So, I know, I'm unusually way behind on my reviews, and because I couldn't time this correctly with my Annual Primetime Emmys coverage posts, I'm even more behind than unusual, and that means, I'm actually more loaded with movie reviews than normal. Not counting, multi-part reviews batches of movie reviews, which I had to because I was between computers, this I suspect is the biggest edition of my movie reviews yet. I know, I'm sorry about that. That said, don't expect to be smaller necessarily, because I've got a couple big blogs planned next, and, on top of that, my computer's back in the shop, so who the hell knows when I'm going to have a movie review post done, and worst than that. Ugh!
So, briefly, to go through the movies that I'm not reviewing that I've finally gotten around to, the best of them is a terrifying documentary about the Red Mosque and it's growing influence in the Middle East; that was disturbing. "Hitchcock/Truffaut" was a fun behind-the-scenes look at the famous book that all of film people have a copy of, Alex Gibney's Steve Jobs documentary "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine" was another entertaining if incomplete look at an enigmatic man nobody's ever gonna get a perfect look at them. For some reason, I saw a Japanese erotic anthology film called "Three Slave Women" and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also liked Ethan Hawke's documentary on the great pianist Seymour Bernstein. I really didn't like "Jealousy" the fFrench film from Philippe Garrel, and I really hated "Meet Bill" the Aaron Eckhart indy-vehicle that's an amalgram of every bad mid-'90s quirky Indy shoved together.
Okay, that's it, let's get to here's to the MOVIE REVIEWS!
LA LA LAND (2016) Director: Damien Chazelle
Well, yeah, I can see how that would split critics and audiences....
So, I suspect that more than any other film that I haven't reviewed yet from last year, this is the one film that most of you who follow me most want me to form an opinion on. All I've heard since, even before the Oscars was how great or how shit it was. To be honest, I can see both sides of this. In fact, I've probably argued both sides of this with my mother, already, since seeing it, and true-to-form by the way, we completely read the movie differently. Let's start with the music, I enjoy it, and I like the musical scenes, as well as the variety of musical scenes. How some are diegesis music, how some are non-diegesis,-, like, the opening sequence. That's a wonderful opening, how a musical number, that seems to be shot in one long dolly track, just randomly happens on the freeway on a L.A. That's an amazing sequence, and there's several of them in the movie, and they all harken back to the musicals of the old, and different eras of musicals as well. Some moments reminded me of Astaire & Rogers, others felt like Gene Kelly, and even Bob Fosse's approach to Hollywood musicals shows up a little, but mostly, it's an old-fashioned tale, told in a modern way. And I think that's why this film is so polarizing. It's a simple tale for a simple, aesthetically-pleasing whimsical simple movie that's just a love-letter to Hollywood, right? Right?
Well..., is it that simple? Or, how about a better question, could this story be told, straight? Sure, I can think of a few movies that have, and most of them were pretty good. We like to think that musicals in general aren't particularly full of real depth and are just fairy tale flights of fancy, but really, an up-and-coming struggling actress, Mia (Oscar-winner Emma Stone) makes a connection with a cranky but pretentious musician, Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and they struggle to make it work as a relationship, while they both simultaneously struggle to reach their goals. That doesn't seem that odd to me; I can probably think of like, for or four prototype real relationship this could be based on. (And strangely, way more of them than they probably should involve Rosanna Arquette, hmm) So, Mia has an ideal job, as a barista on the Warner lot, right across the street from the set of "Casablanca", or at least, the wall where Bogart and Bergman confronted each other in the hotel room. Sebastien is a jazz pianist, the kind who's just insufferable, those obnoxious pretentious types who get fired from playing Christmas carols in a restaurant because he starts to improvise and still believes his firing should be negotiable because, hey, the audience doesn't care, and more importantly, "they don't know just how much they love jazz, 'cause they don't understand it," that kind of jazz musician, or as my mother calls it, all jazz musicians. (We have musicians in our family, we can say that, 'cause, yeah, we've experienced it.) I think that's the crux of the debate, is this more full of depth than we think, or is it as flouncy and simple as it seems? And if it is the latter, is that a bad thing? Well, it's definitely not a bad thing, and Chazelle is too talented to take an idea like this and not make it good. This guy wrote a screenplay that was basically "Speed" on a piano, and amazingly it almost, kinda worked. As a filmmaker, yeah, he loves jazz, so what? Yeah, he loves musicals and fantasy, so what? He does it well? Yeah, he does, in some ways, incredibly well. It's a simple tale, with a happy ending, but sure, but what's wrong with that.
"La La Land" is simply a tale of two artists, both of whom are muses to each other as they struggle their way up, in their art form. And what is that art form? Communication, as any artist knows, they don't want to be a musician or an actress or a writer, they have to. It's what they do, and sure, that can be frustrating and annoying, having a boss not understand your own vision and have to play some other's tunes in order to get by, or to have to go on audition after audition after audition for lousy parts on projects they don't even want and still receive rejection after rejection. The ending sequences are my favorite part of the movie. We see an audition scene where Mia hast to tell a story, and, okay, through song, decides to make up a story about an Aunt who moved to Paris, and then, the movie fast forwards five years later, where, without giving anything away, we see Sebastian in a situation, where he then decides to tell his story, through his mode of communication, jazz music. His story seems similar to the movie we've been watching, but it isn't Like Mia's tale, using acting to communicate to the casting people, Sebastian uses jazz music to communicate with Mia, and it's a stunning and heartbreaking parallel of what two storytellers will do to tell their stories, no, make up or improve their own stories, so that others can enjoy them. Just like actress do, just like musicians do, just like writers, and directors do.
Just like Hollywood does.
P.S. As someone who's family actually ran a video store in Boulder City, NV there ain't no way in Hell, she found enough old movies from the town's library in order to be inspired to be an actress like she says. Trust me, I've seen that place, and I've seen it back then, eh, no, not back then, it didn't have movies. It didn't have an encyclopedia back then, the accounts of it's video collection in this film are dubious at best.
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM (2016) Director: David Yates
So, I am not exactly adept at the Harry Potter universe. In fact, if I'm being honest, I probably know less about it overall than I do say the MCU or the DCU and I've never even read a comic book that took place in either of those universes (And for that matter, I have barely read a comic book). I've seen the first four movies in the Harry Potter franchise, really liked three of them, hated the second one and thought "...Goblet of Fire" in particular was a damn-near great film. I haven't gone back to seek out the rest of the films yet, I'm sure I'll get to them at some point, at least I always said that before, although now it seems like I'm gonna have to put a rush on that sooner than later, 'cause oh Christ, they're actually expanding the universe. Well, I say "They", but in this case, it's actually, "She", as "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" a prequel to those several years at Hogwarts, (Hell, we actually learn that in this universe, there's more than one Wizarding School. Well, at least I learned that; I'm sure it might've been mentioned somewhere before) and that the Wizarding World is actually a world that exists below or possibly parallel to our world, and that it's quite extensive. And that leads me to make a declaration that's going to piss nearly all of you off, so here it goes:
As much as all Marvel and DC Universes are stupid and shouldn't exist and just make both their brands worst, I think it's actually, perfectly fine to expand on the Harry Potter universe!
Yeah, you read that right, soak in that anger Superhero-obsessed readers, MCU and DC are dumb for expanding and combining their worlds into one, but it's good for Harry Potter to do it. After all I said, how I can possibly say that you ask, angrily wishing you had my picture on a dartboard right now, if for no other reason than to make sure you don't accidentally punch your computer screen. Okay, here's the thing: multiple superheroes makes no sense. It never did. Sure, say something like "X-Men" kinda pulls it off, metaphorically, sorta, (Not really) and yeah, I'm on record for loving "Watchmen", but "Watchmen" set up their own universe separate where it made sense. Marvel and DC however, they don't. The whole point of superheroes, is that they're superhuman, as in more than human, man and superman as some dead German philosopher once said. So, when there's a bunch of them around, it becomes dumb. It becomes pointless, 'cause now, everyone's super, so now, it's just fantasy and everybody can do something, or eventually will be able to do something, special. I mean, seriously think about it, would Batman even exist if there was a Superman already in the universe? I'd argue no, he wouldn't. Cause there'd be Superman out there protecting everybody, there'd be no need for a vigilante. You want to claim Superman protects Metropolis though, not Gotham? That's dumb too, he's Superman, on several occasions Superman has to save the world, and sure he can't get to everything, but still, bullshit, he'd probably be able to save Gotham and everywhere else whenever the fuck he needed. Seriously, makes no damn sense, and that's why Batman becomes a ridiculous violent nutjob in the universe, with a Superman, and now we have a Lex Luthor actually seeming logical in his argument.
Yeah, multiple superheros in the same world, just stupid. But, "Harry Potter" is a world of wizards, not superheroes, and also, for all it's magic, Harry Potter was actually, kind of a closed-in universe to begin with. It's all secret and behind mysterious magical walls and doors and other openings that don't seem to be there, unless you know to look for them. It's always been parallel to the modern current world, hidden from the modern world. It's the same trick that makes "True Blood" and Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels work, only without the new synthetic blood that allowed the world to suddenly coexist. Wizards aren't saving the world, well, not everyday, unless they have to, or are destined to, but they're just like us and living within us, so yeah, it totally makes sense here to open up this world that, until not has mostly existed in a hard-to-reach school, and bring it out into the open, so to speak. Yeah, call me a hypocrite but it's about the context and the world that was set up before allows for this to make sense with Harry Potter, and make absolute no god damn sense with either major superhero universe and I'm sure I'd have a big problem with it in several other minor ones too.
Anyway, that was predominate observation, but getting to the actual movie itself, it was fun and entertaining enough, and ended well, and I'm recommending it. Ultimately, like the Harry Potter stories, simple tales just told in extraordinary ways, but delightful enough. The main character is Newt Salamander (Eddie Redmayne) who's one of those people obsessed with his work, which is as zoologist who documents and keeps magical creatures. Often in his briefcase, and occasionally, they may escape and cause havoc. It is 1920's New York and you can't have magical animals just destroying New York City, so this garners the attention of Tina (Katherine Waterston) who's job is to track down anyone who inappropriately used their magic, and yeah, Newt, in his absent-minded way applies. He's also shown a No-Maj, Jacob (Dan Fogler) that wizards exist, so he needs to have his mind wiped, but not before getting close to Tina's nightclub flapper sister Queenie (Alison Sudol, who I've never heard of before and immediately love for pulling off a perfect Judy Holliday role) who's somewhat ma wizardly in that she can reads minds. There's a lot of other problems and characters, mostly regarding this secret Wizard organization led in New York by Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) with some good supporting if cliched supporting work from Colin Farrell and Ezra Miller among others, Ron Perlman has a good cameo as well, but when Newt opens his suitcase and he and Jacob takes the stairs down into it to take care of his collection of animals, I was enchanted. Dan Fogler's really fun here as a canner who stumbles into this magic world, he's a wonderful audience viewpoint and I think makes the movie overall. If it wasn't for him, this could've just been a bunch of wonderful special effects, without much meaning, except for winks and nods at Potter fans. I'm told the book itself is produced in a way that makes it seem like it's a standard textbook at Hogwarts, which,is just delightful. This is what I mean when I say this is a world worth expanding on and this is how expand on it and turn it into a proper universe. This is probably my favorite Eddie Redmayne performance too, I like most people, didn't understand all the acclaim he's gotten over the years, although I do think he's a great actor, but this is the right kind of role for him. I don't know if I hope there's a sequel to this, but I think "Fantastic Beasts..." sets a good barometer for an expanded universe film. I wonder what new part of this enchanted world we get to visit next movie.
