As to movies, I watched a lot still. The only one I didn't get a chance to review here was "La Jaula de Oro (aka The Golden Dream)" a wonderful feature from Spanish-born director Diego Quemada-Diez, that's about the tough struggle of three Central American youths as they endure a long, painful and torturous struggle to get to America. It's a harrowing film, which, is full of a lot of danger, and this one is no exception, and it doesn't help that these three aren't exactly the closest of friends either. I guess there's some comparisons to "Sin Nombre" that come to mind, which was also about that, and had a similar iconic scene of immigrants riding on the top of the trains through Mexico, but oddly, for reasons I'm not sure I get, the film reminded me of John Sayles films more than anything. I get it was the pacing more than anything, and his quiet observation of human nature,...- (Shrugs) Anyway, it's an excellent movie, I definitely recommend seeking it out.
Right now though, I got a lot of other movies to get around, so let's get to it. Here's the latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS, starting with the Oscar-winning, "The Salesman'!
THE SALESMAN (2016) Director: Asghar Farhadi
It's difficult to say that something is a weaker Asghar Farhadi film. I often list his name when somebody tries to bring up the idea of who the best filmmaker working today is, and I don't think it's an unjustified pick. I have no idea if it's accurate, but I can certainly make a strong argument for him. That said however, this is technically the first film of his I've seen that I haven't given 5 STARS to. Maybe it's the formula that's wearing thin on me, his stories are domesticate nightmares where things on the surface seem, at least normal, or at a static position at least, but then something happens, something horrific, and it effects everything from there on in. Lies are told and then uncovered, or not, some people act viciously, others act out of necessity, others fight for their suspicions to be justified. But it's not the formula though; it's really not different from any great writer who's masterful observation skills at the daily life around him wouldn't use. I can describe would Tennessee Williams pays the same way. And some of Arthur Miller's come to think of it.
Anyway, the two leads in the play within the play are Emad and Rena (Shahab Hosseini and Tarenah Allidosti), but we don't meet them on the stage, we meet them as their house is literally collapsing as their apartment is abandoned as construction work causes the bulding to start falling. They evacuate and quickly move into a new building and a new apartment. Emad is a teacher on top of him and Rena being in the production company working on this adaptation. Other than that, everything seems fine as they get use to their new apartment. Of course, in a Farhadi movie, nothing is ever just fine, or at least, just fine for very long. And as always, his inciting incident always happens offscreen and then is discovered by us, and his characters. This one, involves a mysterious man, who came to the apartment and attacked Rena while she was in the shower. Why? Who is this man? Well, he leaves clues, but the first thing we find out is that the previous tenant, was a single mother who had a kid. She also apparently had men coming to the house constantly, and while they never explicitly say it in the language that I would, she was a woman of ill repute, and all signs indicate that whoever the guy was, thought that this woman still lived there.
I guess there's a couple reasons I'm slightly down on the film, compared to other Farhadi films. Usually, there's a lot more personal conflict at stake and everybody's actions, even the simplest ones and choices sometimes have some dire consequences for all those involved. There's some of that here, but not as much. For instance, Emad's growing anger and frustration that he wasn't able to stop or prevent something from happening to his wife, that's understandable. Rena's fragileness over a, relatively mundane and otherwise stupid mistake, I thought was stretching. I mean, compare that to "A Separation", where everybody's actions and words, makes logical and emotional sense based on what they're trying to achieve, in comparison "The Salesman" suddenly lacks the typical conflict we expect to see, and when it's there, it doesn't have the impact and comes off as hollow. At least, if everything that everyone says and claims happened is to be believed as we've constructed it. (Shrugs)
Of course, that's assuming, that's all he was going for. He's done that before, yet this time however, we keep coming back to the performance of "Death of a Salesman", which is becoming a struggle for them as Emad starts angrily adding lines and Rena has to stop the performance in the middle at one point, when she thinks she sees her attacker in the audience. Oddly enough, in that aspect, the movie has more in common than one might think with the other big Iranian film from this year, "Under the Shadow", which is a masterful horror, but essentially was also about the fears that come when your household suddenly feels unsafe to live in.
Actually though, after reconsidering and reconstructing the films, I think the connection might simply be that he's showing how "Death of a Salesman" would've been made, if it was made in Iran. Farhadi is, despite everything at least in terms of his storytelling, his stories are surprisingly western in nature; they feel like they're from another time and place, but still western, still Americana even. They're sad, tragic, they reflect on the pains and inner suffering of everyday life and people, as external events thrust those inner feelings right out into the open. Therefore, maybe it does make perfect sense why he'd chose "Death of a Salesman" as a parallel here, all the elements are there, it's just the perspective's a little more middle eastern. Notice that while the mistress character is in the play they're performing, an actress named Sanam (Mina Sadati) and she is a single mother with a kid btw, but the woman in the film, who started all this mess by leaving her apartment, she doesn't show up in this film, at all.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) Director: Gareth Edwards
Did,- did we need this goddamn thing? Seriously, did we?
So, funny story, the day I ended up watching this, was the day I happen to run into a very fun short animation piece online, where an angry Death Star architect goes into a rant about how he shouldn't be blamed for the Death Star being destroyed by Luke Skywalker and how his design was flawless, except for the fact that, I think the term was, Magic Space Wizards or something like that, were around. This was the original post, it's really funny.
Anyway, spoilers, coincidence, this is the film that explains how the Death Star was able to be destroyed by one shot from Luke. (Long thinking pause) I think I liked it better when the answer was Magic Space Wizards.
Anway, look, I'm not a "Star Wars" guy; I think I've mentioned that before, but, of the five "Star Wars" films I've seen until this one, I still have to get to "... Attack of the Clones" and-um, um, the other prequel one, not "The Phantom Menace", the other-, I really do not remember the name, nor do I want to look it up, but, I thought those were all good movies. I didn't hate any of them, not even "The Phantom Menace" really, there's quite a lot of good there, and while I don't like Jar Jar Binks, I can't say he's as annoying as other characters I can think of, but this one..., it's not that I don't like it, I don't know why it exists. I mean, sure, it's a spinoff movie, that's in the Universe that's not apart of the main universe-,
Okay fuck this! Seriously if you have to go that detailed in explaining the damn thing, then maybe it's not something that needs to be told. Look, I don't like the MCU; I don't think it's transform cinema or whatever bullshit some people are trying to claim it is, or that it's doing something spectacular with this universe building, blah, blah, blah, television had been doing that crossover shit for years, it dates back in all literature long before comic books, and film is by far the worst medium to try it in, much less, using several medias in collusion with film and frankly, even half the good films in that universe, I can take or leave wihout ever thinking about them again. However, there isn't any movie so far in that universe, that isn't at least, apart of the universe. They're all stories of important characters, having major feature-length struggles and the many ways they have to go about solving their major problems of the movie.
