confusing persona for the actual  person. Stand-up comedy is of course a genre renowned for having a difficult line of distinction, because while, yeah, they're performing an act, their performance is still, usually based on certain aspects of the person themselves. Not always, Robin Williams was hard to pin down based on his stand-up, but you took say, George Carlin more genuinely, maybe 'cause of subject matter, maybe because of approach to stand-up, but it's not a bad comparison, what's happened with female comics from Leslie Jones being bullied off twitter to Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham getting crap, for, um, I don't know, not being thin enough to be naked and unashamed, basically. (Or as Schumer put it in her latest Netflix special, the last thing you want to be called when you put an underwear photo up, is, "brave") it's rough out there, and frankly, I have made myself known about it, 'cause as a creator, a writer an artist who knows and occasionally works with other artists, I know the process of branding and creating a persona and what that entails, and a backlash against a perceived image of somebody, against a real image of somebody shouldn't be something we stay quiet about. If everybody started calling Snoopy a cat for some reason, it's our responsibility to go, "No, he's a dog!" and not just go along with the crowd, 'cause it's popular. It's one thing to go after Bill Cosby for drugging a raping a bunch of women, because it's pretty damn obvious that he drugged and raped a bunch of women, and not that Casey Affleck is excused because he did his indiscretions while essentially being apart of an actual performance by an actual performance artist, but Cosby doesn't have that in his background as an artist to defend him, in fact quite the opposite, considering the persona he spent decades building up.

So, the stream is pretty interesting in of itself, with a good cast of Youtube personalities who have intriguing perspective, although they do, get there although they bounce around the basic conflict, but basically, it's a discussion about that conflict between making the points you want to make and having to create a persona or in some cases a complete separate character in order to express those points and get noticed and the benefits and drawbacks of that.

Lindsay Ellis, in particular, probably has one of the more unique perspectives on this than any other of the Youtube critics or creators, 'cause she had a persona that she did not choose herself. She was originally "Nostalgia Chick", a character that was created by Doug Walker, better known as Nostalgia Critic to be a female counterpart to take on subjects that were nostalgia but had more of a female bent or marketing towards them, since he was getting a lot of requests for them, but he didn't really have the knowledge or background on the subjects to cover them. Lindsay Ellis won the contest that That Guy With the Glasses, now known as Channel Awesome set up.

She's brought this up a few times in her reviews, and if you go back, and I'm not gonna pretend that I know the exact order, but her earliest Nostalgia Chick reviews are similar to Nostalgia Critic's reviews in format and structure, but eventually she started deviating from that, not only in structure but also in content, and at one point she eventually left Channel Awesome and started her own website of critics, Chez Apocalypse, which had a similar base in Nostalgia Critic's aesthetic but had more of an intellectual bent to their reviewing and were necessary as comedically-based, and now she herself with her "Loose Canon" series in particular isn't so much a reviewer or critic, although she is, but she fits more in the realm of an media analyst or theorists through her video essays. Which makes sense for several reasons, for instance she has a documentary background to begin with, so this is more in her vein of work, but also, think about it, she had a persona, essentially thrown upon her, that wasn't entirely her own. Doug Walker created Nostalgia Critic himself and at the point where he was at at the time he held this contest, he had years of developing and establishing this persona of his, but she had to take a character and essentially meld and twist it until it fit something that more resembled the kind of analytical work that she wanted to do, and even then, she eventually abandoned the Nostalgia Chick persona entirely to formulate this other persona. That's fairly unique in general, and while it's not entirely impossible to start one persona and abandon it entirely to create another in this medium, she doesn't quite have that option, 'cause essentially, the fact that she used to be Nostalgia Chick is also what informs her present work and iteration of her persona. How she presents her perspective, through this persona that she's built up.

She's a perfect example of how one adapts when a persona, essentially becomes too limiting. That's the thing, a persona, ideally, isn't necessarily an exact representation of the person behind the one creating, but it's taking aspects of one's personality and perspective and basically exaggerating them to full effect. And that's often played for comedic effect, but it can played the other way too. The most notable example of this, in the celebrity culture, is the star system in Hollywood. It's not as prevalent today, but you think of somebody like John Wayne, and you don't necessarily think of the actor or the person even, but you think the image. The persona that he generated, in many ways for himself over several decades. A good example today might be, Will Smith. For two decades he's been the biggest star in Hollywood essentially, but think about the majority of the roles he's taken. "Suicide Squad" is the closest he's ever been to playing a bad guy and even then, that character shares many similar traits and values of the characters he's played in the past, almost all of which are relatively good guys, honest people, smart, at times funny, usually honorable family men or people who you can imagine being. He's the guy you wish your daughter would marry and have kids with. There's exceptions to that and that's not a negative but it's indicative of somebody who's had complete control over his persona for most of his careers and while it doesn't necessarily indicate every aspect of Will Smith, it certainly indicative of the aspects about himself that he wants to project and emphasize to the public at large. This is why Lindsay Ellis is a particularly useful example here, for all-intensive purposes most of the Youtube reviewers and creators out there, essentially chose their own persona(s), now it's definitely that some have regretted it over time, but she's had two, one that was thrust upon her and another one that's had to form out of that original persona.

Now that's a common thing, now, in most entertainment media, actors, musicians, especially young ones, often progress and change from their original persona all the time and nobody blinks an eye, but it's a little more unusual to see this happen for an internet personality, especially one who's famous, essentially as a critic or theorist or something of that nature. There's this implicit indication that, even the critics who are as over-the-top in their persona as possible, that there's a sense of truth and realism for lack of a better term to their thoughts and opinions when in reality, that can often be very different. I think some people don't understand entirely. I had one troll for instance, argue that John Oliver or Jon Stewart are not credible news sources because they're comedians. (This guy was an idiot who also once sent me a video of a right-wing commentator who used a supposedly comedic sketch in his work as well, to explain his point, so, I don't know why he thought that was more legitimate than the guys that win Emmys and Peabodys for doing it, but oh well.) That's the thing they do, is they take a persona and use that as a way to filter and extrapolate their opinion. Basically, they're acting. I know Lindsay Ellis often discusses how she's somebody who doesn't like acting, but she's acting. That's not a criticism, it's just a fact, and even if she wasn't filtering an easy and performing it in front of a camera, that's positions in a particular way to frame her essay or anybody else's for that matter, you don't talk like that in real life. It's scripted, it's formulated, it's structured. Even if it's free-form and stream-of-consciousness there's still an aspect of presentation involved.

Hell, there's an aspect of that in every blogpost I write, including this one. I think about how I'm projecting myself and considering the kinds of perspectives and personas I write with and determine which one works best to explain the point(s) that I'm making. I've pointed it out many times, some of my blogs are more satirical others are more serious, other have a combination of both, and other have different voices and influences within them. And even outside of this blog, I'm a brand. Not only here, but online and hopefully within the industry someday. I do have writing gigs and the like occasionally, and all three of these personas are different and they help me approach the different jobs and works differently. Writers do this the same ways actors work, especially people who work with voices, who name each voice and approach a cold read of a part by trying to select the voice closest to the part they're auditioning for. It's an acting performance, where I take and borrow from some sources, but collage it along with my own stuff and create my own point and my own voice and perspective filtered through my persona.

I know, I'm bordering on naval-gazing with my ranting here, but I do think about this, and the possibilities and dangers I run into with these worlds possibly one day colliding. I've said some tough and sometimes means things about people here, who I, in the future might have a possibility of working with, but you know, one or two Google searches and I might not get that job for Michael Bay or Rex Reed or whomever. Now, I suspect, that, most of those people, who professionals, moreso than my personal perspective or understand that I'm in the role of a critic and commentator and that most of the time I'm not talking about them as people and persons but them in terms of their work. That's a bit like saying, "I love you Mr. Picasso, it's just your paintings I can't stand," but in general, they're professional, they know the artistic and critic process as well as anybody, so I think most of them will ultimately understand that I'm not being personal. And I think most will, and I think most members of the audience do get that, for both the mainstream and the internet celebrities, but not everyone does.

That's why such discussions are important to have and important to have and consider, and while perhaps the days of when have the country thought their soap operas were as real as their pro wrestling was are long gone, but on the internet, this idea of persona and branding oneself and how best to do it, is not only going on, it's just starting. We're already seeing people who have been doing this for almost a decade now just on Youtube or some other streaming service, and longer for much of print media on the internet and both definitely have influenced each other and now there's several new subgenre of media that's been invented through this, and these genres are still seeking out their personas much less the creators themselves trying to figure out how to mold and brand,- I mean, hell, this is a medium that's only barely figured out how to make money doing these things. I've barely figured out how to make money doing this and I get criticism on my persona and perspective that itself, and if you go back to my early, earliest blogs, which I don't recommend you do, 'cause they're not that good, but I didn't necessarily come into this venture with an assured persona(s) either, it evolved and was formulated over time, and while I guess I could delete certain older pieces, in the spirit of the internet age, I leave them up for posterity's sake as most others do, 'cause it does reflect how much I've evolved and changed over the years doing this...-, and yeah, the people might not realize or understand where I come from occasionally, they're just gonna be disappointed or left in the dark at times. And I'm not under nearly the scrutiny that these people are, imagining what it is for them to be forming and evolving persona, all the while realizing that some aren't gonna contemplate or understand the perspectives which have formed these personas,

I wonder how it's going their personas are going to evolve in the future as the medium continues to grow. Hmm, I wonder how mine might change in the future.... Oh well, let's just hope we get more performance artists and less, fakes in the future.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS #134: "MANCHESTER BY THE SEA", 'ARRIVAL", "A MAN CALLED OVE", "BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE", "THE BFG", "THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS", "INDIGNATION", "THE PEOPLE VS. FRITZ BAUER", "TRUTH", "THE NIGHT BEFORE", "THE PERFECT GUY" and MORE!

Admittedly, I've been a little busy and distracted this week; I do have work outside of my blog and lately it's been the focus of much of my attention, at least in terms of the movie reviews. I hope this doesn't bother too many people, but I'm kinda okay about it, Hell, usually I'm struggling to come up with ideas for those and worry that there won't be anything I want to talk about between movie reviews, so that's an enjoyable twist for me to want to focus on them more. Don't worry, I won't be ignoring these anytime soon, and I definitely put energy into these, a lot of it in some cases.

