Sunday, July 30, 2017

WHAT'S WRONG WITH TV TALENT SHOWS? HISTORY AND ANALYSIS OF GENRE, AND WHY DON'T THEY SHOW OFF THE "TALENT" LIKE THEY SHOULD. A really big show.



So, I have this friend of Facebook, I'm not gonna give her name, but every once in a while, like every two or three months or so, she posts something about some reality show that she hates, usually a "Talent show" as she calls them. You know, I've explained many times and ways that I can consider reality shows art, or utter crap, depending on the show and the subgenre and there really are a ton of them, way more than we realize; "Reality" is just a catch-all word for anything that isn't easily definable into an Emmy category, and half the stuff that is definable, but that said, I typically stand up for that talent shows. I mean, I can understand a ton of reality television and it's not like every talent show is good, lord knows I never thought "American Idol" was good, but ultimately the really annoying thing about that show and others like it is, just how popular and influential it was...- (Or still is/might be, since that's coming back, ugh!) but the subgenre itself, there's not too much to really complain about, even within the context of reality. Now, the most popular one now, and the one that she complains about the most is "America's Got Talent", and, eh, sure Piers Morgan is still a useless excuse for a human being but he's not on the show anymore and sure they have way too many judges and...- all the other stuff, but you know, it's still a talent show, basically. Find people, amateurs in their field, have them perform their material, it's a longshot they'll even be famous but it's a shot but it's a forum and a medium for talented people to get fame and exposure, and because of that, I can't really complain about them too much. If there was a reality show for hopeful young screenwriters and/or bloggers, I'd probably tryout. (There were a couple for filmmakers, but none of them stuck; "On the Lot" was the best of them, if you're curious) Not because I like the genre or because I want to be on them, but it's a route to my possible, future career paths, you take it. I seriously doubt everybody who's been successful on or from these shows ever wanted to be on there, but it's a stepping stone nonetheless. And they can be good shows; "The Voice" started out really good, then it stopped doing that around season three, "So You Think You Can Dance" that's a good show, "Last Comic Standing" has it's moments and there's comics that have become famous from that show,  and "America's Got Talent", (Shrugs) I'm from Vegas, I can't bash it too much, Terry Fator came from it, and he's one of the biggest stars on the Strip, and there's a few other Vegas mainstays that have come from there and other shows. Hell, I loved watching "Star Search" as a kid, that was always a good show. A very good show in fact, that's a fun show to seek out on Youtube to kill time.

(Sigh)

That said though, it's not like I don't get what she's talking about. I see clips of these shows more often than I watch them, and yeah, some of them are just unwatchable. The only one that got into the Reality-Competition Emmy category this year was "The Voice", and that just gets in 'cause of popularity more than anything else. I mean, okay, "American Ninja Warrior" involves talent, and yeah, you need how to cook and sew to be on "Top Chef" and "Project Runway" respectively, (Well, design at least, maybe not sewing) but when they become esoteric and specific, I don't consider them talent shows. I mean, it's what it is, it's a talent, you find people on stage, you see them perform, they get judged for their performance, whatever they're doing, singing, dancing, comedy, magic, sideshow whatever-the-fuck, hell, Chuck Barris had this figured out when he did "The Gong Show"! It's a talent show, how do you screw this up? The average elementary school can put on a decent talent show, why is it that over the last fifteen or so years of talent shows, basically owning the Primetime television landscape, have, basically all of them, done a little something to screw this genre up a bit?

I mean, this might seem like it's taken over television and yeah, it has, but it's not a new genre by any means; it's been around since the beginning of television. Hell, before television. In America, "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" was the "America's Got Talent" for it's day. It premiered on radio before switching to television, and it was basically the gimmick that Mr. Godfrey's scouts were finding talent from across America and bringing them to America's living rooms, and the in-studio audience would determine the winner based on an applause meter. I mean, yeah, that's simple and cheap now, but that was cutting edge of technology at the time, and yeah, why not? Can't be any worst than the audience judging on "America's Funniest Home Videos". (Seriously, why did they always just pick the damn kid; he was never the funniest one!)

You gotta remember, in the infancy of television, they're literally, serving for content to throw on the wall, so as long as anything and everything was gonna make the air, why not just preserve whatever acts are going on through history. Movies did that too. I mean look at this:



This is "Gus Visser and His Singing Duck"; it's in the National Film Registry. No, seriously. It's because it's one Theodore Case's early short film experiments involving the creation of Sound for moving pictures; this was made two years before "The Jazz Singer". A guy, Gus Visser who was by every other account made, a fairly forgettable and unimportant vaudeville performer, and one that's, not really that good a singer, performing with his singing duck, that also cannot sing, even for a duck. Once we found out that we record film, we recorded anything and everything, and television, in many way is the big prime example of that. Talent shows, sure there's a contest aspect to most of them, but when you really get down to it, it's just people performing.

Really, to look for the real inspiration for a show like "America's Got Talent" or "Star Search", "Arthur Godfrey's..." in America, or "Opportunity Knocks" is the UK, are probably decent places to start, but I think the real predecessor however, is "The Ed Sullivan Show". Yeah, Ed Sullivan. I know, Beatles, Elvis, Topo Gigio,  all the famous comics and musicians, blah, blah, blah, have you, ever watched a full episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show"?  Hell, I can't even find one on Youtube; there's hundreds of clips from the show, and he's not in most of them. He's listed on any reasonable historian's list of the most important and influential Variety Shows and hosts of all-time, but that's sort of the thing, 'cause when you look back at the show, you wonder, "Why?!" I mean, every other person I can think of that had a similar Variety show at that time, and his time was over two decades long btw, but still, Steve Allen, Flip Wilson, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Jack Benny, goddamn boring-as-hell, Lawrence Welk, eh Johnny Carson, Jack Paar, even, they were all people famous as artists themselves, usually as a musician, a comedian, or maybe an actor if you were really pushing it, but they were entertainers. Ed Sullivan was not an entertainer; he was a journalist. His background was in sports and entertainment reporting, and he had a syndicated column, but still, he's more comparable in the entertainment at that time to somebody like Dorothy Kilgallen than anybody we'd traditionally consider a "host" of a Variety show. But he was the hose, and the show eventually had his name in the title, the show he helped create by the way, and he would introduce the act, and point towards them, and the camera would go to them, and they'd perform, maybe he'd talk for a second, not really anything funny, but a decent interviewer, and then, introduce the next act the same way. I'm actually kinda amazed he lasted so long as was so popular, there's nothing really special about the guy, or interesting. Sure there's dozen backstories about the show and his fights with some artists and S&P and whatnot, but I honestly couldn't tell you the appeal of the show, except it had a bunch of acts on it. Sure, we're not talking the amateurs and wannabes like the other shows we're talking about here, but in every other aspect I can think of, "The Ed Sullivan Show" is just a talent show. Here's so and so, let's see them do their talent! Thank you, and repeat. You laugh, but unless you want to count "Gladiators 2000", it's not like Ryan Seacrest or Carson Daly are much more than that as hosts either. Or, for that matter, Ed McMahon on "Star Search".

Actually, I keep bringing up "Star Search" in this thing, and, yeah, even today I tend to consider that one to be the premiere "talent show", that's the one I always think of, when I think of a talent show. I mean, basically all the other shows are derivatives, some a little more focused. "American Idol" and "The Voice" just do singers, there's a few dance shows, there used to be the one for the Comics, I'm sure there's shows about talented kids out there, and the spokesmodel-, uh-um, I guess, "American Next Top Model-, no, they don't speak  on that. The eighties were weird, people thought being Vanna White was an actual plausible career path, just ignore that one, but why does that one still seem better than the rest, but other than that. I mean, it was a contest and there was a prize money at the end for winners at the end of the year, but somehow it never seemed like that was important. Like, let's show you an average "Star Search" competition.



I can't find a full episode of "Star Search" either, at least not on one video, but this is a pretty decent representation of the show as a whole. It starts, Ed McMahon comes out, announces each performer as they compete against each other, and the judges announce the score, and then they move onto the next battle. And that's why I picked that, and not because it's Beth Hart knocking a Melissa Etheridge song out of the fucking park. (If you don't know who either of those two are, go do some research on what good music is.)

Wait, what did I miss here? Why does this seem so different from, say the "America's Got Talent" clip I posted at the top of this post? I mean, there's several things, there's one performer, not two, there's no categories separating them, we're not learning about the contestants in one, in the other they just go into their act after they're introduced, and in the other they talk to the Judges...- Say, why do we talk to the Judges? I mean, that's something new. New-ish. I mean, "The Gong Show" was more about the judges' reactions too, but let's just be honest, that show was basically the punk rock rebellious version of a talent show. I know there's a few people who became famous as performers from that, outside of the show, but not a lot. It wasn't the focus of the show; in fact, as a predecessor to some of these shows, it was usually better and more entertaining when the acts were bad. That's the judge's reaction we were looking for, the judges on "Star Search".... Actually, I-, I know they have segments in the middle of "Star Search" when they announced the judges, and occasionally they cut to them, but only occasionally, and not like, the gratuitous way "AGT" cuts to the judges and audience for reactions whenever they can, but the judges were usually random each week and weren't that relevant. They didn't talk or anything, they pressed their score into a keyboard.

Which actually, makes more sense. What other universe do you know where the Judges of a contest, just give advice and talk to the contestants? You don't see the figure skating or gymnastics judges make a long speech about why they scored a floor routine a 9.75 instead of a 10, or any other sport for that matter. They did try to bring back "Star Search" at one point, in the early 2000s when they boom really started, and it was awful. And one of the reasons was that it was about the judges, not the performers, or the performances, but about the judges and how and why they gave their star score. (And they also had a stupid audience judge, which was only used on the original "Star Search" as a tiebreaker) This is probably the core reason why these shows get such derision nowadays, and deservedly so, it's not really a talent show that's focused on the talent, it's focused on the judges. That's not inherently bad, like, the situation and circumstances, the framing of the situation matters, but, like I said, they didn't promote acts on "Star Search", or foreshadow future performers, and it wasn't about the judges, who really didn't matter. It was, a talent done, pretty much the way you would expect to see one done, if you were watching a local one put on live. Larger scale, generally better more established acts, but yeah, why isn't that acceptable? Are we that bored, that have to be manipulated by expressive judges that we can't just see somebody perform and have that basically be the appeal?

I mean, just compare them, to then and now? Let's find a decent matching variable, uh.... Oh, here we go, we'll have to go with "The Voice" here, but that's an even better example.
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So, here's a Junior Vocalist battle on "Star Search" between Tatyana Ali and Alisan Porter, because, yes, Curly Sue beat Ashley Banks on "Star Search" 'cause that's kind of the surrealism that keeps the show interesting 20 years afterwards. But also, here:



here's Alisan Porter, auditioning for "The Voice" last year. Now, say whatever you want about the performance, but it's the framing that's I want to discuss. Cause essentially, it's the same thing, singer performs, judges judge, and the show goes on. But "Star Search" focuses on the performer and performance, "The Voice," is about the judge's reaction to the performance. Now, "The Voice" has a conceit where it makes sense, and makes it far superior than it's competition, but still, the judge's react and then we find out about the person performing and their story involving their "journey" into getting there, and sure, if you know about Alisan Porter's past, which, believe it or not I did know about before she made this comeback,  suddenly it's not so much she can sing, it's who she's gonna sing for, what's making her sing, why is she singing, isn't it so great that she can sing so well, and now she's gonna be on this other great singer's team of singers.... Again, they're better at layering all this drama onto this than "AGT" is, or some of the other shows, but, why do they need to do that at all? I mean, that's the whole conceit of "The Voice", the judges know nothing and they turn their chairs for a great singer, but essentially, that's just "Star Search". We know nothing about them, except they performed and they're talented, let's judge the talent.