"Rogue One..." isn't one of those stories. This is, essentially, a separate tale entirely that, if this were a novel form, would be, in the Postface of the book. Maybe in the Preface, but it's certainly not in the main text. As much as I despite some of these other franchises, at least they don't do that, make a movie that's an afterthrought side-story to a film. Essentially, if I were comparing "Star Wars" to "WALL-E", "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story", is "BURN-E". Remember BURN-E, the robot who got caught outside the spaceship during a chase? Yeah, there's a short film about him on the Special Edition DVDs, and it's funny, and it takes place within the story of "WALL-E", but it's not a major part of the story, and in fact, has nothing to really do with it, it's just a fun little aside. That's what this should be, and essentially it is, except why would you take the fun little aside, and turn it into a full movie? Yeah, call me a snob, but this movie's fucked on premise. If it wasn't important enough to be included in the main story line of the franchise, than how am I supposed to care, if they don't. Even "Star Trek" doesn't screw this up,
But, they made the movie, let's go through the exercise, so Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), um, is our hero. She's also the daughter of Galen Erso, who is the architect of the Death Star, and Alan Tudyk is the best robot in the entire franchise. There's other interesting actors in this film. Diego Lugo, Ben Menhelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker shows up to die, Jimmy Smits, apparently, I totally missed who he played, anyway, the Death Star is in use, and this group is trying to zoom in and sabotage the Death Star without getting destroyed and annihilated by it, and or any/all the ships and planets that get destroyed during this thing. I'm not trying to sound dismissive of the character, but honestly, they're side characters to a more interesting story, but on top of that however, they're not that memorable, and that seems to be the consensus from what I can tell. I don't particularly getting engrossed in fantasy worlds under normal circumstances, and the events themselves, they're shot well, they're full of energy and action, but that's it. That appears to be the norm with Director Gareth Edwards, who has made three features now, the underrated debut "Monsters" which, was also was more interesting to experience as it shifted in tone and genres 'til it twisted it's way to a thrilling conclusion, and the other was "Godzilla", which is both a franchise I don't care about, and one where the characters don't matter, so, yeah, perfect for him, and of course, it was also pretty damn boring as Hell. "Rogue One..." is somewhere in between these. He's good at circumventing the genres, he's not good with creating intriguing characters, or working within the strict lines of the genre, so, I'm tempted to give him a break here, he's got some room to run, but he's still handcuffed a bit by having to do a "Star Wars" film. It is noticeable however that his background is in special effects, special effects for documentaries, especially. Some of the war scenes and battles are quite compelling, but overall, I don't think the quality of the parts save the fact that it's a whole that should not exist.
TONI ERDMANN (2016) Director: Maren Ade
I have to admit that, because I do keep track of entertainment news, even when I really shouldn't that much of my time watching "Toni Erdmann" was spent thinking about the fact that this movie has purportedly at some point been optioned off for an American remake and Jack Nicholson was attached to star and Lena Dunham was attached to write the screenplay. And, yes, that's absolutely the two people involved in that; it's perfectly up both of their alleys. It's a smart and sneakily sly observant comedy about a father and daughter relationship that needs some work. Hell part of me was imagining Dunham's possible takes on some of the scenes in the movie and how much funnier they'd be with her writing them; that's not to say it isn't already funny, but still....
"Toni Erdmann", the worldwide critically-acclaim 3-hour German comedy, there's a phrase you don't hear that often, is strange. It's a little hard to describe if you're too used to the conventional stories and plotlines of Hollywood fair. The filmmaker that I think of most when I think of these kind of narratives that are more character and emotion based is Krzyzstof Kieslowski, but, eh, he was more intrigued by the chance and coincidence. I also, have terribly unfamiliar with Maren Ade; until now, the only project she's been heavily involved with that I've seen was "Arabian Nights" that three-part Portuguese epic pile of shit that I had to suffer through. She was only a producer on that thankfully though, she seems like a much more interesting storyteller as a director. The main characters are Ines (Sandra Huller) an ultra-serious businesswoman who's a major worldwide freelance consultant, currently starting her new job instructing a Romanian oil company, and mostly seeming to have to justify and re-justify her findings several times over to the male heads and co-workers, and her father Winfried (Peter Simonischek), a recently retired teacher and performer, who's a bit of a jokester. That's the basic conflict, she's an uptight stick up her ass, and he's a goofball comic father that she never sees. On the surface, funny, but dry, but surprisingly paced slowly, especially in the beginning, 'cause it sets up the later stuff so well.
Much of the movie, is slice of life-, well, slice of her life, which involves her having the appearance of tight control at all times, changing shirts with a subordinate after she spills blood on it, neat apartments, etc. She's basically, what the Faye Dunaway character from "Network" thought she was. And then, out of nowhere, her father comes to Bucharest, and surprises her. And he stays, by wearing a disguise and claiming to be a fellow business executive named Toni Erdmann, to blend in and fool her friends and co-workers. Does it work? Well, depends on what you mean by "Work"? It forces her to get closer to him, and vice-versa, and they begin to connect, slowly, as he slyly disrupts her goings-on. As I said, it's hard to describe this film in a simple scenes-by-scenes approach, it's not about then, even as the movie climaxes, surprisingly into the what I'm certain is one of the strangest naked party scenes in all of cinema. The movie is a big setup for a slow-building joke, and the joke is essentially that, she's more like her father than she wants to believe, and overall that's touching. It's hard to explain exactly why it's so enchanting, but I noticed a few reviewers bring up how the film continually surprised them and they didn't know what was gonna happen next. That's accurate, from a purely deconstructionalist point-of-view, the film is unpredictable. There's an obvious Dunhamesque scene in the middle of the film where Ines is having sex with, although, without giving anyway, she doesn't even do that, (Although she does do something a little gross if you think about it.) and the strange thing is, that's the one scene that shows her, in control of her surroundings, truly. Everything else, is either at the whim of somebody else, even at her job, even as, she holds up a facade of being together and affirmative and in charge, and nearly everything else after that, is with everything around including and especially her father popping up to ruin everything, being out of her control, and trying to force it to work. And naturally, when she finally does rebel against this facade, she goes entirely out there, and in a sexual manner too.
As I say this, I realize that this is a more interesting movie to analyze than to watch, but that's a good thing, and it's because it's so offsetting and tonally random, that you have to end up, thinking about the parallels and the sudden character and motivation shifts; it's those minor shifts in dynamics and those reactions to them, that make the film great. It'helps that this is a really well-made, well-acted and directed on film, 'cause this is the kind of movie on paper, that won't feel exciting, but to see these actors and character performing, it brings it to life. This is a movie with a lot of ridiculous things in it, that honestly feels like it could've probably easily happened in the real world, in somebody day-to-day life, in somebody living room, and that's such a harder thing to pull off than people realize, that this movie's greatness migt fly over some people, myself included at times too, 'cause this is one that gets better the more time has passed and you think it through, but it's sly and it's subtle, and hopefully when the American remake comes out, it at least knows to take it's time the way this film does.
20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016) Director: Mike Mills
This, I'm aware, is going to be a controversial statement and declaration but as I was watching "20th Century Women" it was a realization that frankly, I couldn't ignore. (Clears throat) I HATE MIKE MILLS'S GODDAMN MONTAGES! HATE THEM! I truly, hate them, like-, I haven't hated something this much since I found out Saffron Herndon existed. Okay, I don't hate them the same way I hate her, or as much for that matter. (Why do you exist!? Stop being 12 and funny as fuck, you demon hellspawn of stand-up!!!!!) I hate Mills's montage because, well,- look, I get what he's trying to do, but, I'm sorry, they suck. They basically ruin his films for me, and honestly, I think they're lazy and ultimately, his movies would be better off without them.