That said, I didn't get to review everything that I saw, so quick rundown of everything else, I finally got around to "The Angriest Man in Brooklyn", which marks Robin Williams's last leading role. It's a depressing about a bastard who thinks he has 90 minutes left to live. It's actually a remake of an old Israeli film from the nineties and was directed by Phil Alden Robinson, who I know for making "Field of Dreams". It's got some ideas and moments, and I like Mila Kunis in it; I tend to think she's underrated as an actress and sometimes get some shitty roles, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it. It's trying to be quirky-indy I guess but I don't think it succeeds. I got around also to "Tales of Earthsea", the animated debut feature from Goro Miyazaki, the son of the great Hayao Miyazaki; I had previously seen his last feature, "From Up on Poppy Hill"  which I liked. I didn't care much for this movie at all though, which is apparently based on a famous fantasy book series. I really hated it however; it's bogged down by a lot of the problems I typically find with fantasy, and ultimately this was boring, despite the animation. I finally got around to an old classic, "A Farewell to Arms" the classic one with Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes. Of course, it's based off Ernest Hemingway's famous novel, which I have not read, so I can't really judge it on that. That said, I wouldn't call it a great, essential classic or anything but it was pretty good for the time. It's a classic war-romance and it's done well, although I'm starting to realize that Gary Cooper is probably not my favorite old-time actor. It's the first movie to win a Sound Oscar, (Previously the studios were nominated, not the films) and it's actually quite impressive for the time, so it's a recommend. And I got one more to get through, a documentary called "Terms and Conditions May Apply", yes, timely, I know. It's about Terms and Conditions agreements that websites offer, and basically it's about, how all our information is sold by the places we shop and sites we used for advertising, blah, blah, blah, I have enough computer hacker friends and enthusiasts around me, so I hear all this all the time. I don't want to sound dismissive of it, 'cause it actually a problem, and it's a decent documentary, but eh, I'd bet money that there's probably better "Frontline" episodes on the same subject out there, or something of that nature.

Alright, that out of the way, let's get to it, this weeks' editing of our MOVIE REVIEWS, starting with the Oscar-Winning Films, "Manchester By the Sea" and "Arrival"!


MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016) Director: Kenneth Lonergan

★★★★1/2



"Manchester by the Sea" is about grief, although like all of Kenneth Lonergan's directorial works, what it's actually about is any pent-up deep disturbing emotion that his character struggles to deal with and overcome. Usually, that's guilt, although not always. (Although it is here) Lonergan's one of those director's who more looked upon as a writer, and not even a screenwriter usually; he's typically more well-regarded for his plays, although I find myself fascinated by some of his more unusual IMDB credits, including one of my favorite episodes of "Doug" and the feature film "The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle". Oh, he also wrote "Gangs of New York" too, as well as "Analyze This". He's pretty eclectic and versatile as a writer, but when he's writing and directing, he seems to focus on a couple interesting themes. Mainly, family and the emotional strains that his characters go through. His first feature, "You Can Count on Me", his best feature still, deal with a single mother reconnected with his more troubled and extroverted brother, who's suddenly come back into her life. His second feature, might be his most fascinating, especially from a behind-the-scenes perspective, "Margaret", a film about a teenage girl who inadvertently causes a fatal bus accident, and her struggle to figure out what to do about it. That movie is notorious for several reasons, not the least of which is the several different cuts that are out there of it, but also because of it's struggles in the editing room. The film took years to finish editing and two post-production lawsuits before it eventually got a theatrical release, which is about two and a half hours long, and that was from a screenplay that was purportedly well over 350 pages, and there's several reports of people from Martin Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Sydney Pollack, Scott Rudin, and about nine other people brought in for the editing of the film it seems and there are several cuts out there. Honestly, I'm shocked he was allowed to direct a major motion picture of his own again, (Hell, I'm shocked Fox Searchlight didn't fire him, or at least take away final cut from him either after all that time.) at least so soon after. Nearly every other example I can think of, of something like that happening, has led to people never directing again, or at least not ending up with something this good and successful afterwards. (Quick, name a movie Michael Cimino made after "Heaven's Gate"? Exactly.) Anyway, "Manchester by the Sea", is about Lee Chandler (Oscar-winner Casey Affleck) a curious fellow who works as a janitor for a few different complexes, but he's called back home after the sudden death of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler). Joe died of a congestive heart failure, a disease he's had for some time off-and-on and he leaves behind a young son, Patrick (Oscar-nominee Lucas Hedges). The movie jumps in time a bit, most people will note the scenes of Lee's previous life, being married to Randi (Michelle Williams), but there's other scenes too, including an early scene with Joe and his then-wife Elise (Gretchen Mol) who we later learn left the family, partly because of drug and alcohol abuse, but in the intervening years has become clean and began privately trying to get back in contact with Patrick. Meanwhile, much to Lee and Patrick's chagrin, Joe has apparently listed Lee as Patrick's guardian, something that neither of them want, Lee can't handle and neither of them, have any idea what to do about it. Patrick, a 16-year-old young boy, has option with the local girls, most notably, Silvie (Kara Hayward, which is awkward casting, 'cause they played boyfriend and girlfriend in "Moonrise Kingdom" years ago, when they were like, twelve, huh.... Boy, that's kinda weird, like that episode of "Working" where Fred Savage's character hooks up with a girl at the bar played by Danica MacKellar. [The four people who remember that show, of course]) and Sandy (Anna Baryshnikov) both of whom he's sleeping with, and both of whom are doing a much worst job of hiding from their sexual escapades from the girls' respective parents than they think, as well as Patrick's lackluster job of hoping that the two girls don't know about each other, when they probably almost-certainly do. Also, and I have to point this out, 'cause it's just too weird for me to understand, over one of the attempted sex scenes, (I say attempted, 'cause they're rarely successful, at least entirely) they're apparently listening to Bob Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts"; I'm as big a Dylan fan as anybody, and that's one of my favorite songs of his, and while it is like eight and a half minutes long, I cannot imagine how anybody ever successfully had sex during it, much less a couple of teenagers, forty years after "Bloods on the Tracks" came out. (Okay, yes, the album it's on, makes it thematically make sense for the movie, but boy, is that a peculiar song choice.) About a third of the way through the movie, we learn something about Lee's past that I'm not gonna reveal here, only that, it will inform us about his character for the rest of the film and I'll say that it's sad and tragic. Casey Affleck is quite amazing and stirring here. It's easy to see why he'd win the Oscar for his work. Both Lee and Patrick are suffering through grief, one who's going through the motions but too young to fully comprehend that that's what he's going through and the other, who's stuck so deep that he might never get out of it, and how both characters, now stuck together have to figure out how to learn to get along with each other. It's an age-old question of whether you suffer alone or suffer together, and no matter which choice they decide, they will be suffering. I had a FB friend recently, who suddenly changed his tune on "Manchester by the Sea", shortly after losing a parent himself, saying that, while he liked the film at first and gave it a positive review, afterwards, the movie touched him deeper than he ever expected too. To me, the most painful and truthful scene in the film, ironically, is a dream sequence, where Lee has fallen asleep on the couch, only to suddenly be woken by a character we haven't seen in a while. He then immediately wakes up to realize something's wrong and quickly gets the situation fixed, and I can tell you from experience, that kind of thing happens. Logistically, I'm not sure how to take "Manchester...", cause I can tear it down story-wise, but emotionally it works. Although, not entirely. I mentioned the reveal scene, of Lee's past, and while it's a great scene and sequence, and along with one other scene that every other critic's brought up that basically earned Michelle Williams an Oscar-nomination despite, barely being in ten minutes of this film, I can't help but wonder if there was any other part of the movie that scene could've been placed better? I don't know the answer, but hypothetically, it could've been placed anywhere and had the same effect. That part bugs me, and that's why I'm slightly more reluctant to overly praise "Manchester by the Sea", but that's a very minor quibble in an otherwise wonderful film. It's not a sad movie, just a film about sad characters going through life.


ARRIVAL (2016) Director: Denis Villeneuve

★★★★★



I'm still debating about the ending of "Arrival", myself, especially the faux Christopher Nolan meets faux Terrence Malick part, and the kinda perverse, when-you-think-about-it, message it's sending, or insinuation of a message.... I won't explain it, and I can see arguments on both sides on the science and theory of it,... Anyway, part of me, wants to really simplify this film, especially cause of the ending, but I can't do that. There's too many interesting and mysterious things here, and considering other movies that have used this playing with different waves of time conceit in recent years, most of which have sucked, this movie, does it well, and actually finds an interesting way of doing that. Lousie Banks (Amy Adams) is a world-renowned linguist, who's occasionally been brought on board by the CIA in order to translate some material before; she's an expert in foreign languages, and, I know a little bit about this second-hand. I actually have a friend who does some translating of stuff like this, ancient literature mostly, I suspect she worked on translating the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I can't confirm that and she won't tell me exactly what she worked on. BTW, yes, people are still translating those scrolls and something else this movie seems to know, is that, not all linguists like this, agree. After the aliens arrive,- we'll get to that, Louise instructs Col. Weber, (Forest Whitaker) who's been brought in to recruit her, and when she declines and he mentions that he's going to talk to one of her competitors. she tells him to ask how he translates a word. One that he thinks means, "War" which she claims means, "An exchange of cows". Yeah, big difference, so yeah, these kind of debates over the intricacies of language is fascinating to me, and strangely, I don't think I've seen too many movies that discuss that. Off the top of my head, only Joseph Cedar's wonderful Israeli film, "Footnote" glimpses at this subject, but that's it, outside of the occasional memorable episode or two of "Star Trek".