So, imagine this formula, was on a regular television? A sitcom or drama series for instance, there's this group of main stars and talented people come in and out of these main stars' lives, and throughout the show, we see these stars performing, and doing well and coming in and out of these stars lives, and they each have a story to tell and share, and then, at the end of the night, we're stuck with the judges and their reaction to everything these other people did. This isn't that out there by the way, I mean, there's still "Guest Star of the Week" shows even today that are essentially like that if the talent was just acting, think "The Love Boat" or certain seasons of "Law & Order: SVU",  but when it's only about seeing what they do, at some point, somebody's gonna ask, "Hey, we got all these talented people doing talented things coming in, why do we need the Leads; let's just have a show where the guest stars just show off all their talents? And then somebody says, "Well, what do we do with the lead guys then, they're contractually obligated to be on this show?" "This show? They can announce the guests and point to them when it's their turn?"

(Shrugs) Maybe Ed Sullivan was on to something, just point and show the performances and people would watch? At least, that might be the best way to fix these shows today. Let's face it, reality is more-or-less "contrived reality" as it is, and that's fine in it's own way and circumstances, but it's, probably not the best way to show off the talent in a talent show.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS #138: "FENCES", "LION", "JACKIE", "LOVING", "SILENCE", "I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO", "ALLIED", "THE DISCOVERY", "BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK", "PATERSON", "TOWER", "NERUDA", "CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR", "MIA MADRE", "THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT", "WE ARE X", "UNDER THE SHADOW", "BEING 17", and "SPA NIGHT"!

Well, the Emmy nominations screwed up with my typical schedule rotation, so we have a lot of reviews and a lot of big movie reviews on this blog today. And I still didn't get around to everything. I should remember to make note of the television shows I'm in the middle of watching too, I realize; I won't review them, but somebody remind me, I'll try to start at least tweeting about that at some point. For those wondering, I'm currently in the middle of "Catastrophe", "Master of None" and "The Handmaiden's Tale", among others.

Anyway, movies though, I watched so much I couldn't get around to a couple 2015 films to write a full review over. That's a shame, 'cause I watch a particularly good one with "Of Men and War" a tough-to-watch but powerful documentary that followed for five years, soldiers who were apart of an PTSD living facility and support group. It's a tough watch, but it's effective. It's a classic cinema verite doc that took years to make and is a sprawling two and a half hours, chronically several years and you hear some really frightening and powerful tales of the Iraq and Afghanistan War.  On the other end of the spectrum, I watch the strange indy film, "He Never Died" which starred Henry Rollins, yes that Henry Rollins, as somebody who apparently lives forever and can't be killed, and suddenly meets with a daughter he never know he had. It's really good, fun, great absurd gangster violent schlock with a bit of interesting references underneath; I quite enjoyed it.

I also, holy shit, I like a Michael Bay movie, that's a first, and hated a Wong Kar-Wai film, that's not as unusual as you'd imagine actually. I finally got around to "Pain & Gain", which yeah, shows that Michael Bay, when given a decent enough story, that actually fits with his natural directorial instincts and approach, he can make a really fun movie. I doubt there'd every be anything else that'll work with that aesthetic again, that story of idiot men who love muscles and male gazed-upon-women will probably never happen again, but eh, I gotta admite, I thought it was entertaining enough to recommend. I also saw "Fallen Angels" a strange, romance, I guess, from Wong Kar-Wai, that was apparently an extended story that was supposed to be apart of his landmark film, "Chungking Express", but he decided to turn that into it's own film. I hated "Chungking Express", and just to simplify, this story wouldn't have helped it. I found the style interesting, but the approach and story was mostly boring.

Anyway, we got a bunch of films to go through; let's get to the reviews, starting with the Oscar-winning feature "Fences"


FENCES (2016) Director: Denzel Washington

★★★★★



You know the strange thing about Broadway is how it's somewhat stereotyped as a Mecca for the stories of and for the Liberal Elite, or at least the New York Elites. It is expensive, it's roots in theater date back, probably closer to the history of Jewish Theater than anything else, and it's main attraction are usually overblown bombastic musical featuring, mostly white characters, and most of the time they deal with some of the more trivial problems of the world and are often about people in the elite class, in some way. That's not a negative by the way, by any means, but it's just the perception, and I think we can all point to a few easy examples, "Rent", "Gigi", "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying",  "Phantom of the Opera", "A Chorus Line"..., I mean that's about actors, but New York rich intellectual broke New York stage performers, same thing, really. The thing is, that's not true. There's a long history of the Broadway stage in particular being heavily integrated. Hell ,Audra MacDonald holds the record for the most Tonys with six and when you go back through the history of modern American theater the stage has often been the premiere place for African-American works in particular to premiere, thrive and enter the collective consciousness. In fact, in many ways, you can argue that for much of the 20th Century, it was sometimes African-Americans only avenue, if not Broadway, then the Chitlin Circuit before then, and it's not they're were represented that well in front of or behind the scenes on film and television, assuming they were represented at all. And if there's one playwright who you can point to as being representative of modern African-American theater in this country, it's definitely the one that's got their name on a theater on the olde Great White Way. August Wilson, despite having his work feature so prominently in the American theater Canon, he hasn't allowed people to adopt his plays into films. Only a TV movie production of "The Piano Lesson" that was just a filming of the stage production has ever been out there before, but now, over ten years after his death, Denzel Washington's determined to put all his work onto film. I haven't read much of his work, but if it as good as "Fences" then we're looking at a wonderful long run of movie adaptations.

"Fences" is the 1950's entry into Wilson's famed "The Pittsburgh Cycle" of plays that take place in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, one for each decade and the focus of this play is Troy Maxson (Oscar-nominee Washington). Troy, is a garbage man,  literally, who goes to work every day and then comes home to his family. He's a hurricane who commands the attention everywhere and a loudmouth. It's hard to tell without his quiet but patient wife Rose (Oscar-winner Viola Davis) coming in to unspool his lies, but at one point, he left his home when he was 14 and was a thief for a long time, spending time in jail once he managed to find his way to Mobile. After that, he found some fame as a baseball played in the Negro Leagues before starting a family. For all-intensive purposes, he's one mammoth sonofabitch, who's incapable of seeing the world anyway except through his own eyes. He's arrogant, he's a hypocrite, he's one complex character. He can have his fun moments, like hanging out with his co-worker Mr. Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) as he talks about getting the right to be a driver which no African-American has yet to be as him and Bono mostly hang on the outside and pickup the trash that way. I guess trashmen still do that. And they make decent money too back then, and his brother Lyons (Russell Hornsby) will borrow some between low-paying music gigs, calling him out every pay day and elsewhere for when he doesn't form a life of his own. He also goes after his son Cory (Jovan Adepo) 'cause he wants to play sports and he even has a college football recruiter coming, but he makes him work at the local A&P instead and personally sacrifices his chances of getting a scholarship, even with good grades. He protects his mother when he gets out of hand, but mostly, he's afraid of the huge shadow of a monster that Troy casts on everyone. The only character he seemed to have sympathy for is his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) who was shot during the war, and has since become a shell of his former self who can't really take care of himself. He tries to sell fruit, but he mostly talks about working for St. Peter keeping out the hellhounds. Eventually, Troy gets a mistress pregnant, and she ends up dying during childbirth. It slows him down, and he convinces his angered wife, soon-to-be-ex to take care of the little girl Raynell (Saniyya Sidney) but the only one who doesn't realize it's too little too late for him is himself.

I get the feeling that this is very much an African-American trait, especially with males who will battle on with somebody especially their kids about the supposed right choices and decisions and will just never let it go, it comes up a lot in literature. In another decade and another situation I can easily see Troy Maxson being a version of the Grandpapa character Arnold Johnson played in "Menace II Society" spouting nothing but religion to Caine, completely unaware of just how irrelevant such a message is to him. Troy's not religious, but he's an old man who believes he's given up his time for his family and now feels like he's deserved the right to run roughshot over everyone and everything else. As a film, Washington's directing is sparse, but it should be. This is a play and mores in plays than in films, the smallest lines, inflections and props can mean everything. "Fences" is a great first effort, a powerful film with spectacular performances at the center of the film that bring to life a story who's greatest strength is how observant it is about the experiences of people growing up in the world. How they live, who they are, what impacted most their ultimate decisions now in the past and in the future.

One of Troy's constant refrains is that he believes he could bat .269 in the bigs, better than some white players on the team now, despite being 53 years old; the last taking place seven years later before his funeral. It's easy to discard that as bombast from him, but Satchel Paige played 'til he was 59, who he claimed to have hit seven home runs off of, so maybe he ain't bullshitting there. I doubt any team would put up with long enough to find out though. It's amazing everybody else did, but they were his family.....


LION (2016) Director: Garth Davis

★★★



I think sometimes when it comes to the Oscars, there's a group of voters who vote for something, because they think it's the kind of film that's supposed to be an Oscar film, without really looking closer to see if it is one. This has happened a lot since they expanded the Best Picture category as well. "Lion" is probably one of those movies, but it's not a horrible movie either. It's uplifting, inspiration, I shed a tear for it, but ultimately, just, okay. It looks really nice, it's fairly slick, the editing's a bit interesting. It's Garth Davis's first feature film, although he's done some good work before, most notably directing a few episodes of Jane Campion's miniseries "Top of the Lake", but most of his work was from commercials, and you can tell. Especially some of the early scenes in India, is you pasted a Nike logo over some of the scenes, it wouldn't feel that out of place. The first half takes place in India, where Young Saroo (Sunny Pawar) finds himself having boarded a train and taken far away from his home. So far, that he ends up in Calcutta, where they don't even speak Hindi, and he's officially listed as missing. His brother Guddo (Abhishek Bharate) had left him on a bench as he search for work, and that's the last thing he remembers and he doesn't know exactly where he came from originally. After going through the orphanage system, he gets adopted by an Australian family, John & Sue Brierley (David Wenham and Oscar-nominee Nicole Kidman), along later a second Indian orphan named Mantosh (Keshav Jadhav) who's...-, uh-oh. (Sigh) God dammit! Give me a minute, I need to do some research.

(Few minutes later)

Okay, eh, so Mantosh, apparently, and I glossed over this, the indication and the real life Mantosh, is that he had a particularly difficult time in the Indian orphanages and due to some bad people, he apparently suffered some mental issues from them. That was at least, the supposed implication, and from what I can, accurate enough to his true life story, which I'll be honest, might actually be more interesting that Saroo's, but, the way he was snapping and acting and occasionally when he was having an episode would 'cause himself self-harm...- yeah, I read it that he was somewhere on the autism scale. As some of you are probably aware, I have personal experience with this, and-eh, yeah, honestly I can see why that story would b more, "protected" I guess is the word, 'cause it's a bit too sad, but it doesn't actual seem to be Autism or Asperger's or anything of that nature, he's just, had a rough life beforehand and didn't mentally recover all the way.