Okay, let me try to explain my reasoning here; Mike Mills, debut feature, "Thumbsucker" was an interesting little indy film that had some surrealistic flourishes, included some creative imagery and editing, but I gave that one a pass because he was adapting a novel, and besides it's was mildly successful. His real breakthrough film was the Oscar-winning, "Beginners" his second feature if you don't count an obscure documentary he did in between those film. Now, that was a good movie, and Christopher Plummer finally won an Oscar for that role, and it's a good performance and there's a lot to like in that film. It's a story about a son who has to come to grips, both with his aging father dying, but also his new lifestyle as he comes out as gay in his '80s. That's a good premise, and it was a cute film, but I've seen some people, people whose opinions I do hold in some regard, sporadically rank that film as one of the best of the decade so far.... (Shrugs) I guess, there's a poetry to the film that I just didn't pick up on, but in hindsight, what I most remember was a beginning montage, of just, things. It was intercut with the Father coming out and has some other reflections on the situation and life and the past and whatnot, but I just remember finding that, odd, and not as fascinating an approach as others did. But, around halfway through, "20th Century Women", which, by the way, despite my complaints about this montage technique is still easily his best movie with the best ensemble acting he's got yet, but it finally dawned me on, these montages with a voiceover narration from the characters, they suck. Like, they're really bad.
They-, like I get what he's trying to portray here, and it's somewhat clever as each character periodically has a little speech and reflection about their lives, but what does he use as background to these prose declarations disguised as poetry? Mostly found footage. Yeah, like, there's a few good montages at the end, where the way the fate and future lives of some of these character; like this dialogue and these speeches, they would so work in a book form, but most of these damn things are just, cutting to random shots of things I've seen 100 times before. In this case, a lot of pictures of the punk rocks scenes from the seventies, or pictures, not even related pictures, just pictures, occasionally there's actors in a scene, like there's a good one with Greta Gerwig's character finding out that she has ovarian cancer, that's good, but a lot of this shit is talking over images. At one point, not only does he use it, but he notates it in order to represent the whatever of life going on around the world, he shows, scenes from "Koyannisqatsi". I'm not even kidding, it just says "Koyannisqatsi" on the screen, and then suddenly, I'm watching scenes from Madonna's "Ray of Light" music video, again. Bad enough this film takes place in 1979, but if you're gonna pontificate on the past and the reflections of life in these character, why this obsession with these mosaics of stock footage? I know there are times and places where these editing connections make sense, but these are not it. He has a bit of a documentary background, if he wants to make "Samsara" or something, why not just do that; not try to shove them into, what's essentially a wonderful, reflective and mostly well-written, despite all this, coming-of-age story, about the modern women who raised this young kid?
The young kid is Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), the only son of Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) a single mom who runs a boarding house with one tenant, a photographer for the local paper, Abbie (Gerwig), and she's remodeling the place with a handyman named William (Billy Crudup). The other woman is his life is Jamie's longtime best friend Julie (Elle Fanning) a troubled young teen, who Jamie is in love with, and to some extent Julie is in love with him. They do sleep together, sleep, not have sex as Julie constantly rejects those advances, but has enough of a troubled home that she's just accepted as apart of the family and usually spends in the night with Jamie, if she's not going out to party with less that suitable boys and having the occasional pregnancy scare. That's actually a weird motif, as Abbie's side story is that she's recovering from ovarian cancer, that was caused, she finds out, after her mother, Gail (Thea Gill) was prescribed DES after a couple miscarriages.
That's one I probably knew about but had forgotten, DES was a oft-prescribed fertility drug in the '50s, later they found out it cause ovarian cancer for the kids years later, and now, because of that, it's a risk for her to not only have kids, to also get pregnant, but through her own artistic endeavors and the punk rock scene that she embraces, she begins to get back to restarting her life, through work, and eventually through sex. At some point, Dorothea brings Julie and Abbie together and ask them to help with raising 15-year-old Jamie, and in their own ways they do. Naturally, this leads to him starting to become a hardcore feminist, or, a feminist, as I'd like to call them. Well, he starts reading a lot of the literature, and yeah, since he's already a bit nerdy, this does cost him a bit. Once, after a bully spray painted "Art Fags" on his mother's new car, because he wore a Talking Heads t-shirt. In the Talking Heads vs Black Flag debate, I'm definitely in the Talking Heads camp myself too. (I do like Black Flag, but god, yeah, that's not even close. [And Henry Rollins complains about U2 not having a rhythm section, did he hear some of his early albums?])
There's other conflicts both direct and indirect at several angles of these characters, and they're all fascinating. Well, not Jamie, That's a common theme in Mills's work also, his leads are never interesting characters. Even in "Thumbsucker", I remember his supporting characters being way more interesting than his lead. That's fine, it's a weird thing to do, but I can think of other directors who do that, but this is a movie, that's clearly about these characters, of his rememberance of them, and the time and place in which they were ever-present in their lives. I have this aching feeling that Mills liked Marcel Proust a lot more than I do too, but it works here.....
For the most part- I can't get past the goddamn montages. There's gotta be a better in-between there. Like, what they add, I like, how they're added, and how he chooses to add them with that process, just pisses me off. I get it, they're memory, and images from the past, but no, they're just exposition. Well-written and good exposition at times, but I very much question, whether there isn't a better, more artistic, a more inventive filmmaking way of having those slivers of expositions throughout the film. At least, lay off the stock footage and random images. You want to reflect the punk scene, don't just show the same pictures I've seen on VH-1 of The Ramones half my life, okay. Maybe shoot at a concert scene or something, or another one, 'cause there is one in this film, but he used flashbacks well enough at times too, which is what's so weird about them....- AGH! They piss me off, you might like them, maybe they just annoy me 'cause I think this was such a great movie elsewise,.... I don't know, I'm sure I'm in the minority on that one but,... (Shrugs) they really just viscerally annoy me.
TANNA (2016) Directors: Martin Butler & Bentley Dean
"Tanna", which marks the first time an Australian film received an Oscar nomination for Foreign Language Film is the name of the island on the archipelago nation of Vanuatu, one of those tucked away corners of the world where people still live by the old tribal life and have not adapted many modern conveniences. Butler & Dean went to the island, apparently inspired by some previous footage from the location and stayed there for over several months with their families, with the Yakel tribe, one of several on the island, and apparently are slight decendants of the John Frum cult. (Very obscure piece of world war II history, . Eventually, they found their inspiration in a song that detailed a true event in the history of the island, where two young lovers, who were forced to separate during a war/rivalry with another tribe, decided to climb up to the volcano, where they lied down and ate poison mushrooms, killing themselves over love, which then begot the new custom of allowing for marriage by love to be adapted into the tribal customs across the island. Yes, it's a simple Romeo & Juliet story to us, and I'm sure to them, somebody must've brought it up at some point, the parallels. (Some of the elders have visited the western and modern world, one of them has a book with his photo in Buckingham Palace meeting Prince Charles when he was a dignitary for the country.) The story is of course, not the main appeal of "Tanna"; this is ultimately a movie about opening a door to use about a world that few of us have seen or known about and vice-versa. The actors are all members of the Yakel Tribe, and the movie was shot, mostly without a script and often, much of the scenes were improvised as they recreated and reenacted the events of the past. The two kids are Dain and Wawa (Mungau Dain and Marie Wawa) are quite good and lovable in the roles, espeically Marie Wawa, she's got one of those faces that's so sweet and happy, she could be a big star if she ever did want to pursue acting outside of the island. There are similar movies made in the past, probably most notably, "Tabu", from the early 1930s, that was also made and shot in an exotic location, and films like those seem like documented marvels now, as they basically are records of worlds and civilizations that we might not have otherwise. "Tanna" feels much like a film like that, only more amazing since it was made today. Normally you see National Geographic-type documents on tribes and peoples from around the world on people like the Yakel, but I think doing something like this is actually more insightful on them, actually letting them, tell their stories, it's equivalent to us trying to express our classic tales to others, like our religious or origin myths or our canon of essential stories from mythology to modern cinema. From that perspective, "Tanna" is a marvel to absorb.