ELLE (2016) Director: Paul Verhoeven
The longer I consider "Elle" the more I struggle with it. It's a bit of a conundrum. In the middle of it, is this great and daring performance by Isabelle Huppert, the one that finally garnered her an Oscar nomination that's been long, long overdue; she doesn't look it, but she's 65 years old, and has looked like she's been at her sexiest and sultriest at 42 for about 10 years now. Of course, she's been playing roles like these far longer than that, which only makes me more befuddled as to why this was the one that enraptured the Academy. I guess it could've been it's director, Paul Verhoeven, although that seems peculiar too, he's never been an Academy favorite. And I've never cared for him either. This is his first French language film, but he's actually Belgian and to his credit, he's been making daring and thoughtful genre pictures for decades now, I'd even argue some films of his like "RoboCop" are actually quite innovative in how they subvert and reinvent the genre picture. That said, most of the time, I've just found him, tone deaf, especially when he attempts to make something more erotic. Erotic thrillers are one of my favorite genres, but it's a tough genre to pull off, all Verhoeven has two of the worst of all-time on his resume with "Basic Instinct" and "Showgirls". But that doesn't seem right either, the guy's clearly got an eye and talent and "Elle" is full of some powerful sequences. It opens with one, a rape, but first a shot by the event's only witness, a black cat, and then, the violent act itself, and it's not erotic, it's dark, loud, and just violent, and then it suddenly ends. The masked man pulls up his pants, leaves the way he came in, and then, our mysterious protagonist, Michele (Huppert) gets up and tries to continue about her life as though it didn't happen.
Okay, there's still something wrong about this thing, that I can't pinpoint. It feels like, I can list the facts of Michele's life, for instance, she's divorced from a husband, Richard (Charles Berling) and he's still in love with her, but she's having an affair both with her business partner Anna's (Anna Consigny) husband Robert (Christian Berkel) while also flirting with a married neighbor, Patrick (Laurent Lafitte) and she does some strange behavior, for instance she has a couple different sexual-sorta escapades in her office, one that still seems pointless, and another which makes sense, but is still weird, and there's a son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) who she's annoyed at 'cause he lets his pregnant spouse Josie (Alice Isaaz) push around, and meanwhile there's a contentious relationship with the mother (Judith Magre), and the point I'm making is that, all these extra characters, and how she behaves towards them, they don't seem like they matter; like they're basically just introduced to be new suspects,-, or not even that, 'cause spoilers, she finds out who is behind her assaults and then begins a tenuous, eh, cat-and-mouse relationship game with him,... which is quite "The Night Porter" disturbing but it's close at times.... These all seem like parts of something, but they don't come off as giving the character depth and mystery, as much as they are, things that pop up that the character now has to react to, and the big thing is how strange and disturbing this girl is that she reacts this way. I'm tempted to make a "Basic Instinct" reference and think of her as though if Katherine Trammel was a victim and not the assassin how she might've turned out, but...- (Sigh) It's the right genre, it's the right actress, it's the right-enough director, is the screenplay screwy? That might make sense, his previous worst films were penned by Joe Esterhaus; it's not that bad, but who wrote this thing?
David Birke, never heard of him, oh, it's based on a novel by Philippe Dijan? Never heard of that guy, what's he...- known for "Elle" and...-
"Betty Blue"! Ohhhhhhhhh. Wait a minute. He's that guy?! Oh, he did "Unforgivable" too. Okay, give me a second, this is coming together now.
Alright, now I know who I'm dealing with. So, Philippe Dijan, is most famous in film circles circles for having written the novel "Betty Blue". Now, that film, similar to "Elle" was a French film that had some roots in America, in fact, "Elle" becoming a French film, was basically an inevitability since there weren't as many American actresses that fit the part and were willing to take it, and nobody in America would produce the movie since the subject matter is, well, too rapey, to say the least, so this became a French movie. "Betty Blue" had American funding, and pretty much looks like it could've been a David Lynch movie, and is about a novelist who is obsessed with his muse/wife who slowly descends into madness, and that's the simple description of the movie, which is a three-hours monstrosity of melodrama that thinks it seems depthful and important, but basically it amounts to, "Bitches be crazy", and that movie somehow got selected over Agnes Varda's "Vagabond" as France's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar that year, and even more bizarrely, somehow got the Oscar nomination, basically because it looked the most like an American film. I've seen one other Dijan adaptation, another film that isn't any good called "Unforgivable", his stories do seem to be about obsession, on some level, and his characters are obsessed, but not in any way that's captivating or believable. And just because these female characters are doing things, that doesn't mean they're fully-realized characters, in many ways they still seem like they're, reflections of an ignorant man's perceptions of how females like Michele would behave. Michele's a woman in a masculine world, so she's abrasive, dominant, even after that's taken from her, with a violent rape, so she fights it back, but is still sexual, despite that, but she's also too prideful/stupid to call the cops, so we need for this authoritarian businesswoman to not trust authority, so maybe her father was a vile killer.... I don't see a character, I see plotting. And Huppert plays her well, better than the script is really giving her, but I've seen her play weird sexual characters like this before, in great movies like Michel Haneke's "The Piano Teacher" or hell, even in films way shittier than this one like Christophe Honore's "Ma Mere", which is atrociously fucking bad, but it didn't feel like something that was so detached from the world of the story it was trying to be. I bought that that outrageous character was plausible, this one I, just don't. I feel manipulated thinking about her.
(Sigh) You knw, I-, I think I have to pan this film. It's well-made but the more I think about it the less believable and more pointless it feels. Maybe this should've been an American film, and it would've came off a little more believably as a rape drama with a fantasy revenge element to it, but more than that, this film needed a different kind of female protagonist. I'm not necessarily a Moira MacDonald fan, reviews-wise, but she makes a good point in her review:
"...You can see it as a male filmmaker's lurid, repeated depiction of violence against a female character (one who is defined, almost entirely, by her relationship with me), shown in nightmarish detail....."
I think despite Verhoeven's other past crimes of horribly-depicted female lead characters, I think I'd blame the material's author firstly, but yeah, it's not that she defines herself by her relationships with men, it's that the men who created this character, only react to her through their relationships with men. That's why this movie, ultimately doesn't work.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (2016) Director: Tom Ford
The first five minutes of "Nocturnal Animals" begins with an opening credits sequence involving several rotund, garish and grotesque naked women, celebratory dancing around with such items as fireworks or pom-poms, along with a chin-strapped patriotic hat, as their bodies are on display, showcasing their gigantic breasts flopping in all directions on top of their bigger, muffintop midsections that flop around in even more directions. It's-, well, it's an eye-opener to say the least. It turns out, these women are apart of a performance art piece at a museum, but so, thankfully, there's an in-universe reason for them, I guess. (Shrugs)
Honestly, I'm not exactly sure what to make of "Nocturnal Animals". It's one of those movies that I suspect, overall, is more about emotion than it is, the actual events of the movie. Of course, the only real actual events of the movie, is that a woman reads a manuscript. Okay, it's a little more complex than that, but basically yeah, that's what the film is and whether or not you buy into the film is based on whether or not you can accept the emotional upheaval that the women goes through while reading it. Of course, we do see a dramatization of what she's reading and when she's reading it and what are the circumstances of her life, and why this particular manuscript is of such importance to her, and how it can be a powerful tale for her, and for us.
So this museum curator/manager is Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), and the manuscript she's reading is written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) who she hasn't seen or heard from, in a long time. Decades even. He never remarried, unlike her, to a well-to-do sophisticate, Hutton (Armie Hammer) but he's out of town on business and she dives into the book, which she's been informed, is partially influenced by their relationship and their breakup. The story begins with Tony (Gyllenhaal) driving his family in the middle of the night to Marfa, Texas (If you don't know, Marfa is a weird small town in Texas famous for being a refuge for artists; watch "I Love Dick" on Amazon Prime to learn more about it.) with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Elle Bamber), when their car is attacked, first being steered off the dark road by some drunk locals led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and then, when the group kidnaps his wife and daughter and leaves Edward in the middle of the desert, hiding from them, fearing for his life, until he can somehow manage to find help in the morning. The help he finds is a local officer Bobby Andes (Oscar-nominee Michael Shannon) who at first seems as scary as the kidnappers themselves, but ultimately begins to help Edward on his journey for vengeance. The story within is sometimes interwoven with flashbacks of Susan's own life, as well as reflections of her present situation, which both reflects and deflects with her original ideal of her first marriage. There's a blink and you'll miss it cameo from Laura Linney as her mother who doesn't approve of her marriage to Tony who, is both not of her class, but also has a presumed "weakness" about him, one that is a heavy motif in the story, at least as she reads it. Other critics have noted the similarities in looks to some of the actors and have concluded that they're reflections on Susan's perspective of the events of the novel, and that the ones who don't, the villains and the cop in particular, are more cliched because they're merely representative characters for Tony's and ergo Edward's state of mind. Of course, the opposite argument is, yes but, that's her perspective on the characters, and even though she might have some insight into the author, doesn't mean that's the proper reading of the piece.... Not that that matters to her anyway, since, her perspective is the only one we get, and it is indeed her perspective on the events.
Still, I don't think going around in circles on the "meaning" or "intent" of the story is important here, 'cause that misses the point, it's not about the accuracies or the parallels, it's about the emotion that they cause, in both Susan, and more importantly, in us. There's a couple, tales that come to mind when considering "Nocturnal Animals", and I've seen comparison to people as varied as David Lynch to Douglas Sirk when comparing this film, but oddly the film that I most thought about comparing to this one, was Karol Reisz's "The French Lieutenant's Woman". Now that was based on a John Fowles novel, but the screenplay for that was by the guy I think Director Tom Ford is trying to emulate, Harold Pinter. Now, Pinter is more known as a revolutionary playwright than his screen work, but he did something odd with "The French Lieutenant's Woman" and that was to set the film's story, on the set of a movie adaptation of the novel, and we do constantly find ourselves cutting back and forth between the worlds sporadically, and ultimately the film is about, how these characters relate to the work they're adapting in their modern lives. Ford, came into filmmaking, through a strange path, he's actually more famous as a fashion designer, not a costume designer, a fashion designer, his only screen credit for costumes is for tailoring Daniel Craig's outfits in one of the James Bond movies, and his previous film, "A Single Man" also dealt with such themes loss and pain and regret, and the struggles involved in trying to overcome our innermost fears. That film was also a novel adaptation, and by also adapting a novel from a different cerebral author Austin Wright, I think Ford is going for that Pinter tone that focuses more on the emotions the scene forces on its viewers than it is, the actual plotting and events of the film. What matters isn't what's happening on screen, it's how we feel about them, in our head, and in our heart.