Anyway, back to Saroo, (Oscar-nominee Dev Patel) it's 25 years, he tries to forget about his past and adapts well to his more luxurious life. He's going to college, has a caring girlfriend named Lucy (Rooney Mara) but then, he starts to have sudden callbacks and flashbacks to his past, and decides to begin to try and figure out where he came from. How does he do this? Google Earth! Okay, that doesn't sound that impressive when you say it out loud, but it was much more complicated then that. Even with most of the conflict at that part of the movie, basically being about whether or not he Saroo should tell his mother that he's looking for his real family. I can't tell if this movie should've been longer or shorter, either give us a full enriching experience of Saroo's life and journey, or maybe simplify more than it is and not try to focus on some under-developed story arcs. Patel's good at depicting the inner conflict of the character, but it's perhaps a little too much inner conflict and not enough action. I don't know, I guess that's his story, and it is a good, inspiring story, having gotten lost on the trains of India only for modern technology to be able to help him find his family. That's a nice story, one worth telling, I'm not sure it's a great movie though. It's a nice solid effort from a first-time filmmaker and I can't think of a reason not to watch, so it'll get a pass, but yeah, "Lion" is good, but by-the-books and overall underwhelming based on what it was trying to do.


JACKIE (2016) Director: Pablo Larrain

★★★★★



So, I do take notes on all these films that I watch, as I'm watching them, but I don't write these reviews in the order in which I see them, or for that matter, immediately after I watch a film half the time. I do have an order in which I write the reviews for which films, that mostly matches up to how I eventually structure and place these films on this blog, but...- it's not important. What's important is that I saw "Jackie", coincidentally, immediately after I saw the other Pablo Larrain film that I'm reviewing this week, "Neruda."  Obviously, this system has placed my review of "Jackie" to have precedent, although I don't want to spoil my thoughts on "Neruda", but I wasn't fond of that film. There's several reasons for that, much of it, was the framing of the movie, particularly the way it's constructed, mostly like a cat-and-mouse chase between two people, when it really should just be about, Pablo Neruda, and his incredible importance as a poet, politician, scholar, etc. Anyway, I bring it up, 'cause "Jackie" does everything right that "Neruda" does wrong. There's other aspects on why this film is so great, but it boils down to the fact that they didn't take the story of Neruda's exile and formulate an antagonist to represent a bad guy for which Neruda is at least symbolically, if not literally combating against. Here, there is no bad guy, no good guy, nothing so simplistic, it's just "Jackie", (Oscar-nominee Natalie Portman) and whatever and all that that entails. Sure, there's a few characters that you could argue are set up as antagonists, for instance, most of the film appears to take place as a part of an interview Jackie Kennedy's giving from Hyannis Port by somebody only referred to only as "The Journalist" in the credits, although that's not a composite character; (Unlike "Neruda") that's Time Reported Theodore White (Billy Crudup), and much of the movie seems to be a battle between them, but it's really based on his article that he wrote, after interviewing Jackie Kennedy, shortly after JFK's funeral.

Jackie's inner struggle with herself and what-to-do in those days between her husband's assassination and the funeral, is what the film is about. It doesn't portray her in the most positive light, not just the fact that before I was about to write it down, they bring up her constant smoking, which she claims she doesn't do to the reporter, while, puffing on her latest cigarette, or the drinking and the pills even, but the conflicted effort of where her life was at the moment. The way both, the White House, and she had to deal with it.

There's a couple other events that the movie goes back-and-forth between, obviously, the several confusing and chaotic events in Dallas and the White House between, all the players that most Americans, at least if you're an American like me and grew up studying much of the folklore of the Kennedy White House, and the Kennedys themselves, (Although as a film person, I must confess, it was a bit of a kicker, the scene with Jackie telling off Jack Valenti [Max Casella], somebody who I had erased from my mind that he was apart of LBJ's press,  as she's constantly altering her plans for the funeral partition, whether or not she would travel with the partition or in a separate armored car, or even attend at all ) but the other intriguing scenes they go back to, is Jackie's famous PBS Documentary, "A Tour of the White House". I swear I've seen in it's entirety at some point, but it's more probable that I've just seen clips and pieces here and there in other documentary footage. For those unfamiliar with it, let me try to place that in context, as the First Lady her traditional responsibility was, the House itself, and she was the one that started the buying back old pieces of history from the White House and previous Presidents as she did up the White House in her and Jack's image of Camelot. She displayed these changes in a the aforementioned PBS documentary special which she received an Emmy for, which is sorta surreal and noteworthy, but that's  something which I doubt she particularly cared much about, and they seemed to show that here as well. It was an important thing at the time, but nowadays it's common for there to be at least one network that gets a somewhat regular access for a little while inside the White House, but at the time, it was America's first look into the First Family, and much of the history of that 132-room building that she was helping to preserve.

Going back-and-forth between these timelines works incredibly well here as the film's tunnel-visioned approach to Jackie, creates a tension that demands we observe and watch, even as this poor girl's struggles with every possible conflicting emotion. (Tension, is also something severely lacking in "Neruda", but I digress) Natalie Portman is in almost every scene in this movie, and when she isn't in the scene, the scene is still about her, and this might be her most powerful performance of her career. Capturing an intimacy with Jackie Kennedy, that frankly, few have ever had, even had the illusion of. Unlike say, Michelle Obama, who I can safely guess what she's doing or thinking at any random moment and at least feel like I can be fairly close to accurate because of how comfortable she is revealing herself to the world, Jackie has always been more reluctant to soak in the fame, that's why there's such a mystique around her that kept her fascinating. There's a wonderful last scene where you see her being driven down a street with a bunch of clothing shows, each selling a coat that's obviously based on the one that she was most famous for wearing.

There's one sequence, that I question personally on whether or not it should've been in the movie. I was going to beat around the bush about it, but I might as well just say it, they do show the assassination at one point in the movie. Recreate it, and it's effective, and it's not arbitrary, or as arbitrary as say, the ending of "Lincoln", having to end on his assassintion, but for me, while I suspect many will be looking for it, I think it's a rare instance with film where I would rather tell and not show.  That said, I must confess that I might be bias. I can't go into the details of why I was doing this, but I worked on a project a few months back, that among other things, among several other disturbing film images, required me to study the Kennedy assassination, and every piece of film involved with it, including the Zapruder film, frame and frame, and several times over. It was not an enjoyable piece of research, let's put it that way. (Shaking sigh)

Still, overall, this is a minor criticism. "Jackie" is one of the more touching and powerful films of the year. It's startling that I can see two movies from the same director, back-to-back and have such vastly different responses and reactions, and that's while I wish I could claim that it's simply preference of subject matter that determines this, it's really the quality of the films that does it. That happens sometimes;. It's unfortunate that the timing worked out that way, but I strongly suspect that if I had seen these films separately and a much further time period apart, I would have the same reaction.

I should casually some of the other exquisite parts of the movie, Peter Sarsgaard and Greta Gerwig in particular have really good supporting roles, Sarsgaard in particular, has some great scenes with Portman. Most everyone else seems to fit their particular historical figure enough that it's not particularly bothersome, and everybody else appropriately underplays everything. Also Mica Levi's Oscar-nominated Original Score, I'll be honest, I was concerned about, 'cause I did listen to parts of it when I was researching my Oscar predictions, and didn't particularly get it. I mean, sure, it sounded like her work in "Under the Skin", which I loved, but that film's an anomaly to me, and I didn't suspect the approach would work quite as well. Boy, was I wrong there; I am now totally on board with considering her one of the great film composers of our time; the score might not be right for other movies, but it absolutely perfect and essential for this film.



LOVING (2016) Director: Jeff Nichols

★★★1/2



I'm a bit amazed they keep making movies about the Lovings. Not that they aren't worthy of one, in fact this is the third one I've seen about them. The more famous one recently was a documentary on them called "The Loving Story", however I have seen, "Mr. and Mrs. Loving" as well, a '96 TV movie about the couple made for Showtime. The thing that surprises, is that, while their landmark case is extremely important in American history, the Lovings just aren't that interesting people. In fact, in every other aspect from every source I can find about them, they seem rather plain and ordinary. This is of course, exactly the point of why they're case was so important, they are frankly just rather ordinary people, except for the fact that their last name is "Loving" and one of them was white while the other was not; it's just that, that doesn't make for a particularly compelling drama. That said, "Loving" gave it a good shot. The movie goes through the basic steps of their story, Richard and Mildred (Joel Edgerton and Oscar-nominee Ruth Negga) drove up to Washington, once they decided to get married. They live in a small rural  area of Northern Virginia, that for the most part seems racially integrated, at least compared to other similar movies about the time period. That said, somebody, who, has never been found out, tipped off the Police and arrested them one night. They plead guilty and were forced to leave the state for 25 years. They got arrested a second time after Mildred gave birth, she was pregnant when they got married, and barely got off because the lawyer fought them off. Eventually the ACLU gets involved and figures out a way to take their case while the Lovings live in Virginia, in fear every day that they'll get arrested again. Mildred, is warm and loving, and, while shy a little more open with the cameras and the Press, which becomes more prevalent once they decide to pursue the case to the Supreme Court. I had heard the famous ruling where the Appellate Judge explained his decision based on God's will before, the myth that he separated the races to different parts of the world under the notion that they didn't mate 'cause they weren't allowed to being his justification for holding up the decision. Which, well, first of all, scientifically isn't true, humans weren't put on this Earth by race, they evolved from apes and modern humans began around South Africa 700,000 years ago and then would out across the world, but more importantly, total racist bullshit. There's some good scenes where we get the sense of their fears, Richard getting frightened when a car rushes towards their out-of-the-way home for instance. Or Richard's concerns after some documentary crews come to interview and photograph them. Richard always came off as just stiff to me. I can understand why, he loved his wife and just hated the attention his case got. He always seem to be like the old man in Grant Wood's "American Gothic" painting. There's nothing particularly special or unique about Mildred either. she's nice and, well, loving. There's a nice scene of Mildred and Richard sitting down, enjoying "The Andy Griffith Show" while a Life magazine reporter Grey Villet (Michael Shannon) documents the visit. "Loving" is an important story, sure, and one that needs to be told, and it's told about as well as it could've been. Jeff Nichols is about the most perfect choice I can imagine for  this material at the moment; his southern gothic aesthetic is perfect for this tale, even if, unlike most of his other films, there's nothing below the ethereal surface in this case. Nothing particularly "special", except for the racism. There's one scene that I think would work better on the page than it does on the screen where Richard's having drinks at a bar with some fellow male friends and family, and they explain how his problems could all be eradicated if he just got divorced. Practically, they're right, but for them, they didn't marry for convenience or business, or any of the other more traditional reasons to marry, they married for love. He doesn't make that big speech at the end expressing that, partly 'cause he can't, partly 'cause he shouldn't have to express such emotions with words or at all, it should just exist, although I suspect it's mostly that he doesn't to. He just wants to go on with their rather average lives and that's, fine. I still content, that I don't think  this makes for a great movie, but if you're trying to give a good retelling, or tell a good version of this landmark moment in history, than, "Loving" does it's job well enough.