Anyway, speaking of "Star Trek", aliens! Aliens have come to Earth, for what, we're not sure. And the process of finding that out, is what the movie is about. They're in several parts of the world, 13 of them to be precise with no true real logistical pattern to their placement, and they're imposing but they don't do much. This is a first contact story, about the struggles of, making first contact, so bring in the linguist. Louise is paired with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) a physicist, as they are placed in this structural area inside the spaceship that's been crafted by the heptapods, which is the name we give the aliens cause of their seven-tentacle-like structure, and they slowly teach each other their languages. This one, is in America, Montana to be precise, but not all of the aliens from the spaceships are learning English. One's in Russia, one's in China, for examples and some of the countries aren't quite sure what to make of the spaceships, or what they say. There's several, several barriers in this struggle and of course, so many things can get lost in translation and even without the distinct different nuances of our own languages, there's even several different interpretations as well. Of course, everybody else is busy learning their language, and things get tricky, when we finally learn enough from each other to figure out why the Heptapods are there.

It's difficult to go to into what exactly happens without giving too much of the story, as well as the storytelling away; Denis Villeneuve's somebody who's work I've usually been less and less impressed with the more films he makes oddly enough, and I'm still not exactly sure "Arrival" is as good as his debut feature "Incendies" but as a director, he's off the charts here. Combining old-school montage techniques with modern-day craftsmanship better than he ever has before.Amy Adams is magnificent in what must've been a difficult role, especially when you realize that she's-, well, I don't want to give it away, but. there's an aspect of her character that I'm purposefully avoiding talking about, 'cause of how it's used in the overall narrative, which again, I'm not sure I like, but I get it here. Technically there's a lot of great work going on, visual effects of course, but the production design in particular is fascinating to me, and very underrated in this film. It is technically sci-fi, but the way they combine more modern production design with futuristic ideas is quite well done, and really impressed me in particular. Overall, this is one of the best filmmaking accomplishments of the year. Every aspect has something intriguing about it, and above everything else, it's the reason why this movie works so well. It's the kind of film that's good on the page, but becomes great with the amount of thought and work put into it.


A MAN CALLED OVE (2016) Director: Hannes Holm

★★★★



I wasn't particularly inclined to liking "A Man Called Ove". I was already skeptical going in after the movie earned a perplexing Oscar nomination for Best Makeup & Hairstyling, one that I still, don't particularly understand, although it's not like that Academy Branch has ever made any sense to begin with. That said however, this is a good heartwarming story that got me to shed a tear for poor misanthropic Ove (Rolf Lassgard). Ove, is an widower who's recently been fired from his factory job and has decided to commit suicide. He fails at this several times as something or someone keeps interrupting him. Usually it's Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) an Iranian refugee who's moved into one of the homes next door. The housing complex their in, is itself a battleground as Ove, was once the head of the housing board, until a coupe orchestrated by his friend Rune (Borje Lundberg) who he had had a major disagreement with over their choice of automobiles. (Ove only drove Saab, Rune, Volvo) Rune's since been rendered mute after a severe stroke, and his wife Anita (Chatarina Larsson) begins having trouble with a governmental group he calls the Whiteshirts who want to institutionalize Rune. The movie has several flashback, through Ove's life. One might, consider this black comedy at first, as something similar to the strange cerebral humor in "The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared", but this movie, is less "Forrest Gump" and more Ebenezer Scrooge. It's a curmudgeon-turned-hero tale that's perpetuated by this, strange character who's been on by irony all through his life and even now when he wants to end, something keeps stopping him. Eventually, he's teaching Parvaneh to drive, and finding old students of his wife Sonja (Ida Engvoll) who recently passed away, and how he rallied behind her and her dreams after a disastrous honeymoon. I guess the thing that ultimately makes Ove endearing is that while he's quick to judge and a bit of a tyrant to the neighborhood when he's pesky rules aren't always obliged, he's always striving to do what he thinks is right, even if that means putting off your death so others can live their life right. It takes a while but Ove does become lovable once you unravel his layers and that's the great writing. This film was adapted from a popular Swedish novel, which probably has quite a bit of local Scandinavian traits to it that, frankly I think I miss. I get the feeling that Ove is something of what we might consider an Archie Bunker-type everyman character, obviously not the-, well, no, actually the racism is there a bit too, but like Archie he overcomes that, and is ultimately lovable. It takes a lot of passion to go to a local hardware store to complain that the rope he bought didn't work.


BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016) Director: Zach Snyder

★★



(February, 2014, David sits at his computer desk, working on his reviews.)

DAVID
La, la, la, my life's awesome. I review movies all day. Let's see, eh, what's next, eh, well, I did all the Oscar nominees, so, top one that's not? I guess, it's "Man of Steel"? Well, it's "Superman", so I guess that's bigger than Shaymalan's one with Will Smith. Although that film just sucked, so yeah, let's pretend Superman's bigger and more important.

(David starts typing)

DAVID
Eh, type, type, type. Eh, good portrayal of Lois Lane for once, glad they did Zod, tone all over map. Decent, boring typical Superman story....- Ultimately forgettable, blah, blah, blah, typing, typing, type-ing, typing-typing-type-ing, and-eh, looking at my notes, I guess that's it. Eh, I guess I'll recommend it. And, I'm done, finally.

(David stops typing)

DAVID
Alright, that was easy, Now to rip a new one into "After Earth".... This'll be fun.

(Starts typing rapidly, stops suddenly, self-reflection pose)

DAVID
You know, it's sad. So many reviews I write, so many movies, and it's almost always gonna be the really great ones or the really bad ones I remember. I mean, look at that Superman movie I just reviewed, what was it called? "Steel... Something". I had a lot to say, it was okay, but you know, ultimately, nobody is ever gonna remember, discuss or think about that movie ever again. In fact, that film was practically the quintessential example of a film like that, a movie that's so average nobody will ever think or talk about it ever again! Sad, I guess?
(Shrugs)
Am I thinking out loud again? I really shouldn't do that. Oh well, back to ripping M. Night a new asshole.

(David types again)

DAVID
Do-de-do, duh-do,do type type type, type, type, typing....

(Present Day)

(Growling annoyed breath)

WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ALL OF YOU?!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!!?!

(Sigh) Okay, I will get to this abomination of a movie, in a minute, but seriously, what the fuck is wrong with all of you, and your obsessions with "Man of Steel"?! I've seen more arguments, more debates, more fights, more people asking shit about "Man of Steel" on Facebook groups over these last three years that practically mentions of Christopher Nolan, and "Fight Club" combined! WHY!? What the hell!? We're you all not watching the movie? It-, it was-, forgettable. Seriously, I literally forgot the movie existed the second I was done writing my original review of the film, 'cause despite some really good stuff in it, like how they skim over his youth, introduce Zod as the main villain and not Lex Luthor, as well as actually get and make Lois Lane smart and not just some idiot who keeps getting herself into trouble, the movie was still, basically just a Superman story, and Superman, is not that interesting.

Sorry, to be the one to tell you guys that, but he's not. He's never been that interesting. Sure, "Superman II" I still think of as one of the great superhero films, but keep in mind, that's not a particularly long list. The comics, eh, not really that interesting. The TV shows, well, I guess "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" holds up, but I'd hardly call it great or anything, and before that, it was either too goofy or too odd to be that great. (And "Smallville" is garbage! God, take the boring part of Superman and spread it over a decade, ugh! Stupid) It's just Superman. He's invulnerable, except for that one thing, and even then, he overcomes that most of the time. He's not that interesting. He's basically Hercules, another character who's not particularly as interesting a character and we'd like to be, because he's practically invincible so there's no real stakes. That's why Disney basically had to completely twist Greek mythology just to make him compelling. It's not impossible, but "Man of Steel" was neither a success, or a failure at it. It was, average, and the fact that their was so much obsession over that, barely memorable film? (Sigh) I-eh, I-, I-, WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ALL OF YOU!

Well, there you go, since you all argued over that damn thing, for whatever mind-numbing reason, now we're getting another goddamn superhero universe, and this one's from Sony, and now includes, "Suicide Squad" and this film, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"! So, did you get your wish, little ones? No! Well, that ain't my fault you dumb fucks; you're the ones who wished this, didn't you?!" So seriously FUCK YOU ALL FOR THIS!

(Deep, deep breath)

I'm sorry that was too far, I apologize, but that's how it felt. Still though,...- (Scoffy breath)  You know, there's a guy, who's name I'm not gonna mention in one of the FB Film Club's that I'm also not gonna mention, who was astounded when I said that, I don't get excited or anticipate for movies. I told him, it's better, that way I don't get excited and sucked in, sometimes for years, for something I might not even like. I don't, and I don't encourage anybody to do it. He was in shock I was like this, but if I'm like this, I don't get upset over stuff this easily, and I can actually look at something, with a clear perspective. I can appreciate the good more, and not be so invested in something that I can look at it, with clear eyes and not be so one-sided. If others had, I suspect that they probably would've came to the same conclusions I did on "Man of Steel", that it wasn't worth the time, wasn't memorable or great enough to care about, and wasn't bad enough to get upset and infatuate over it. Unless, you were an idiot, and decided that, "Oh, my God, Superman movie, I better get excited over this, doy! And I will care, and it must be good, and if it's not, it's awful, and we must talk about it, again and again and again..., and I will call him George and...!"-AHH! You know, I don't mind people talking and discussing movies, but save it for something that's actually worth talking about. I'm sorry it's important to whatever crackerjack thing you're making the studios make, but if it isn't worth it afterwards, then that's the end of it, and stop trying to make more of it than it is, because you made more of it, before you ever saw it. Again, you do that, you end up with this.

(Deep breath)

And now, let's talk, "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice". First off, stupid title. "Dawn of Just-"-, okay I know what that means, but that's still stupid. I didn't think "Captain America: The First Avenger" was any good, but I didn't need to know that "The Avengers" were a thing to actually understand the point of that subtitle. Also, "v", should be "vs." Versus." Vs. is "versus", not just a V. And even if you do do just a V, you still need a period after it. It just looks stupid without it. "Batman Roman Numeral Five Superman"?! "Batman Vagina Superman, huh?!"  Third stupid thing, Batman and Superman in the same universe. Why? Why?- I don't care that it's happened in a 1,000 comics and cartoons, this combining of superheroes doesn't make sense. (And if I read one comment about Batman not being a superhero, I'm gonna come through the computer and shove your iPads down your throat!) Alright, let's say I ignore all the problems with this, and just try to judge the movie on it's own terms. (Sigh) Does "Batman v Superman..." hold up as a film? Well, it's failures are more interesting than "Man of Steel"'s. That movie's big problem, often than it's drawn-out length, was basically that it was a new retelling of the universe, so there were growing pains in trying to translate something that was and for the most part has always been essentially cartoonish, even at it's best, and trying to make it more gritty and realistic. I thought it succeeded fine, but it didn't excel the way that, say Nolan's "Batman" films did. I thought it was basically, just a regular Superman story, but that was a compliment to the film, that it did try enough things different to get people to notice, but essentially stuck to the formula. I-, I-eh, I can't make that claim here.

