There's a few things going on in the entertainment world, but, most of it I address somewhere on either my Twitter, or more like the Facebook page, which you all should be following, I might add. you can find-, what happened to my Contacts list? Goddamn it!
(TEN MINUTES LATER, TAKE 2)
Which you can find at my NEW CONTACTS links over on the right side of the page. I don't know what the hell happened to my Contacts List, or why I didn't notice it wasn't there anymore 'til now, but, oh well....
Alright, quickly running through some of the other films I got around to watching. I finally around to a couple older feature films that I hadn't before, John Carpenter's "They Live" and Dusan Makavejev's "Sweet Movie". I've always liked Makavejev, and while, "Sweet Movie" takes some, eh, getting used to, let's say, ultimately I appreciated it. It's definitely weird and fucked up, but.... Anyway, "They Live" was, I think conceptually as an idea than it was as a film, but it was still pretty good. I've, for whatever reason haven't really gotten around to a lot of John Carpenter movies before. What little experience I have with his work, I tend to think he's a bit overrated, but I definitely liked the ideas in "They Live", and of course, it's always nice to see Roddy Piper again.
I finally got around to "Norte, the End of History", which, is a four-hour slow Filipino movie that was a re-imagining of "Crime and Punishment". Eh, I think I admire it more than I liked it, but it was still quite good. I recommend it highly. I also got around to "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", which, believe it or not, I've, until now, never seen a Jack Ryan film. It's just been somewhat of a blind spot for me, so I finally caught this latest one. I don't know quite what or how to compare it, but it mostly just seemed like a decent action film to me. Not much more or less, although I couldn't help notice how eerily prophetic it was either. I also got around to "They Came Together" a comedy with Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd from the guy behind "Wet Hot American Summer", which I think I can admit now, I've never really fully understood the appeal of. Sorry, it's got a couple funny moments, but...- Anyway, it's better than this "Airplane!"-esque send up, 90 rom-coms. I mean, there were times where I genuinely couldn't tell if this was a parody or just a remake of "You've Got Mail". Yeah, it felt more like he just didn't have much to say about the genre, so he tried to throw in a bunch of stuff, but it mostly just seemed like a collection of bad random sketches shoved together.
(Yawn) Alright, I'm tired and need some sleep. So, let's get to it. This week's edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS! Starting with the Oscar-Winning film, "Hacksaw Ridge"!
HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) Director: Mel Gibson
So, somebody happened to point me towards a video essay by, eh, what's-his-name, (Looking up) Patrick (H) Willems, H with parentheses around it, apparently; (Oh-kay) I'm not actually too familiar with his work, yet, but his recent video was on the subject of "realism" in particular it's use in comic book movies. It's a good video if you want to look it up, it's here:
It's not anything particularly new you know, he talks Bazin and Kracaucer, formalism vs. realism, it's nothing particularly new, but it's done and told well and for anybody who's never taken a film theory class in college, it's useful. He's a formalist, moreso than I probably am, although I get his point, he admonished to some extent the notion that realism in a film is in some way, for lack of a better term, "a better approach" to certain films. And in general, I-, I probably do take a more realism approach to cinema, but here's the thing that missing from that analysis, (Well, not missing, 'cause it's not relevant, but it's what I'm thinking about) is that realism, itself, is, subjective. What, I might consider more realistic and plausible and believable in real life, others might not. And this has been a constant struggle with cinema, since the beginning of film.
That thought, crossed my mind more than a few times while watching "Hacksaw Ridge", Mel Gibson's latest directorial achievement. Now, I don't think Gibson is a bad director, necessarily; I've never particularly been a fan of his filmmaking, but, he does tend to place much emphasis on "realism" with his work, but at times, his perspective on, reality, is somewhat questionable. Now, probably the most famous and controversial of his works in this instance are "The Passion of the Christ" and "Apocalypto", both of which, go for a realistic approach to their subject matter, and both can argued and not necessarily being the best or most appropriate or politically correct approaches to realism, because the perspective is somewhat skewed. Now, that said, I'd probably still rank both of those films as his best as a director, especially "Apocalypto" which I think is an underrated accomplishment, and while I'm not crazy about "The Passion...", it's an effective portrayal of his perspective on the subject. "Hacksaw Ridge", however, falls more into the "Braveheart" formalist side of his filmmaking approach. Especially in the beginning, and the reason that I'm bringing this up, is that I don't think that's intentional, or even the wrong approach, it's just awkward.
"Hacksaw Ridge" tells the story, and it's an inspriring story of Private Desmond Doss (Oscar-nominee Andrew Garfield), who during World War II, became the first man to win the Congressional Medal of Honor for his accomplishments on the battlefield, without firing a shot. He was a conscientious objector who joined the Army after Pearl Harbor, with the objective of becoming a medic. At this point, when that's revealed during the film, I thought, "Oh, that's great. Military needs more people like that. There's enough soldiers fighting, the people who have to go on the battlefield, during the battles and save people's lives, without having a weapon to protect themselves, while dealing with blood and guts all over the the place...; that alone is quite impressive. His fellow battalion members should appreciate him!", that's what I thought, and of course, right when I was thinking that, his battalion members beat the hell out of him for not brave and several people, including higher-ups in the military, tried to have him dismissed from the military for this. Huh.... Like I said, "Perspective". The perspective has shifted, in general, and let's be frank here, I do not have the perspective on the world that Mel Gibson has, a thought that only really calms me knowing that few people really do. (If you know about his youth, history and family, you'd be saying that too) Still however, "Hacksaw Ridge" isn't inaccurate, these events, as far as I can tell, actually happened to Desmond Doss, and he overcame them all, and in the last half of the movie, a long drawn-out multi-day battle scene and sequence that rivals "Saving Private Ryan" and possibly even "Heaven's Gate" for it's violence and excess, we see just why he won that Medal of Honor, and it's quite inspiring, and for the most part, effectively realistic in it's portrayal. The beginning of the film however, is going for a more, formalist style and approach, one that's very old-fashioned. There's a couple movies that can point to, regarding stories of hugely successful soldiers on the battlefield and how we see them before the war and how they grew up into the soldiers they became, the most recent one is of course, Clint Eastwood "American Sniper" and this is a better film than that one, but for the first twenty minutes or so of "Hacksaw Ridge", I thought I was watching "To Hell and Back". That's not a movie that's brought up much anybody, but it was based on the autobiography of Audie Murphy, a legendary World War II soldier, and the movie attempted to be as authentic in recreating Murphy's experience as possible, and that including, casting Audie Murphy in the lead role. Now, he had been an actor after the war, for some year before that movie, so it wasn't, so Dr. Haing S. Ngor getting cast in "The Killing Fields" for instance realism, art imitating life imitating art, but the film was also made in the '50s and with a mindset of American at that time. I think Gibson's trying to recreate a tone like that, but it's hard to tell whether or not he's aiming for that kind of tone and confluence of these juxtaposing ideas and images or if, this is a genuine perspective on how Gibson sees the world and sees this story. And I'm not sure which would be the best approach. I mean, he is telling a war story about a World War II war hero, if there's ever a time to imitate a tone similar to Audie Murphy, this is probably the one to do it with.