Pinter's most famous work is the play "Betrayal" also about a relationship that falls apart, and that play, which was later adapted to a less-remember but acclaimed film, is that the events of the romance take place in reverse chronological order, starting after the breakup and then going backwards to the beginning of the relationships. This isn't that, but it's the same emotional effect, looking back through events and filtering them through one's literal and emotional perspective, and that effects not only the character, but also the reader. The characters in that play begin with their meeting in a restaurant years after their relationship; at the end of "Nocturnal Animals" the main characters have agreed to meet at a restaurant for the first time in years. We're not privy to what they may or may not say to each other, but we're emotionally invested in what happens between them next.
THE RED TURTLE (2016) Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Michael Dudok de Wit is an Oscar-winning Dutch animator behind "The Red Turtle" the newest from, Ghibli Studios interestingly enough; as far as I know, this is the first time Ghibli has worked so directly with a foreign filmmaker to make a movie, and it's a bit strange, that feeling. It's clearly the quality of a Ghibli film, but the animation style does recall a more traditional European style. That said, I can see why Ghibli was interested. It's got a lot of the emotional aspects to it that feels quite reminiscent of something I'd expect from Ghibli. It's got emotional reach, familial bonds, shapeshifting, of a sort.... a terrifying sort to some extent, but of a sort. There's technically five voice actors in the project, but it's hard to even clim that the movie has much more than a couple words of dialogue, much less lines. It begins with a castaway, who's stuck on what appears to be a deserted island. A mariner who's ship was lost and now, he's alone on a huge island. He manages to construct a raft out of bamboo and other material and begins to set sail, only for his raft to suddenly be attacked. At first, it seems like whatever is attacking him, is quick or invisible at first. He tries again with a bigger, stronger raft, and again, a mysterious figure capsizes the raft and forces him to make another long, tiring swim back to the island. On the third try, he finally observes what's been going after him, a giant red turtle. The turtle is magnificent and glorious. It also capsizes the boat and then, the young Mariner finds it on the beach. In frustration, and anger, he flips the turtle on it's back, and then kills it. Quite gruesomely I might add. I'm at about the thirty minute mark of the film, and I'm not describe anything else that happens from here on in, other than to say that the rest of the movie is the result what happens to the turtle afterwards. What I will describe is the feeling of the rest of the movie, and that is, beautiful and magnificent. It's not a complicated tale ultimately, it's just a symbolic and metaphorically look at life and those milestones of growing up and what it means. It feels like a great, classic children's book you find, one that washes you away in it's pictures so much that you don't even realize that there's hardly any words to it. I guess, an odd, but appropriate comparison might be "Bambi" in the way that it's basically trying to create a growing up myth and story that's easily understandable on an emotional level to young kids. Although I suspect older kids and adults will like this film more, and appropriately so. "The Red Turtle" is the kind of storytelling you just don't see in movies these days and when you do, and see it done so well, you kinda just have to stand back in awe at the accomplishment.
JIM: THE JAMES FOLEY STORY (2016) Director: Brian Oakes
There's a lot of professions that are dangerous and it's somewhat crazy to think that people, human being, actually participate in them, one that doesn't get brought up enough is war journalist. These guys, especially the modern-day freelance ones that are working in places like Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, basically anywhere where there's massive destruction and genocide and the PhD next door can just as easily be a secret rebel insurgent as anyone else, and do it, for little money, unless you sell the footage, and even then.... Jim didn't always sell his footage, according to his co-workers, sometimes he gave it away.
If the name James Foley doesn't immediately spring a bad memory for you, he's the independent journalist who was kidnapped by ISIL, while freelancing during the Syrian Civil War in 2012. There were other journalists from the across the world that were captured, and the Syrian Civil War continues to today. U.S. Airstrikes in Iraq led to a response by ISIL, and they posted a video in 2014, where they warn of retribution and more deaths if they don't stop with the airstrikes, and then Foley is shown, beheaded. He is considered the first American citizen to killed by the terrorist group. By the way, this marked the second time, that he had been captured while working in a warzone, having previously been captured by Qaddafi's troops in Libya. "Jim: The James Foley Story", made by his friend Brian Oakes, is essentially a memorial about Jim, although mostly it's just a documentation of who the guy was. He was an interesting character by most standards, seemed to be the kind of guy who couldn't stay in one place and was apparently smart, but mostly aimless as an adult, so after a stint of teaching, he went into journalism. One thing the movie does that I actually like is that it takes a look at the modern freelance journalism scene. See, investigative journalism has been cutback severely by most newspapers and other news organizations, so those who do take on jobs like war photographers now, first of all, do it on their own dime and then, capture and investigate footage, and then, sell their story and footage to other news organizations, assuming they're interested enough in the footage, which often they're not, and may have to settle for more independent online news sites to take their footage on.
It's a fascinating profession, and I've been a little curious about it. Going to war, for a soldier is expected, going to document though, that's a particular kind of character to do this kind of work, especially when you're not necessarily connected to a website. By all aspects though, Jim's nomadic nature and fun-loving personality allowed all personal tragedies and events he documented to essentially brush off of him. Even fellow prisoners who he was captured with, we're amazed at how well he could withstand some of their more torturous conditions, in the mind at least, if not the body. "Jim..." is, definitely not an uplifting documentary, but it's an informative and well-investigated one. It gives us several different perspectives on Jim, and everybody who knew him personally, his family, his co-worker, and even those who were with him and captured by ISIL with him, telling stories of what it's like to be captured and held for ransom by terrorists. "Jim: The James Foley Story" is one that needs to be told, especially in this day and age when the free press is more vulnerable than ever. The lengths people will go and must go, in order to document the truth.
SPLIT (2017) Director: M. Night Shyamalan
(Growls under breath.) Excuse me, for a minute.
(Gets up walks out of room. Loud banging of wall continues and correlates as the next words are heard offscreen, being screamed)
STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUIPD! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!, STUPID! STUPID! Stupid! Stupid! (long breath) Stupid!
(Lots of deep breaths, water running being heard from another room for a few moments.It's then stopped shortly before David walks back out with a handtowel drying off bloody and cuts hands, holding his wrist tightly but softly as he prepares to retake his position behind the keyboard. Deep breath!)
Okay, I'll give him this, at least, technically that wasn't a post-credits scene. (Sigh) That was still stupid though.
Before I begin, I had heard part of the "twist" to "Split" ruined for me before going into the film. I hadn't looked it up enough to know everything, but I was aware that the movie's "secret" is that it's not called, "_________ 2". Yes, "Split" is a "sequel" to something, or maybe you could argue it's instead perhaps, an alternative story within a universe-, oh, you know, screw this damn technicality crap, it's a sequel to a previous movie. I'll give the film some credit, in that it wasn't the movie I thought it was a sequel too, which is actually probably the bigger problem I have with the film: Why are we still making DID movies? Seriously? Like, c'mon, Shyamalan, you're not that unoriginal.
DID or Disassociative-Identity Disorder, is probably better known to you as Multiple Personality Disorder, and whatever you think legitimately of the diagnosis in the medical community out there, and there is a debate out there about it, as a tool or device for a horror/thriller movie, eh.... Really? I mean, this has gone on since "Psycho" since "The Three Faces of Eve", since "Cybil", and hell, the movie that "Split" actually feels like a sequel to is "Identity" the, "Oh yeah, that movie," from the early 2000s where a locked-in horror mystery turned out to be really locked in as it was all happening inside a character's mind and was a battle between all of that persons multiple personalities. This was done best in the criminally underrated and underappreciated Showtime series, "The United States of Tara" that won Toni Collette an Emmy and helped solidify Diablo Cody as one of the best writers in Hollywood. That was a more interesting and realistic take on the syndrome to me, one that I would argue has altered people's perceptions of it to the point now, where it just seems ridiculous and stupid to use that cliche for a villain in a horror film now. The guy with about a couple dozens personalities, we're gonna call him "Dennis" for the sake of sanity here (James McAvoy) is a kidnapper of three teenage girls, who he looks up in the barrows of a zoo that he works at. The girls, themselves are not great at getting along, as Claire and Marcia (Jessica Sula and Haley Lu Richardson) are a bit normal traditional mean girls, while Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) is the school outsider who frankly prefers to be in detention than in class so that she can stay away from people. She's also, had a rough life, we see through flashbacks that she's had to fight her way through a father (Sebastian Arcylus) dying and having to live with her sexually abusive, Uncle John (Brad William Henke) but she's tougher to break down and smarter than the other girls, more intuitive in fact, more capable of handling the situation at hand then the other two. Also, more capable of overcoming and manipulating Dennis than Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) the traditional psychiatrist who's in over her head in these movies.
You know, the really strange thing is how little these two films are really connected, even when I learned this movie's villain with the other's, I mostly thought, "No, not really. The other guy was way more destructive and purposeful in his actions; I actually don't see much comparison at all!" Strip the fanboy artifice, which shouldn't be there to begin with, "Split" just seems like a well-made but, typical psychological-horror-thriller with the cliched villain, with the cliche disease. "Split"'s really only interesting because of that twist ending, and, frankly now that Shyamalan has completely last-episode-of-"Newhart"-ed himself, I must admit, I'm actually kinda interested in where he goes from here. He's actually opened up some opportunities, that-, frankly I wouldn't have thought was there before, but, as to "Split" itself, it feels like it's a side story to the real big story, and while I think that worked for "Fantastic Beasts...," that had a lot more of a world to expand on, and had a different point that the "Harry Potter" franchise had. This one, it's there to serve it's purpose, but I'd be hard-pressed to argue that it does anything more than that.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION (2016) Director: Nate Parker
Nat Turner is somebody who I've often thought of as one of my favorite historical heroes. And why not, the guy led what was by far the deadliest and most successful slave revolt in American history, and this was a good 30 years before the Civil War. In fact, his actions had a huge impact on the nation's perception of slavery and in many ways might've helped make sure the Civil War happened as soon as it did. That said, I've never particularly thought he's be a good character for a biopic film. In fact, I guess there's a little more information on him now than their was then, but, there really isn't much known about the guy. That's actually also part of his story and legacy, the fact that this came out of nowhere from him, somebody who was generally considered a "good slave", as in, somebody who didn't 'cause of make any trouble, not the kind of slave you'd expect a revolt like this.