I'm honestly trying to find a way to defend it, but there's no getting around this, this is not Batman (Ben Affleck). And I'm not talking Affleck, he's fine in the role, but the role doesn't resemble a Batman I know. Sure the conflict between whether he's doing good or not, that's always there, but it's always an inner conflict, not, a superhero who definitely knows he's doing bad in order to prevent worst, (And that worst would definitely not be something stuck in his head, it would be a real threatening person he'd be against) He certainly wouldn't call himself a criminal, that was weird, and not normal. This was more, Crazy Steve than Batman. (Yes, I made a Linkara reference; believe it or not and I am actively trying to understand the appeal of comic books, franchises like these, and the general world/culture of/within them.) Anyway, as to the story, and I'm not gonna go over all of it, but I don't think it's truly awful, but I also don't think it's told well. The idea that a Superman who may not be as aware of the detriments of his own actions and sacrifices, and another superhero being the one to try to stop him is okay, but this story feels, incomplete. It's almost like, there's a longer version to this where the movie makes sense, but instead we don't get it. I think that problem existed with "Man of Steel" as well too. And I don't it's uncommon with Zach Snyder. I really loved "Watchmen" from him, which also tended to drift between several superheroes and characters at work, but that movie was introducing a lot of characters, as well as taking, pretty faithfully from the graphic novel it was based on. I've been told, this is an amalgam of a couple different comic books and that wouldn't surprise me. Especially since, some characters like Lois Lane (Amy Adams) don't have nearly as much to do as the earlier film, and Diana Prince, (Gal Gadot) yes, Wonder Woman, for the first time ever, in a feature film, barely is there at all. I don't even know why they bothered with that reveal, and for some reason, apparently was around in Belgium, during WWI, what the hell was with that?

That said, the thing that almost saves this movie for me is surprisingly, Lex Luthor. Jesse Eisenberg's performance is easily the best in the film, and he actually creates an interesting version of this character. I know a lot of people were pissed that they killed off Jimmy Olson in that franchise; I'm not, 'cause I never like that character anyway, but I really never liked Lex Luthor. Any version. I forget he even exists half the time, he's so, bleh. He's either an eccentric bumbler of a millionaire, or just, some-, I don't know what, really. He's rich and fascinated with Superman, and kinda menacing, and I guess a controller of everything, but-, I always saw him with confusion. Wondering why Superman doesn't just snap this guy like a twig if he's such a pain in the ass. It wouldn't even be that hard. But this Luthor, who's an awkward technical and business specialist, but is also a bit sociopathic and psychotic, with a religious infatuation who's willing to go riduculous extremes...., this feels like a suitable villain for the man from Krypton. In fact, this version would make a good Batman villain, and sure Eisenberg's character has some tendencies towards the Joker in this version, which I'm favor of, but think about it. Wayne and Luthor, competing global weapons enterprises leaders, both the sons of powerful entrepreneurs and businessmen, both trying to use their skills and knowledge to control the world, that's awesome! Hell, he's a better Iron Man villain, than any villain that series has had. This is the best written and best performed Lex Luthor I've ever seen. Eisenberg is menacing and yet believable as a combo Joker meets Julian Assange playboy-wannabe who does anything for power. He's also worth recommending the film for.

Almost. "Batman v Superman..." is just not good enough to take seriously, and yeah, the "Martha" bit is stupid, although I'm mostly annoyed to find that Ma Kent stood for Martha Kent than anything else, (Although I personally like the idea of going after Clark's mother to manipulate Superman, especially since this whole film is about Superman's lack of peripheral vision when it comes to other people and the world around him; that actually makes sense here) I'm not big on Superman and Batman fighting to begin with, so I guess in that sense, Martha doesn't bother me so much, but it doesn't help that this movie, doesn't feel like a complete believable story. I think there's one here, but it's too bogged down in stuff that's unimportant and it seems to just skimp over things that are probably more interesting to see. I guess this is a film that's apart of a larger franchise, and this was an introduction to it; I still content that's stupid, in of itself, but, and it really pains me to say this, but,,it was done better with "The Avengers", where you got introduced to each main character in their own movies. (Granted, those characters aren't as compelling as Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman, so  they needed more movies, but, that doesn't matter since this movie fails too.) Yeah, I understand getting upset and discussing to death this one. I still contend "Man of Steel" got way too much attention, but still.....


THE BFG (2016) Director: Steven Spielberg

★★★★



It's so bizarre that I've come across a feature film based on a children's lit novel that I've actually read, (and heard of) that the novelty alone for me is something that, frankly I'm not a 100% sure how to react to it. "The BFG" is of course based on the novel by Roald Dahl, most famous from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach", and what a constantly passed-around and read book when I was in Elementary School. Hell, I even read it, and I wasn't a reader back then, except for one time I read "Heidi", which is still my favorite book btw. (No, I'm not kidding, and you can ask people who knew me back then, they'll testify to it) That said, I'm a bit surprised, both that this one got made, and that this film, took this long to get made. The book came out in '82 and while it's a pretty memorable fantasy and definitely in tune with some of Dahl's more strange and surreal works, there's bit of "Matilda" and "Charlie and the Glass Elevator" in here, especially the latter one, where there's a lot of political satire, direct political satire, not symbolic ones. but yeah, times have changed in young adult novels. Hell, I made a joke on Twitter asking how come there's never been a female wrestler named Nancy Drew, and almost nobody got it, not even wrestling fans. (There's a major pro wrestling tag team called the "Hardy Boyz", they've been around for decades. Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys? No? Just trust me, that's an actual thing that should've been funny) So,- personally, my gut instinct tells me that, the magic parts of this story, that appealed to kids from my generation, and earlier, it's probably not gonna appeal to a modern kid. That said, Steven Spielberg, apparently waited this long because until now, he wasn't sure that technology would be able to adequately tell this story the was it's supposed to on film, and-, yeah, I can't imagine this film being this good, if it was made, even say, fifteen or twenty years ago. Still though, of all of Dahl's work, well-, I hate "James and the Giant Peach", but the movie and the book, but other than that one, this is the one that I'm the most surprised that got made at all. Adapted by the late Melissa Mathieson, who you'll remember as the writer of "E.T.", and the first time Spielberg has made a movie with/for Disney, believe it or not, "The BFG" is a Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance) who kidnaps, sorta, a young orphan girl, Sophie (Ruby Barnhill), because she was up late at night, 3:00am to be exact, and since she spotted him, he had to take her. You see, in this world, which is geography, somewhere north of the United Kingdom and hang a right through the correct cloud formation. is the land of Giants. Most of these giants are big mean bullies who go out at night, kidnap human beans, mostly children, and they eat them up. Meanwhile, BFG is vegetarian, with his only real, or at least a giant who doesn't eat humans. He diet is mostly some icky-looking vegetables that occasionally he makes into a stew. Although, like all the giant, he loves a good bottle of frobscottle, which is a green drink that fizzes at the bottom, which leads to one of the funniest fart scene in a movie, short of "Blazing Saddles". He's hiding Sophie for awhile, but eventually, the other giants begin sniffing her out. He's known as "Runt" to them, and they're all pretty much, big meanies, even if they weren't eating children. Eventually, the resolution to this, involves the BFG, having to reveal his and the other Giant's existance by asking the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) for help. No, I'm dead serious, and that was how the book worked too. Like, I said, this is a particularly magical, classic piece of young adult literature, the kind that appeals to really young kids, but it's still enjoyed by adults, but from a pre-Harry Potter world. For me, as somebody who's always been lukewarm to Dahl, but enjoyed the book, I was really impressed with the movie. It's not one of Spielberg's best or anything, despite the fact that he's had this in production for a couple decades now, but try and imagine this was made thirty years ago, and I bet more people and more kids would appreciate it, and it's certianly better than a lot of the mid-'80s kids movie that I hear constantly brought up. (couchs, Goonies is a piece of shit, coughs) That said, the movie basically hinges on whether or not we like the BFG character at all, and Rylance gives truly an amazing and touching performance. Without him, I'm not sure I recommend this film at all. He's not the BFG that I ever imagined, but he transcends that idea and great a more interesting, humble, subtle character even. One who caring and sweet, but might not have the greatest vocabulary but knows how to say the words that allow us to understand his good nature. It's one of the greatest CGI performances of all-time and makes "THE BFG" more than worth watching. I don't know, if outside of that, it's the greatest technical achievement, although the Production Design is mesmerizing at times, but it's still quite good.


THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS (2016) Director: Chris Renaud; Co-Director: Yarrow Chaney

★★1/2



So, in the middle of this ninety-minute TV pilot of a cartoon series that didn't get picked up, this movie has a daydream sequence where a couple dogs are going through a sausage factory, delighting in their blissful euphoria, and then, all the sausages start talking before they're guided to a magical utopia of happy sausages, all of whom are singing "We Go Together" from 'Grease". I-, I have no words. Literally, I-, I do not know what to make of this scene, nor do I think anybody does or will either, I hope.... So, "The Secret Life of Pets" is being called, in every review I can find, "Toy Story" with Pets. (Shrugs) That's a bit,-, I don't know, comparing this to "Toy Story" feels wrong to me but I guess that's technically true, but there's already a bunch of movies I can describe like that, especially animated movies. You ever notice that, how there's too many American animated movies out there about some kind of non-human character going into a new world that they're unfamiliar with and have to find their way home? By that definition, "A Bug's Life" is "Toy Story" with bugs, or "The Secret Life of Pets" is just an animated "Homeward Bound...". No, worst, it's an animated "Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco". (Sigh) So, the movie is, as you can tell by the title, about that secret part of pets' lives when their humans are not around. Max (Louis C.K.) is a little terrier who adores her loyal owner Katie (Ellie Kemper), although he doesn't like how she keeps leaving during the middle of the day. He loves when she comes back home at night however. Yeah, he might like her a little too much but...- Anyway, he has some other friends around, other pets who's New York City owners also go to work during the day, they're interesting enough for side characters. (BTW, if there's one thing that is really cool about the movie, it's the fact that New York City, look amazing, the best animation of the city since since "Oliver & Company".) That is until one day, when Katie brings home another dog, Duke (Eric Stonestreet) a big lug of an aging dog that slobbers and tries to bully over the apartment. Of course, Katie just thinks they're growing pains. So, when they're out for a walk, from the local dogwalker, through some miscommunication and trickery later, they end up escaped. The most interesting character they run into, I guess, or at least the animal character that we can call the main antagonist is a disturbed rabbit named Snowball (Kevin Hart) who leads a group of rebel animals who fight for the eradication of owners after they were let go or mistreated by their former pet-owners. This, in another movie could've been interesting, but here, it's just weird. Very weird. There's a lot of strange and weird in this. Anyway, somewhere within the last 75 minutes of vertical integration and by-the-books friendship-building between the two opposites later and, it was interesting and funny at times, and there's nothing too-, well, except for the sausage factory sequence, nothing that's too awful. Is it any good? (Shrugs) I guess, if by "good" you mean, something that will shut your kids up for 90 minutes, than yeah, it's "Good". it there any reason to actually sit down and watch it? Eh, no, not really. It's empty and harmless and it doesn't know better, especially with some of it's perverse soundtrack choices, particularly an ending montage with Bill Withers's "Lovely Day", but even with everything I mentioned, this is the typical kind of modern-day animated movie that's technically okay and competent but you'll never remember a single thing about it again.


INDIGNATION (2016) Director: James Schamus

★★★1/2



So, at a certain point during my viewing of "Indignation" which I was mostly slogging through, I found myself uttering this line, after the best scene in the movie:

"Wow! This is the first time this movie's been interesting after one great scene! And then, the stupid voiceover started again. " 

The scene I'm talking about, is so jarringly better and different than what I thought I was watching at first, that I almost thought the whole movie must've been constructed around it. And then as the film continued, is when I started thinking that perhaps the movie is an adaptation of a play that I wasn't familiar with. Instead, longtime Ang Lee collaborator James Schamus's feature-length directorial debut is actually an adaptation of a Philip Roth novel. Okay, I know a little bit about Roth's work but not enough to fully comment on, but I can gather a few things based on his reputation and the films that have already been adapted from his work, although the last one I saw was "The Humbling", and I'd rather forget that one. (Sigh) Anyway, yeah, as interesting as that scene and several others are, the movie's shift in tone from a second-rate variation on "Dead Poets Society" to something I wouldn't expected to hear in a Tchaikovsky play is startling. It's the early fifties right as the Korean War has begun to infiltrate the public consciousness and several young men in America are starting to fall. Marcus (Logan Lerman) is the son of a New Jersey kosher butcher, but his father's starting to become paranoid and overly-concerned about, everything, especially Marcus. His future is set in stone as he's going to a prestigious Catholic school. Marcus has good grades and is a stellar student, but his big Jewish family only want him to grow up to be a nice Jewish boy, and get with a nice Jewish girl and be very, very Jewish, Jewy Jew. It's really elaborated, very much so that he's Jewish. The head of the college's Jewish fraternity, Sonny (Pico Alexander) gets in touch with and tries to befriend him, but that doesn't go anywhere since he just wants to buckle down and study and not be involved in too much extracurricular work. He does go on one date with a French Literature major he met in class, Olivia (Sarah Gadon) which goes very well as she decides to give him a blowjob. This freaks out and confuses the hell out of the virgin Marcus, who wants to know why she would do that, and how "expertise" she might be at it, and, I'll be honest, he's also quite New Jersey-ish, and this internal conflict really strangely, did feel very much to me like that one scene in "Clerks" you're definitely thinking about now. Anyway, the scene I'm talking about most is a two-hander scene Marcus has with the school's Dean, eh, Dean Caudwell (Tracy Letts), in which, after an altercation with one of his dormmates, he requests a transfer, and the Dean decides to interrogate Marcus on why. This scene, is, an amazing two-hander that I think should be studied and probably needs to be acted out. It's a perfect scene to use for an audition. Knowing what came before it helps, but still, hypothetically you could come right into the movie at this point and be caught up enough to know what's happening and what's going on, which is not necessarily a good thing.

Now there are other good scenes in the movie, and some great revelations and some interesting subtexts going on in the film. The movie is ultimately bookended with a rather confusing motif that it's about that small  moments and choices that ultimately decide or lead to those decisions that ultimately take your life. I think, this probably works better in the book, I guess? And it's actually more confusing when we see the final kind of bookend tag, 'cause it's kinda like-eh, the voiceover is from one person is imagined by another,-, eh, I don't know. I don't get it, honestly. I'm torn on this movie, there are some parts that are just amazing, and other parts that, seem like they should be from another movie. They do go together enough for me to recommend, I guess. I think this movie might be better in theory as you discuss than it actually plays out, but it's clear that there's a lot going on here, maybe more than a movie can actually encompass, but, enough to get your attention and make you think.


THE PEOPLE VS. FRITZ BAUER (2016) Director: Lars Kraume

★★★★



There seems to be an intriguing trend in German cinema lately to not look at the Holocaust so much, but as to the side-effects, or lack thereof of them in recent years. There's still, to this day, people being arrested and put on trial for their crimes and now there's been a conscientious look at recent films that take a look at those who were responsible for bringing some of the more infamous and notorious names to justice, one way or another. Hell, this isn't even the first recent film about capturing Adolf Eichmann, and there's other movies like "Hannah Arendt" which was an observer of the trial, and just last year, a similar film, "Labyrinth of Lies" was Germany submission for the Foreign Language Oscar, and that was quite a good film too and because they're quite similar, "The People vs. Fritz Bauer", (See, VS. is "Versus," not "V"!) naturally invites comparisons between them. Fritz Bauer (Burghart KlauBner? Kluassner, that's an s-sound, that weird B? Ugh, my German is really rusty.) for those who don't know, is the main man often credited as being responsible for the Nuremburg Trials but, that's only the tip of the iceberg in which he was responsible for when it came to prosecuting the Nazis, after the War. This story, "The People vs. Fritz Bauer" is about his involvement in the captured of Adolf Eichmann (Michael Schenk). Eichmann, was captured by Mossad in Argentina after years of hiding out and was brought to trial in Jerusalem. He's the person most famous for, not seeming like a Nazi, a quiet, plain man who claimed he was just following orders and was mostly a bureaucrat for the party. Nowadays, most suspect that this image that he perpetuated is part of what made him so dangerous and that he was indeed as bad as some of the more famous names at the top of the National Socialist regime, but at the time his rather ordinary appearance and behavior is what led to the infamous Stanley Milgrim experiments, but this movie is about how Bauer caught him, and how he had to run through several back-channels, including tipping off and exchanging info with Mossad to do it, which was treason, for all-intensive purposes. Hence, the-eh ,"Trial" part, although the title is still facetious. The story and the reason for his actions is because of how corrupt and still essentially, Nazi-filled and influenced the West German government was, including those who was supposed to be investigating this. I know, the nice story is that, Hitler killed himself in the bunker and WWII ended and all the Nazis died with him, but that's not quite how it happened. It was quite a long arduous process that took years to sift out, and Bauer got constant threats and not-to-mention, several attempts to deter his work. That's why he went around to make sure, that, if he couldn't bring Eichmann to Germany for trial, he was certainly getting captured and put on trial for his crimes somewhere. The movie, documents that journey and struggle along with his Deputy Heinz Mahler (Rudiger Klink) who, from what I can tell, seems to be a composite character designed to express some of Fritz's own struggles. For instance, Bauer was gay and was caught in Copenhagen where he lived for several years after escaping the Nazis, with several male prostitutes, something that didn't come out in his life, and was still against the law, btw. (Most of those laws were held over from Hitler's regime btw) Heinz is also gay, and like Bauer, married, and with a kid on the way, but has an attraction to an androgynous nightclub singer. This, is the weakest part of the film, although I understand why it's added. "The People vs. Fritz Bauer" is more about the underlying history than the personal and it's telling a story that was mostly kept secret until recently about a good man doing anything he could to make sure justice was served. It reminded me as much of Spielberg's "Lincoln" as anything else, with it's manipulation of the political systems in order to achieve a larger goal.


TRUTH (2015) Director: James Vanderbilt

★★★★



There's some famous quote out there, about lies traveling faster than the truth that I can easily put up here, but we need the truth more than ever now in our society, and most especially out of our medias, and there's nothing out there that proves that more than "Truth". Yeah, it's hard to watch this movie somewhat in light of the modern news media landscape. It's not impossible, in fact, if anything, it's actually quite inspiring to find a movie that's about journalists trying to get to the bottom of a story and get the facts right. It's just that they failed this time. Director James Vanderbilt's debut feature, and yes, he's related to those Vanderbilt's, tells the tale of the infamous investigation into George W. Bush's military service, or probably lack of service as there's several aspects of the story that were both true and suspicious even today, but not necessarily enough to actually claim 100%. However, "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes, (Cate Blanchett) believes she's found the silver bullet, and the evidence seems to indicate that. (Sigh) Of course, when it airs, it turns out soon enough, that it doesn't. This was during the 2004 Election, where the Swift Vote scandal essentially just flat-out lied about John Kerry's military record which to many, led to Bush's ultimate election, and on one hand, they're giving equal time and attacking, or trying to with facts. On the other hand, they might've been too determined too do that. This is the scandal that led to Dan Rather's (Robert Redford) resignation, and forever tarnished the most trusted man in news. Even though, it was the right move. He wasn't asked to resign, he stood behind the story as long as he could, and it wasn't entirely dismissed as false, and at the same time Mapes and Rather were breaking the Abu Ghraib scandal at the same time and hardly anybody in the mainstream doubted the legitimacy of that reporting or that investigation. It's hard not to think about the lack of investigative reporting there is anymore, but "Truth" is a reminder that, the news industry isn't entirely as bought off and corrupt is inspiring, even if at times it feels more like science-fiction. "Truth" has a couple things against it. Timing, not only did it come out the same year as an even better and more inspiring journalist movie, "Spotlight", but also, twelve years later this story has already basically been told, most notably, a variation is a storyline point on Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" but the details are still fascinating and entertaining. I can't help but think this would've been more powerful years earlier, when the message doesn't feel so dated, but I can't help that. I follow Dan Rather on Facebook, and I highly recommend doing that, he's still out there at his age calling out the establishment whenever he can. In some aspects, you can argue that he basically didn't get much more punishment than Bill Maher's post 9/11 false scandal. That's not a criticism, just an observation. It might have helped if this movie didn't feel so much like the end of an era as opposed to a rebirth.