Still however, I think that's why I'm having trouble getting a full grasp of "Hacksaw Ridge", the perspective on creating realism; it might be based on Desmond Doss's actual reality and experiences, and by all accounts I can find, it seems like he succeeded at that, and even his perspective on the events and not Gibson, but it doesn't play that way; it feels more like Gibson's imitating or paying homage to an approach to film from a previous era, and whether or not that era relates to me, personally, is what's gonna ultiamte effect mine and the audience's appreciation of the film. It's a bad double-edged and I can't really blame Gibson this time for this, the same way that I usually blame him for "Braveheart" a far worst movie that also, struggles between it's realism and formalistic ideas regarding a real person who was a war hero. "Braveheart" just feels like a second-tier Hollywood epic made out of it's time, and hasn't held up well, at all, despite Gibson and the film winning Oscars. "Hacksaw Ridge", I suspect will hold up much better in time. Possibly because Doss is more relatable to us, and he does try to portray him ultimately as a brave and humble young man, while William Wallace, was already more myth than man to begin with and it's easier to recreate something so heavily documented from 70 years ago than it is, something so scarcely documented from centuries ago, but at least he went for recreation instead of myth this time.
HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) Director: Theodore Melfi
At the beginning of "Hidden Figures" we start with a young girl, Katherine (Lidya Jewell) a young math prodigy who happens to be African-American. Her county doesn't offer, at that time, education for African-Americans after the eighth grade, so she and her family went to a high school on the campus of West Virginia St. University. She was 14 when she graduated and would become the first African-American to attend West Virginia University, among several other accomplishments.
"Hidden Figures" is about a group of three legendary African-American women, who without them, we wouldn't be able to, well, basically do anything we ever did in space. Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a "Computer" who is one of the great mathematical minds in NASA, Dorothy Vaughan (Oscar-nominee Octavia Spencer) the computer technical supervisor who lead the team that ran the IBM machine, and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) a master engineer, who earned her degree by taking University of Virginia night classes at a then-, Whites-only High School.
Did you realize what was wrong there? I didn't realize it at first myself either, but after I realized it, I couldn't ignore it. Why didn't we get childhood flashbacks of the other two women? Seriously, why not? Something? Anything? Literally, anything? I mean, this is the story of these three women, right? So, how come only one of them gets the flashback to their youth?
I knew there was something that bugged me about "Hidden Figures", but I couldn't quite place it until I realize that, really bizarre storytelling error, especially since, well, there's actually a really good opening introductory scene to the movie, when the three women are late for work, and get pulled over by a white cop, who is suspect, but at the end, impressed when they find out that they're working at Langley, and work at NASA. This is back in the early 1960s, so, yeah, the Space Race is of the utmost importance, and the movie shows that, they really did have, even at their advanced knowledge and skills, several milestones and barriers to breakthrough, nearly all of them, mostly trivial. Well-, that's the wrong word, it's not trivial, it's just, the usual. Sexism and racism interfering with, well, progress to be honest. Amy Nicholson's review of the film made a great point that I never realized when she points out that the Russians beat us to space, originally because they had women on an equal setting and in the rooms to begin with. Mostly because we had some preconceived notions about what women could and should do. Women, and minorities. The most famous sequence, and for reasons that I'm sure made sense in a writer's room at some point, Katharine, once she's promoted as a computer in the room, somebody who, essentially checks and double-checks the math for the other scientists and mathematicians, represented by her boss, Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), who in real life were- (Research minute) a composite character, and the main boss, Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) who was, also a composite character. Well, those performances are strong, particularly Costner's, but-eh, I think we're starting to run into the problem with the film, but I'll get back to that...- Anyway, her big thing is that there's no colored women's bathrooms in the building she's now working for, so she has to travel across the entire complex, in order to get to the one women's colored bathroom. When finally Harrison confronts her on this, he realize the ridiculousness of it and personally desegregates everything, including the bathroom, knocking off the Colored Only signs with a sledgehammer himself. Now, that's a good idea and scene, but the way it's portrayed, it's like the biggest accomplishment Katherine had to fight through, and maybe it was, but, did they have to portray that, by having it be paired up with that "Running" song from Pharrel Williams? I get it, it's cute, and the song's good; it kinda reminded me of those scenes of George Segal running back-and-forth through Central Park in "Where's Poppa?" Sorry, it did.
Alright, onto the composite character barrage, and there's others in this film, Kirsten Dunst plays one, as well, I should add. I'm not against composite characters, but, it does, sorta cheapen this film and it's strengths. It's a movie, with basically one idea, showcase the importance and greatness of these three women, and their struggles. That's fine, and it's not done poorly, but it never feels realistic. It feels like a movie, and that's the one thing you don't want in this kind of film. I mean, it eventually pulls off the uplifting moments and drama, but it feels like this movie, kinda, couldn't figure out how to film people computing mathematics exciting, so they made a traditional biopic tale.