So, there's a lot going on going into this movie. You've got a major historical events, based around an important but very elusive historical figure, that hasn't been adapted to film that much, and, an ambitious first-time African-American director, actor/director, and writer, who's not afraid to title his Nat Turner biopic after, the most infinite racist, anti-African-American movie of all-time. Obviously, the movie, which was expected to be a major Oscar contender, sorta got sidetracked after allegations of Nate Parker's past came to light. I'm not getting into his past, for the same reasons I don't get into other filmmaker's pasts, unless I feel that it somehow is reflective of the material they present, and no, I don't see much of that supposed side of Parker here. The side I do see though, I'm not crazy about. He himself plays Turner, and I think that might've been his first mistake. Sure, there's plenty of great actors who can directs themselves to a great performance, but few of them were first time feature directors and even less of them were making a project, literally this ambitious. I frankly don't understand, why not cast somebody else in the role and showcase them. It comes off as egotistical, and that leads to mistake #2, Parker, doesn't really much to say here.
Like I said, Nat Turner (Parker) is a bit of an enigmatic figure in history, which, granted, considering he was a slave is probably a ton more than most others in his position in life. Turner did know how to read, we see that he was taught the Bible by Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller) the mother of his childhood best fried Samuel (Armie Hammer), but who eventually becomes his owner over time, and he also uses his skills to send Nat around town promoting himself as a preacher to the slaves. According to legend, he saw an eclipse and took take it as a sign. We see more of him before the rebellion though, befriending and marrying Cherry (Aja Naomi King) and he was apart and witness several abuses to the slaves, and he manages to uproot a revolution that lead to hundreds of bullets and 55 dead. And... good, I guess? I mean, as far as the film's concern, Nat Turner, is, basically what he is in the history books, a folk hero, a mysterious image. An ideal. A prophet, messiah, whatever, he's not really a man. There's some great shots and disturbing scenes in the movie, all over the movie in fact, but it feels like it's just playing by number historical epic. It feels like "12 Years a Slave", it feels like 'Glory", it feels like "North and South". I mean, it could've been shot like it and I wouldn't have really noticed. Points for audaciousness and aiming high, but I think Nate Parker bit off way too much to chew and did it because he could, but not knowing why he wanted to. I'm certain a movie about Nat Turner could've worked, but you gotta have more than just, he's a major figure who did some stuff we like, let's make a movie about him. Sure, Nat Turner is more deserving and less represented on the big screen than most, but Parker might've learned the hard way that that's not because he's Black, it's because, there's not really as much of a story to tell as we'd prefer.
JULIETA (2016) Director: Pedro Almodovar
I almost feel bad having to explain the story of "Julieta", it's not particularly important and in fact, there's a major part of it's that missing, very purposefully missing, but still, a character clearly acts outs in a way where it's clear, there's an outside influence effecting her choices, and we never find out what that influence is. It doesn't matter, 'cause it's not about what it's about, it's how it's about it. Pedro Almodovar's best work in recent years has been heavily influenced from classic cinema in recent years. and there's definitely a look and feel to this movie who recalls classic female character studies from the forties and fifties, the kind that a Douglas Sirk or, even more specifically, the director who I've always considered the most influential in Almodovar's approach and style, George Cukor. There's also some mystery and genre-switching in this film that indicates some Claude Chbrol influence as well, which, is something I normally don't consider a positive, me not being a big fan of Chabrol, but like his bests films like "Le Boucher" or "Merci Pour Le Chocolat" it works here.
"Julieta" is apparently based on multiple short stories by the great Alice Munro, and there's actually been several movies based on or inspired by her work lately all through the world of cinema. the last one I saw was Liza Johnson's independent family rom-com drama, "Hateship Loveship". "Julieta"'s a better movie, but it's also a more cinematic movie. Almost to the point of annoyance. This movie is as much about visual storytelling as anything else. Julieta (Emma Suarez) at first seems like she's about to leave Madrid along with her boyfriend Lorenzo (Dario Grandinetti) as they seem to be moving to Portugal, but suddenly, she runs into a pretty young woman, Beatriz (Michelle Jenner) who informs her about having seen her daughter Antia recently. This, sends her into a spiral. She leaves Lorenzo without explanation or reason and moves into an old apartment, and begins composing a letter to her daughter,.
For awhile, it's not entirely clear why's she writing this. The story first begins by telling the story of how she met Antia's father, Xoan (Daniel Grao) which occurs by a chance meeting on a train. They have an immediate sexual connection, and soon enough, she's pregnant. That's when she moves into the Fisherman's household on the coast. He's a Cuban-bron fisherman, and meanwhile she starts to raise Antia (Ariadna Martin as a juvenile, Priscilla Delgado as an adolescent and Blanca Pares as an teenager). One day, after an argument over a friend of Xoan, Ava (Inma Cuesta) a sculpture who Xoan has had an on-again/off-again affair with, he heads out during a storm and is lost at sea. A couple years later, Antia goes on a retreat, and then suddenly, something happens. I'm not gonna give it away, exactly, but basically, Antia chooses to no longer be apart of her mother's life, and the rest of the movie, is essentially seeing Julieta's full range of emotional upheaval this decision leads her to, and eventually overcoming all of that, right up until the point where she suddenly runs into Beatriz, Antia's childhood friend, and she tells her something about Antia, and there's this new chapter to a story that she thought was closed.
It's really difficult to fully explain "Julieta", 'cause the movie how it inevitably explains, and it's still full of mystery at the end. More than that, it's just another great example that Almodovar, is not only of the best filmmaker alive, but is a masterful visual storyteller. There's a voice over throughout the film, we are getting this story, from this singular perspective, of this character, who is not necessarily untrustworthy as a narrator, but she's a bit tunnel-visioned. Around the edges of the screen, we probably catch things long before she does, but that's the thing. It's not a mystery that's being solved, it just uses the language of mystery, to tell the emotional narrative, which is harder to do really. Cause, what you're visualizing is a thought process of a character and how she sees the world, or how she's at least explaining the world around her, while she's seeking out a truth about that world, that clearly she couldn't see at first. She doesn't have the information she things she has, and that, is a really difficult tightrope to walk. For anybody this is an amazing and challenging project, but is the kind of stuff that Almodovar swims in constantly. "Julieta"'s a wonderful, typical good example of Almodovar at his very best; it's big sin is that it's nothing more than that, but it's a master craftsmen who knows how to work his tools. It's a fabulous film, and a great example of what Almodovar at his best can really do.
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (2016) Director: Tate Taylor
Wow, look at that, Tate Taylor got off the shitlist! I’ll be damned; didn’t see that one coming. I mean, this wasn’t great, and despite Taylor’s vast improvement over his previous films, there’s still quite a few directorial and editing decision that annoy and drive me crazy, but, yeah, I enjoyed “The Girl on the Train”. Quite a lot actually, which surprised me a bit, ‘cause from what I gathered, the film was not particularly well-received overall. Even the ones who seem to be praising it, seems to be looking at the piece more as good entertainment as opposed to a good movie. Some credit the fact that the original book wasn't particularly strong to begin with; I wouldn't know, I haven't read it, although I suspect it's a good adaptation. And sure, it's probably not great material, but I'm not sure I get the arguments against it either.
So, the title girl is Rachel (Emily Blunt), and she takes the train along the coast everyday and stares into the houses of those who live along the tracks. I'll admit and partly rolling my eyes and having a "Picnic" flashback at that, but we'll go with it. (I don't know how controversial this opinion is, but "Picnic" is an awful movie.) Anyway, there's several elements at play here and trying to describe them all is gonna be chore, but here we go, Rachel is a trainwreck drunk, who's partially still obsessed with her ex-husband Tom (Justin Therous) who lives in on of the houses now with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson), and their new baby. She's also focused in on Megan and Scott (Haley Bennett and Luke Evans) a house that's a couple doors down. Now, the movie, sorta devolves into traditional thriller, which I didn't object to as much as others seem to have, because of the tone and the structure. It's a mess structure, but the structure begin with revolving perspectives between these three women, and it's not just perspectives, it's also jumping around through time a bit. There's monologues that we hear from them, that hindsight aren't particularly relevant or important, but I thought they gave us a reason to care, when suddenly, one of them goes missing, and Rachel, claims to have witness something disturbing, from the train, beforehand, however, because of her own actions and behavior, she also is suspect number one and sure seems like it. When we meet her, she's been sleeping on a friend's, Cathy's (Laura Prepon) couch for a year, and she's been unemployed despite, supposedly going to work everyday. However, she's also an untrustworthy narrator, not just to us, but to herself, partially because of the blackouts she has had, and partially for another reason that I won't explain. There's also a psychiatrist character, Dr. Kamal (Edgar Ramirez) who's involved because the missing girl was going to her, and they may or may not have been having an affair when she went missing. Either way, Rachel is insisting on butting in and finding out as much as she can, convinced something is amiss, and that may include the possibility that, she might have done something wrong herself.
I will say that I think some of the casting for this film was questionable, there's one too many television stars in this movie, and it's a bit distracting. There's movie stars in it too, sure, but this is a might have done better if say, the Lisa Kudrow cameo was probably played by somebody like Kathy Bates instead.
I think what wins it over for me is the structure. I have to imagine that this was a film that was a close adaptation of the novel, mostly in order to get the tone of the book correct. If this was, done in a more straightforward manner, the mystery aspect wouldn’t be compelling, it might even be downright predictable, but “The Girl on the Train”, is a tonal mood piece disguised as a mystery. A movie about the way the character emotional states, and our search for why they’re in those states. As to the mystery, I didn't see the ending coming. I"m not surprised by it, and sure, I'm annoyed at disappointed at how trivial and simple it really is. But...- without giving it away, I know some are comparing this to "Gone Girl", ehhhh, I know the movie I'm thinking about comparing it too, but I won't mention 'cause it would be a huge clue to the movie's ending, so let's just say that Emily Blunt's character seemed to me to be a plausible version of a famous Ingrid Bergman played-character..... I'll leave to you to figure out which one, although the fact that not saying the title, should be a bit of a "light" clue..... Anyway, it's because of this confusing mess of emotional instability within the story, that the lack of the whodunit, doesn't bother me. It's never about the "Whodunit" when it comes to whodunits remembers, it's the journey of the investigation, and for me, I was entertained and intrigued. Tate Taylor's finally found a genre where this kind of meandering actually works, 'cause I've hated his previous two films, "The Help" and "Get On Up", both easily could've or should've made my Worst of the Year List, despite "The Help" at least getting some critical, commercial and awards acclaim, but you know, the way he insisted on gliding through from one character to another in that film, it doesn't work in that film, at all, but as apart of an overall mystery but in the mind and in the plot, I think it actually kinda works here.
DON'T BREATHE (2016) Director: Fede Alvarez
Okay, let's get the first thing straightened, yes, that is rape, the guy in the movie's wrong.
Now, onto the-eh, "twist". First of all, that wasn't a twist. Seriously, I look at the back of the DVD case, it said there was a twist, I watched the ending several times over, and thought, thinking I missed something,... I finally had to look it up online to see what the hell everybody was talking about, and that's when I realized, "Oh, that twist?" Does that even count? And, no, I don't think it rightfully does. And if it does, it's a twist, in a jokey manner if anything. It's basically the same punchline from the joke about the guy talking about parking in his car with a date who asks him to put the top down, and his friend wonders why it took his car three hours, when it only takes a few minutes with his car, and the guy says, "Well, you gotta remember, you have a convertible."