The movie is otherwise well-acted especially by Blanchett and particularly who slips into Dan Rather's shoes like a glove. He might not look like him but emotionally he seems like the way you wish everybody's hero would be once you actually meet them. It's a shame Redford's retiring, I know he's old now, but I still suspect he's got a couple more films in him given the right roles. Between this and "All is Lost" I'm just starting to get interested in him as an actor again.


THE NIGHT BEFORE (2015) Director: Jonathan Levine

★★1/2



You know, I'm sure things like this exist, these secret, super-exclusive private events and parties that only those in the know, really know about, and in some certain contexts it makes sense, "Eyes Wide Shut" comes to mind, but other than that, why, do, these things exist? "The Night Before," is about this elusive, mythical Christmas Party called "The Nutcrackers' Ball" and while, it's fairly, low on the whole scavenger aspect of something like this, say compared to, the movie I always think about when I think about this conceit, "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist", but, again, why? Maybe I'm not a party person, but I-eh, I just don't get this. Why would I, go and seek out some, eh, some, gathering that's somebody so epic and great, this night of debauchery that's Philistine levels of...- (sigh) I don't know, maybe this is just a growing up in Vegas thing, but, you know, you tell me the greatest party ever is happening, and I'm like, "Well yea, every other night at the Ghostbar at the Palms and every other day at Rehab at the Hard Rock." I mean, I've seen and been apart of some crazy-ass shit and parties and I don't even go out to parties, ever. Like, ever. So, even if I've seen stuff that jaded me enough t be unimpressed....- I'm just saying that I don't get this, on a search level to seek these places and gatherings out, or on any level of for that matter. If you want to go to a party or a performance or whatever, tell me where the fuck the place is! Seriously.

Anyway, that rant out of the way, "The Night Before" our three-, uh, "heroes", (Shrugs) I guess, are, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a failed musician who's got some bad memories of past Christmases after his parents' tragic passings at a young age, so he spends Christmas Eve, partying it out. This is the last year though, since his best friends are moving on with their lives. Isaac (Seth Rogen) is married and is about to have a kid with his wife Betsy (Jillian Bell) although she lovingly provides him a nice box of drugs for the night-..., (Sigh), which isn't nearly as endearing as they think it is. (Remember when movies had scenes like that, and it led to Nicholas Cage committing suicide and Elisabeth Shue self-destructively walks into her violent gang-rape? (Hey, come to think of it, what's Mike Figgis been doing....? [Checks IMDB] Huh, I should check out some of these later films of his.) There's also, Chris (Anthony Mackie) a mama's boy who, late in his NFL career has suddenly become an all-pro wide receiver, because of steroids. And since he's in the NFL, shouldn't he have a game to be preparing for at this time of year? (Shrugs) Anyway, they finally managed to get ahold of tickets to this unbelievably rare and while they await instructions for the secret location, they spend some time around town party-crawling and getting into their usual Christmas Eve escapades, oh and-eh, along the way there's some girls in the white t-birds, or in this case Ilana Glazer as some local thief who Chris keeps running into and getting swindled, (Actually now that I think about it, she's more like the Candy Clark character from "American Graffiti" and not the Suzanne Somers one, but oh well.) and Ethan struggles to get back together with a perfect ex that he screwed up with, Diana (Lizzy Caplan)

There's something off about this film, and other similar movies about wild nights of partying and I couldn't quite figure out what it is until now, and it's the rigid structure of these movies.  If there's ever a genre that should just, not give a shit about planting and payoff, it's this one. The whole conceit about these wild party movies is that they're huge wild parties, and huge wild parties, um, they don't have much planting and payoff within them. Shit just kinda happens. That's part of why "The Hangover" was so popular, was the randomness of it and even though I don't particularly think that film worked as well as it possibly could've, some of these other movies, don't. For instance, there's a scene in this film, very early on, where there's a conversation between a couple characters about how somebody loves Miley Cyrus. Then, eventually, they run into Miley Cyrus, playing herself, and btw, along with this and her work in Woody Allen's wonderful and seriously underrated Amazon series, "Crisis in Six Scenes", actually shows that in the right role, she can be a ferociously funny actress, and she's funny here too, but wouldn't this be funnier if running into her was just, random, and not planted, however clumsily? I had a similar beef with "Project X", probably the worst of all these movies, and the expensive car that was mentioned in the beginning, although the payoff actually made that funny, and sure, that was as much an homage to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" as anything else, but-, I mean there's only two things that can happen, either the planting is so obvious that you can't not notice it, or B. the planting is so subtle it's almost subliminal which makes you wonder why even bother with the planting. And besides all that, this is all supposed to take place on a wild party-fueled Christmas night filled with every debauchery known to man. Why would it read like it's a Robert McKee essential story arc? If there was ever a subgenre that could be as Zucker Brothers random as it wants to it's this one, and strangely, there aren't too many movies that aren't. I mean, stretching the definition of the MaGuffin the protagonists are seeking out a bit, this is a subgenre that I might be able to argue "Booty Call" as the best example of it, and while I do think that's an underrated film, that doesn't feel quite right.

It's weird that I've talked about this movie more in theory than I did the actual movie, but, I guess there's some performances and jokes that land. Michael Shannon pops up sporadically doing a really good and really funny Steven Wright impersonation. There's also a running gag about the three guys performing a decent karaoke version of Run-DMC's "Christmas in Hollies", but I don't know. I tend to be a little more forgiving of these broad Seth Rogen stoner comedies, but, I think I've become a bit become a bit pooped out of them lately. This isn't awful but other than the fact that it's Christmas, it's not really different or interesting for me to recommend.


THE PERFECT GUY (2015) Director: David M. Rosenthal

1/2★



"Ugh, this horrible Lifetime movie wannabe....-"

That's literally the only notes I could muster up to write on "The Perfect Guy". That, and for some reason I was generous and wrote down 1/2 Star. I'm not sure why now, but there it is, I'll stick to it. First of all, "The Perfect Guy" is way too close a title to a proposed movie that I've had in my head for years now called "The Perfect Man", don't worry, it's a bad movie the one I long-since abandoned and not even bother writing the script for it, but it wasn't this bad. (And yes, I'm aware that there are other bad movies with either "The Perfect Man" or "The Perfect Guy" as a title, it's a shitty title.  Also, I've seen some more generous film critics compare David M. Rosenthal's latest feature to early nineties Paul Verhoeven films, back in the hay-day of the erotic romantic-thrillers, most of those films never worked to begin with either but, no, I'm right on this one, this is just bad Lifetime movie crap. Let me see if you've heard this one before, a guy and a girl start dating, Carter (Michael Ealy) and Leah (Michael Ealy) everything seems fine. Turns out, suddenly, he's a piece of shit. Yeah, shocking, I know. In this one, he turns out to be jealous emotional stalking psychopath, who can't bare the thought of anybody having or being with Leah and can't live without her and ugh. It's not even like, an arc or anything, it's just, one moment he's perfect, way too perfect to be honest, the scenes where she introduces him to her parents are so over-the-top blissful they almost seem like they're a throwaway scene from "Mulholland Dr.", and then just like that, he's beating the shit out of someone at a gas station. There's a way to do this story, right, 'cause it does happen, all the time, people start in a relationship and it seems great and then by the end, disaster. Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" for instance, told the story chronologically backwards to more explicitly show how they got that way. Eh, probably a better example might be Lawrence Kasdan's "Body Heat", which was basically a re-imagining of "Double Indemnity" but basically the same principle applies, our main character gets into an affair with somebody who we and they think we know and it turns out, bad move, we shouldn't have gotten into that. "Fatal Attraction" is probably the epitome of this. Yeah, there's probably something wrong with the fact that most of these examples involve a woman turning out to be the rabbit-boiling psychobitch and not the guy becoming the hateful, jealous possessive egotist, which happens in a lot of movies too, but is more forgiving there, for some reason, but yeah, in terms of storytelling, a flip of a switch is not really a good storytelling device. And with a title like "The Perfect Guy", (Finger quotes) I mean, now we're going into cliche here, the basic idea that "perfection" isn't what it's cracked up to be, or intangible or whatnot...- I'm sure this movie probably had a bunch of generic bad titles attached to it while trying to figure out the best one, but, ugh. I mean, that's all we have to go on though. If it wasn't for that, basically it's a predictable, stupid movie about a relationship that everybody in the audience realizes is gonna end badly long before it's main character does, because, presumably she's the only one who's not aware that she's in a movie. Or is as dumb as she is. Amazingly while David M. Rosenthal has mostly been unremarkable in his directing career so far, his most notable and interesting film being the father/daughter rock'n'roll set film, "Janie Jones" with Alessandro Nivola and Abigail Breslin, this film was the first feature film written by Tyger Williams since "Menace II Society". Now it's not based on a story of his, that's from an original screenplay called "Valet" by Alan B. McElroy who's known for... (Searching IMDB page) oh Jesus, listen to this list. "Halloween 4...", the original "Spawn" movie and TV series, a couple of "The Marine" films, the first "Left Behind", yes, the one with Kirk Cameron, the "Wrong Turn" franchise, the film version of "Tekken", and maybe most notably, "Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever", holy shit! Wow! I don't normally make light of people who are way more successful in my career path than I am, and I don't mean to, but yikes. He's definitely an interesting person with a varied career, but yeah, I think I'm gonna give Tyger Williams some slack on the material here, but wow, for him, I couldn't have picked two different movies on the quality scale by the same screenwriter twenty+ years apart if I tried. Here's hoping he gets more writing gigs and a better film next time, and hopefully sooner than this. And here's to Alan McElroy's continued success and career and let's hope, his next idea and project is-eh, um, better. Anyway, "The Perfect Guy", this is just a bad made-for-cable movie that somehow managed to get into theaters.