There's this deleted scene from "Remember the Titans" that, I always liked, and it's not a bad scene, but they were absolutely right to cut it, where, the athletes go back to the restaurant that they were kicked out of because some of them were Black, and they really show up the owner with, I think a soldier or something that makes them change their ways. It's not a bad scene, again, but it doesn't belong in the movie, because it's too fantastical. We got the point when they were kicked out, we don't need closure on that by adding anymore, and the scene that you would've added anyway, is way too contrived for a story about a football team overcoming themselves and the racism of the community to succeed. "Hidden Figures" kinda feels like that scene, over and over again. I'm not panning it, I'm still recommending it, but I still feel like there's an alternate version and way of telling this story that would make the accomplishments of the three women stand out more, and make us care more. I've seen some criticism point to the fact that the director and writers of this film were White, even though the book it's based on is from an African-American writers, and a relative of a heroic major African-American figure in NASA, who predates all three of these girls involvements I might add. Eh, I think it might have more to do with the fact that Theodore Melfi is good at getting decent performances from his actors, but is a very limited storyteller. His previous feature film was the disastrously cliches "St. Vincent", a movie that I think of more thinks to despise about it the more I think about it. I think this switch to mainstream period piece spiritually uplifting bio-stories is an improvement for him over the cutesy, indy-darling quirky characters with little kids, cliche routes he took with "St. Vincent". I certainly admire his work in this film, than say Tate Taylor's recent films, and more than say, John Lee Hancock's "The Blind Side" for instance..... I don't know, I find "Hidden Figures" inspiring but disappointing. I can't pan it, 'cause the stories of these women and the performances, particularly Taraji P. Henson's work are too good to totally ignore, but I suspect there were more thoughtful and observant eyes out there that could've told their story better than this.
Oh, one more weird complaint, the sequence in the beginning where Mary Jackson is talked into becoming an engineer by her mentor, Karl Zielinski (Olek Krupa), it's a decent scene. Pointless, mostly, basically trailer fodder and not much else, but Zielinski has one last line near the climax of the movie, and those are the only two times we see this character, and ironically, he's one that's not a composite character. (Sigh) I feel like somebody needed an extra draft or two to this script, 'cause these are relatively easy fixes that aren't there.
MOANA (2016) Directors: Ron Clements, Co-Directed by Don Hall & John Musker, Co-Directed by Chris Williams
So, something I always think gets overlooked about "Frozen" was how influenced from Broadway it was, specifically modern Broadway musicals. I mean, there's things in that movie that are closer to "Les Miserables" than a more tradition Disney musical, which, yes has always had some Broadway influence with it, it was rarely such a modern influence from it. Which made sense, especially since Robert Lopez was the composer of the music, but it was the structure of the film that had a Broadway influence to it, one that I hypothesized had been growing ever since the mid-nineties as Disney started adapting their own works to the Broadway stage. Now, with a "Moana" we get a film that's not only, really inspired by broadway storytelling patterns and tropes, the movie was practically sold on it's Broadway pedigree. More than even The Rock being involved, the main star of the movie was Lin-Manuel Miranda, the "Hamilton" creator who was the lead songwriter for the film. And the movie, while I think a little more difficult to recreate on the stage than "Frozen", is still essentially a theatrical arc. Or at least a minimum, a more theatre-influenced approach to a Disney arc.
"Moana", (Auli'i Cravalho) is a Chief's daughter, not a Princess, and similarly, to "Kubo and the Two Strings", there's a more fantasy element involved, although this one is more creation mythology-inspired as we learn about the island of Motonui, (Which, there is an island called Moto Nui, that's SSW of Easter Island, but I find it a little hard to believe that's the island the film takes place on.) which is a paradise that her people have lived for generations. According to their creation myth, humanity was gifted by the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) and then, he stole a stone from Te Fiti, the Island Goddess, as a gift to humanity, but, the stone got lost in the Ocean, along with his magic fishhook, after he was attacked by a lava monster, Te Ka. (Sigh) You have no idea how long it took me, right after seeing the movie to accurately recall and describe that, 'cause it's not that important. The thing that's important is that it's the Hero's Journey and Moana is the one that has to go through it. When her island starts to not be producing the fish that it used to, and the coconuts start rotting, she determines, despite her father, Chief Tui's (Temeura Morrison) objections not to sail past the reef, she decides that she has to in order to save the island. It doesn't hurt that she's been wanting to go out onto the Ocean since she was a baby, despite her constant insistence that she and everyone else must stay on the island, she heads off to find Maui and return the stone, believing that it's the cause of the island sudden spell of dire behavior, also, she was chosen to do this task, by, the Ocean. It's, weird, but the Ocean is a character. As is a really peculiar chicken named Heihei (Alan Tudyk) who I'm not sure how he survives.
I wasn't quite sure why, other than name recognition why Miranda's song "How Far I'll Go" receive so much praise including an Oscar nomination, but seeing the way it's used here and becomes an returning theme, over the course of the film, it becomes much more effective. There were other songs, that were all good, overall I don't think this story is as great or memorable as some of Disney's other recent fair, but "Moana" was inspiring, a great female lead character, who's superobjective is ultimately to find out just how strong and how powerful she is. It's this through line that really excels and takes "Moana" from a good movie, to a very good film.
TROLLS (2016) Director: Mike Mitchel; Co-Directed by Walt Dohrn
Eh, "Trolls" is a cavalcade, of hack, shoved together between a perverse and bizarre collection of pop songs like some crazed ex-girlfriend's horrible karaoke mix tape she gives to her boyfriend. What the hell am I watching this for, it's like the demented version of the Care Bears, without the cuteness, or reason for existing. Look, you guys, might not have such a drastic negative reaction to this film, but, this one, just made me feel like I was banging my head against the wall. No, worst, it made me feel like I wanted to bang my head against a wall, 'cause it was preferable. It's just so, transparent how thoughtless and simple this movie is...-, ugh.
Alright, let's start at the beginning. Before "Trolls" meant horrible piece-of-shit assholes on the internet who have no life, and after meant, uh, what-the-hell were they, again? Norse mythological, bridge hiding-underers...? Something... (Internet search) Cave-dwelling monsters in Norse and Scandanavian mythology-, (Wait, caves? Where, the bridge trolls, come from then-, oh forget it)- Anyway, between those definitions, Trolls were these little annoying toys back in the nineties. "Good Time Trolls", apparently the were called. They were cheap, you can usually win dozens of them pretty easily with five dollars worth of gold coins, if you were any good at skee-ball at all, although I usually went for the small decks of cards, marbles, or the globe key chains. Most people I knew, had the ones that you can shove onto the back of your pencil, even though I'm not sure they worked as erasers. They either did that, or, the brushed their hair. They have, these weird long stiff hairs, with several random different colors, that would rat really easily, and I think that was the appeal of them. I don't know, if they were a cartoon or anything really, they were just a little trinket trend thing. that I thought ended years ago, and probably did, but unsurprisingly they stuck around and now they adapted to a feature film.