"Don't Breathe" starts out at least as an intriguing horror/slasher film, with an actually intriguing premise, as it's centered around a gang of young thieves who make their money in breaking and entering into homes, although they're only inside jobs that they help on, to make them seem like their legitimate robberies after the fact. It's not that lucrative, but at least we got something a little different than the typical dumb teenager movie. at least for about twenty minutes they weren't dumb teenage. The final girl in this one is Rocky (Jane Levy) the only character with a sympathetic backstory and reason for committing crimes, her partners are Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto). They're looking for a big gig on their own, so that they can eventually get out of this business and they settle on the house of a blind Man (Stephen Lang) who's just collected a million dollar civil lawsuit after the death of his daughter in a vehicular manslaughter case where the perpetrator, got off light because she was rich. Turns out the Blind Man a former Iraqi war veteran is a little more suited to combat them than you'd think. Now, I'm seen my share of Zatoichi but I don't think I buy that this old man could've been this successful and for that matter done everything he does in this movie, which includes at one point, the kids realizing that he's got somebody kidnapped and locked up in his basement in a swing that seems like it'd a little easier to get out than the movie probably wants us to think it is.
Eventually, the movie leads to a climatic scene where Rocky is in the contraption herself, and The Blind Man prepares a sort of retribution which he believes would be a satisfactory piece of justice for him having lost his daughter, and yes, I went through the scene, first of all, not thinking the scene was that gross, at least, originally, it became moreso when I thought about it, sure, but also, not really thinking that it was not a twist. Actually in the story, I might argue that the Blind Man's thinking isn't illogical. It's totally stupid as all Hell, but in context at least I can buy it, which is far more than the rest of the movie. But, more than that, it was also just a scene that was intended to shock and gross out it's audience, which is really why I don't care for it. Also, since the kids are basically stupid, I didn't have much interest in however this damn thing turned out. Even the smart parts about the movie, like the way the Old Man finds a way to search out Rocky after he supposedly let her escape is actually smart and clever, although it could've been foiled if she had the good sense to climb a tree or fence or something. (The one time in a horror movie when it would've been a good idea to go up, and they don't fucking do it.) The film was directed by Fede Alvarez, the Uruguayan-born director famous for the remake of "Evil Dead" that I also hated, and basically these movies aren't that different either; there's about fifteen minutes of set-up and an hour of straight violence. I didn't like the original version or the remake of "Evil Dead", but at least I can appreciate those films for what they were, a visual exercise is depicting as much violence as possible. "Don't Breathe" however, fails worst than those films, since they go for expressionism while "Don't Breathe" just goes for shock value, and that's especially disappointing when you realize they had a pretty good premise here. This story, better executed could be entertaining and frightful, instead they went for laughs and screams instead and mostly got yawns from me.
THE EAGLE HUNTRESS (2016) Director: Otto Bell
So I happen to watch "Race" shortly before I watched "The Eagle Huntress", so, if you skipped down and read my review of that film, you'll know that I had Leni Riefenstahl on my mind, which is the absolute worst mindset to have, for, literally everything, much less, having to watch a documentary 'cause, eh, I think in regards I saw the process and manipulation more than I did the movie. That's not a negative by the way, every film is manipulative and documentaries are no exception, in fact that's generally the standard. THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS AN UN-BIAS DOCUMENTARY! That such be a mantra that's repeated in unisom to any idiot's face that complains that Michael Moore's next film is too one-sided. That said however, "The Eagle Huntress" I couldn't help noticing the editing of "The Eagle Huntress" has some curious edits, one that, I wouldn't have suspected would be there. Again, not a negative, just-, for a movie that is as much about the setting as anything else, it's a bit awkward. "The Eagle Huntress" is a delightful documentary about a young 13-year-old nomadic Mongolian girl who's a 12th Generation Eagle Hunter. Okay, no she doesn't hunt eagles, she trains eagles to hunt. It's Mongolia, there's just mountains and cold, cold, Gobi Desert, it's what you do. Except, no women have done it before. Her family's Kazahk, and the movie does a good following her and her dreams as she trains for the annual competition where eagle hunters of all ages compete to see who's the best in the land. There is some amazing photography here. We think about how China is quite a mystery to us, and certain other countries, but Mongolia is definitely one that gets overlooked usually. Tucked between China and Siberia, it's strange exotic area of the world that hasn't produced a lot to the outside world in centuries. And seeing these amazing shots of eagles soaring over the landscape and mountains and young Aisholpan, being a teenage master of controlling them, it's quite exhilarating. Then, we get down to the competition, which itself is a site to see, and that's sorta when I start tilting my head a bit. I have no questions or doubts as to the results but yeah, it's clear that things were editing and insert shots were added later. Again, nothing wrong with this, but these things can take you out of the movie. And there's actually quite a few scenes where characters seem to suddenly stop and declare something to the other, only to continue going again. It's a documentary sure, but a manipulated one, which is just a bit of a shame. I like Aisholpan and I like the cinematography involved in getting these shots, sometimes there are some amazing, like after the contest when she has to pass one more arbitrary test, by going out into the mountains in winter to have her eagle hunt and find a fox, those are some amazing sequences. It's good filmmaking, I'm just not sure it's the film that would've been best to tell this material. A more cinema verite, naturalistic approach might've been better. We could've scrapped the narrator completely, (Daisy Ridley is the narrator by the way, apparently she saw an early cut of the film and requested that she'd be apart of it.) she's barely there to begin with. I don't know, I might be being mean to a film that's ultimately a wonderful little story about a young woman who's quite skilled and talented. I don't know, like I said, I was in the wrong headspace for it, but even I wasn't this movie is okay, it's just overproduced, and that's unfortunate.
WAR DOGS (2016) Director: Todd Phillips
"War Dogs" is that rare based on a true story movie that seems to be desperately trying to be like other based on a true story movies, in this case; it's apparent goal is to be a combination of a comedic version of "Lord of War" mixed with the energy and and style of "The Wolf of Wall Street" and "The Big Short", only without the comedic aspects of,-, well, actually all three of those movies, are pretty funny when you think about it. And I especially couldn't help comparing the film to "Lord of War" and that's where the film falters. It's still interesting and well-made enough to be entertaining and good, but I think they were going for comedy, and honestly, above everything else, I didn't laugh that much.
Although to be honest, Todd Phillips has honestly, never particularly made me laugh, and I don't think I'm entirely alone here and since this is the most ambitious non-documentary project he's directed, let's really check his work. He broke onto the mainstream scene with the cult comedy "Road Trip", which, cult is right. 'cause I've never understood the fan base of that one. As far as I can tell, that's one the not-as-awful comedic thing that Tom Green was apart of. (I never got Tom Green, even at the time either) and after that, not much of note. Somewhere on my Netflix, I have "Due Date", stuck in the 300s or so, waiting for me to get around to it, but his big breakout was "Old School", which, I also, kinda didn't get. I've always contended that other that Will Ferrell there's not really much reason to sit through that one. I got what they were trying to do, by mimicking the more funny and cooler mainstream comedies of the late '70s and early '80s of that time, but the movie only made me wish I was watching one of them. Against my better judgment, I did like "Starsky and Hutch", but let's be fair, they didn't have that far to go to make fun of that old series, and while that definitely held up compared to other comedies based on TV movie dramas of that time, certainly beats the shit out of "The Dukes of Hazzard" but, now that we've got the two "21 Jump Street" films, I'm not anybody has a use for that film either. "School for Scoundrels" is a movie I often confuse with "Mr. Woodcock" in my mind; I'm fairly certain I saw one of them, but I'll damned if I can remember which one. Then, "The Hangover" trilogy. I liked the first "The Hangover", although I was never as big on it as others were, mainly 'cause there's an unavoidable flaw in the movie's structure, where, literally, anything can happen, and in a way, that makes what happens, funny, but it also makes it predictable. I know, anything can happen, so I'm half-expecting anything, so, nothing surprises me. I certainly wasn't surprised by the sequel, which was as bad as everybody said it was, and I didn't even bother with the third one. And now, in what seems like an attempt to make the same apparent jump that Adam McKay made from broad comedies to important-but-surreal based on true stories films told with a comedic approach, we have "War Dogs" a true story of two young up-and-coming gun runners, who managed, or attempted to manage to defraud the U.S. government by selling them guns at a cutback rate for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. David Packouz (Miles Teller) is a meandering young adult who's current scheme was as a massage therapist, but he gets in with his longtime friend, Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) who's in the gun running business, and seems to come across as the adult version of that pudgy asshole Jewish party-monger character from "Project X", that worst of everything Todd Phillips had his name attached to, but thankfully, he was only a producer on that, so we'll let that one slide. But yeah, this guy is a constant manipulator, an expert essentially at getting other people to do what he wants them to do. He has an investor in a local dry cleaner for instance, Ralph, (Kevin Pollak, in a nice little role) who thinks he's selling guns in order to donate money to Israel. Of course, the only thing Efraim seems to care about is money and how to make it, and he'll go through a lot to do that. Sometimes it seems a little too much in hindsight. I always think if he had been straight and legal with his plans, he probably would've done better. What he did was check out the military Criagslist pages to seek out defense contracts, but not the big ones, the smaller ones that the major weapons developers weren't gonna touch. This involved an occasionally sketchy truck ride to Falluja, and back to Amman, but otherwise, it's a good scheme, until he went after bigger and bigger contracts, and then had to circumvent trade laws and hire people on that front, and then at some point, he stopped paying his employees of his empire, AEY Inc. He built his company on such a house of cards, he didn't realize that it might be an issue or concern that AEY didn't stand for anything. One of the few lines that kinda made a chuckle to me is when he fired an employee who knew what IBM stood for.
There's a few other scenes and lines that I think were supposed to garner laughs, but mostly, they seemed just as dramatic as everything else honestly. As a story, it's entertaining enough and the performances are strong, but it's every other film like this I've seen, only not as good as those. Jonah Hill's performance is probably worth more study, but I can see some look at that as a variation on his role in "The Wolf of Wall Street" as well, but he's somebody who I feel is constantly improving and evolving as an actor. I'm still on the fence on Teller, but either way, "War Dogs" is mostly a disappointment overall. A fun one, that I'm still gonna barely recommend, but yeah, all the elements are there for a great movie, and yet this film feels doomed to remain in the forgotten bin.
RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (2016) Director: Sang-soo Hong
"Right Now, Wrong Then" is a two-act movie where nothing happens twice. (Somewhere there's gotta be a Samuel Beckett expert who gets that joke) Actually, "Right Now, Wrong Them" is a strange but engrossing story, of two people who strike up a conversation in Suwon, and follows them on this conversation, twice. The guy, Ham Cheon-soo (Jae-young Jeong) is a filmmaker who's off to the out-of-the-way town where he's supposed to teach a class after a screening of a couple of his films at a festival. He's got a day though, and while exploring a local ancient temple, he meets up with Hee-jung (Kim Min-hee) and they then spend the rest of the day and a lot of the evening together. There's some obvious comparison films that come to mind, at least to western audiences, "Lost in Translation" of course, as well as "Before Sunrise" and the other in Linklater's great trilogy. However the film is separated into two sections, "Right Then, Wrong Now" and "Right Now, Wrong Then" and each section shows the same events but from a different perspective. The first one, it's implied is his perspective of the events, while the second is her perspective of the events. I don't thin I want to get too much into the detail of what they go through, partially 'cause I think I'll ruin some surprises; in fact I wouldn't normally reveal that this film does this two-sided storytelling, except for the fact that it's done so well. Sometimes the dialogue's different and for certain reasons we're seeing different scenes in both versions, but it's done so well. This is a great two-handed acting challenge and it's worth seeing just for that. How these performers manage to take the same scenes in some cases and the same pieces of dialogue and give them completely different contexts. It's quite a stark and beautiful movie, and I guess it's our job to determine who's version of events is more correct, although I don't think that matters as much, 'cause it's how they see it that's more interesting and important. It's a story of words and actions told through words and actions and great visual storytelling, which is basically all what film is, but it's done really well here. Intimate and powerful. It's a great gimmick, sure, but it's done well, and it feels like it has purpose and you become engrossed in the lives of two characters who you really care about. "Right Now, Wrong Then", one of the more interesting and compelling films of the year.
CHRISTINE (2016) Director: Antonio Campos
(Annoyed sighing scoff. Several in fact, between most after first attempt to begin writing before solemnly moving his fingers before trying again.)
Ugh, I don't want to review this! I didn't even want to see it, just,- (Sigh) so, there are certain historic people who's name for one reason or another, are notable. Maybe not everyone is gonna end up in a history book like Nat Turner, and most of them probably shouldn't but even if they do, just because they're important or notable, doesn't really mean they should be the subject of a movie. Not because I'm not a fan of them, I clearly had reservations with "Birth of a Nation" but Nat Turner is a hero of me, one of my favorite American Patriots you can say, so, you know, I can at least, from afar appreciate the impulse. (Sigh) However, there's some subjects out there who, eh (Depressed sighing scoff) I might argue, aren't necessarily worth the bother of historical documentation in art, or even history. I mean, I know that's a weird thing to think about, but we do edit history all the time, some parts more egregiously than others, but we do; we can't bring everything up, or you'll never finish reading the textbook. And Christine Chubbock (Rebecca Hall) is someone who checks both those red flags for me.
If the name, doesn't ring a bell, immediately, she's noteworthy for first and foremost for being the first person to commit suicide on live television. This was back in 1974, when she was a successful local reporter for the ABC affiliate in Sarasota, Florida, and don't go looking for the footage; it exists, but it's not online, and no, that one that's floating around the internet lately, is a fake, and no, I don't like that I have to know that! (Sigh) For one thing, I already knew about Chubbock's story, for a couple reasons, one because it gets brought up occasionally here-and-there as a historical fact, but also as an entertainment footnote. There's a myth that supposedly, her suicide was the inspiration for Paddy Chayefsky's screenplay for "Network"; it's not true; he started writing the film before the incident. She's also become a bit of an urban legend, especially in certain internet circles, 'cause the live footage is the purported holy grail of death videos. (Sigh) Look, I'm a writer, and not just this blog, I do work on the side, and occasionally, I have to look up a lot of things, that I would probably not rather look up if I had the chance. For reasons, I'm not gonna get into, I actually did have to look up a lot of footage of people dying on camera and film and television, and even radio recordings not too long ago.,...- it can really take a lot out of you, studying the Zapruder tape over and over again, and other such things, but I'm a writer, which already makes me a little crazy, plus, I do things like this for research and not because I want to, and frankly, the ones who do find fascination with....- yeah. And yes, including in that research, I did happen to look up Christine Chubbuck, although I had heard the story years earlier, and frankly, I did come into this film, not really buying the notion that this was ripe material for a film.
I'm sure some of the defenders have good reasons, and there are things to recommend here. It gets the look and tone right of the time, Rebecca Hall's performance is great, and really disturbing to sit through. I think what really makes me, uninterested in this, is that there's not really all that we know about Christine Chubbuck. She was only 29 at the time, and frankly there's not a lot about her. She was a good reporter, had her own show and segment during the weekends, based on her infamous last words, which, you can freely look up, I'm gonna avoid the temptation here, she was annoyed at how the news industry was becoming more commercial, and often focused on capturing graphic footage and how violence was taking precedent over, blah, blah, blah. This is another reason I'm reluctant to embrace her; I suspect there's a certain subset that might like to martyr her if they could, and sure, you look at the news industry now and it feels like Don Henley "Dirty Laundry" came to life and threw up over all of it, but this was a disturbed young woman, who unfortunately by most accounts, what few there really are, was so withdrawn within herself..., and was not sociable at all. She suffered from depression, she was suicidal previously, some think she suffered from bipolar disorder and wasn't diagnosed. She reportedly never had a social life, and most suspect she died a virgin. She goes on one soorta-date with the local anchor in the movie, George (Michael C. Hall) and both of them seemed to like each other, but she wasn't really adept enough to do anything about it. She is instead shown constantly fighting with her belligerent boss, Michael (Tracy Letts) over everything. You get this sense that, it was all a fight for her, either with others or herself and she never seemed to be able to win. Yet still, I don't think we know or can confirm any of this, which is what makes her story so frustrating to me. I like exploring these emotions and thoughts, but I can't help but think about Christine Chubbuck and believe that, we're probably putting more of our sentiment and emotions into her than we really have knowledge or justification. That's fine in normal circumstances, we've got a thousand different ways to interpret Hamlet, but this was a woman who actually wrote the report of her own suicide, accurately describing her condition at the hospital as critical, before she shot herself. I kinda get the sense that when movies like this get made, it feels like what happened in Bobcat Goldthwait's "World's Greatest Dad' film, where the Robin Williams character creates a positive but fictitious portrait of his troubled son to make him seem like more than he is, and everybody who didn't know him for real, just buys into it.
I don't know if this is an accurate portrayal of her or not, and I don't really care, I'm not looking for accuracy, I'm just looking for the reason to focus on her as intently as this movie does. (Actually, there's two recent movies out that focus on her, another's a documentary that I'll get to eventually as well) The director is Antonio Campos, he's an interesting and talented young filmmaker, who made "Afterschool", a movie about a troubled young man in school, who shot footage of two of his classmates, dying of a drug overdose, the kind of thing you may unintentionally run into when seeking out fake footage of Chubbuck's suicide in fact.
Yeah, I'm not sure I can fully buy the reasoning for the film. Her recent, sudden and continued fascination for some, I find misguided. If it's any consolation's the movie's well-made, well-acted, I didn't know about the puppet shows she put on at a children's hospital, that was odd, and interesting, and factual, I double-checked. It seemed like they tried their best to capture who they thought Christine Chubbuck was and to do so with as much care as possible. I guess, for that I probably should give this movie a break, but, as a member of the media, which, yeah, I know, I don't know how I am either, but technically I am, in this capacity, I'm just not sure she should be free game to explore like this. At the end of the movie, her friend and co-worker Jean (Maria Dizzia) goes home and turns on the TV to "The Mary Tyler Moore Show". It's easy to forget this now too, but around that time in the early seventies, was when there were a lot of groundbreaking females in the news industry, on all levels many of them becoming the first do something or another, either onscreen or behind-the-scenes of the industry, some of those names you might know, Barbara Walters, or Diane Sawyer for instance, others like Pat Harper and Jean Enersen cause they were more localized are probably not as well-known, but are just as important. And no joke, when I searched "first local female news anchor" on Google, one of the top results is Christine Chubbuck's Wikipedia entry. It sure does seem like for young women wanting to get into news reporting and broadcasting that it's disheartening to think that of the many real inspirations that some women have, especially of this era of groundbreaking women reporters and journalist in television news, among the first names you'll see, one is fictional, and the other took her life complaining that news was too bloodthirsty.
I don't know whether our continued fascination with her proves her right or wrong, but I don't think the fascination is good either way.
I waited for there to be something in the movie that, in some ways showed that this viewpoint is wrong, or that there's definitely more of a reason to care about her, and for all the good the movie is, and there is good here, I didn't find that. For that reason, I'm panning the movie, flat-out. I just can't tell you a good reason to watch it.
AQUARIUS (2016) Director: Keiber Mendonca Filho
There's several filmmakers right now that's quietly but assuredly turning Brazil into one of the most interesting countries for films out there. Keiber Mendonca Filho is one of the more interesting ones of the bunch. The former critic's debut feature "Neighboring Sounds" was a delightful and fascinating film that observed several character in a Recife high-rise neighborhood. That location, already alone makes her intriguing, there's several films and locations I can think of when I think of Brazil and even Brazilian films, (especially since some of their previous great filmmaker have a tradition of road movies like Walter Salles for instance) I can only think of two films that takes place in this Northeastern coastal Brazilian city, and "Aquarius" is the other one. I don't think it's as intriguing as "Neighboring Sounds", but it's probably a more impressive character piece though. That character is Clara (Sonja Braga) a retired music critic, a widowed mother who's still laid back enough to swim in the ocean everyday and drink wine while blasting Queen over the neighborhood when she gets home, and then fight the developers who are trying to take her home. As well as go out partying with her friends and family on a moment's notice. Where "Neighboring Sounds" was about the neighborhood, "Aquarius" is about her. So much about her, it almost seems like the occasional plot of what she's going through with the developers comes out of nowhere, but ti's not that. Filho himself is a former critic, and like any critic, especially a music one, they like to surround themselves with are. A "Barry Lyndon" poster, flashbacks to some of her earliest memories come with music, she proudly showcases in an interview her rare vinyl copy of John Lennon & Yoko Ono's "Double Fantasy" album, with a rare L.A. Times interview with John, that he did weeks before his passing. "Aquarius" is the name of the apartment complex and she's the one holdout. Strange things start to happen in the adjacent rooms and buildings. It's not all clear that they're designed to get her to leave, but she mostly takes it in stride. Why is she holding out? It's difficult to fully explain, but why explain. She's lived there, she spent the happiest part of her life there, along with her late husband, and she's financially well-off enough that if she doesn't want to go live with one or her kids and with their family, she feels she doesn't have to. And you know what, she's right. It might not seem practical, but that's who she is, and she doesn't want others to change that if she doesn't want to. None of that is said so forcefully in the film, although she has more than a few good speeches and arguments. She also has her routine. Her fantasies perhaps even. The ending seems out of nowhere and cathartic, but the rest of the movie seems out of nowhere too, maybe that's why I'm a little more ambivalent on it compared to "Neighboring Sounds", if you really think about this film, which does clock in at 2 1/2 hours, a lot of the scenes could probably be switched around and not much would've really changed or been altered. I guess that could be true of "Neighboring Sounds" but that's an exploration of a neighborhood, a group of characters, and ensemble, here, while others come in and out, is just Clara. Stubborn, tempermental but laid-back and easy Clara. (Hmm, I wonder if Aquarius is also meant to be her astrological symbol? I'm an Aquarius, and I just describe a lot of me there? Oh well....) "Aquarius" is a bit of a mood piece more than a film, and I still expect a little better next time, but Sonja Braga gives an amazing and engrossing performance that makes it more than worth your while. Kinda wish I didn't have "Fat-Bottomed Girls" stuck in my head now, but, at least that's a good song.