MY LIFE AS A ZUCCHINI (2016) Director: Claude Barras
With those Margaret Keane big eyes, on these large oblong heads, "My Life as a Zucchini" is a beautiful if sad pathos-filled little movie that's wonderful to experience. And by little movie, I mean litter, at barely clocking in at over the hour mark without the credit and that including a post-credits scene, that I won't knock 1/2 star off for, although I wasn't overly crazy about it, but it wasn't the worst thing, (Yes, I'm still keeping that policy though), it's a wonderfully animated beautiful tale about a poor kid named Zucchini, and his experience as an orphan, after his mother passed away. She was an abusive mother to young Zucchini, a nickname she gave him instead of calling him by his given name, Icarus, and one day when she was drunk and angry, she decided to go up and attack him, and he slammed the attic door on her head, and she fell down the stairs to her death. Saddened and confused, Zucchini is then sent to an orphanage, where naturally, he gets beat up and picked on by some of the other kids, particularly a manipulative bully named Simon that he inevitably befriends, once they begin to understand each other. There's almost always such idyllic perspectives on orphanages out there in literature, or that the kids themselves are somewhat innocent and that it's the institution that's the problem, and sure it's not ideal and there's definitely some things that are annoying that get in the way, but still, it's at most, a layered annoyance on top of the fact that most of these kids have had sad, troubled lives. The movie doesn't shy away from that. Some kids are very troubled, abused even, have had to witness some vile and tragic acts of violence and death, at the hands of their family members. Don't think this is a grisly film to watch, it's just about emotional kids who are struggling between wanting to be the kids that they are, and trying to compensate that with the fact that they've had to in many ways grow up really fast, some of them are still struggling with both of those extremes at once. For instance, the main conflict, is that Zucchini eventually befriends a cute little girl, Camille, who would rather not return to her home with a clearly abusive aunt and the two both work together and scheme and convince a nice police officer to adopt them. It's a beautiful little, emotional tale, that about people in hard times. It's based on an old book that was apparently made into a live-action feature film at one point, but the stop motion animation in this, the first feature film from animator Claude Barras, makes something that tragic, but emphasizes the parts of the story that make it feel so much more precious than anything else. The screenplay is by Celine Schiamma, the wonderful director behind some other great movies about the struggles and conflict of emotions with adolescents, including "Girlhood", "Water Lilies" and "Tomboy", she also wrote the screenplay for Andre Techine's "Being 17", she's one of the best screenwriters working today, although I definitely usually prefer her directing her own work over this but, I definitely greatly admire this film as well. "My Life as a Zucchini", has a simple story and a simple objective, to make us care about poor Zucchini and all the other kids who've suffered in ways he has or worst and it succeeds.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (2017) Director: Colm McCarthy
It's a bit of a close call, but I'm gonna say that "The Girl with All the Gifts" is a 2017 film in America, despite first breaking through in Europe the year before, notably in Great Britain and Ireland where the film received a BAFTA nomination among other accolades. It's easy to see why honestly, there's some skill involved; it's Director Colm McCarthy's debut feature, but he's been an excellent TV director in the United Kingdon for years now as he's worked on nearly every British Drama series you can name in the last fifteen years or so. As to the story though, I mostly saw an amalgam of other movies shoved together, and most of them were zombie movies, and once again, another zombie movie has decided to hit my trigger warning by insisting that the zombies attack in such a way that's way too similar to how my autistic brother attacks me while he's having an episode, so I'm, not really sure it's possible for me to give this film a proper analysis but I'll try. (For those curious, the other zombie movie this happened to with me was "Train to Busan") Anyway, "The Girl with All the Gifts" does have an intriguing direction, not one that is as inventive it thinks it is, but basically, it's the post-apocalypse zombie, whatever, although in this universe they're called "hungries", however in this universe, there's several different species of hungries, or at least they're evolutionary tracks may be different from other. The titular "Girl with All the Gifts" is Melanie (Sennia Nanua) one of the many students of Ms. Justineau (Gemma Arteron). Yes, students, although they're essentially also prisoners, 'cause they're not quite, "hungries" but they're right on the edge. If they were to ever touch somebody, they would indeed turn into them, but they're not quite there yet, so they're locked up and chained immovable in their wheelchairs for class before getting locked away in their cells. Melanie, is the best case however, 'cause she's slightly more evolved and this fascinates Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) who's seeking a cure, which might require more of Melanie than some of the staff would want. This is intriguing, although I've seen one or two interesting takes before on the notion of doctors trying to cure zombies, this one's at least interesting and different in that it takes a more evolutionary look at it. Of course, this being a zombie movie, the kids escape and now, we're more into traditional "The Walking Dead" territory, but the four, including a military guard, Sgt. Parks (Paddy Considine) as they work to both protect Melanie from turning into a hungry, and she begins to fully understand her value and importance as an important bridge between the Hungries and the Humans and take that biological advantage and use for herself.
I guess technically I should recommend this 'cause, if I hadn't seen a zombie movie beforehand, I'd probably really enjoy this, or a recent post-apocalypse young adult movie, or any gifted person movie, or the entire original "Planet of the Apes" franchise,- that's what I mean; I know logically this is more interesting than I'm giving it credit for, and it's technically well-done, but I think I'm just of looking at these zombie apocalypse movies and only enjoying them, from a distance. Back to "Train to Busan" for instance, it wasn't the most creative approach ever to the genre, but it did have an interesting conceit, with the majority of the story taking place on the train, a consigned space that may or may not be safe, and may or may not be taking it's passenger somewhere where they could possibly avoid the virus on the outside; that was an intriguing idea, one that was actually more cinematically interesting even than this film, which is mostly ideas from other movies shoved together. The confined space idea is used a bit in "The Girl with All the Gifts" but it's not exactly locked into it's space the way that film was. "Train to Busan..." was also a movie about the virus hitting the public, while this one, is a survivalist tale, and,-, look I'm not a big fan of "The Walking Dead", but, let's be honest, we have better ones. I'm struggling to figure out why I needed to see this movie, that I couldn't have gotten or seen in some other film, and that's why I'm on the fence, but I think I gotta pan it.
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016) Director: Kelly Fremon Craig
About an hour or so into "The Edge of Seventeen" I finally figured out what this was. Regular teen comedy, sure? Adult content, realistic, emotional, yeah sure. Possible metaphor for a teen lesbian's struggle with coming out, eh, stretching it but it could be read that way, but....- No, no. This is, a character study of a young female youth who's incapable of dealing with or understanding any of the nuances of the outside world. Sardonic, awkward, too smart and too emotional for her own good, it's a modern day "The Bell Jar". Hell, the movie even begins with a speech about how she's gonna kill herself and by the time the movie flashes back to that scene, it's debatable whether or not she's exaggerating and trying to get attention, or whether she's being 100% honest and it's a legitimate threat, that isn't entirely unreasonable or out-of-line. Either way, it's a cry for help from somebody who can't take help if it was being offered to her, and to be honest, it's not like the help she is getting is that good to begin with.