And that's not inherently a bad idea. They're cute little things, trolls are strange enough to be unique and interesting, and since they're main attribute is that there's a bunch of them you can create their own little world and tell dozens of different stories with them. Where, singing, and being eaten by
I don't know how or why so many recent second-tier animated films based on some product or previously-established franchise, they always end with some strange simplistic tale that's about character's emotions, this and "The Angry Birds Movie" could easily pass as alternative Mad Libs of each other, except for the strange and bizarre song choices "Trolls" has. I imagine there's some childhood psychology involved in that decision, but it really just plays like, people were told to make a movie about these Trolls and had to come up with a story and that's what they came up with because they had to come up with something. What's the moral of this film anyway, "You don't have to eat a troll to be happy?" or "You don't always have to be happy, if you're a troll", I don't know. However or whatever emotional message they wanted to portray to kids, it's all lost in the framing.
Actually, come to think of it, why couldn't this have been The Care Bears? Think about it, a bunch of cute little anthropomorphic creatures who express goodness through multiple complex emotions, and help others to reach that emotional challenge, maybe even other creatures, like humans, since they're already a product aimed at humans? I mean, I'm not saying don't tell simplistic childlike stories about emotions to children, hell, "Inside Out" is one of the greatest movies this decade so far, and it does this perfectly, and in a way more adult and intelligent way than this film, but if you're gonna do this, couldn't they do this well?
CATFIGHT (2017) Director: Onur Tukel
In "Catfight", Anne Heche and Sandra Oh, beat the living hell out of each other. (Shrugs) Well, I wouldn't have booked it, at least not as a main event, but for an undercard match on a decent episode of "Celebrity Deathmatch", ehhhhh, alright.
(BELL RINGS THREE TIMES)
JIMMY LENNON, JR.
Okay, fight fans. Tonight's Special Attraction, schedule for three rounds, in coherence with the "Rule of Three" contrivance according to the Hollywood Screenplay Commission, and fought with Queensbury Rules, introducing first, in the Blue Corner, she's the brazen trophy wife-turned-mother, the wine connoisseur, who loves to fight, The Rich Bitch, Veronica, "Coarse" Salt! (Oh)
(Pause for applause)
And in the Red Corner, the painter with the stroke of death, the blood-soaked power lesbian who's the talk of the Manhattan art scene. A mother-to-be, who takes shit from no one, and is just as violent and graphic with a right hand as she is, with the brush, The Artist Cunt, Ashley "War Machine", Miller! (Heche)
And we're into Round One, and remember, Queenbury Rules, the fight doesn't end, until a knockout is recorded, and in this fight in particular, being limited to three rounds, a knockout, of course, beating your opponent until they are in a coma for a minimum of two years. So, this is gonna get ugly folks,- OH! And it's getting ugly already! These two babes are just back and forth, rights and lefts, and- slamming heads into the wall, and-, hey foreign objects are not allowed, but the referee has lost control of this special attraction,
(Five minutes later)
Oh, and Veronica is down, she's not quite out, yet, still moving,- Oh, and she falls down the stairs! And, we're getting a ruling, and yes, she's in a coma!
And back to the corners, oh, and Veronica looks pissed, but she's fully recovered from the coma, and looks very determined, while Ashley seems more confident and collected than before...
Round two, oh, and Veronica attacks and has completely blindsided Ashley! Ashley's fighting back, but this is going out onto the streets, and these two bitches are going at it! Vicious, rights, lefts, kicks, this is a true beating. These two aren't messing around, they are trying to kill each other. Veronica, finally seems to have the upper hand, but Ashley's got a hammer, and, oh, Veronica's a wrench, and they're battering each other. Oh, Ashley's seems out. She's just breathing, oh, and that bricks, lands right on her head. Let's see, yes, we have a coma!
Two more years and now, it's the third and final round, both these women, they just hate each other. Really, really hate each other. They were in college together, we're told. Also, there's a war on terror happening, the draft has been reinstated, both these girls have lost their love ones and all their money just from hospital bills...- Um...- there's something else about a war, that's supposed to have a point, of satire, or something, but nobody really can tell what the hell that's supposed to be about.
Seriously, I can't tell what that was about. I'm sure it was funny at some point, when this idea was probably first written, but now... (Shrugs)
Anyway, round three, fight starts a little more slowly, as they try to feel each other out, not like that, but they're at it. Both tenuous of each other, oh, and it's a screaming match, and they're back outside, into the woods, near the stream, and there clawing and grappling and slaughtering.... That's about it. They fight, they fight, and they fight...., it's time to bring out the fart machine.
SNOWDEN (2016) Director: Oliver Stone
So I don't normally go after performances, for, having a questionable accent. Accent's are tough and when done well are really impressive, but, they're not essential in terms of judging the performance or the performer. I mean, when the last time you saw a "Hamlet" with a Danish accent? Hardly ever, and normally I couldn't care less, but, I couldn't help to take a second and third look at "CitizenFour" while watching "Snowden" not for accuracy's sakes or anything, but just to compare Joseph Gordon-Levitt's work, and his accent in particular to the real, actual Edward Snowden. Snowden's a bit of a tricky accent, but there's something quite laid back and relaxing about it. It's very East Coast, but you could confuse it for a surfer's accent. Gordon-Leviit, I think is going for that much of the time, but it sounds weird and off. And sometimes it's clear that he slips into his normal voice a few times in the film too, so it does feel like he had trouble with this, which, frankly makes me wonder why he didn't just use his normal voice? In all other aspects, the performance is fine and strong, but when the person you're performing as, is not only still alive, but who's voices and recordings are pretty readily available to be heard, including as a subject of a recent Oscar-winning documentary, (Not to mention everything else he did and is now famous for.) and is one that is readily clear in my mind..., yeah, it gets noticed if it's off a bit.