MISS SLOANE (2016) Director: John Madden
"Miss Sloane" is a well-acted, well-made, well-written failed television pilot from about 10 years ago that somehow got extended into a feature film, now. At least, that's what it feels like, and normally I wouldn't necessarily consider that a criticism, but boy, this feels like somebody was trying really hard to be figured out what would Damon Lindelof write if he was David E. Kelley. Miss Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain, being way too good for the material) is a professional lobbyist and apparently the best at her job there is. What does that mean? Well...- honestly I don't know what that means. It means a bunch of cliche things about how tough a woman is, or how brilliant a strategist she is, or how she's one step ahead of everyone,... I really don't know, and frankly there's not much to know about Miss Sloane. There's ice queens who don't reveal or show any of their emotions, but this is one ice bitch who I'm not sure ever actually had emotions. Except for the fact that, for reasons that are never explained fully, she decides to quit her job at her current employee, because they wanted her to work for the gun lobby, and instead decided to devote her time and effort exclusively to a competitor who wants to go against the gun lobby. Seriously, I don't know why. I think there was an indication that she had personal experience with tragedy, somewhere, but considering how much she lies and manipulates everything and everybody, I wouldn't be shocked if she came from a loving home and she's never had any issue with guns in her life, and is secretly the reincarnation of Annie Oakley. A few of her crew go and work for her, and naturally her boss, George Dupont (Sam Waterston) is pissed. Washington is a cold place where everybody's on the take and votes can be bought and sold more like currency than opinion,... I mean, yeah, it's "House of Cards" only ridiculous and stupid, That's not to say that part of Washington doesn't exist, but it seems to be the only thing that exists and worst than that, she seems like she not only controls all of this, it seems like it was entirely designed for her to maneuver and walk-through like am exquisitely designed house that's filled with hidden passages and secret rooms and trap doors that only she knows how to manipulate through. Some are traits, but not necessarily, character. The only, sorta hint we have that something interesting about her in Forde (Jake Lacy) a male escort she hires. Okay, she's a professional woman who's attractive in her own right, but either isn't interested in finding love and just wants sex once in a while, so she pays for it, or she's struck on love and is married to her work, so she pays male prostitutes to fulfill the sexual urges and desires she'd rather everyone feel that she's repressed? (Shrugs) I guess, they're the two options I came up with, but I don't know if that's right or not. It's interesting, considering that I honestly can't think of too many female characters that do participate in this practice, but I wish they did something with it. The movie's told in flashback mostly, cutting back-and-forth between a Senate hearing where she's giving testimony, and even though, I'm now fully convinced that this woman is a master puppeteer with humans and is able to manipulate all their actions at any time to her advantage, the ending still hinges on a giant leap of logic and coincidence that's both practically impossible and also in this movie, completely predictable and in some ways inevitable. There's some otherwise good performances here, John Lithgow, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Michael Stuhlbarg have some time to shine, and there's a few who show up for a scene or two like Christine Baranski and Alison Pill who probably could've and should've done a lot more. It's from Director John Madden, who's one of the most erratic directors out there; sometimes capable of some wonderful and endearingly charming films like "Shakespeare in Love" or his best film, "Proof", his most recent fun romps were two "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" movies, that apparently other liked more than I did. He's not awful when he switches to more darker sociopolitical dramas, "Killshot" and "The Debt" had their moments, but "Miss Sloane" in comparison feels empty. I don't honestly even know why it picked gun control as it's subject, it could've been anything. Hell, I can already think of a vapid political crime thriller that was all about gun control and how to manipulate the media and the voters to their opinion; that was Gary Fleder's forgettable "Runaway Jury" the 12th John Grisham thing you think of when you think of John Grisham and that film was way better than "Miss Sloane", at least that one felt like it had characters and not just a Jessica Chastain-sized computer virus walking around causing havoc until she explodes and ruins your computer and everything else around it. "Miss Sloane", is just Glenn Close/Candice Bergen'Christine Baranski TV roles: The Movie".
RACE (2016) Director: Stephen Hopkins
Well, yeah, pretty much any movie that was going to be about Jesse Owens is practically obligated to have the title, "Race". I mean, what the hell else could his story be called? Well, there was a TV Movie years ago called "The Jesse Owens Story" so, I guess that, but still.... For those familiar with Jesse Owens (Stephen James), and if you're not...-, well you better be really young, 'cause even those ignorant of almost everything about sports are familiar with Jesse Owens, so, to briefly tell the story, Owens was the fastest man on Earth, one of the greatest Track & Field stars of all-time. ESPN ranked him as the 6th Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century, and his last world record didn't fall until 25 years after his amateur career was over.
Oh, and he beat the Nazis. Go ahead, ask somebody, I'm not joking; they'll tell ya; he beat the Nazis. It was at the 1936 Olympics, Jesse Owens won four gold medals, all of them with either a world record or a tie of a world record, and he did this in Berlin, Germany. See, the Nazis thought this was going to be their coming out party to the rest of the world, where they would show and prove the dominance of the German blood. Hitler wanted to succeed at athletics as much as everything else, so, this was a big showcase, and while it doesn't get as much attention as some of Hitler's other prejudices, he wasn't particularly fond of Black people either. Not that it was easy for Jesse Owens back home, but still. They show you a lot of the background, 'cause it's important to remember that he was world famous already. He had broken several records, and had won the national title for Ohio St. Jason Sudeikis is pretty good here as Larry Snyder, his coach and a former track star himself. I like that little jab the annoyed Ohio St. football team was with him as the track stars had to share the locker at the time. Keep in the mind, the African-American color line in football, wouldn't be broken for about a decade at that point, either, (That hardly gets mention anymore either. Look up Marion Motley if you ever get the chance, broke the pro football color barrier a year before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's) and African-American athletes were basically limited at that point to, boxing, Track & Field or the Negro Leagues, so the speedsters went into Track. We see Owens's early life, marrying his wife Ruth for instance. He had a kid before he got to college so he kept a regular job to pay for money to them when he wasn't running. Owens's has never come off to me as a particularly charismatic sports figure and this movie, gets that right. He was quiet, self-assured, introspective yet practical, behind-the-scenes, but yeah, I think the reason his life hasn't hit the big screen 'til long after his death, despite the importance of his story, is that he's not necessarily the most intriguing character, outside of his athletic accomplishments.
"Race" compensates for that, by finding two other stories to tell surrounding the games, both of which I personally found more interesting 'cause, well, I don't need a refresher course on Owens's accomplishment. One involves the deals behind the scenes to get the Germans to hold the games in such a way, so as to, you know,- less Jew-killing. It was controversial Berlin holding the games, and it was not a secret back then what the Nazis were doing. I mean, it wasn't released to the public, but off-the-record more people knew than probably the Nazis wanted. This involved a vote, and some shady deals behind-the-scenes that are, in some cases, scary. A lot of this is Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons) and Jeremiah Mahoney (William Hurt) debating the choice to participate in the games at all, and Brundage made deals with Goebbels (Barnaby Metschurat) himself that involved helping design some Nazi embassies, including one that would've potentially been in D.C.
The other story,...- Oh boy, um, here's a name in film history we try to avoid, uh, involved Goebbels battling with Leni Reifenstahl (Caprice van Houten) over her documenting of the Olympic games. I'm glad they included this, because, you really kinda have to to some extent, if you're gonna tell the story of the '36 Olympics, but-eh.... (Deep groaning sighing breath) Okay, Leni Riefenstahl, the short version, um, she was a German athlete and dancer who eventually started to get work as an actress in German cinema, she even appeared in an English speaking role in one movie that was made by the U.S. and Germany at the same time. She then became a documentarian who was the Nazi Party's go to filmmaker. You might have heard of "Triumph of the Will", yeah she made that, and she directed several other propaganda films. In fact, you legitimately could call one of, if not the first great female director out there, except for, the fact that she's part of the reason why we have the images of the Nazis that we have, and everything good and bad, mostly bad, about that. I've seen "Triumph of the Will", it's acclaimed one of the great documentaries of all-time, even though it depicts the 1934 Nuremberg rally: I'm not sure I agree with that, but it does depict the Nazis exactly as they wanted themselves to be depicted. However, we're not talking about that film, 'cause and here's why she's kinda hard to erase entirely from film history, she also made "Olympia". "Olympia" is a two-part documentary, separated into Part 1, "Festival of Nations" and Part II, "Festival of Beauty". Oddly, I haven't part one and it's honestly not necessarily that important, but part two is a masterpiece. It depicts the entire 1936 Olympics games, including Jesse Owens races and high jump, among other events. Now, yeah, they cover the Olympics now all the time, but she basically invented every cliched technique you can think of when it comes to covering sports from a cinematic perspective. ESPN, basically owes her everything. The images we have of Jesse Owens at these games are hers, so you do kinda have to figure a way to write her into this story. I have no idea how much of the tales of how struggles were, like making sure to have enough cameras, (She had hundreds! Hundreds, back then, covering everything) she had to battle Goebbels to make sure she was allowed to record everything, 'cause at some point, they realized Owens was gonna destroy them and decided to not film some of it, but she overrided Goebbels even. Hitler had a soft spot for her, and before her passing in 2003, at age 101, (And still making movies at the time, even revolutionizing underwater filmmaking at that age.) she was regarded as one of the last surviving members of Hitler's inner circle. You can look up the truly great documentary, ""The Wonerful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl" is this interests you at all to look more into her, but yeah, there's some revisionist history out there, including from her that wants to claim that she was just a member of the Party in order to keep making movies, but yeah, if she was out-of-the-loop on some of the biggest atrocities.....
So, what about "Race" as a movie? Well, it's pretty basic sports biopic, but done well, and it actually finds a couple interesting and important angles to the story that would normally get glossed over in the more mythic tale of Jesse Owens, and those were interesting. I don't think the movie's great or anything, but it's a recommendation. I'd probably argue there's more powerful ways to tell Owens's story, but, it a good movie and it works, overall. I wish there was more to say about it, but yeah, we are talking about a person becoming famous for a bunch of activities that might not total up 3 minutes of total length of time. Of course, that's the point, man, was he quick.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016) Director: Jeff Nichols
(Sigh) I'm starting to get annoyed by Jeff Nichols. I guess that's an opinion been bubbling up in me over the years, but I don't think I would've said something to that effect outright, for one reason or another until now, because, well, really he's too talented to ignore, but now I feel like I'm just hitting a wall with him and this, latest combination of southern gothic meets sci-fi he's put out, eh, it's putting me off. Makes me wonder if these genres even belong together, really.