SILENCE (2016) Director: Martin Scorsese

★★★★★



I think in some ways "Silence" might be the long-awaited response to "The Passion of the Christ" that we've never really gotten outside of that one "South Park" episode. Either that, or, it's a movie that challenges and analyzes both the limits of faith as well as the reach and influence, of a religion, one who's God is for the most part, absent. Obviously, I can think of one other movie about the lack of a voice to and from God and that's Ingmar's Bergman "The Silence", a movie that, appropriately has quite little dialogue to it. Scorsese has made religious movies before, most notably, "Kundun" about the young Dalai Lama, and "The Last Temptation of Christ" which might still remain as his most controversial film, but religion is never far away from Scorsese. All his films seems to be about sins and how and whether we can overcome over trespasses. You can argue that he's one of the most Catholic directors of all-time. "Silence" however, takes a more philosophical look on religion. Based on a novel by Shusaku Endu, that actually was already once adapted to a feature by Japan New Wave director Masahiro Shinoda, it's not surprising to learn that Scorsese's been working on making this film for decades.

"Silence" tells the story of two Portugeuse Jesuit priests, Father Rodriguez (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) who made a long journey to Japan to not only spread Christianity but more than that, to find work about their teacher, Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who's been missing for years, and they've received word of his capture and that purportedly, he's since renounced the faith. The film takes place during the early 1630s, and at that time, the attempts of the Catholic church to expand it's reach in Japan had been stymied. Christians were persecuted, and those who supposedly did believe, practiced only in secret. I say supposedly, 'cause, well-, I don't want to give too much away, but one of the subtle conflicts in the movie is how there's a culture conflict, on top of the conflict of religion. Japan is arguably the only major culture in the world that has essentially never embrace Catholic dogma, even in most of the Far East, the religion in some form has taken hold, but Japan has remained Shintoism or Buddhists mostly. Even when they do use Catholic symbolism in their media, for instance in Anime, it's often done with the same way that a western culture would look at, say Greek mythology. "Silence" doesn't exactly explain why that is, but what it shows is the difficulty in trying to preach a word of own's lord to a culture that doesn't have lords. For much of the movie, Garupe and Rodriguez are island-hopping to supposedly friendly southern islands where the word has taken root secretly. They first stopped in Macao in order to receive a translator and guide, kichijiru (Yosuke Kubozuka) who immediately recognizes the priests as Catholic and begins to be in service to them. Naturally, at some point during this journey to find Ferreria, which is delayed as they insist on traveling closer towards Ferreira, who they've heard conflicting reports about his survival and his renouncing of the Church. Eventually, Rodriguez is captured in Nagasaki and from there on in, the movie is a torturous mind game forced by the leader, Inoue Masahige (Issey Ogata). This being Scorsese and being a cinefile of the highest order, I'm not surprised to find some very obvious Kurosawa-ian touches to the major Japanese parts, Ogata clearly evoking Toshiro Mifune and Kubozuka clearly taken inspiration from some of those other messenger fool parts we'd see in something like "Yojimbo", who claims to be Christian, but mostly likes the idea of confession meaning that his past sins are forgiven,  'cause it opens him up to creating more sins. However the look of the movie holds to a that long-established aesthetic and it works here, credit the Oscar-nominated cinematography, as well as the Production Design. Masahige is a real person by the way, who much has been written about in the West through his connections with the Dutch East India Company, which is also where we get word of the Priests. The novel is based on the story of two lapsed Jesuit priests who were taken and symbolically were forced to renounce their faith, and spent their remaining years adapting to Japanese cultures and customs, and preventing the influence of Christianity to infiltrate the country.

Watching "Silence" can indeed be a struggle at times, but it's a fascinating struggle. The last half of the movie, is devoted to all that Rodrigues goes through, in an effort to preserve the strength of his faith, or the faith in the church, or whatever that actually means. Governor Inoue doesn't torture him necessarily, but instead tortures and kills everyone else, each time claiming that if he denounces the faith, through a symbolic act of stepping on the Bible, that his followers would be saved. It's a touch-and-go inner journey, trying to determine what one will do for their faith, or what they should do for their faith, and of course, the great philosophical analysis of whether it's okay to betray your core principles in order to save others.

Mostly, I found myself reminded of, what I suspect is one of the few other modern examples of this practice and it's ineffectiveness, and yeah, I'm gonna pick on the Mormons for a second here.... Still, if you ever saw that "American Experience/Frontline" special on the church, you might recall some of the lapsed members of the faith's interviewed, for some reason, and I could wrong, I seem mostly to recall Tal Bachman's interview. If the name doesn't ring a bell, he a musician famous for the song, "She's So High" back in the late '90s, I think it was him, if it wasn't, somebody correct me, but I believe he talked about going on his Mission, to somewhere in the jungles of South America, trying to spread the Godspell of Joseph Smith, and whatnot, and supposedly he did quite well, having baptized dozens of local villagers over his time spent there. Until, he realized, that they, basically were baptized to be entertained by him. They didn't join the LDS Church or take on any of their beliefs or practices, they could barely understand the concept of their religion. It was a fool's errand, the kind that the guys from "South Park" make Broadway musicals about. I mean, it's a nice idea, but at some point, it's like trying to teach a pig to fly a plane; it's so far removed from their perspective of the world, that you're not gonna fully get them to truly understand the way somebody like me would be able to understand. Whatever one's interpretation of the film is, and there's plenty out there, I think that's the main objective, showing the struggles of trying to force one culture on another and just how violent and dangerous that can be, especially when one doesn't bother to understand the culture they're invading.

For you see, to us, he's Jesus Christ, the son of our Lord and savior, dying for our sins, but to somebody else..., he's just a guy getting beaten up for a long time, before dying.


I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO (2016) Director: Raoul Peck

★★★★



I fear that this is probably the most negative review of "I Am Not Your Negro" you'll find. That's not to say it's a bad movie, and it's possible for several reasons that I am coming into the film a little behind the eight ball as it comes to being able to fully appreciate it. For one thing, it's centered around the famed novelist/poet/essayist/etc. James Baldwin,, who I'm only vaguely familiar with, my lack of interest in the literary world, as in, reading books at least, has cost me somewhat here. I do know him, a little as a Civil Rights activist and a social commentator; much of the movie, when it does show clips of him, is often on talk shows, most notably and unsurprisingly, Dick Cavett.

So, I've watched a couple things on Baldwin lately, including this film, basically the most I've learned is that I've got to get around to reading some of his work, 'cause trying to place him in a singular cultural context is just too difficult. The guy was a Renaissance Man. He was a poet, a novelist, an essayist, a social critic, a playwright, etc. I don't see that worked too much in film, although it is mentioned at one point in the movie that he was working on a script at one point, for what would become the Spike Lee film, "Malcolm X" when Martin Luther King was assassinated. (Which should tell you just how long some projects can in the works...) He wrote a lot about the African-American experience, and on top of being a great writer, much of what he wrote is quite resonant today. He passed away in '87, but some of he more famous essays were about him being harassed by NYPD cops as a teenager, a couple different times in fact, and that would've been in the forties. So, I can see why, adapting his work would be a stirring and inspirational idea. Which makes it somewhat curious to me, why they would adapt this one. The film, is a bit of an experimental documentary; it takes his words, mostly spoken by him, but also, by an amazing voice-over performance from Samuel L. Jackson, who I would not have recognized if I didn't know it was him, quoting and reading from his works, in particular, "Remember This House" a proposed three-part unfinished manuscript that was intended to be a memoir of his thoughts and recollections of his friends and slained Civil Rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. He was working on it when he passed, but using that work as inspiration, filmmaker Raoul Peck, tries to expand on his words from there as well as across his career, along with images of the past and present to connect Baldwin himself, as well as the past leaders to today, to show how important and relevant both he and they are. And, yeah, he is definitely relevant. I'm struggling to come up with a comparable example of his place in pop culture, he seems to be a less funny Oscar Wilde, I guess? (Shrugs) Baldwin's complex, that's the basic uninformed I got out of this. (Sigh; I really need to read more.) He was also bisexual, so add that later to everything else too....

I like the idea in theory, trying to connect the past that Baldwin was most likely referring to, to the present and all of the several Civil Rights battles that we're all still just beginning to fight at the moment, and clearly Baldwin's words are both prophetic and influential, but part of me feels like Director Raoul Peck, is trying to shoved together too many ideas and connections into the film. I can't fault him for that per se, 'cause there is a lot to say and bring up and connect, and it should be connected and made, but something about the way it's put together through this prism of Baldwin's unfinished work, makes this seem so schizophrenic and rapid. I suppose it's trying to engulf in a mosaic and tapestry, but, I always found myself seeming outside the film more than embraced or even confronted by it, at least overall. (Sigh) Maybe it's just that's we've been overloaded with movies about the African-American experience and current status of the culture through documentaries too much so far, and seeing this after "O.J.: Made in America" and "13th" make this feel more like repetition. I can't blame that on the movie though, it's not I saw the other films first. And it does teach and show me a lot, but I think I had to pick though, I prefer an audio version of the film than a visual one; I'd rather be enriched by his words than the pictures that Peck's placed with them. I'm recommending it, maybe I'll revisit it someday and have more of an appreciation of it.... That's about the best I can come up with now though.


ALLIED (2016) Director: Robert Zemeckis

★★1/2



You know the damnedest thing about Robert Zemeckis, I've suddenly begin realizing is just how strangely difficult it is to, well - what exactly defines or makes a Robert Zemeckis film? Like, I've seen all but four of his films, and, honestly, I'm struggling to figure out what to make of him. I know a professor who referenced Zemeckis as family-friendly director, a guy known for making great pop entertainment that's of a high quality that everyone can enjoy, but-eh, I guess that's true enough? The two movies I think most people think of with Zemeckis are "Back to the Future" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", but where do things like "Contact' and "What Lies Beneath" fit in there? Of for that matter, "Forrest Gump", which, to everybody it seems has become one of the most divisive films out there among film critics and fans. There's not a day that goes by that I don't see a Facebook film room where somebody isn't trying to defend it or attack it. Eh, I can kinda see both ways on that one. But how about even more paradoxically, what I would argue is his worst film, "Flight"? A movie, that despite two Oscar nominations, and, is about alcoholism and drug addiction, that, seems to take's such a bizarre approach to the material that's so strange that I suspect that it was trying for a "Based on a True Story" tone, despite the fact that the film has very little to do with any real story behind it. There's not much of that movie that I would consider, "Fun for the whole family". Not much of this movie either.

And here we have "Allied", which, I believe is technically his first war movie, and despite that, I'm just gonna say this, if I didn't know better, I'd say this was a Douglas Sirk film from the fifties. That's not a complaint necessarily, but it's got all the melodrama of that kind of love story, and the look and tone to match. I'm just not sure, why? Why him? Why this film? Why this story now? I mean, sure there's plenty of filmmakers who look to the past aesthetics in order to tell a modern story, Zemeckis isn't even the first one I can think of who's looked to Sirk, most notably Todd Haynes used this style for "Far From Heaven", but he did that, in order to make a point and break down the metaphorical barriers and symbolisms of those earlier films; I don't know what the reason for it is here. Sure, it's a WWII story, but you don't have to make a film that feels like it was made at that time.