Oliver Stone's "Snowden", is about what you would expect, and that's good and bad. The good is that this is a pretty good movie, in general, and makes a strong argument for Snowden's actions. The movie is also a bit redundant if you've seen "CitizenFour" and the best thing about it is that it shows us a little more, purportedly about Snowden. Snowden, was a hacker, and an uber-talented one who joined the NSA because he wasn't eligible to join the military, and he became more and more disturbed as the technological advances, in many ways advanced because of him and his inventions, and the Defense Department on all levels, basically found ways to use it to their advantage to circumvent laws and and spy on everyone, including regular civilians. And later, that technology would be adapted by companies, and now everything on the internet is a specially design advertisement, like the ones I have on the right of my blog here, which you guys should really be clicking on, 'cause I need the money!!!!!!!!!!< AHEM!!!!
Anyway, I myself have always been on two sides of the Snowden debate, I think what it really comes down to is that, I don't agree with his end game. It's not that, he was wrong to become the most famous government whistleblower since Daniel Ellsberg, it's that, I don't think the problem is as bad as he thinks. Here me out...- Yes, it's a problem, and it's clear in the movie, and yes, big shock, the government was and still remains ill-prepared for the several new laws they have to write to government internet privacy, even and especially when regarding a government level, because the landscape of what the internet is, is constantly growing and changing too fast for a government of middle age white men to understand, much less, combat effectively. That said, sure it's disturbing that the government may in fact be starring at me through this ViewSonic screen that doesn't original belong to this computer that I'm typing on, even though it doesn't have a camera attachment, that I'm aware, and can see that, I have like ten windows open and am constantly switching between them, even as I'm writing this, I don't know what use that information. I think I have the same argument against "Snowden", both the man and the movie, I have for defending "Zero Dark Thirty". Let's say hypothetically that it's true, and some information regarding Bin Laden's whereabouts were obtained illegally and through torture, in real life and in the movie, it didn't help them much, because they weren't investigated Bin Laden's whereabouts. That's the problem with me, yes, they're collecting our data, and yes, that really, really sucks, and should be illegal, but with much data on so many people, the data becomes useless because it's only collecting, it's not investigating.
Of course Stone, realizes that too, so instead of investigated, the data is used to coerse others into confessing by setting up situations where good citizens would otherwise make them criminals. That's kinda the thing that really, tips my hat in Snowden's favor, even though, sure, he was blinded by Obama when he said that he would improve things everywhere, and of course, he increased the size of Top Secret America, but... I don't know if I'm as anti-government as Snowden is. I do like that he focuses on the relationship between Snowden and he girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). The movie mostly takes place however, as a tale told by Snowden, in that infamous hotel room where Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald (Melissa Leo and Zachary Quinto), the filmmakers behind "CitizenFour", which this movie, quite simply was never gonna be better then. Oddly, considering it's Oliver Stone, the movie is quite tame and not that compelling in hindsight. It's entertaining enough, but his usual kinetic-paced information dumps aren't that interesting. I mean, especially considering after "The Big Short" last year, this feels flat and less memorable. I'm still gonna recommend it, 'cause there's a lot to like, and mostly I agree with Snowden, even though it's definitely a bit of a one-sided portrayal of him, although to be fair, I don't know how many sides there are to him. I think ultimately, this is a minor entry in Oliver Stone's filmography, and while there's some good performances here, including a few odd cameos from people like Nicholas Cage of all people, but most of them I've heard were composite characters, which makes sense, since most of them weren't that compelling. I do like the parts about how he sneaks off and goes into hiding when he finally decides to go public. The Rubik's Cube trick through airport security, is both ballsy, and genius.
THINGS TO COME (2016) Director: Mia Hansen Love
A few films into her career, it's now apparent that Mia Hansen-Love's main interest in her films, is seeing character transform and evolve after life-shattering sudden changes. Simple, and she's not the only one doing things like that, hell, her mentor Olivier Assayas, who helped her start her career, originally as an actress, has basically been making and remaking that same movie for thirty years. But, that said, she's one of the better ones out there doing it, and one of the most interesting ones as well. I greatly admired both "The Father of My Children" and "Goodbye First Love", two of her more recent films, although "Things to Come", which is a bit of a generic title, although not that incorrect a translation from "L'Avenir", which is French for "The Future", and it's accurate, albeit accurate for nearly every movie ever made, but it's effective. Nathalie (Isabelle Huppert) is a headstrong philosophy professor at a Paris University. Things seem okay, with the exception of student protests sometimes getting in the way of her teaching class. Philosophy is a bit of a subtle metaphor into the film. Philosophy, for all the theories and naval-gazing it can instigate when being interrupted or analyzed, from the classic Greeks to the modern Eastern European names, to just basic modern conflict theory, is basically another form of "faith". Those who oblige by a philosophical perspective or two, eh, let's say,like me, I'm a Rene Descartes follower myself, find comfort and trust in their philosophical construct. When that gets challenged, just like a crisis of faith would for a religious person, it can be jarring. That's a long way of me saying that, nothing in particular happens during "Things to Come", but things occur, and therefore Nathalie's philosophical ideals are challenged. Sometimes literally in the classroom, but mostly, in her life. Her husband, Heinz (Andre Marcon), who's also a philosophy professor, is cheating on her, and he ends up leaving her for someone 25 years young. Then, her sick mother, Yvette (Edith Scob) passes away. At the same, she begins a slight, but flirtatious friendship with a former student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka) who challenges her philosophy at times as well. The thing about these incidents, in that in other hands, they're played like melodrama and tragedy, the fascinating part of Hansen-Love's work is how it's not. It's almost so subtle that you barely realize these people care, and yet, that's what they do. Say what you want, but they know that's more realistic. Life goes on, and you have to deal with it, all the while, you're trying to figure out, what exactly your future entails. You don't get to wait for change, change happens and you have to accept it. "Things to Come" despite Huppert's amazing performance, which some argued might've been more Oscar-worthy than her work in "Elle" last year, isn't to me, as good as either of Hansen-Love's earlier films, but I could possibly chalk that up to being more relatable to me, while from all accounts this seems like a more personal film for her, apparently growing up as a daughter of a couple philosophy professors herself, this film is more autobiographical than her previous works. It's definitely worth watching still though.