Okay, the suicidal teenager is Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) a troubled young girl who's never really been able to make that many friends, and vice-versa, except for Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). She's never particularly had it easy, her brother Darian (Blake Jenner) has always had it easy, at least to her; he's big man on campus and is an athletic specimen, while she's the sarcastic dorky girl who would rather hang out with her history teacher Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson) during lunch than go and be anywhere near the cafeteria. I immediately understand this impulse by the way. People think that once people get older it becomes easier for them to relate and communicate and whatnot, but that's not true at all. If you struggled or were shy with people in elementary, and weren't able to connect, then, it'll become much more difficult when you're emotions and hormones are all tangled up together and you're completely confused on how to communicate what you want, through either the language of therapy or the language of sex, and how often and easily it is to confuse the two. This wasn't easy for Nadine to begin with, and then she finds out the Krista's been sleeping Darian behind her back. Her mother Mona (Kyra Sedgwick) was already too busy and too much of a wild card before Nadine's father Tom (Eric Keenleyside) died a few years earlier, something that Nadine already never really got over, and now with this revelation screwing with her, whatever "safe spaces" she had, are either destroyed or they're totally about to be, by her.
There's a painful scene where Nadine does something really stupid and ends up in a car with a student she has a crush on, or thinks she has a crush on. I'm not gonna go over everything that happens, but it's a perfect example of the difficulties in trying to communicate when nobody understands you and you're not capable of understanding anyone else.
At one point, she mentions in passing that thinks she's an old soul that doesn't understand how to communicate with all the other kids in the school. It's something I picked up, 'cause I actually have been looking into old and new souls; not by choice, my mother picked up a few books and she's been obsessed with it, and if anybody tells her that some of this meta-pseudo-spiritual hogwash, I actually do think is interesting and valid, I'll kill ya, but yeah, she may have a CD collection that resembles mine more than any of my contemporaries, and probably is just as annoyed at things like, parties and gatherings with people having fun as I am, but, I don't think she's an old soul. If anything, it seems like she's less able to handle anything that comes near her without blowing it up, that reeks of being a new soul, in fact; an old soul would be able to have everything slide right off them, but a new one, has their emotion switch from angry-at-everything to panicked-and-angry-at-everything, and that's fine, but it's really difficult to deal with.
Overall, "The Edge of Seventeen" is painful but accurate. Honestly, the last time I can think of any media that deals with that frustrating moment when you realize your old close friend was having sex while you're still nowhere close to even thinking about the subject, since "My So-Called Life" dealt with it, and that's probably the ninth subtectual subplot of the film. I see people listing this as more of a John Hughes movie, but updated for modern time, eh, I can kinda see a little Molly Ringwald in Nadine, but I'm standing by my notion that this is more Sylvia Plath inspired, despite the relatively happy ending, that Esther Greenwood would probably find some issues with, but I don't.
Also, slowly and kinda under the radar, how much depth and range does Hailee Steinfeld have as an actress? When you really think about it, considering the roles she's had over her relatively short career up 'til now. She might be one of the more underrated actresses around, and arguably this might be her best performance.
BAD MOMS (2016) Director: Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Well, no movie that has a line as good as, "Every thing you say sounds like a cry for help." has to be good, and boy when I needed this movie. I was tired of all the seriousness, of the films and I had just seen that stupid "Star Wars" movie,- (Oh, be quiet, I recommended it! Oh, wait, I changed my mind and didn't. It was long, boring, stupid, pointless, blah, screw all you Star Wars fans.) and here, finally a movie that's fun and funny and big and loud. I just wish it didn't sucker out as much as it did. I have to admit that this is the kind of movie that I'm naturally attracted to to some extent. I'm a son of a single mother, and with an autistic younger brother she takes care of on top of putting up with my bullshit, despite everything I generally try to be understanding in how hard and much she works. So, I don't begrudge mothers for having fun, well, except mine, I actually hate it when she goes out and parties, and does incredibly stupid shit-, being a son is complicated, but being a mom is just hard. So, yeah, the latest movie to rip off "Bad Santa"'s title, "Bad Moms", does appeal to me.
Amy (Mila Kunis) is the main mom in the film, a mother of two who's a hard worker who does everything for her family, including picking up, dropping off the kids, Jane (Oona Lawrence) and Dylan (Emjay Anthony) who each have their own several different things that need taken care of on a regular basis. Science projects, soccer practice, etc. She also works at one of those modern startups where everybody takes off two weeks for Jon Snow's death on "Game of Thrones". (Which one was Jon Snow? I-, this show doesn't have good character, why does everybody care about these minor characters?) Anyway, at some point, she snaps, somewhere after she catches her husband Mike (David Walton) having a longterm affair with a webcam girl, and an emergency PTA meeting led by obsessive controlling PTA mom Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate) who's runs and controls everything regarding the school in this universe; I'm not sure how that happened, but okay, I'll go with it, calling an emergency about the food requirements for the bake sale.
So she, basically decides to screw over everything, and her and two other moms, Carla (Kathryn Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) who are also annoyed at their day-to-day mom lives, and start to rebel and party, and do everything that bad moms do. This is actually pretty similar in plot to Lucas & Moore's most successful venture, "The Hangover' movies. I personally, like the first one of those, but didn't particularly love it and thought it was overrated. I did like the first one, but the problem was the structure, and that's part of the problem here too, because it's a situation where basically anything could happen, and therefore, anything could happen. So, immediately you're thinking about everything they can and will do, and it's almost always going to be a letdown, whatever the results. "Bad Moms", kinda fails the opposite direction oddly, since it doesn't have quite that problem, but it then has the problem where the movie is about how awful these people can be and then, it kinda still has to throw this new direction and philosophical approach to motherhood into an actually story and plot. Is that better or worst than "The Hangover" plot structure, eh... I guess technically it's better, but I'm not sure it caused some of the comedy to suffer; I guess it's just a preference thing.
Anyway, I didn't watch the film for the emotional, I watched it for the offensive and outrageous comedy, and you know what, I found a lot to laugh about it. Kunis, Bell and particularly Hahn are all hilarious the story was good enough, the characters I liked were funny, and I like the message of the movie. There's nothing wrong with having a little fun, even as a busy mother, especially if you truly doing your damnedest and that's whether or not anybody appreciates or not. Also, PTA bitches are the worst. The worst parents and people alive, so yeah, I'm glad they get their comeuppance here, even if they chicken out at the end and make her a bit more likeable. So, yeah, I'm not thinking too deeply about this one, it's funny and I wanted to laugh, so I'm recommending it.