The story is a love story between a Canadian CIO, Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) and a French Resistance Fighter, Marianne Beausejour (Marianne Cotillard). Their mission is firstly, to pretend their married so as to work as spies in an effort to infiltrate the Germans. In the meantime, they get married and have a kid. It's a sweet romance, sweeping and epic and sexy at times. Again, nothing like we haven't seen in the Golden Age, only without the emotional connection and feelings that we'd have with, (INSERT FAVORITE GOLDEN AGE HOLLYWOOD ROMANTIC COUPLE HERE) but it's not done poorly either. Then, shockingly, we find out a revelation that Marianne might be a spy, and that it's Max's obligation to eliminate her. This should be, emotional, and deafening, but it only comes across as inevitable. It probably doesn't help that the advertising campaign for the film basically gave away this plot twist, so we're already half-expecting it, but that's not necessarily a problem if this was done well, but it never feels anything more than a simple costume drama. The costumes btw are the one thing in the movie that everybody seems to agree were top-notch, earning the film an Oscar nomination. However, other than that, everybody else was fairly split on the film. I'm basically split on the film, I think it's technically fine, hell, I'm recommending technically, saying it's worth a watch but I find myself overall just more confused by it's existence than anything else.

The film was written by Steven Knight, who is a great screenwriter having written several good films including "Dirty Pretty Things", "Eastern Promises" and his own directorial effort, "Locke", but this is one of the most generic things he's written yet. I also just don't get why he wrote it either. I don't normally like the criticism, "I don't get the point of this,"  but this just doesn't have any real depth behind it. And it should, there's a mother who might be a spy and the husband who's job it is to turn her in,-, off the top of my head, one movie that kinda has these elements that's a masterpiece is "The Lives of Others", and never did I think that movie was pointless. This movie is just generic war-torn romance epic #689G. I can't accept that from people this talented, who I know can do so much better and more interesting. Actually, yeah, I can't,- (Erases 1/2 star)  nevermind the recommendation, I've switched my ratings from 3 to 2 1/2 STARS. If any random person out there made this movie, we wouldn't even consider the possibility of giving it a second look. This was just wasted energy by some great filmmakers who know better and have done so much better before.


THE DISCOVERY (2017) Director: Charlie MacDowell

★1/2



Before anybody asks, the italics, on the title, that's only a trivial matter for my notes; I do that, when I'm unsure whether or not something should technically count as a feature film. Honestly, I would normally not even bother reviewing this film, because I can't find an official theatrical release for it. It screen at Sundance and then the rights were picked up by Netflix, where it was released. It has a TV-MA rating, but not an MPAA rating, and normally I would count that as a TV movie but it's got quite more than a fair amount of Top Critics reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, and I double-checked the Emmy ballots, and "The Discovery" wasn't submitted in the TV movie category. I'm not sure why, I think it would've been eligible, (Other than quality of course...; this isn't a good film, at all) at least from everything I can tell. (Shrugs) If I see anything that confirms it's a theatrical released film over a TV movie, I'll make a note of it, but in the meantime....

So, "The Discovery", I hate to say that a film had "potential", 'cause all films essentially have potential, but this one in particular.... It's got a good cast, and an intriguing premise, so intriguing that it ended up causing a fifteen minute argument between my mother that neither one has budged on. So, in this world, Thomas (Robert Redford) is a world famous scientist who was proven the existence of an afterlife, scientifically. (You see, what I mean when I say potential...) This has caused a severe uptake in suicides across the world, even one during a rare televised interview he gave. For those wondering, the argument was whether or not this made sense; I thought it did. One of the reasons that we stay here is the knowledge that we are completely unsure of the fact that there is life after us means that there is a possibility of a second chance to do things better, make things or just restart and therefore more people would commit suicide as oppose to now, where it's simply a matter of not caring whether or not we go anywhere, and it's instead a determination of wanting to end our existence in this world permanently, which means potentially no life after this, therefore you have to really believe you're troubled beyond repair. She argued, that it was stupid and doesn't make sense because just knowing that there is an afterlife doesn't guarantee that it'll be better, and some crap about how she already knows there's an afterlife...- (Sigh) Honestly, I think she just watches to much John Edward, but no, nobody actually 100% knows for sure on this Earth, and I don't buy any arguments that some do because of belief or faith, or whatever, and besides it's not relevant to this film anyway, since it's a scientific discovery. Anyway, from there, this leads to a few years later. Thomas has continued his experiments, which I'm not 100% how to describe but they're fairly similar to "Flatliners" I guess, in comparison, (Shrugs) another movie I never full got but, this one, takes that great premise and doesn't do anything with it.

We get introduced to Will (Jason Segal) and Isla (Rooney Mara) who meet on a mostly empty ferry ride. Will is Thomas's son, and doesn't like his discovery or for that matter the huge Tolstoy-ian for his followers or believers around him. People have swarmed and they give them a place to stay and work instead of attempting suicide again and of course, show people the afterlife from time to time, using some kind of electrical machine whatzit. Anyway, Isla tries to drown herself, Will then saves her and reluctantly brings her over to them, 'cause there's not much else to do. I won't go over the rest of the details 'cause I could barely follow and care about; it had something to do with stealing a dead body for an experiment, but the body turns out to be something...- I don't know, I was falling asleep and that was before the "twist ending" which, (sighs) it's-, I won't give it a way, but it's one of those endings, where you've got a good, complex, intriguing idea, and then, "Ah, you went that with it? That tired, cliche, way, that hasn't worked in like fifteen years!? Really?"

That's a shame 'cause there's a good idea here, but me and my mother had a more thoughtful argument and discussion of some possibility than this film did, just on the premise. There's an idea here, but it's spoiled. This was co-written and directed by Charlie MacDowell, the post-Mumblecore director responsible for "The One I Love" from a couple years ago, which was also terrible sci-fi romance-thriller that introduced it's supernatural elements and ideas but didn't go anywhere with them, but that was thrilling and confusing at least, even if it wasn't just a bad "Twilight Zone" episode spread over an hour and a half. This was a better concept and idea, but instead of exploring it, then went and made it a gimmick in order to explain a twist that we didn't want, didn't care about, and frankly wasn't needed. There's some good performances here, I'm glad to see Robert Redford one last time before he retires, there's a couple films left that he's working on, and the performances are good, but that doesn't save this.


BILLY LYNN'S LONG HALFTIME WALK (2016) Director: Ang Lee

★1/2




"What the fuck's with this movie!"

That was the constant refrain I kept making as I watched "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk", the latest and, yeah, I'll say it, his worst movie so far. (I liked "Hulk", shut up.) That said, before we get through anything, it might be his, but it might be his most well-shot film This film was originally shot in 3-D format with a 120 frame rate and 4k resolution, and it looks amazing if nothing else. 120 frames/second is shockingly high btw, the normal number is 24, normally, I'd think you'd use that rate for super, super slow motion, but it looks amazing if nothing and there ain't much else. Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), is apparently a young 19-year-old war hero in Afghanistan, him and Bravo Company, Lynn's endeavors were apparently caught up on camera and brought the war to the households. This already seem weird to me, 'cause first of the all, the footage they show is not really that impressive; I mean compared to say the footage during Desert Gulf or especially Vietnam which was shoved down America's throats every day, was much more engrossing to say the least, but I'll buy it. Anyway, Billy is from Stovall, Texas and has come home for a publicity tour where the company's become American heroes, so much so that they're gonna be a showcase part of the NFL's Thanksgiving Day game's Halftime Show in Dallas, featuring Destiny's Child. It takes place in '04, so I guess Destiny's Child was around then, although if that's true, I had long forgotten and ignored such horrendousness, but sure. His family's happy to see them, especially his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) who's got a large scar on her face and is vehemently anti-war. Billy was told to sign up after causing quite a bit of trouble at home and after a car accident that basically turned Kathryn into the Bionic Woman, she's about 87% healed, and fears for her brother's safety. At one point, when he's back home, after causing a bit of a raucous at the dinner table, she calmly tells Billy that if something happens to him, she'll kill herself.

WHAT THE FUCK LADY! Seriously, you're telling your soldier war hero brother, who's suffering from PTSD and still has to go back out to war afterwards, that if he dies, you'll kill yourself! What the fuck you selfish bitch! I don't care what happened to you lady, what gives you the right to put that kind of pressure on somebody, somebody going to war, much less your brother! It's not like you're that hurt, you talked about still being able to get laid, and even with the scar you still look like Kristen Stewart. Seriously FUCK YOU! You are officially the single worst character Kristen Stewart has ever played!

Yeah, I know what I just wrote, and I fucking mean it! She is that bad! The character at least, Stewart's perfectly fine in the role itself as always, but on the page, she's awful!

Anyway, they've also got a PR guy, Albert (Chris Tucker) who's busy working on getting them a movie deal. Hilary swank seems interested in playing Billy, but they're not getting anywhere. Anyway, they got seats at the game and they get to meet the team and the owner, Norm (Steve Martin, in what doesn't feel like as strange an acting choice as it should be, but kinda is.), who I assume is the stand-in for Jerry Jones here. Anyway, everybody they seem to meet here is either completely cut-off from the realities of war, are complete idiot morons who try to get into fights with the soldiers, (Seriously, where do they find these idiots. I mean, I was as anti-war as anyone could've been and I never tried to pick a fight with a soldier.) or are people who are completely infatuated with the soldiers and the military. This includes a cheerleader, Faison (Makenzie Leigh) who seems so ashamed that she's gotta play cheerleader , 'cause she just wants to hump and make out and fuck Billy the whole game, and they have so little time together..., and Billy seems immediately in love with her and wanting to leave everything for her. They meet at the game and the whole movie takes place during this game by the way and they have three conversations, total, not counting texts. Billy's devoted to the military, but his mind quickly heads to the battlefield, especially during a bombastic and absurdly ridiculous titular halftime show, which they were apart, because soldiers are performers, apparently. (Scratches head, shrugs) I know they call it theater but still. That's another anomaly, the movie's fascination with using battle terms to describe the more typical mundane parts of the entertainment business. They also, buried Shroom (Vin Diesel) the emotional core of the group, I guess, and feel sorry for him, even though he died being an idiot and going forward into a gunfight when he probably shouldn't have. But he's Vin Diesel in a war movie, he should probably die.

This is also one of those horrible movies where every scene and every conversation is about the main objective to the film and isn't subtle enough to talk about it without talking about it. It's really annoying, like, "For Love of the Game" annoying, only worst actually. I don't know why a lot of war movies do this; is it because they're soldiers and they hear and repeat the same mantras everywhere they go, so they think that's how people talk?

Actually, is this based on a real incident? I mean, I do know that soldiers are often picked from the battlefield, especially hero soldiers to be used by the military for promotion or something all the time; there's one great movie I can think of that that's about, Clint Eastwood's underrated "Flags of Our Fathers" about the soldiers who raised the infamous flag at Iwo Jima. I actually liked that movie betters than it's partner film, "Letters from Iwo Jima", But this story in particular I don't remember...- Let me look this up...

(Typing)

Huh. Okay, well, it's made up, no wonder I never heard of it. It's from a novel.

( Looks at Wikipedia page.)


Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


For the film adaptation, see Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (film).
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a satirical war novel written by Ben Fountain, which was published in early May 2012 by Ecco Press, a publishing imprint of HarperCollins.[1][2][3] The novel chronicles the experience of a group of Iraq War veterans who are hailed as heroes and sent on a victory tour following their engagement in an intense firefight that happened to be caught on camera. ,,,
"Satirical"!?!?!?!?!?!?! The novel it's based on is satirical! This was supposed to be a comedy!? A satirical war novel, so this was supposed to be "Catch-22" or "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" kind of thing, but it turned into, like when they took "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" are turned it into "Shitty Forrest Gump"!?!?!?!

So that's what the fuck's with this film. (Sigh)


PATERSON (2016) Director: Jim Jarmusch

★★★★1/2



MARRIAGE

....So different, this man
And this woman:
A stream flowing
In a field.

As you can tell, I decided to do a little research and looked up some William Carlos Williams for this review. It's something I'd been meaning to do years ago, but this is as good of an excuse as any. His name gets brought up constantly in "Paterson", as he's the most famous poet of that area and is the idol of the film's main character, Paterson (Adam Driver). Paterson, and yes that's his name, is a bus driver in Paterson, New Jersey. (That's not technically where Williams practiced either of his craft; [He actually was a practicing physician for most of his career, with the poetry being a side project] but it's close enough.) He's one of the revolutionary American poets on the last century, challenging the constraints of foots and meters, but also finding his inspiration in the subject matters, which were less metaphorical, but were instead based in the more banal everyday subjects of the daily life. His most famous poem for instance, "The Red Wheelbarrow" a 16-word, 4 stanza poem that, as far as I can tell is quite literally about a red wheelbarrow, and it finds a great piece of poetry in the simple use and necessity of the object. Hell, having recently re-read Jewel's poetry book, "A Night Without Armor" recently, (Yeah, I like Jewel, and I like her poetry, and I'm not apologizing for either of those things.) I can see how she was heavily influenced by him. Still though, the poet I'm more interested in talking about here is the one, behind-the-camera....

Jim Jarmusch started out as a poet, before entering film and basically becoming one of the fore-fathers of the American Independent Film movement in the mid-to-late '80s, with his debut film, "Permanent Vacation" as he successful follow-ups, "Stranger Than Paradise" and my favorite of his films, the surreal comedy "Down by Law". The thing is, it's never been hidden in any of his films his poetry background, in fact, it's blatantly obvious through most of his work. He's always cared more about mood and tone over plot and was more interested in the emotional core of his characters, even when they were in some of the most absurd and funny situations imaginable. "Down By Law" for instance, despite Roberto Benigni's wonderful comedic intrusions upon the surreal tale of two musicians accused of murder and escaping from prison, ends on a very blatant Robert Frost reference. It's also not unusual in his films for characters to have a piece of writing be the character's inspiration, like in "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai' or even the catalyst of the film, like in "Broken Flowers". That said, I can't really think of a movie he's done until that's directly about the struggles of being a poet. His films are clearly poetic in tone and inspiration, but they're about evoking the mood of poetry, they're not about the act of creating it.

Or at least the person who creates it. This is what makes Paterson such an intriguing character. He's a bus driver, each day, and we follow him and his wife, Laura (Golshifteh Farahani) over the course of a week, he wakes up, hearing an apparent silent alarm on his watch, and goes to work, where he writes a poem in his notebook, which we hear and see him express through voice-over and writing on the screen. He then goes about his day and routine, which involves coming home to his wife for dinner, and a ritual walk to his favorite bar for a local beer. Sometimes during a break, he sits and writes at his favorite place in town, the Great Falls of the Passaic River, which he has a frame photo of. For those wondering what else there is to him, that's about it. His loving wife believes his poetry to be good and insists that at some point he get copies made, but mostly, he likes driving his bus and picking up some austere conversations of the various characters he runs into. In a very East Coast way, the bar he goes to is famous for putting up famous celebrities local to the town up on their wall. According to them, the most famous person from Paterson is Lou Costello. With all due respect to Williams and Allen Ginsberg, yes, he's from there too, they're probably right about Costello to be honest. Anyway, he's ritualistic, quiet, simple, the perfect juxtaposition to his wife Laura. During this particular week, she's preparing to make and sell cupcakes at the restart of the Farmer's Markets that weekend, has started painting the walls, and matched her clothes to a black-and-white pattern, along her cupcakes come to thing of it, to match her latest attempts at a new career path, guitar, as she convinces, rather easily despite the cost, Paterson to buy here a Harlequin Estaban guitar, which comes with everything, including spare strings and several DVDs of instructions. She thinks and believes she can be a country singer, and that she can start a business making her delicious cupcakes. Both of which, I believe. She's also experimenting with other more health-conscious and exotic foods like quinoa. It's clear to Paterson that he probably doesn't necessarily enjoy the brussel sprouts and cheddar pie for dinner, among other odd things mixed in with nights out to the restaurant and old movie theater and ordering in pizza, but he's happy she's happy, and based on his poetry, almost all of which is about her and his love for her in some way, it seems like he's okay with everything. She's going through this, part of her life where she's just exploring all the possibilities of where to go and what to do with it, and he recognizes and accepts it, cause he loves her. And to think, I heard people claim Jarmusch's last movie was his most romantic, yeah, sorry "Only Lovers Left Alive" fans, this one's better.

Driver's performance is the real key. It's subtle on the screen, but on the page, emotions are going all directions. Love, desire, thought, security, panic, devastation at one point late in the film, all of it, so deep inside that he can't or won't make himself express. If you ask him, whether he'd rather be known as a bus driver or a poet, I'd say Paterson would prefer he be thought of as a bus driver. Don't be fooled, that's because he doesn't wear his real emotions on his sleeve, but instead lets them sprawl out of his pen.

APOLOGY

     Why do I write today?
The Beauty of
The Terrible face
Of our nonentities
Stir me to it:....


TOWER  (2016) Director: Keith Maitland

★★★★★



So, shortly before I started watching "Tower" I got some notices on my personal Facebook page from an old college professor of mine, tweeting and FB page telling people to stay inside, 'cause there was a gunman on the loose at my alma mater, UNLV. Apparently it was a fugitive on a crime spree and he was later caught in California and as far as I can tell, nobody was seriously hurt, but I still know some people that work or hang out in the area, so I was concerned. It doesn't help that I also grew up in a Post-Columbine world, but in reality that's not a good enough excuse, 'cause there were several high profile school shootings in a row before Columbine and about four or five right after and in fact, this in general isn't a new phenomenon at all. In America, you can date back the history of school shootings all the way to 1840 and after that, their ain't a decade where there weren't several others. Prior to the Virginia Tech Massacre, the deadliest college shooting occurred on an otherwise benign day in Austin and was known as the University of Texas massacre which took place over 96 minutes of terror on August 1st, 1966. "Tower" the amazing documentary by Austin-based filmmaker Keith Maitland, takes an inventive first-hand approach to retelling the sad story of that day. He combines some stock footage and interviews with the survivors and some of the others that were involved that day, and he also recreates many of the scenes, and eyewitness accounts, and animates much of the film through the rotoscoping process first expertly used in cinema by former Texas U. Richard Linklater in his masterpiece, "Waking Life" among other films. I've seen this combination before with "Chicago 10" but this was a better documentary. He also does something that I've seen occasionally done under necessity a few times, most notably with Alex Gibney films, but here, he doesn't just get actors to come in for the recreations, he also finds actors to fill the roles of the interviewees when they were younger. It's actually quite impressive, so you have some wonderful performances surrounding this film, that are quite impressive. I particularly remember Violette Beane as Claire Wilson, one of the first victims of the massacres, a pregnant anthropology student who had to lie bleeding on the hot pavement next to her dead boyfriend for over half an hour, with only one brave student, Rita Starpattern, also wonderfully acted by Josephin McAdam who is able to lie out the ground next to her and keep her talking until they can somehow manage to find a safe passage either to her, or get her to the ambulances. If you're wondering what I mean by that, well, the title is the big clue. Charles Whitman had shot and killed both his mother and wife earlier that day before going to multiple stores to stock up on ammunition. He then found his way to the top of Main Building Tower, on Campus, which had an observation deck 27 floors up, and he began shooting indiscriminately. That's why it took so long to get help and figure out how to save some of the early victims, since they were lying right in the middle of his firing. (Hmm, I don't think UNLV has a building more than seven stories high; I wouldn't be shocked if this was part of the reason) The film is terrifying, and it does more to bring you into the center of such an event that I can remember any film doing, and Whitman by the way, is rarely seen or heard. They don't animate, and even in the footage that was taken by the local newsman who had the most memorable day of their life that morning, we don't get a good look at him. There's one piece of footage at the end where Walter Kronkite doesn't try to explain or write off the shooter, saying something that still rings prophetic now and maybe even moreso than ever, that Whitman was the result of the society and all of us. He killed fifteen people, one unborn child and injured 46 that day, and "Tower" puts us seemingly right in the middle of that day, seeming afraid that bullets are gonna come flying in from above at any moment. One of the most intense and fascinating films of the year.


NERUDA (2016) Director: Pablo Larrain

★★1/2



Pablo Neruda is of course the first person anyone thinks of when it comes to Chilean poets, that's also quite a simplistic definition of him. He's a Nobel Prize winning poet and diplomat who's influence and importance to that country, might be similar to say, Bob Marley is to Jamaica. He's a guy who's importance and influence can't be overlooked and who's life is so vast and enormous that several movies could be made on his life. In fact, off-the-top of my head, I can think one great film about him, Michael Radford's "Il Postino". Well, I guess that's not a great example as that movie's not really about him, it's an Italian bike messenger who learns poetry from Neruda who's staying on the island while in exile,  and that movie was much more fantasy than biopic, and that's fine, because it worked there. "Neruda" seems to want to be more biopic than that, but it also, and I-, after checking some reviews I certainly wasn't the only one who noticed this, it also wanted to be "Les Miserables'. Neruda (Luis Gnecco) is also in exile for most of this film, but he's not hiding off on an Italian isle. Instead, after denouncing the Fascist Videla regime on the Senate, and shortly thereafter the whole Communist Party was banned, he remains a public figure, circumventing the law and police at every turn. The police in this case, his own personal Javert, who simply does not get why he's being so protected or his work is so important is Oscar Peluchoneau (Gael Garcia Bernal). Oscar, is a composite character, supposed to represent all of law enforcement and I really wish he wasn't. This would be so much more inspiring if it was based somewhat on a true story, but I think he's intending it to be allegorical. The fact that he can be thrown out and run out the country, but his work and importance and influence will continue to stand and be inspired and beholded by the country. (Sigh) I don't think that's bad at all, but gets lost in the plot, which, is a labyrinth in of itself, since, again, it is still trying to give a full biographic portrayal of Neruda at this time. I think he's somebody who's probably too big to fit into one film for a biopic.



CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (2016) Director: Apichatong Weerasethakul

★★★★



I hate to confess this, but I'm not sure I understand Apichatong Weerasethakul's work. Hell, I can barely pronounce his work. Veer-a-seth-eh-cool? It does startle me a bit that one of the best filmmaker around is named Apichatong Weerasethakul. He's the Thai filmmaker famous for "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives", a movie which I also have no competent understanding of what it was about although it seemed to be about the same connection between the spiritual world and the modern world today. Or I suppose it's the modern world.... The worlds in his films blend so much, that for all I know, I wouldn't be shocked if the character we're watching all the actual ghosts and the spiritual ones are the human that they're interacting with across spiritual realms.