ZERO DAYS (2016) Director: Alex Gibney
I always look forward to Alex Gibney's latest documentaries, although I don't exactly know why, considering the subject of his documentaries, and generally I get annoyed at the world, society, whoever the hell....- and the timing of watching "Zero Days,"- well, alright, let's-eh,- So, here's the thing, Russia hacked our election. That's a fact, and by doing this, they elected Trump. That's a fact. It's essentially a cyber coup-de-gras. Here's the thing, they may have had a decent reason to do that to us, 'cause we probably did it first.
I am not a computer so trying to understand the intricacies of cyberterrorism has always been an uphill climb for me and I suspect it is to several others. So, recognizing the importance of a story like Stuxnet Computer Virus attack, is something that, perhaps I slept on, at least in terms of it's importance, and "Zero Days" does a frightening good job of explaining why we shouldn't. So, Stuxnet, is the name given to a virus that was released onto the world computer, in and around the end of 2008 and early 2009. It was first recognized by a Belarussian securities agent, for a Russian client. Now, I'm not gonna explain all the ways this is different and more unique from other viruses, just trust me that it is and it was. So much so, that the people who are trained to look at and identify and protect us from such viruses, were caught off-guard by how complex and sophisticated the virus was, and that's before it became clear how treacherous it was. This attack, while it hit all over the world, was centered on and aimed at a nuclear plant in Iran, which was working on creating nuclear weapons. Sounds good so far, right? Well, the virus, was actually capable of blowing up nuclear centrifruges which, with the wrong mix of uranium in them, and if the wrong things happen, we got a blowout and nuclear meltdown, on top of, several deaths. Yeah, cyberterrorism is capable of killing, and not metaphorically either. Now, the reason for this, is of course, Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons and we wanted to dissuade them.
So, now, and you have figured, this was the U.S. Government, was behind the attack, along with Israel. The original plan originated under Bush, who had to work on a cyber threat to Iran, because he wasn't capable of a military attack, 'cause by that point, with Afghanistan and Iraq, he had lost all credibility with military options, particularly with Muslim, and, WOW!, there's an aspect of just how shitty the war with Iraq was that I never considered before, thanks Bush, you get worst everyday, when Trump isn't making you look like a genius. (Headslap) That said, the program was continued under Obama, and, understandably so, it was inevitable. If it wasn't us constructing a cyberterrorism war, it would've been someone else who'd be trying to take down the entire modern infrastructure as we know it. That said, when we got, it let everybody know that, if it was okay for us to do it, it's okay for everyone else. So yeah, nuclear arms treaties, those ones that took decades to hammer out, they're helpful, beneficial, and a common good, that's for sure, but yeah, a damn good laptop might logically be more dangerous, at least depending on who's running it.
"Zero Hour" is another strong Gibney documentary, one that's full of talking heads, but interesting ones, and a lot of graphics, including an intriguingly bizarre graphics interface used for an actress who's brought in to portray people who've been willing to leak particular information on the program, it's still classified by the U.S. Government, despite much of the public knowledge out there about it. It's haunting and you can feel Gibney's frustration, both through the off-camera questions he asks and through Peter Coyote's period narration.
DHEEPAN (2016) Director: Jacques Audiard
Dheepan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) is a Tamil soldier. He, his wife Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) and daughter Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) are refugees from the war, and have found their way to France. Except, he's not Dheepan. That's not his wife, and that's not their daughter. They're three strangers, who are very quickly and suddenly brought together, in order to be refugees and escape Sri Lanka. They arrive in France, and have to keep up the charade as three strangers, not only have to rebuild their life from scratch, and have to suddenly live together and act and seem like a family, while they struggle to try to become a family.
I've spent the last few days trying to figure out how to talk about "Dheepan", the latest feature from Jacques Audiard, the French director of "Rust and Bone" a film that I rank as his best, and most complete and compelling work. "Dheppan" is not that good, and to be honest, I wondered if perhaps, "Rust and Bone" might've been a bit of a fluke. I hadn't been as impressed with his previous films before then, although I certainly respected both "A Prophet" and the other film of his I'd seen, "Read My Lips". That film, is probably what's throwing me off a bit about Audiard, his last few films, seem to be personal, and all deal with some rather conflicted characters in a situation where they have to completely adapt to their surroundings. "Read My Lips", is representative of some of his earlier films, which were more mystery and thriller based. His film before this run of films, for instance, "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" was a remake of James Toback's "Fingers" of all things.
I guess this explains, why, at the end of the film, he chose to bring the film back to his action roots, although it works 'cause the movie is basically a look at how, both worlds can be considered both literal and metaphorical battlefields for them, but I wonder if that decision was too simplistic in hindsight. I liked the story itself, the struggle to communicate with the outside world and with each other, seems like enough. Of course, there is more, and since they're refugees, the work they get and the places they live, are on the lowest end of the economic spectrum, so yeah, them, ending up at the unwitting bystanders in the middle of a gang/drug war that turns violent, (Sigh) it makes sense, I just wish that wasn't the ultimate focus of the film. I like the regular personal struggles, of them trying to understand everyone else, relating to the customs, in the little girl's instance, getting used to a new school, getting used to their new work and their new clients, etc. Getting used to each other, if that's even possible.... I mean, they're already risking their lives and breaking the law to do all this, shouldn't that be enough? (Sigh) I guess, that's the point too though.
QUEEN OF KATWE (2016) Director: Mira Nair
I've been trying to figure out the angle to take on "Queen of Katwe" but every one I try seems to be a little bit off. Then, I saw all the really, huge rave reviews the film got, and- maybe I'm just confused by all the praise the film's got. Are we not just tired of all these Disney sports movies yet? I've only watched like five of these, and I'm tired of them, and this one,- look, I love chess, but...- Anyway, this movie is about a young chess protege, Phiona (Madina Natwanga) and her coach Robert Katende (David Oyelowo). Phiona lives in Katwe, which is a section of Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and, I guess, it's weird for there to be a chess master sprung from the streets of Kampala, I guess? I mean, I think that's about all the movie's really going off of. I mean, her life's not ideal, her mother Nakku (Lupita Nyong'o) is just annoying. She's basically got a couple moods, one where she bitches and complains about how Phiona isn't going out and selling maize on the streets, which is what they do, and complaining about her chess. She also has an older sister, Night (Taryn "Kay" Kyaze) who's tall and pretty and gets the attraction of the men in town. I guess there's another arch about Robert and his struggle for work in engineering being his way of getting into competitive chess, but, mostly this whole movie is based on the notion that somehow, because Phiona is from Katwe, that somehow she's not supposed to become this chess champion?