THE DRESSMAKER (2016) Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
"The Dressmaker" is a neo-western where a young woman who was wrongly thrown out of her town, year earlier, has comes back to gets revenge, through the power of dresses. I am not joking. That's the actual story arc of the film. This strange, twisted tonally-odd film, and it's different. And I'd argue good different. It begins with the dusty desert town, taking place in the early 1950s, but barely looking it, and Mildred "Tilly" Dunnage (Kate Winslet) has returned to town, to everyone shock and dismay. Her mother, Molly (Judy Davis) the fabled town slut that's become a cranky old hag, doesn't want anything to do with her, and ostracized by the whole town since being kicked out since she was ten. The town is full of these grotesque and obnoxious caricatures, all of which look on unwelcoming and scoldly towards Tilly, who has spent the last few decades learning at the greatest fashion houses of Paris-, Wait a minute, grotesque caricaturish small town relatives who control everything and don't take kindly to people from the outside trying to change things, this is Australian comedy isn't it?
Yep, Australian! What the hell's with Australian comedies?! Seriously, is this a thing there? We don't get a lot of them here, but nearly every one that does seem to make it's way to America, has the same sort of plot, and this same infatuation with, these small towns, usually, but not always in the Outback, and they're always this combination of these caricaturish supporting characters, often their grosteque seeming in appearance, almost like they're from a Dali painting some of them, and they're all the same plot too. Some how these people have gained importance and influence and the whole town has bended to their will for one reason or another, or the whole social group, and they try to control others who for whatever reason don't fit and it's an uplifting sorta quirky story about overcoming the obstacles of this town or family...- I must be missing something with this, 'cause it's practically every one of them I can think. In the fact, the one that comes to mind that's the least like this that I've seen, and arguably the best Australian comedy out there, is "The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert"! Yeah, the one with the transvestite drag queens traveling across country is the most normal comedy they've produced, at least that's how it seems to us. I must be missing something culturally about this, but it just seem weird to most of America, at least to me. And this movie has an Australian comedy pedigree too with P.J. Hogan being a co-writer, who's mostly famous here for directing "My Best Friend's Wedding" but movies closer to his style involve his breakout film "Muriel's Wedding", and "Mental" both of which are very Australian comedies, although this time, his wife Jocelyn Moorhouse is behind this one, who's actually a little more dramatic through most of her career, most notably for "A Thousand Acres" which retold "King Lear" on a farm, and "How to Make an American Quilt"; this is her first directoral effort in fifteen years, and it's an adaptation of a book, as the rest of her work has been...- so, this is like a strange surrealistically perfect combination of both their skills, isn't it? Huh. (Deep breath)
Anyway, back to the movie, the main big bad that controls the town, is Evan Pettyman (Shane Bourne), yes Pettyman, who's son was supposedly killed by Tilly, and he, by marrying the town's richest person, Marigold, (Allison Whyte) has held over the town with an iron fist, so she was thrown out, instead of arrested, or a proper investigation happening by the bribed Sergeant Farrat (Hugo Weaving, and speaking of Priscilla, he's a transvestite here too!) and now she's back, and causing trouble. Because she makes amazing dresses. (Shrugs) She does, she's an expert, and she starts up a pretty decent business after convincing Gertrude Pratt (Sarah Snook), one of the town waifs goes to her and comes out looking amazing, she even gets married, and all the events they hold, and for some reason this little outback town seems to have a bunch of them, her work is always supreme. Even when Mr. Pettyman brings in a ringer, Una Pleasance (Sache Hurler) to compete, she quite frankly can't. I mean, she's couture and you're shoving a big huge bow onto things lady, what the hell? She also starts dating one of the town few nice hunks, Teddy (Liam Hemsworth) who sees through the town's bullshit on her, and he's the only one who truly believes she was innocent and that was before her mentally ill brother Barney (Gyton Grantley) who was also at one point sent away, reveals some crucial pieces of information that nobody had at the time.
This is a strange and weird revenge fantasy at it's core, it just jumps through several other genres to get there. It's really more unique films I've seen in a while, the advertising for this, made this come off as a more traditional rom-coms, which despite all my observations about Australian comedies above, is generally what most of those films are, and that's the saving grace of most of those stories. This one, has several different genres flowing through this film. Hell, there's a pretty sick violent death late in this movie, and that's before the real Tarantino-esque climax. I can see how this movie has basically split critics. It's a technical achievement, the costumes, among other technical elements are Oscar-worthy, but as a story, it's a strange mess that seems both random and inevitable at the same time. And this is well-made, considering everything, it's actually amazing how much of the details we get to learn and care about with the characters in this town and how all the sorta have these diagonal and parallel relationship crossing and double-crossing with each other, we actually can fit this town together, kudos on the storytelling there for allowing us to keep track of everybody. Honestly, I think I kinda have to recommend it, just so everybody sees it and determines their thoughts for themselves. It's so odd and unusual that I think it's more than worth giving a watch to. Fun, strange, Australian, full of everything.
THE LOVE WITCH (2016) Director: Anna Biller
What the hell am I watching?
Oh-kay, this is a weird one, well, weirder one, at least for this week. This is "The Love Witch", and I get the sense that this film is kinda what you might get if David Lynch tried to make "Emmanuelle". This is,.... well, visually at least, it's amazing. It looks and feels like a movie that was made decades ago. Somewhere in the late-'60s-early-'70s between Lucio Fulci and Russ Meyer, only way more stylish than any of those two ever were, and it's a story about a nymphomaniac witch who ends up killing the men she seduces, due to her overuse of "sex magic". Oh-kay, I think she mistakes sex for love, and vice-versa...- oh dear lord this movie's hypnotically fascinating.
Okay, who's the filmmaker on this? Anna Biller. Hmm, I'm not gonna lie here, she's a new one for me, but what I can tell, this is not an unusual film for her. This is her first feature film in nine years, but her previous two, also took stories and aesthetics from the romantic and sexual time era of movies, when tried to tell, not necessarily modern tales on them, but essentially take on the tropes and look of those films to recapture the essence of that style, and this movie is all style. The best parts of the movie are almost all her, she did the costume design, and the costume design and with M. David Mullen's cinematography, who by the way is the most underrated cinematographer working today, seems to have created a movie that feels like it was unearthed from the era, instead of something that was made last year. Seriously, this is the kind of movie where a cell phone's sudden appearance and importance breaks up the continuity because we wouldn't have been able to tell what time period we were in at that point.
"The Love Witch", is Elaine (Samantha Robinson), who we meet leaving San Francisco after they think she poisoned and killed her last husband. She did. But, she's the kind of femme-vamp that she is. She takes an apartment that Trish (Laura Waddell) shows her too, and over tea, she begins making plans to eventually get a hold of her husband. Richard (Robert Seeley). There's also an occult presence in the town, most of them, when not hanging out in the woods performing some kind of celebratory sacrifice, hang out, or in some cases work at the local strip club. The town, isn't particularly happy about this, but they tolerate it for awhile, but that's before Elaine comes in, and begins seducing some local hippie college professor, Wayne (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) who she ends up killing and burying up at his cabin, right after putting a spell on him in broad daylight, on campus, and got him to go with her in her car to be made love to, right as he was in the middle of flirting with one of his students. That's a sardonic undercurrent to this film that's just, well, so delightful to enjoy. And I won't give away, how, but the burying the body scene, somehow involves urine and a used tampon.