"Cemetery of Splendour," takes place naturally, in a hospital. A military hospital apparently, or I presume at least. The soldiers in the cots are all lying in an eternal slumber. I have no idea if they're in comas, or dead or actually sleeping. Well, they don't seem dead at least, they're taken care of by nurses, the main one is Jen (Jenjira Pongpas) who is the most caring one and she befriends one of soldiers, Itt (Banlop Lomnoi). If you're wondering how a sleeping soldier can have a relationship with a nurse, well, there's a far more creepy version of that story in Pedro Almodovar's "Talk to Her", but here, the soldier seems to wake up occasionally and they take walks. They connect, 'cause Jen walks with a slight limp because one of her legs are longer than the other, but that doesn't come up til much later. Really the movie isn't even so much the relationship as it is a film how Weerasethakul tells his stories. He's essentially a poet through film and the long observant takes with people in and out of the screen and the relaxed patient tone,  make us reflect on the moment, on life and the meaning(s) of it all. During the whole film, there's construction equipment digging up what's presumably the cemetery that the hospital was built on. On the hills at times, there's some local children that play hang around on the small hills as the cemetery gets dug up. It's not just a ghostly tale about life, it's about life, as the same space is used for a place for the young to play, a spot for the dying to heal a place for the past to revive and float through and haunt and, in this story, the cemetery is full of soldier who are still battling long into the afterlife, which is the reason why the soldiers in the hospital remain in an eternal slumber.

At least, that's upon reflection what I got out of it. I always enjoy his work as I'm watching and I definitely recommend his films, but even Malick's most esoteric works seem to float over me and hold me on a visceral level on top of a viseral emotional level, but on a logical plot level as well, but I don't know if Weerasethakul just doesn't care about such things or just isn't burderned by worries about them, but either way, he's one of the most unique and distinctive filmmakers around. If you grasp him, great, but ultimately I don't think it's needed to enjoy him.


MIA MADRE (2016) Director: Nanni Moretti

★★★



I'm always a little bit, hesitant when it comes to films by filmmakers about what it's like to go through the process of making a movie. I know, there's a long list of great examples we can point to that show I shouldn't be so reluctant but from my experience, for every "8 1/2", "Day for Night"  and "INLAND EMPIRE", there's just as many "Sex is Comedy" out there that are which is far and away Catherine Breillat's worst film. (I liked "Anatomy of Hell", shut up.) Anyway, this one comes from Nanni Moretti. a veteran filmmaker most known I believe for "The Son's Room", however the only film of his I've seen until now was the delightful, "We Have a Pope", his previous film. This one, fits somewhere in between, and really has more to do with Mia Hansen-Love's latest feature "Things to Come". than anything else recent as it's also about a middle age professional woman who's struggling to deal with the death of her mother. Well, her dying mother in this case. Margherita (Margherita Buy) is making some kind of Union vs. Owners factory workers strike story, meanwhile she's constantly struggling with her mother, Ada's (Guilia Lazzarini) deteriorating health. On the set, she's a bit of a menace and control freak who's a bit unpredictable, often asking and demanding some things that are a bit overbearing, like going after one of the cameraman for getting in too close on an action scene. Also, she's struggling to deal with her daughter, Livia (Beatrice Mancini) who's smart and taking Latin classes, who she learns from her Grandmother but struggles at school, and confides mostly in her Uncle Giovanni (Moretti) as Margherita starts to lose it. Her dreams, reality and her work start fading in and out of each other as she begins to confuse and lose it as she runs through the stages of grief, effecting and scaring everyone. The best part of the movie is an American actor, Barry Huggins (John Turturro) who's brought in for the role and perfectly plays the big obnoxious American actor who's a bit of an obnoxious asshole and of course, can't remember his lines which are of course in Italian, which he, doesn't entirely know how to speak entirely. He's the best part of the movie, even if it's not the most original take on the part. Still, "Mia Madre" or "My Mother" works as a touching homage to a dying mother and a nice story in general. I can tell it's personal to Moretti and I do love the dream sequences and how he manages to get those to sneak up on us and Margherita with them, especially since it's not a great camera trick or anything, they just resemble real life so much that they blur together with everything else. That could've been really hokey but it was effective here.


THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT (2016) Director: Paco Van Dormael

★★



So, I have this thing about Shane Carruth. He's the filmmaker behind the cult indy hits "Primer" and "Upstream Color". He's done some other projects, mostly acting, last thing I remember him doing was the Score for the TV show "The Girlfriend Experience," which was developed by one of his collaborators Amy Seimetz. As to his music, it's fine, I don't particular care. As a filmmaker though, I think he's awful. I've vehemently despised both his films and consider them utter garbage. Now there's a couple reasons for that, for one thing, I found his work eerily misogynistic when you really dig down into it, but what really bugs me is that he doesn't create actual human characters. Let me explain, in both "Primer' and "Upstream Color", the two main characters, and if I remember "Primer" correctly several others and probably "Upstream Color" too, are acting out of their control, and within the movies, there is, somebody or something else is controlling their actions. This is a major plotpoint in both of the films that whatever they do, and whatever emotional connections they have or make, or in many cases, completely irrelevant and in some cases, outright literally reversed, by some powers-that-be controlling the actions of the characters. This is disturbing to me, as a writer especially. Believe me, I'm a loner, I don't have a lot of friends, in fact, I'm actually amazed at how many I have, but even by my standards, that's not normal. That's some serious, fucked up shit, that somebody is so uncomfortable or incapable of creating a story with regular normal characters, with regular emotions and actions, and see where it goes, that instead they have to within the story, be controlled by somebody else, in order to have their actions make sense to him. I know try to compare his styles to like Malick or somebody, but I call bullshit on this. I think he tries to populate his movies with symbolism and editing and all the other crap just to make his films seem more weighty than they are, and also because he literally can't write a real character. His films feels like games of chess where he's playing both sides and changing the rules on us as he goes, and as somebody who's done shit like that in their lowest moments in their personal lives, I know what it looks and feels like, and trust me it's not art, it's masturbation, and not even the good kind. The kind where you fantasize about how you would control others if you could, and again, not even the good kind of that.


So, you might be wondering why I'm bringing him up here. (Sigh) Well, it took me about a half-hour into "The Brand New Testament", but I'm getting that same eerie feeling again, this time out of this film's director. Jaco Van Dormeal.  It's not Carruth bad to me, he's certainly a more interesting filmmaker but there's something just as off with this guy. Now, Van Dormeal is a Belgian filmmaker who's been around now in the mainstream for about three decades. so unlike Carruth he's got quite a few films under his belt, and they're intriguing titles in his early films. "Toto the Hero" is about two kids who were switched at birth or differing financial means and one of them believing that he deserved the more successful life than he had. He second non-documentary feature, "The Eighth Day" was a tale of a friendship between a salesman and a resident at a mental asylum. Both of those films garnered much critical and award acclaim, and while I haven't seen them, they don't seem that odd in hindsight. They seem like intriguing character pieces. But that last one was in '96, he didn't direct another feature film for over ten years, when he came out "Mr. Nobody" his first English-language film that's become a bit of a cult movie. I saw that movie, and thought it was a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing and rightfully panned it, and I'm not the only one who thought that, but there's a lot who widely acclaim the movie as well. Now, the story of that film, I'm not gonna go into entirely, but basically it's a futuristic tale of an old man retelling his life story, which is actually six different alternative versions of his story, none of which eventually matter, and he manages to instead reverse time, to return to a moment when he was nine-year-olds and make an impossible third option of his life. You see what I mean when I say that he's taken too much control out of the character's hands, and instead he relies on outside forces to control his characters? Yeah, well, get ready for "The Brand New Testament"... (Deep breath)

So, this film, begins with God (Benoit Poelvoorde), hold on, we're not done. God, is this angry, pitiful man who controls the universe in his private computer when nobody in his family is allowed in. His wife, (Yolande Moreau) a quiet but quaint women who loves baseball, runs the household around his misgivings, but his daughter Ea (Pili Groyne) doesn't like how he constantly mistreats everyone on his computer and get whipped for it. On the advice of her Thumbelna-sized brother, J.C. (David Murgia, and yes, that J.C.) she sneaks into his office and texts everybody in the world exactly how long they have to live. She then escapes into the world through a portal in the washing machine and begins searching for new apostles to record and dictate their stories, in the efforts of writing, as the titles suggests, a Brand New Testament. Holy fuck! I mean, there's wanting to control, then there's creating a world where there's people who are indeed controlling and manipulating the characters, but wwwwooo-oooooooooooooooooooooooooooowwwwwwwwww! This is a movie, where the objective is that a character strive to replace God, in order to be able to control the rest of the world better than he is!

I want that to sink in for a little while, just how holy shit fucked up that is. I'm not gonna that as a writer myself, that we don't have a god complex, but yikes! So, anyway, God tries to go after them, fails in some funny ways, meanwhile, kinda similarly unfortunately to "Mr. Nobody", we get another collection of six stories of lives, the most memorable one involves Martine (Catherine Deneuve) who leaves her husband and falls in love with a gorilla, not metaphorical. Yeah, this movie has Catherine Deneuve having a romantic love affair with a gorilla and I barely remembered to get around to that, 'cause it barely registers as strange or weird. And honestly, while it's an intriguing idea and hell, points for aspirations, at least this is an attempt to control and manipulate characters that I can at the very least understand the thinking there, but, yeah, I can't really recommend this. It's a cute premise but it's ultimately a shallow look at the world and while I appreciate his attempts at cinematic homage, his whimsical approach and stylings clearly indicate that he's attempting to be Jean-Pierre Jeunut with this film, "The Brand New Testament" like it's predecessor is ultimately visually-interesting mess of a movie that signifies nothing. Well, I guess powerlessness, perhaps. We can't literal take the reigns out of God's hands, so we do the next best thing, make a movie about doing that exactly. "There, that'll show him," Van Dormeal probably thinks while God laughs.