I-, I feel like their next overcoming obstacles film is gonna be about how much of a struggle and torment it was for Michael Jordan to win his sixth championship. Like, yeah, that was hard, and an accomplishment, and you can probably tell that story...- but,- Apparently this started as an ESPN story, that became and apparently Mira Nair, who can and has been a great director, with films like "Monsoon Wedding" and "The Namesake" over the years and she wanted to make this, but I just don't see the appeal. I didn't care much for another movie about young chess champions recently, "The Dark Horse', which was about chess players in New Zealand, I believe, and that one has a more interesting main character I guess, but it was basically the same story. It's about where this character was from that was inspirational, and I just don't see it. Maybe it is, because it's chess, and sure, it's mostly a game taken over by Russians and computers in recent, but it was also invented in India. It's never really been an upscale a game as people think. "Why Uganda?" "Why not Uganda?" I guess it might be that I'm an American and our chess myth is Bobby Fischer, who for many other several reasons is probably not the most likely chess champion either, but I just don't see what was so unlikely here. This isn't the inspirational story that I find compelling or interesting anymore. Maybe it's that it's chess, which isn't the most dramatic or compelling sport to do a film about, but-, but that's not a great excuse either, 'cause I think of a few good movies that have used chess before. Sometimes it works better metaphorically like in Boaz Yakim's "Fresh", and there is that part of it in "Queen of Katwe", where Phiona clearly sees life more and more like a game of chess, and as a way to escape; in fact it's literally spoken out loud that way, a couple times even, (That's the other thing, why is the writing so dense in this film?) but there's better ways of doing that even. In fact, now that I think about it, they don't really bring up chess much. We see people playing chess, sometimes I'm not sure how accurate it is, but think of the best chess of all-time, "Searching for Bobby Fischer", also a film about a young chess protege, and the masters teaching him, the intricacies of the game are front and center throughout the film; it's even a major plot point in the climatic finale. I've played chess since I was like seven, and sometimes I'm noticing the board and seeing, "That's not how that move would work." and maybe I was wrong and it was a weird camera angle, but, that's a problem. This movie doesn't care about chess that much. Basically, they show the rules in a cliche scene, and a few other little scenes, but they're not outlined or necessarily explained in great detail. I don't know, this movie doesn't impress as an inspirational underdog sports story, it doesn't impress me as somebody who knows and loves the game of chess,... the acting's good. The location scouting' fine, apparently they shot the film in Uganda, that's impressive, but not really. I mean, where the hell else wold you try to shoot it? It's got mostly unknown actors outside of Oyelowo and Nyong'o, and that's admirable and not a bad choice, but I found myself entirely cold to this film. I've seen this story before, and I've seen it told and done way better than this.
EMELIE (2016) Director: Michael Thelin
I know, that somebody, somewhere is gonna come at me for this review. Somebody's gonna say that I just didn't get it, and that it was Grand Guignal comedy or it's supposed to a be funny horror, an over-the-top Raimi-esque horror, or that they legitimately found this movie, creepy, which, to the latter argument, yes, I did find "Emelie" to be creepy. That said, I think I'm one of the few people I know who's never found "Halloween" scary. And, yes, it's a good, albeit overrated movie, but frankly, I always found that one to be more comedic than most supposed horror-comedies out there. Hell, I still get shit for giving ZERO STARS to "You're Next" a few years ago, which I named the Worst Movie of that Year. I didn't get it, it was supposed to be funny; it meant to be stupid... or some other complaints that, frankly don't improve the film for me. Even stupid needs to be smart stupid, or else, it's just stupid, and that's just not enough.
This movie, is not as stupid as "You're Next", but it's much more nauseating and disturbing. Basically, we spend much of this movie, watching a young woman torturing little kids. I don't care that she's the villain and gets her comeuppance in this instance, 'cause I couldn't sit through this movie. I did, eventually, not for lack of trying not too. The day before I had sat through a four and a half hour Filipino movie that was their take on "Crime and Punishment" that had a pretty gruesome and violent rape and murder scene at around the three hour fifty minute mark, and the movie was incrementally slow for most of the film, so, yeah, I was annoyed by that, but I would gladly sit through that a hundred times over than watching this piece of shit again.
So, the babysitter is named "Anna" (Sarah Bolger) who is of course, Emelie, 'cause we she her attack the actual babysitter, kill her and replace her, and since the parents don't know her, 'cause she's a trusted friend of their normal babysitter, she comes in and watches the three kids. And for awhile, everything seems normal, until they're not. Except it's never normal, 'cause we know this already. And sure the oldest kids Sally and Christopher (Carly Adams and Thomas Bair) eventually put the pieces together. The wallet with the wrong name, the fact that she reveals herself on the toilet, her bizarre choice of films to show the kids, just everything, everything wrong. And I get it, it makes us uncomfortable, it makes us hate her, and in that respect Sara Bolger, who I never stop remembering her as the little girl in "In America" a movie, which I find myself thinking back fondly on and loving more than I realized I did...- anyway she's pretty good here.
You see, it's not that, the kids are being tortured by this presumably adult person pretending to be a teenager, I can think of movies I love where this has happened. Hell, even recently, M. Night Shyamalan's "The Visit" wasn't much different plot-wise than this film, but I liked that one, because it was about the mystery, and we weren't 100% sure what the problem was and the discovery put the events in a creepier light when we realize how much trouble our characters were in. With "Emelie", there is no problem with the character; there's no character really. We're told she has a past and a friend, which, I guess is supposed to be a reason why she did this, but it's not. You see, in other movies, the bad guy is torturing the kids, in this movie, the filmmakers are torturing us by making us watch this person just do some horrible, horrible things. We know she's evil and bad, and her activities don't dissuade that or make us wonder, it's just, us, being trapped in a room, staring at a snake and a mouse, and waiting for the inevitable, literally. This is not a time for a howcatchem story. That's not a character hurting another character, that's just hurting us, the viewer. And frankly, I don't feel like taking that. This was just, torture, plain and simple. It wasn't done for a reason, or for anything, just, let's come up with some bad things somebody can do to them, and let's make a babysitter who's doing it to kids.