Anyway, eventually the cops find the body and begin investigating her, and of course, the main one, Griff (Glan Keys) falls in love with her and begins to protect her, instead of arresting, even after she's basically confessed and the whole town wants to burn her at the steak, or at least the non-white customers at the strip club do. This movie would guilty pleasure written all over it, except it's made too well. The dialogue and acting is so strange; I can't even describe it, but getting these kinds of performances from modern actors almost seems as technically skillful as everything else. It's a smart move also, not hiring named stars for this film, I keep looking at Samantha Robinson's IMDB photo, expecting her to low more like she does in the movie; she's a pretty young woman, and seems like a talented actress, but it's like I keep expecting Elvira and I keep getting Cassandra Peterson instead. It works though, 'cause a main star, would not look right here; it would feel like you're watching actors pretending and they'd play the role with a wink at the camera,, the same way that say, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling do in "The Nice Guys". But, by not doing that, instead of parody or homage, "The Love Witch" s now a love letter to that era of cinema, and from what I can tell, that's Anna Biller's main intention.
"Film is like sex. Film fulfills all my expectations, all my fetishes. Video doesn't satisfy me. If I couldn't work on film anymore, I would just go back to painting or writing or writing music. I'd just stop making films.---Anna Biller
Well, I'm not sure video is necessarily awful either, but yeah, I can see it, and I wish more filmmakers approached filmmaking, or any artist approach their art like that too.
HOLY HELL (2016) Director: Will Allen
I've always wondered about the kinds of people who join cults. It's so against my grain of thought, that frankly it's something that I will probably never fully be able to understand. From what I've gathered however, they seem to be fairly nice but troubled young people, who for one reason or another are looking for some, for lack of better description, "higher purpose" or "meaning" or way of life" or "understanding" of the world. I can kinda get why people would look for that, I'm not sure exactly why someone would look for that, in a another person. Assuming of course, they were indeed "looking" as I suspect more people than they realize are probably coerced into the group as opposed to seeking it out, but still, really, think about it, when I'm feeling blue, I try a learn about lot of things and seek out knowledge and information, but some seek out these figures on Earth and willingly in most cases, allow themselves to be put under complete control of them. To revolve their lives around them, to separate from society, their life, their families, everything for this one singular person.
"Holy Hell" is a unique film in this aspect. It's director, Will Allen spent 22 years as a member of a famous Southern California cult called the Buddhafield. It was lead by a mysterious and enigmatic figure, Michel. The Utopian world that he sets up is one that, is admittedly appealing at first. Full of life, love, strangely not sex, purportedly, but lots of infatuation over image. He also has quite a charismatic persona. Purportedly he was a ballet dancer who became an actor for awhile, before finding Buddhafield. Of course, he wasn't much of an actor. You can see him for barely a second in, of all things, ironically, "Rosemary's Baby", but mostly he was a failure and unbeknownst to most of the members at the time, he mostly starred in gay porn. Homosexuals had an attraction to Buddhafield, especially those like Will Allen who were ostracized when they came out to their families. The cult also adopted lots of runaways and survivors of rape and sexual assaults. It was an enlightening experience, and for awhile, most of the group was relatively happy. There's some obvious comparisons to be made to "Going Clear..." the scientology documentary, and there are some parallels. Paying extra money for lessons from Michel, who's real name is Jamie Gomez, (And he's used alternate names to this day) the way he promises only a select few will find out about "The Knowing" which is some kind of Indian hypnotism technique that makes one seem like they're having an LSD-like experience, and makes some gullible people believe that he may indeed be, all-powerful. That's pretty much all it takes.
Allen was the groups videographer and made several movies documenting the history of Buddhafield as well as several short films starring the membeers, including several starring Michel. Michel starting acting weird at some point. Moving the group to Austin, Texas at one point, secretly having plastic surgery and forcing others to have procedures, apart of his theory that the body on the outside was the key to the inside of people, or something stupid along those lines. He called some of his members out on their weights, forced people to couple, or not couple, and would torture those he knew had crushes. He also sexually assaulted many members. Things got worst after Waco and he began to act more paranoid. Eventually, when the group relocated to Hawaii in 2007, Allen and several members left, not all, but most, as more information and other members of the group left and began telling their stories to the public, including a blast e-mail to all the members, many of whom, were the first to become aware of Michel's atrocities, or were just in deep denial about them.
"Holy Hell" is a tough movie to watch, but it's probably the only movie we could really get about the inner workings of a cult such as this, and from the inside too. I see some criticisms who ponder about how little we actually find out, but to me, the real key to the film is in the interviews with other former members, and seeing how came in and came out and why; the process in which they first become fooled and the process in which they realize they've essentially been conned, or to be more precise, brainwashed. I can totally understand how difficult it is to depict that, especially from the inside, you don't realize it 'til after you realize it happened, and even then, the process of figuring out how it was done, it's hard to re-calibrate in hindsight. Even the director talks about how in many ways Buddhafield actually saved his life when he went there, and the thing is, that probably was and is true for him. The real lesson I think of cults is that, while it may be something beneficial for some, for a time, it might not be beneficial for all time.
COMMAND AND CONTROL (2016) Director: Robert Kenner
(Sigh) So, as the two biggest most uncontrollable and idiotic leaders of the world play a game of Stupid with out nuclear weapons, I was watching a documentary about the biggest nuclear missle accident in American history, one that almost blew up and destroy, Arkansas, and half the South if it had gone worst. Just so you know, while statistic vary, worldwide there's an estimate of a little under 10,000 nuclear weapons still in existence, around the world, today, and most of those remain, in the two countries you'd think would have them, the United States and Russia. Now, that sound depressing and horrifying and after watching "Command and Control", but at one point, the United States alone had, well over three times that, and the Soviet Union of course raced to keep up and vice-versa; at one point they were factory-made in this country, literally. I know somebody who worked in the air force and did some work on the nuclear weapons program in America; do not be entirely fooled by out constant, continuous and necessary commitment to nuclear proliferation, we have single bombs that could destroy the world three times over in this country, and several others that could simply just do a lot of damage. Robert Kenner's latest documentary "Command and Control" based on the Eric Schlosser book, received a limited release last year before airing this year on PBS's "American Experience" tells the story of the 1980 Damascus Titan Missile Explosion. (Shrugs) No, I never knew or remembered it either, which is stunning, 'cause, yeah, it's a giant nuclear missile and that damn near destroyed Arkansas but actually there were and have been several hundred nuclear accidents over the years, several of them going off, and a lot of other close calls. In fact, this one, was so close to disaster it literally depended literally, on the switch of a lightswitch. Much of it, especially inside the missile silo in Damascus, Arkansas, which is a town of less than 400 and outside of Little Rock, feels like the beginning of "WarGames" which, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if this moment was at least partially an inspiration for that classic '80s film. It's all a bunch of young guys, most of whom are well under 30, many of whom who's basic job, requires eight hours a day in a password-protected cell, underground, staring at a bunch of switches and buttons and waiting eight hours for them to not turn on. Occasionally they do some basic maintenance, and they run through a checklist when needed, just in case something does happen. On this day, a ratcher wrench was used instead of a torque wrench to open a tank on the missile and the cap fell and deflected into the missile, bursting the fuel tank. Basically, they've got to figure out how to make sure, the fuel and the uranium don't mix, inside the missile, now that it's activated, and then activate the warhead, in order to basically, save the country from destroying itself from within. "Command and Control" is best when it takes us into the situation and the locals, and starts to flounder a bit when it dives more into the history and procedure from afar. It's hard to not compare the movie to "Tower" the other recent doc I've seen that details a catastrophic incident that takes place from within the moment is happening, and on that level, it falters slightly. Like I said, this got played on "American Experience" so it goes more into history a little too much and sometimes at the wrong times, but that's a minor criticism, "Command and Control" dives headstrong into a forgotten and little-known part of recent American history, and does it incredibly well. "Command and Control" feels like a warning from the past more than anything else. reminding us that the Cold War may be over in practice, but the remnants of that vile era remain and we may indeed be doomed by our own creations if we're not careful.