SABOTAGE (2014) Director: David Ayer





I am not somebody, who, ever, watched Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, in general, but also, I never really looked fondly at him as an actor, or even as much of a star to be honest. In retrospect, that's probably not fair, 'cause he's actually not that bad an actor, and there are some glimpses of what he's actually quite capable of in "Sabotage", but-eh, those moments are glimpses at best. "Sabotage", another bad title that's too generic, and lazy since there's already a well-known Hitchcock film with that title, is from Writer/Director David Ayer, who's capable of some great work, most notably "End of Watch" one of the best cop dramas I've ever seen, something that's he's become noted for in particular, but boy is he erratic. Within the last three years, he's made this, "Fury" one of the more boring and forgettable war movies in recent years, that I have to look up my review of it just to find out if I recommended it or not, this film, and most recently, "Suicide Squad" a movie that I reluctantly gave a recommendation to, because of the batshit awfulness it was was at least entertaining. It's strange that he insists on working in the action genre most all of his career, 'cause ironically, his greatest skill is character development. His best films are when he's given the time to create fascinating characters and build compelling relationships between them. that's part of why Denzel Washington got that Oscar for "Training Day", which he penned, that's not a particularly action movie, but it's compelling and watchable because it's essentially about the two main characters interacting with each other. It plays more to his strengths so that when it veers more down the rabbit hole of insanity, we're already at least invested, so we put up with some of the crap at the end. (In fact, now that I think about it that's probably what saves "Suicide Squad" a bit for me, there are compelling characters that he clearly took the time to flesh out and actors who made those characters come to life.) "Sabotage" has Arnold Schwarzenegger, in one of his first major roles since that stint as Governor of California ended. (Shrugs) Like I said, that alone has never been enough to appeal to me, and I'm mostly confused as to why it was for anybody. He plays  Breacher, a leader of a DEA undercover group who's last sting apparently ended with $10 million dollars missing. However, after an investigation led to a lack of proof, the group is activated again, and they're apparently a family, but they're not working well together anymore, despite no real evidence of either one of those facts. Then, they all start dying off in some pretty gruesome ways. This leads to Det. Brentwood (Olivia Williams) out to investigate despite some DEA red tape, and Breacher and the others in the group are not exactly cooperating. I won't go into too many more details, 'cause one they seem to do, it just ends up with another dead body bleeding all over the screen. And it's a predictable whodunit, and, a particularly stupid climax at the end, where somehow Schwarzenegger manages to disappear when there's no possible way that he could have, and no, it's not even cute as a stealth thing, it's just impossible for him to have done. I don't see the point of "Sabotage" existing, really. It's C-list film with a B+-cast, and since I know David Ayer can do better, it's just disappointing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

CANON OF FILM: "BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID"

BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)

Director: George Roy Hill
Screenplay: William Goldman



Years ago, when I was much younger, I would've easily ranked "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" as my favorite western; I think it's a lot of peoples' too. However, the older I get, the less I feel able to defend it. I barely think of it as a western these days, and that's part of the appeal; it's a western that doesn't feel like a western, even back then that was the appeal. The movie feels less like a western and more like, "Easy Rider". (Or more like, how "Easy Rider" should've sounded like.) It's one of the most beloved screenplays of all-time, from one of the most beloved screenwriters of all-time, and it is a great script, and one of the greatest lines of dialogue of all-time, at one of the most dramatic and iconic of moments of all of cinema. On the page, with the dialogue, and story, it works, but, still, there's a scenes where, the Oscar-winning song, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" plays, in a western, and in bright sunny daylight, not a cloud in the sky. I mean, you can argue it's supposed to be anachronistic, well, having a modern pop song at all in this western makes it anachronistic, but that song..., in that scene, with Paul Newman and Katharine Ross trying to ride a bicycle?

The actual story of Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and The Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) is basically there, although I'd have trouble calling it accurate. In fact, to some degree, it's so inaccurate that, I almost get the sense that this film would've worked better as a musical in the vein of "Hamilton" or "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson".

(Pauses. Idea lights up. Writes down note: "Look up musical rights to adapt "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"")

Ross's character, Etta Place was actually a prostitute not a schoolteacher for instance, and while they're claim to fame as legendary bank robbers of the Wild West is firmly in place, and yes, they're big claim is that they became successful heroic robbers on two continents, first in America, and then they went down to South America and did it again after the Hole-in-the-Wall gang disbursed. the movie, isn't so much about their success as it is, a comedy about it. Any attempt to watch the movie to get a sense of Butch & Sundance the people is a fool's journey; it's practically as dumb an idea as watching Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" in an effort to find out more about the real Hitler.

What do we find are two tragic, funny, modern-day heroic anti-heroes in the Old West. They act like their Buster Keaton, two funny things in a strange world, but they're more like Charlie Chaplin, where they're the funny thing in the real world, and the real world is coming to get them. These aren't John Wayne archetypes, they seem more like, two guys who probably idealized the devil-may-care tough guy attitude of Steve McQueen but grew up with the fragility and empathy of James Dean. And despite all the logic problems with that modern-day wit and sensibility, clashing with a time period western, it works, not in spite of it, but because of it.

The film has many aesthetics staples that are now copied so often, it’s hard to enjoy them for their originality, they've been overused to the point of parody now, like beginning the film in a black-and-white, with gray tints, and then switching to color as the story begins. Or the ending death scene, which may be interpreted as suicide, or may just be a prelude to Thelma and Louise type endings. (Well, actually “Thelma and Louise” would qualify as a modern-day Western) The movie, for all the faults of George Roy Hill, who was a good but impersonal director mostly known now for this and the other Newman/Redford combination film, "The Sting", is definitely salvaged by Conrad L. Hall's Oscar-winning cinematography. I didn't intend to do another Hall film so soon after "Road to Perdition", it just ended up that way, but when you go back, this western doesn't look like other westerns, but he did something kinda peculiar, by overexposing most of the film. It got cleaned up in post, but the effect is still there; there weren't that many westerns that looked this breathtaking, and yet seemed like they were grated with a dark edge to it at the time. 

Knowing the real story of Butch and Sundance, doesn’t take away from the movie, it helps to enjoy the film for what decisions were made in making this story. Does it matter that the Katharine Ross character in real life was a prostitute and not a schoolteacher? No. You get more sympathy from a schoolteacher, but the decisions she makes in the film would make more sense if she was a prostitute. They chose sympathy, and it probably makes more sense that a teacher would teach Butch and Sundance how to speak Spanish. (Although, I wouldn’t have any problem believing an old Western hooker would know Spanish, it might even come in handy {no pun intended}). It also makes perfect senseto me that Butch and Sundance would be talking about Australia right before they’re killed. There’s also something perverse about the town marshal trying to round a posse get pushed aside for a salesman selling a two-wheeled contraption that’s the wave of the future. Who notices the metaphorical castration of the Old West the scene represents anyway? I said awhile that Bob Fosse's "Cabaret" was for all-intensive purposes the death of the traditional Hollywood musical; you could argue the same thing about the western with "Butch Cassidy..." not because of it's impact, there were several major westerns, including classic westerns that came later, from Henry Hathaway's "True Grit" all the way too Clint Eastwood's opus, "Unforgiven", the later of which has a better argument for that, but perhaps in terms of approach, you can argue "Butch & Sundance" probably had that impact. There were other neo-Westerns too, but none that were so distinctly modern in tone. The movie has more in common with "Lethal Weapon", which is also a movie that took a popular genre and turned it on it's head with a comedic approach to the material and characters, than it does the spaghetti westerns of it's time or Sam Peckinpah's work at that period.

That's probably the real secret as to it's greatness, why it continues to survive and refuses to go away, not because of it's failings as a western, but cause it succeeds at  what this film actually is. It's one of the greatest and quintessential buddy comedies of all-time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

TV VIEWING 101-CLASS #14: REALITY TELEVISION: GENRE/SUBGENRES AND QUALITY ANALYSIS

Good Morning Class,

Alright, I know it's been awhile, but we're back. Hope you did your homework, I'll collect it later. Today, we're gonna be continuing on "Perspective" and how that is the major determining factor in quality analysis of reality programming, although we're gonna touch a little bit more on genres and subgenres, and I'm gonna be straight with you guys, it's a lot of reading. up front, unfortunately. I know.

For those confused, eh, down the hall, is where Film Viewing 225B: The Feature Film, the Cinema and You, where you all talk about cinema, if you're supposed to be in that class, it's down the hall and to the right? What's that, the door's lock? Well, then you're stuck here, talking about a piece of moving picture that's shot, written, directed, edited, lighted and every other part of the filmmaking process. And don't worry, you're not missing anything, I made that class up. NOW SIT DOWN, this is the subject for today!

Seriously if you all think reality or any other genre of television is that different from movies or cinema, than think again. As we discussed earlier, it's just another form of documentary filmmaking, and not even a new one. The only thing really new about it, is the term, "Reality" television. That didn't come around, until "Survivor", hit in America.

Now, "Survivor" of course, social experiment series, with a competition aspect, so, it's qualified as a reality-competition program, and to be honest, I don't really understand why that term stuck, more than others. Possibly because it's the real, first time the genre was, the biggest show on television. There's been popular ones before, 'The Real World" comes to mind, "Cops" also comes to mind. That was a whole other genre, especially big in the nineties, the-eh, true crime, recreation series. This would "Unsolved Mysteries", "Real Stories of the Highway Patrol" stuff like that. "America's Most Wanted", like I said, "Reality" is a blanket term, used by the public for a lot of subgenres or flat out different genres entirely of television that all deal with, real people, real events, non-fiction, stories, being told about them, this one, just had a documentary recreation aspect to them.