Also, not to belabor the point, but I didn't have anywhere else to put this in the review; there's also a weird scene in this movie about somebody having tickets to the Sprint Cup race, which A. is not a race, the Sprint Cup is the Award given to the best driver in NASCAR for the whole season, but then, when we see a driver's license in the film, it says that they're in Canada, and there's no Sprint Cup races this year, in Canada, anywhere. (Sigh)
Fuck this movie!
BAND OF ROBBERS (2016) Aaron Nee & Adam Nee
I'm gonna have to admit to being a little, light on my Mark Twain than I'd prefer to be, but somehow, I never pictured Tom Sawyer (Adam Nee) growing up to become a cop. Huck Finn (Kyle Gallner) becoming a criminal who's coming out of jail, that makes sense, but Tom Saywer as a cop? I guess, but...- Of course, you're already jumping the shark a bit by transporting these characters to modern times to begin with. The movie begins with Mark Twain's "Persons attempting to find a narrative will be prosecuted..."quote, which is kinda dumb, 'cause this is a retelling of "Tom Sawyer", and not "Huckleberry Finn", which is much more lacking a narrative than "Tom Saywer" is, although "Tom Sawyer" is fairly episodic, and if I remember correctly, kinda weird. It's got some important scenes, and images, and they co-opt a few of the more famous ones; their twist on Tom & Huck hiding in the casket is kinda cute, but really, they do kinda find a narrative in this, and it basically boils down to a search for missing gold. You see, this kind of works in the book, because they're kids, and they get into trouble. When they're adults, yeah, that makes them just crooks. I mean, it's a funny idea, Tom Sawyer gets stuck with Becky Thatcher (Melissa Benoist) as his new partner, who he gets to work with on the same day he's preparing with Huck and his partners to rob a pawn shop using a plan that's too stupid to describe. Huck living with the widow for instance, there's some good thoughts and ideas here, and I guess if I was being generous I might recommend the film for it's novelty, but the more I thought about it afterwards, why? I mean, it's cute, it's got a sub Coen Brothers/early Wes Anderson thing kinda going, and the premise is cute enough. I don't know, maybe I'm just not that generous this week, but this doesn't feel as much like a modern-day retelling of "Tom Sawyer as it does a remake of the story, without the really interesting bits. "Band of Robbers", is okay, and there's nothing too wrong with it, but is it worth the time and money for a few jokes and winks and nods at the references it gets, eh, probably not. I mean, think of something like "The Handmaiden" recently, which was also a retelling of a famous novel, but the way it was told and transformed through it's filmmaker helped give it a new interpretation that made it powerful in of itself, and I don't think "Band of Robbers" had to do something that drastic or even that high-quality, but I wish I could up with a reason this film exists.
HEART OF A DOG (2015) Director: Laurie Anderson
I know of Laurie Anderson, more through reputation than I do through her work unfortunately. She's definitely one of those artists who's always intrigued me, but I just haven't had the appropriate time to truly go through any of her work until now. I say, artist, 'cause calling her a filmmaker is a bit of a misnomer. I think the proper term is "multimedia artist"; 'cause she seems to thrive in mixed media. She first came up in both sculpture and as a violinist, she's mostly known as an avant-garde electronica filmmaker. She had a Top Ten British hit "O Superman" back in the '70s, although when it comes to her music career I tend to think of her more interesting work in the early, early, early days of music video, back when MTV was populated by, whoever-the-hell managed to put something on film to music, and she was one of the first artists to really experiment with the artistic possibilities of music videos. She's worked with everybody from Andy Warhol to Frank Zappa to William S. Burroughs to Spalding Gray to Wim Wenders to Timothy Leary to Andy Kaufman,- pretty much anybody over the last forty years you can label as being on the avant-garde of their art forms. She was once artist-in-residence at NASA, of all places, which...- I'm not gonna lie, I'm not sure why they have a such a position, but I can't honestly think of anybody else more qualified for that position. She's not the kind of just creates intriguing new music, she's the kind who invents new musical instruments, so, yeah, she's kinda hard to label and pin down. There's several media she's involved with and her work naturally involves several different kinds of media. Which is sorta what makes this particular film intriguing, 'cause, despite filmmaking being, in some ways the ultimate multimedia art film, she actually hasn't made that many feature films. She's made some erratic works in films here and there, mostly shorts, and even when it's not a short, it's often some form of a concert documentary of her performance. "Heart of a Dog," her first real feature film in 28 years is, an avant-garde documentary, about, about, the death of her dog. Archie. I believe his name is Archie.
Huh. Didn't I just bash a movie that made the some newspaper Top 25 of the Century so far last week, for just being about a girl and her dog? I did, didn't I? (Sigh) Man, dog lovers are gonna go after me this week aren't I? Ugh, alright, well, it's not really about her emotional loss of a dog, it's basically an emotional, messy emotional analysis of all emotions dealing with grief. That's, the most I got out of it. I'm gonna be honest, I fell asleep the first time I tried to sit through this. I mean, it was fascinating and interesting for a bit, but man, this is a collage of, well, a lot. I mean, it's the kind of stream-of-consciousness film about those emotions, and it's the film that can suddenly fly into tangents about 9/11 and Penn Station and,- just about everything. At the end of the movie, there's some dedication about her husband who recently passed, who, by the way if you didn't know was Lou Reed. I'm not gonna say that, she shouldn't have made a movie focused on her emotional strain over her dog's death, but-eh, I think Lou Reed's death and life might make for a more interesting avant-garde film? Perhaps? (Shrugs) I tried, and for about a half-hour I was willing to follow her on her tangents and trains-of-thought, and it's not that any of this bad, it's actually not, but I just suspect there's better from her. I've seen some reviews compare this to some of her albums, particularly her spoken word albums; I can see that, but I suspect that some of her other albums might be more intriguing and fulfilling than the film is. I can't see myself really appreciating "Heart of a Dog", even if I were in the mood for something like this. (Sigh) That's a shame really. Still want to explore more of her work though.