WE ARE X (2016) Director: Stephen Kijak

★★★★



If you've never heard of X-Japan, well, I can't completely blame you; I've never heard of them either, despite the fact that they're one of the biggest musical acts and rock bands in the worlds. How big are they? Well, they sold out Madison Square Garden, despite the fact that none of their music is in English, big. They're for all-intensive Japan's equivalent of the Beatles, not just in terms of popularity but also musical influence and innovation as well. Gene Simmons notes that if they came from any other part of the world they'd be the biggest band in the world, and I can't necessarily disagree. I'm not sure whether or not they just fed that line to Simmons since his interview seems to come out of nowhere and barely has any real relevance to anything else, but still, "We Are X" makes a damn good argument for them. Starting in 1982, over the last thirty plus years, the documentary on the band, who I suppose is called "X-Japan" here 'cause there's already a major American band called X, the famous L.A. Punk band, but anyway, X is led by a musical genius Yoshiki, a musical savant who grew up as a classical multi-instrumentalist who essentially musically fell into himself after his father's passing. The band started out as being of the times, the eighties metal rock scene, but it continually evolved and expanded. They're music's and it's amazing to listen to could be considered on par with Pink Floyd or Radiohead in comparison conceptually. When one of the band's member committed suicide, it cause the entire nation of Japan to practically turn to a state of emergency. Think Kurt Cobain's death times ten. They broke up for a while after the band's lead singer got brainwashed for a while. That's actually true as we learn that he was actually brought into a strange cult by his wife, who convinced him to swear off rock music, until at some point, they then encouraged him to rejoin the band after realizing the publicity they could get, so yeah, he was actually brainwashed. I guess the documentary itself isn't anything deeper than any good and in-depth "Behind the Music" episode, but because it's so alien to me that I guess I was able to appreciate it and get swooped into it more than I probably would if this was on an artist I was more familiar with, but this is a great band to get swooped up by. Especially in an era where rock'n'roll music is a rarity on the pop charts these days, listening to them is quite inspiring and soothing. They claimed that at one point they tried to work on an English language album sometime in the early nineties, but they couldn't get the accent right enough. That's a shame, but I'm not sure I'd want the some kind of compromised vision for their music anyway. "We Are X" is a strong look at simply put one of the great rock bands and artists in the world. It's a touching and loving tribute at a band that's changed and altered the art form forever and are comfortably seeking out for new challenges and goals in their ever-growing and historic career, and for that reason alone it's worth the watch. And it also makes me want to look more into X-Japan, which is pretty much all that a music documentary needs to do.


UNDER THE SHADOW (2016) Director: Babak Anvari

★★★★1/2



So, I'm aware that I'm in the minority on this, but I've never thought "The Shining" was any good. Yeah, yeah, how can I say that about one of the greats, a Kubrick no less, but you know what, I'm right on that one. There's a few reasons, but the main one that I don't think gets brought up enough, is that, it's not scary. Really, it's, it's unnerving, there's a lot of things in the film that are scary, actually everything's scary, and that's why it's not scary. The kid's second sight, the ghosts, the hallway, the weird images, the attacks on the mind of the characters, the delusions, etc. etc. It's all scary, so, it's, normal. Yeah, in this world, these things are normal, and therefore, since everything's scary from every angle and perspective, then nothing's scary. Sure, Jack Nicholson goes crazy at the end, and I'm sure it's better in the book-, well, let's just say it is (I'm not big on Stephen King as a writer either. Oh, be quiet, I like most of the stories, I love reading what he writes on writing oddly enough, but trying my way through his books is torture!), 'cause of the perspective or whatever, and I can buy that, but still, as a movie, there could've been about ten different alternative endings to that film and they would've all made just as much sense. In fact, even Roger Ebert's Great Movie review of the film, has paragraphs devoted to a deleted scene of the movie, when you're having to go outside the actual film to defend the film, maybe it's not as great as some might believe.

That said, the Iranian feature, "Under the Shadow", did something amazing. It did "The Shining" right. This is one of the best horror films I've seen in a long time, and it did it by fixing two of the main problems with "The Shining", one of them I never really thought about before, but since "The Shining" characters in a haunted house, or hotel, in this, here we have a house, that's actually somewhat dangerous to be in. Okay, I guess by that definition, every house in Tehran can be a dangerous to live in, but this is Tehran in '88, the last year of the Iran-Iraq War, but when an unexploded missile falls through the roof and the people living on the top floor are too old or too undeterred to move out of the way, presuming that's not what's gonna make the bomb blow, yeah, suddenly this actually become a scary house, and it makes perfect sense why somebody, like a mother of a young girl, who's husband is up at the front, might consider wanting to find a reason or excuse to get the hell out. You see, that's something I've never thought about with "The Shining" I guess it's presumed to be a haunted hotel, but the characters are never in any actual danger, from the hotel. I guess, you can argue it's secluded and out of the way, hard to get to and get our of, and sure it's got a creepy vibe to it, but it's still a fairly safe place to be. There's plenty of food and drink stored up, there's heat, plenty of rooms to escape to nobody's gonna come rob the place offseason, and only the things in your mind can really effect you there, Hell, if somebody asked me to stay up at such a hotel for awhile, with pay, I mean, I might insist on electricity and television, but other than that, I'd probably find the experience calming, even with the sexually liberated furries that aren't actually there. Hell, I've imagined stranger.... (Shrugs)

Sorry, I drifted off there, but anyway, the second thing they did better, I won't go into right away. The story involves the mother character, Shideh (Narges Rashidi) is a med student who had to stop her education due to the war. The opening scene is her trying to resume her studies only to be rejected because of her past political activity. It's Tehran, '88 and she lives in a large apartment building where everybody knows everybody and everybody knows everybody's business. Her husband Iraj (Bobby Naderi) is a doctor who leaves for the front and she's now alone to take care of her young daughter Dorsa (Avin Manshadi) as they seem to be the last ones in the building remaining as the war gets closer and closer to the city. Shideh, is at least a capable mother on the surface. Her only apparent crime is hiding an illegal VCR for which she watches her Jane Fonda workout videos on. However she isn't perfect, she sleepwalks and in a male-dominated society, men are constantly in her way when it comes to trying to get or convince others to get the simplest things done. Her daughter on the other hand, clutches to a doll as she claims to have visions that only she can see. This is why I've made "The Shining" comparison more than other films, haunted house in the middle of nowhere, eh, house in the middle of a war, that's under threat of bombing and death, not the least of which several other outlining threats like morality police, or the upcoming theocratic regime that threatens to take over the country, if not literally then symbolically, and then on top of that, the house might be haunted..., okay, now I'm off-put and scared and not at all sure what the hell's gonna happen or how this story could end.

The only thing left is to execute this well, and boy do they ever. "Under the Shadow" is a movie that sneaks up on you as it continually challenges the mind in terms of whether or not the characters are themselves losing their mental shit, or if it's just the situation their in and our main character, not able to tell to fully know the answer, but having to procede as though she does. In the middle of this, is a complex mother-daughter relationship, and the daughter sees and fears the images that perhaps Shideh only suspects with random creeks and noises that the house makes. The ending is spectacular; I don't know what it means or whether it makes any literal or metaphorical sense, but this a living nightmare scenario inside a living nightmare, it doesn't have to make entire sense, it just have to effectively make you feel frightened and scared. This is an auspicious and successful debut feature from Babak Anvari, who is a British-based Iranian filmmaker, in fact the movie won the BAFTA Award for Best British debut feature and it's easy to see why. It's especially effective in how subtle it strangely is. The way I'm describing it, you might think it's the kind of movie that's just piling on the "Oh Shit!" as it goes, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It is doing it, but the way it does it, is what makes it special, it takes this, wartime, frightening, but ordinary world, and dives deep into this ordinary in order to fully explore the truly horrific and despite all of the outside issues, it explores it by diving into the horrors of mind. I get more impressed by "Under the Shadow" the more I think I think about it, 'cause the more you dive into the film, you realize just how amazingly difficult this film is to execute. This is the kind of idea and the kind of film that looks far easier to pull off than it actually is.


BEING 17 (2016) Director: Andre Techine

★★★



The only note I had written under "Being 17" was, "These two boys can't tell whether they want to fight or fuck!" (Shrugs) I can legitimately end the review there, 'cause that's pretty much the entire conflict of the film.

"Being 17" is about two kids, Damien (Kacey Mottet Kline) and Thomas (Corentin Fila), two kids who have been fighting at school, after school, and otherwise for most of the year. Through a circumstance that's a bit too complex to explain, involving illness, the military and location, Damien's mother, Marianne, (Sandrine Kiberlain) one of the only doctors in the town, and the high school's doctor, invites Thomas to stay with them temporarily. They have to try to seem nice to each other on one level, continue their fight and rivalry on another, while also, each of them are in the middle of discovering their sexuality. Yeah, "Being 17" is basically the exact title for this thing, and for the most part, it's effective, if a bit convoluted. There's a lot of part that are probably moving a bit too much in hindsight, just to get these characters together, both under the same roof and fighting. Thomas is adopted and his mother is ill, and not as well-off, so there's a clash of cultures and caste as well involved in this, but yeah, they fight until they start making out at one point, and then they start fighting again, and get in trouble for fighting each other, again.

I think what's holding me back from entirely recommending this is that it's not necessarily as deep as it probably could've been. For instance, this is also a bully and victim relationship essentially, at least that's how it seems, and the result of the conflict, is essentially their attraction to each other. I'm sure that's the kind of thing that's happened before and the fact that these kids treat the situation, in some ways more adult than the adults in the film, is admirable, but with the movie being all over the map, it's hard to truly distinguish this as an important realization, 'cause it seems like everything else is as relevant. Honestly, watching the movie, I cared more about the relationship between Damien's mother and Thomas, which itself has some implied sexual tension between them, but that, like a lot of other things don't go anywhere. Still though, I'm recommending the film, barely, mostly because I can't really tell whether that's a feature or a flaw. The film was directed by Andre Techine, who's always been a bit erratic when it comes to his films, probably his best being "Wild Reeds" and arguably his worst being his previous film, "In the Name of My Daughter", but he's helped by having strong material here, which is benefitted from having Celina Sciamma of "Girlhood" among other films having written the script. This film does have all the makings of one of her lesser ideas that she politely passed off to somebody else, but eh, it's still a work by one of the most interesting writers working today, and despite the complexities of all the relationships, it does create a vast environment full of nuances to draw this story out on. It's a lesser work for both Techine and Sciamma, but that's still interesting enough to take a look at.


SPA NIGHT (2016) Director: Andrew Ahn

★★★



"Spa Night" is a fascinating, melodic debut feature from Andrew Ahn, a young Korean-American filmmaker, and he tells quite an American story of a young teenage boy who's coming-of-age with his sexuality. Huh, that's the second of these I've watched this week. Weird. Well, anyway, this one's got a lot less fighting in the snow. No, this one takes place in L.A.'s Koreatown, and is also a personal family drama. The kid is David (Joe Seo), a young eighteen your old, who's got a job working at a local sauna where his father, Jin (Youn Ho Cho) hangs out at, and also tries to get his kid involved in the ritual of using a sauna. It's there that, he begins to open up his sexual exploration...- I mean, he's a gay kid working in a mostly male-clientele'd sauna, even given that, most of the customers are forty or fifty years older than he is.... Strangely, that's not as predominant a story arc as you can imagine. It's on the edges on the screen, while more typical family drama stuff is at the outset. It always seems like if David were to come out as gay, his parents might be annoyed and frustrated, but if he were not to do well on his SATs, that'll be the real sin. I guess that's more typical than most of these movies, which is good, but yeah, the family's struggling, especially after their business, which sure is a Korean restaurant goes out of business, but they still put pressure on David for him to go to school and college. David does go to visit USC, where one of his few friends attends and is mostly taken aback by the laid back attitude, and partying lifestyle, that he clearly doesn't fit in with. There aren't too may actual events in the movie, it's more about the character realizing that he's just how much of a fish-out-of-water that he is, not just in his household but as a gay young Korean man, he's mostly on his own trying to find his way. Since this is a movie that's about the discovering and unease, it's a mood piece and it's mood is successful. It's a first film for Ahn, and I think he's got better in him, but so far I'm intrigued by what we'll come up with in the future as he fine-tunes his unique voice.