Now, retroactively, while we talked a lot about the predecessors to reality, "An American Family" is probably the show most people think of as the original reality program, and also the series that created the first reality stars, in the Loud Family, especially the late Lance Loud, who was the first openly gay character/person on network television. In fact, he came out on network television, and this was back in the '70s. For our purposes, in terms of how to analyze a show, that's not really important, but culturally that's where a lot of people who think of where the genre really began. Especially, since, what we really consider as the base of the reality genre, finding somebody or something that's interesting, filming it, for documentation purposes that's pretty much the base of reality television. Back then, it was the typical white middle class family, and then, 25 years later, it was Ozzy Osbourne's family. Taking perspective out of it, which do you think is more interesting to see?

I don't know, you guys answer? That's the big question that every television execute's trying to figure out, while they search for the next one that'll capture the public's imagination.

So, why are there so many subgenres of reality television? Anybody have a guess? Sure, when something gets popular they start making and remaking it, but that's-, that's with everything. And with other genres, you can only do that so often. I mean, "Star Trek" was popular, that can lead to other sci-fi shows, but let's go back to "Star Search" again.



So, let's analyze this. First off, it's a talent competition ("The Gong Show", "America's Got Talent") , not the first, but definitely the biggest of those. Well, we had singing, ("American Idol", "The Voice"), Dancing, ("So You Think You Can Dance") of, I'm sorry, dance crews ("American Best Dance Crew"),  vocal group, ("The Sing-Off") Stand-Up Comedy ("Last Comic Standing") and Spokesmodel, ("America's Next Top Model") all, from this show, essentially. (Okay, "The Gong Show' predates "Star Search" but still) but there's like thirty reality series, based, practically just from this show.

Now, yeah, but it's a talent, these people have talent, most of them. Well, you ever sing? You, yeah you? You never sing? Not even in the car or in the shower? Any of you ever dance? Nobody here goes out dancing once in a while? Okay, there we go. Any of you take dance lessons at some point in your life. Yeah, a few of you, raise your hands, c'mon? Any, of you, ever take a date, dancing? Yeah, any of you ever date, period?  Okaujy, I know this is a bunch of film geeks and whatnot, but I'm sure some of have been on a date at some point? How, about-eh, building stuff, any of you ever build something? A few of you? How about gardening; how about painting? How about, cooking? Any of you ever cook? How about eat? Oh, you all like to eat, okay. Can you all, think of a show or two based around those things, reality shows?

You like, to travel, any of you? Now, some of you, will blanket some of these, under other names and guises, for instance, "Lifestyle shows" or-eh, "Informational series", but essentially they're the same thing?

What's the difference between watching a bunch of drunk housewives cause a ruckus in a club, and watching a quiet, soft-spoken guy painting a picture of a bunch of trees? I mean, you're still watching people, you're watching them, act, be, in real life, doing something, something they like to do, or not but you're still people watching. It's not like one's contrived and the other isn't, they're both pretty contrived. You think those easels and paints were just sitting in front of the camera, in a TV studio? It's no different than making sure somebody gets angry with a champagne glass in their hand? It's not like thinks aren't just as staged in real life?

What, they are? You ever get tired and want to go to bed? Sure, where's your bed? In your house, who put it there? Oh, you did, why, you could've put it anywhere? You wanted it there, in your room too? So, you've set up the bed in a particular place and the room the bed's in, in a particular place? If things weren't staged in life, you could've just slept anywhere you wanted, any time you wanted, any place you wanted?

Yeah "All the world's a stage," you damn fucking right it is!

So, everything's staged to some degree, including real life, and all reality television shows, and for that matter, all media for that matter, including regular films and television shows. So what's the difference? What makes one of these good, the other bad, or one of them better or weaker than the other? Say it with me!?

PERSPECTIVE!

Thank you! Perspective! Quality Analysis of reality shows, is about perspective. It's the one single thing, is manipulated and altered, in order to fit a narrative and a point of view on the material. It can be manipulated in many, many different ways, sometimes to the point of where it can be illegal, and a breaking of the public's trust. I talked about that in our discussion on game shows and the early scandals that, have basically controlled and oversaw everything that television's produced ever since, but it's the perspective that's manipulated.

I'll give you a recent example, and very tangible example, ""The Voice", probably the biggest reality show on TV at the moment, still. Biggest reality-competition one at least. There's a lot of differences between that show, and the other singing talent series, particularly, the big one they were up against, "American Idol", one the big ones was that, they wanted to make sure, they didn't have a Simon Cowell character. They don't have a "Gong Show"-like round, where anybody can come in a tryout, at least not on camera. They have judges, who always accentuate positive aspects, that was a big thing, and they made sure to pre-select a lot of the participants, and set up the series so that the judges or mentors were selecting the contestant and not simply, giving them a pass or fail. Now, which perspective is better? Well, there's definitely entertainment value to seeing people who aren't talented trying to sing and not being able to, and seeing them sometimes having to confront that truth, but...- I would argue that, the stronger competition and the more detailed areas of praise is probably a stronger perspective, one thing that I would say makes "The Voice" better, but they're two different and distinct perspectives on essentially the same thing. Now, there's other aspects of those shows that also have arguably different perspective strengths and weaknesses but that's what you're looking at and looking for ultimately.

Yes, it's the same with every other genre, but it's a little complex to see in most reality because it is so subtle. This is why I'm giving you guys some outside reading material today, 'cause I've gone through a few of these subgenres, and there's plenty more that one can do. If it's a part of a person's reality, you can probably construct a reality show around it, and of course, you can also construct a reality show around the people themselves, but most of these aspects-of-life subgenres are the former.

I brought up dating shows before, you're gonna read up on them a bit:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2017/03/dating-shows-analysis-and-history-of.html

There's a bunch of them, there's good ones, there's bad ones, there's really bad ones, most of them intertwine with game shows, unfortunately. Don't necessarily want to think too deeply on our lives with that analogy, but still.

Cooking shows, that's another one:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2014/06/cooking-shows-evolution-and-artistry-in.html
Very popular, everybody likes food, everybody likes good food. Hell, the only show other than "The Amazing Race" and "The Voice" to win the Primetime Reality-Competition Emmy, was a cooking show. "Top Chef', so....

Think about that too, btw, how for almost all of these genres, there's usually both, a more cinema verite approach to the aspect of life, just documenting the event as is, sort of thing, and there's often some kind of competition show format out there as well.

Yes, even in courtroom/judge shows:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2016/10/legalcourtroom-judge-shows-analytical.html
However, "The Law Firm" is mostly a forgotten failed experiment now, since it mostly just seemed like "The Apprentice" but with attorneys, although I didn't hate it. And a courtroom is essentially a competition anyway. It even has a judge to determine the winner. (I know, that joke was awful, I apologize)

So, are there any exceptions to that idea of everything about reality shows are about being apart of everyday life?



Right, there is, the watching of people doing things that are unusual or, not normal for them to be doing. Fish out of water stories aren't new for reality of course. "Reality" is already heightened, reality to begin with and of the Heisenberg Principle is of course, applying here, but-uh, yeah, I guess hypothetically, people could eat these gross things.... yeah, this is about where you can start calling reality shows, "exploitative". All media is of course exploitative to some degree, but yeah, this is around when it turns more gross and more, let's see what they'll do for money.

That said however, there also is good precedent for this, 'cause basically it's another form of the physical game show. Simplifying this, it's shows that might structurally be similar to a game show of some kind,but are in reality more of a physical activity people must perform to win. "Beat the Clock" is probably the earliest form of this, but I suspect the most influential modern-day example, other than "Survivor" is "American Gladiators". The original one anyway.



There were other shows before that one, but that's probably the spiritual predecessor to the rest, and it's a good example of a show being about what people can do, as oppose to what people will do. "Survivor"'s king of an example of that too, how do you survive on an island? Okay, it's really more about, the events and challenges then any actual surviving, but, yeah, there is something to this too, and determining quality of these, can be difficult. Depending on what their going for, but I'd argue that, the competition aspect is of these kind of shows, when that's highlighted, that's when the show remains the strongest. That's probably the reason why "The Amazing Race" holds all the Emmy records compared to say, "Survivor", or "Big Brother" something else along those lines. While those are competition shows as well, along with challenges the competitors have to overcome to succeed and win, it's hard to argue that that's the focus of the show. They may tend more towards the societal experiment edge, something that Stanley Milgram might have concocted and there's good and bad ways of doing that too, but there's more of an emphasis on the battle and competitive aspect in "The Amazing Race". It is a literal race around the world, and the editing, pacing and storytelling of that series, all emphasize that much more than other shows. There might be more personal and touching moments elsewhere, but that's secondary to the competition.  When something like that, tries to be the focus of a series, especially a competition series of some kind, and it's manufactured, you start to lose interest and intrigue really fast. Kinda akin to how annoying it was that every "Deal or No Deal" contestant had some sad sob story. Yeah, sure red flag that the game isn't interesting or compelling enough as a game on it's own. Mix of characters with differing backstories is fine, but that shouldn't necessarily be the focus.

People, can and do survive on a desert island, people do perform dangerous stunts for money, people are athletic enough to go through the Eliminator, or whatever the "American Ninja Warrior" obstacle course is called. People, can be fascinated by people eating gross things for money, but they probably shouldn't. Yeah, it might be better to watch people as they try to overcome their drug addictions and hoarding problems. At least that's compelling real-life human drama. (And not a competition-reality program, so that standard not in play. There really are a lot of aspects to this genre, aren't there? Too many to full grasp in one shot.)

Anyway, you guys have a lot of reading to do, so there's not too much homework. Just think about life and people and the things people do, and try to come up with a pitch oran idea for a reality show, of some kind, that we've never seen or heard before.  Any kind of reality show is fine, just something or some people doing things that you think could be compelling to watch on television. Doesn't have to be a fully-formed pitch, just a pitch something about people that you think can be interesting to see on television and explain why.

Alright, next class, we'll dive into a dying genre, but a critical one and varied one, daytime talk shows. The irony of Jerry Springer's final thought. I'm kidding, there's more to it than that. Anyway, class dismissed everyone.

(Folds over arms and blinks like Jeannie, doors magically unlock)

You can leave now. and no, I'm not explaining how I can do that.