THE AGE OF SHADOWS (2016) Director: Jee-woon Kim
I've seen most reviews of "The Age of Shadows" talk about the movie being a throwback to more classic spy thrillers, of the golden age of cinema. (Shrugs) Mostly, this film seems to me like Korea's a few years too late version of "The Departed" or "Infernal Affairs", but yeah, "The Departed" was an intentional throwback too, so I guess it's not entirely incorrect. Although to me, the true comparison to "The Departed" was the constant double-and-triple crossing of cops, spies, agents,...- honestly, this movie was so confusing to follow, I needed to scorecard to follow this thing. It doesn't help that I'm not exactly up-to-date on Korean-Japanese relations in the 1920s, but from what I can gather, Korea was under Japanese rule, but there was , and this film, is basically a battle between the authorities and the resistance movements, and each one is busy infiltrating and sabotaging the other. There's three main figures however, there's Capt. Lee (Song Kang-ho) a smart but aged Korean police office in the Japanese police, there's Woo-jin (Gong Yoo) and antiques dealer who's the leader of a militant anti-Japan group that's out to take out the government, and Hashimoto, a young Japanese officer, who's competing with Capt. Lee to take out the group. By the end of the movie, I didn't know what happened or who's side was on who's but I was entertained watching all the misdirection and carnage, mixed with the skilled and creative filmmaking. The director was Jee-woon Kim, who is a visual mastermind, his best work was the amazing chase horror thriller, "I Saw the Devil", although he's most well-known for his Leone-inspired, "The Good, the Bad and the Weird", which I considered too weird really. When he hits, he really hits, "I Saw the Devil" is an Asia Extreme masterpiece but I think most of the time, he's trying to be creative just to be creative. Or referential in this case. I don't hate "The Age of Shadows", it's too well-made to ignore or hate; it's filmed amazingly. The cinematography is spectacular and while I compared it to something in the vein of "The Departed" or-eh, some critics compared it to early Carol Reed, I think another key inspiration is Michael Mann's masterpiece "Heat", which was also about the main characters, and how many great parallels there are to each other, and how close the good guy and bad guy truly are to one another, and how they can just as easily switch roles and not much would change. In this case, however, it was just so much changing and switching and several different angles of attack in order to complicate and confuse whatever fragment of a plot anybody could keep track, that I was just dizzy by the end of it. I didn't care who survived or who didn't or for whatever side, partly 'cause I couldn't tell or remember which side anybody was on anyway, and that was part of the point, but I was just exhausted trying to keep track that I just stopped at some point and let the film finish. It's overall a disappointment, but I can't pan it completely, so, it's worth a watch. It might headache-inducing, but at least it's for a reason.
CHRONIC (2016) Director: Michel Franco
Hospice workers lately, have fascinated me. Being a doctor or a nurse, you're taking care of people, but hospice people, they're working with the terminally ill. They're essentially, for all intensive purposes comforting people for death. That's a peculiar profession that, I presume attracts certain parts of society. "Chronic" does very little, other than show us a character who has devoted himself to hospice care and why he does it. The character is David (Tim Roth, in one of his most subdued performances), and for most of the film, he's a mystery. Trying to find out about him is like pulling teeth, but we eventually find out that he's called to this work after the death of his son who passed after a long illness. His family broke apart shortly after and he now mostly see him, and we mostly see him as he takes care of and consoles his patients. Four of them to be precise, each one of them somewhat different, each one just as cared for. The tone is paced, long, slow takes, of fairly, otherwise banal activities. Cleaning a patient, bathing a patient, just keep an eye on them in case something happens, really. It seems to want to lull us into a sleep the same way that, essentially, it tries to make sure a patient is lulled to what might be his final rest. Perhaps that's the idea. There is one piece of "conflict" after one family accuses of him sexually assaulting a patient, an old man who he lets use his laptop to look at porn. He barely recognizes the gravity of the charge, or so dismisses it 'cause of the absurdity of it. He tries to have a couple friends, stranely, or perhaps not-so-much, the relatives of those who he takes care of, who he usually encounters at their funerals. That in of itself is also telling is a subtler way, for instance how the relatives are too-, whatever are to be able to take care of their family member at the end, but are concerned enough to find out about them at the end, and try to befriend the person who was with them. Sometimes literally with them; there's one very prolonged scene near the end where David is with a patient until she passes.
ASPERGER'S ARE US (2016) Director: Alex Lehmann
"Asperger's Are Us" is nice little documentary about sketch comedy troupe called "Asperger's Are Us", a collection of four guys, all on the autism spectrum who perform shows in the Boston area. The movie documents, what's purported their finale performance, and it was for awhile, but I'm told they've gotten back together since. Asperger's Syndrome if you don't know, is difficult to explain, I tend to think of it as the opposite of autism, but that's not exactly accurate either. It's basically having all the same traits and ticks as an autistic person, but more able to take care of themselves and matriculate through society. Some might argue that "high-functioning autism" and "Asperger's" are the same thing even. I might argue that in fact, to be honest, and I do have quite a bit of experience with severe autism, taking care of my severely autistic brother, who's five years younger than me, doesn't talk, isn't able to clean himself, is incontinent, and is currently, still, awake and not in bed like I told him to two hours ago, Robbie! It's late, you have work in the morning, go up to your bed and get some sleep, and don't attack me again tonight, I'm sick of it!!!!!!
Sorry, that-, that got away from me a bit. Anyway, yeah, there's debate, and as somebody who's never been diagnosed as having AS but does indeed match a distressing high amount of the traits that are used to identify the Syndrome, it has weighed on my mind over the years. Anyway, as to the group, they're interesting enough, although I'm not exactly sure there's enough there for a documentary. They are funny though. Not in the traditional sense, necessary, sometimes their humor can be quite dark and twisted at times, but they're pretty funny. They're funny outside the stage too, but not as much. I wouldn't say they're always on. They talk about comedy a lot, but they also have other interests. They're very dry outside of the stage, sardonic at times, but fun. (Shrugs) Maybe, if this was, a short film I might be more lenient. It's well-made, there's nothing wrong with it; it was produced by the Duplass Brothers and director Alex Lehmann is a good up-and-coming filmmaking, mostly known for working as a cameraman until now; he also directed "Blue Jay" recently. I just felt that the movie was a little too much, learning about the guys in the group, and their story's nice, honestly I like the comedy stage show better. Maybe if it had been intercut, 'cause I do like the aspects where we see them talking about the material and sketches and then, we see them performed. For instance, the Elton John sketch, sounded terrible when it was being created, but on stage, it was more alive and funnier than I thought. I think I'd rather have seen more of the show, than the documentary about them. I guess that's not necessarily a negative; it's inspiring story, I guess. I mean, sure, I don't think autistic and comedic that often, but it's not that big a stretch. It's just an issue here where the focus was on the wrong part of the story. I won't stop anybody from watching it, but if there's a better movie out there, than I'd rather have seen that, and to me that was the stage performance.