Oh course, maybe it's possible that I've just misread him over the years. I tend to consider him as a more melodramatic and introspective David Gordon Green-type director. His first "Shotgun Stories" had that kind of tone, and was a decent movie about rival half-brothers set in the backwoods of Arkansas, and I think more interested in setting and tone than in the story. Then he started setting tone, into some more, shall we say, fantastical directions. I liked "Take Shelter", his next film, quite a bit, I gave it 5 STARS in fact, but I should confess now, I never liked the ending. That was about a working man, who was struggling with his own mental demons; and the issue is whether he's got some kind of debilitating neurological disorder, schizophrenia if I remember correctly, or if these voices he heard actually were a warning to something. I guess the ending,-, I guess you can read it as open-ended, because it really give us a direct answer, but I'm not sure I liked it anyway. The story of the Michael Shannon character struggling was far more intriguing to me than whether or not we knew what the syndrome was. Anyway, he went back to a more traditional southern gothic narrative with "Mud", which I liked but didn't love, despite it being more of a return to form, at least in my eyes. Then, this past year, he's given me two very different movies that seem like they're all over the map. I talked about "Loving" the biopic about the Loving Family who's Supreme Court case was the one that legalized mixed race marriage. I don't think there was anything wrong with that movie, it's just that the subjects themselves weren't interesting. "Midnight Special" however,-, I mean, I like the setting of his worlds, this rural backlot of mid-America, that intersection where magical realism is at it's most potent, but, man, he convoluted this thing to near death.
So, the story begins with two men, who've apparently taken a young boy, and authorities are looking for them. There's an AMBER alert on the news, and the men, Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) and the eight-year-old, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) are on the road. And for some reason, the kids is wearing dark sunglasses all the time. Alton, doesn't seem particularly concern or worried, and not in a, he's-a-kid-he-doesn't-realize-what's-going-on sort of way, so we're invested and there's mystery. There's also mystery behind the people looking for him. Not the police, but an NSA agent, Sevier (Adam Driver) who interrogates several people during the film, as we wonder what he could possibly care about a missing kid. We eventually find out that the kid, was stolen from a Texas cult lead by Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepherd, one of his last roles.) who's after the kid, who does in fact have some kind of disturbing metaphysical super powers, and the sunglasses are for some visible light from his eyes that, can destroy or blind people. At this point, I think the movie is trying for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and it kinda hits it, but I think it more feels like, bad "X-Men" fanfiction, or-eh, or-eh, what was that stupid show, oh, "Heroes" type things, and at that point, I kinda just tuned out. I mean, there's more going on, there's a parable about parenting, and Kirsten Dunst has some nice scenes as the kid's mother, and the revelations are pretty good, and there's a parable about parenting that most everybody seemed to bring up. It's definitely there and obvious, and I don't usually mind that, but here, it just felt like one too-many things at that point. There's the chase, the kid's powers, the cult leader, the government investigation, the mother, the flying satellites, just...- too many things, and I wasn't sure how seriously to take it. I kinda have the same problem with "The Shining" oddly enough, everything's scary, therefore nothing's scary, therefore the film doesn't work. That's not quite true here, a lot of this works, I just think it lacks any real meaning, 'cause it all feels metaphorical instead of real characters going through a difficult problem, at from a writing perspective I suspect.
THE LITTLE PRINCE (2016) Director: Mark Osborne
So, I have a pet peeve of mine, one that I didn't realize I had until I was watching the "The Little Prince" and I'm gonna call this the "Story Within the Story Trope". The "Story within the story" trope occurs when a movie is framed around a character telling a story as a way of solving the actual story that's going on, and the worst sin of this in most movies, is when the actual story is more interesting and compelling than the story that's being told and shown to us. So, basically I'm being told another story instead of actually having the interesting real story being continued. I find that I don't like this conceit, especially when the movie is based around, how great and amazing this story that's being told in the movie is and the downgrade how much more compelling the actual narrative of the story is. Off the top of my, I can probably trace this back to "Song of the South" but the movie I usually think of with this is Tarsem Singh's "The Fall", although especially considering how inexplicably popular the film is I should probably use Tim Burton's worst film "Big Fish" as the example, but I tend to hate this approach almost on principle, because it feels like a weird cop out, like one story wasn't good enough to tell, so they placed it within the confines of this other story, in order to try to give meaning to it. For a while into "The Little Prince" I genuinely feared that that's where the movie was going, despite some amazing use of mixed-media animation, throughout much of the film, including some amazingly detailed computer animation, but it was a story within a story that I was being told, and I had one interesting world that was more interesting to begin with, so I was worried. Thankfully, and graciously, the movie doesn't do that and instead becomes it's own amazing and wonderous narrative, that, sure it's nothing more complex than believing in your dreams, remember to keep that childlike curiosity, and more than that, to not be afraid to reach for the stars, but, man it does it well, and it snuck up on me completely.
"The Little Prince", is directed by Mark Osborne, an American filmmaker, mostly known for "Kung Fu Panda" but he's a bit more eclectic than his animation background implies. Also, strangely, the same way that "The Red Turtle" was a Japanese film directed by a Belgian, this is actually a French project, directed by an American filmmaker, I think it's because it's based on a famous kids' book from Leon Worst who's French; I'm unfamiliar with the work before anybody asks, so I went into this one a little blind. The story is shown through the eyes of, eh, The Little Girl (Mackenzie Foy), a little girl who's life is meticulous planned out for her by her stressed and overworked single Mother (Rachel McAdams) to an excessive amount. She's literally charted her entire life for her, up until she's 18. At first, they fail to get into some prestigious Academy, and then the mother finds the cheapest low-cost housing available in the school district to move into, which is next door to an eccentric old man called The Aviator (Jeff Bridges). She because fascinated with the old man, who's a bit of a hoarder and even has a busted up airplane that's rube-Goldberg enough to attempt a liftoff, at least until the Police bring him back. He's ostracized by the neighborhood for bringing the property values down on all their little boxes made of ticky-tacky, but the Little Girl becomes intrigued when he tells a magical story of a lost Little Prince, who the Aviator, when we has young, encountered after he had crashed his plane into the Sahara desert. The prince (Riley Osborne), is actually an alien who got lost in the stars after leaving his home,-, asteroid, and he's also missing his precious Rose (Marion Cotillard). That's trapped on another planet that he can't find the way too, and the longer he's on the Earth, the more he forgets who he is. At first, this story encourages The Little Girl, she even helps the old man makes a puppet version of The Fox (James Franco) that seems to sometimes come to life at times. Then, after her mother finds out about how she's been abandoning her Summer vacation studies, she looks to the Aviator for an escape to go on an adventure with The Little Prince, but instead, she finds out about the more sad end of the story, and then, the second half of the movie begins and takes a strikingly inspiring and metaphorical turn as both The Little Girl's real life an dreams and nightmares, are suddenly combined with the story of The Little Prince. The movie does something fascinating with the animation as it uses really great computer animation for the main story, but then has different hand-drawn painterly style for most of the story elements, so it's mixed animation medium, and it even does some replicating of-eh, some clay-mation styles at times. There's a lot thrown into this movie and perhaps it's ambition might be it's weakness, but by the time it gets to that point, you're well-drawn in to the narrative and willing to see where it goes. Part of me wishes it wasn't so clear-cut, how the two stories parallel each other, but that's a minor nitpick.
And for me, I wasn't as interested in The Little Prince story as I was in the lives of the mother and Little Girl, at least until the point when they came together, and they come together well and in a way that makes sense and not use the device as a gimmick. That's what takes "The Little Prince" over-the-top for me. I'm not certain I'd appreciate the book based on this movie, but I certainly enjoyed this film, and it was clearly made with people who cared about the original tale and wanted to do it justice, and boy did they. The movie strangely didn't get a major theatrical release in theaters, it quickly played and then landed on Netflix, but some people noticed it, and I hope others will too.
SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU (2016) Director: Richard Tanne
So, years ago, I want to say on WB, before it merged with UPN and became CW, although it might've been ABC, there was this awful television show called "Jack and Bobby", it was basically the same teen melodrama crap that the network had been peddling for years at that point, only the-eh, punchline was that, one of the two brothers in the series, would one day become President of the United States. (And in case you're wondering, no, it wasn't about the Kennedys, making that name even more meaningless.) I, and, I hope everybody hasn't thought about that show in years, but it's one of the few things I can think of to actually compare "Southside With You" too. As much as I love the Obamas, and I do love "Dreams of My Father", Obama's biography, which I highly recommend people read by the way, it's an absolutely amazing book I didn't really think, that, if we were gonna make a movie about him, that this would be the perspective, Barack's (Parker Sawyer) and Michelle's (Tika Sumpter) first date. I mean, it's-, it's not a bad perspective, per se. There aren't too many about a President that were made and released while he was still in office, eh, outside of a few documentaries at least, Oliver Stone's "W." is the only one that pops into my mind offhand, but that was a full biopic, and also a bit of condemnation of the man and the office, and frankly, deserving so. I guess there is, something to it ,my generation, doesn't really have a great example of an ideal couple relationship, either fictional or in real life to be honest. I can force myself into thinking of a couple, but yeah, I don't think there's anybody that immediately might look up, and as far as African-American couples may go, yeah, they're a bit of a lag since Cliff and Claire Huxtable aren't on television anymore. (And it's not exactly comfortable to go back and watch them now, so yeah, that image is ruined.) So, I guess I can see how, this relationship could take on such a mythic quality that a fictionalized portrayal of them on their first date would be appealing. And, it's a delightfully, appealing movie. I enjoyed it. I certainly knew a decent about these two characters going in, and even kinda what they were like when they met at this time. We first meet Michelle talking about going out for the day with some guy from work to her family, and yeah, of course, we catch on, but then, we see, these two young people, from different worlds and perspectives, 'cause remember, Obama has a bit of an unusual life story, and also something that, I know might seem trivial considering the ignoramus in the White House now, but these are two people who weren't exactly rich or from some higher spoke on the societal ladder, but they were earning their way. Barack's beat up care that doesn't have a floor under it, Michelle, so intent on work that she was reluctant to go out on the date, we get to see Barack at a community meeting and seeing how he was so good at preaching and inspiring the crowd, and Michelle call him on whether or not he knew he was gonna speak when he brought her. There's a wonderful back-and-forth that I think we all sorta, hypothesize or at least wish,- not wish, hope, that is how Barack and Michelle are in real life and remain in love with each other. They're a bit flawed as well, Barack is shown smoking regularly, Michelle seems stubborn, and obsessed with advancing at the law firm they work at. I'm told that through the Southside of Chicago, there's plaque placed throughout the town noting places where Barack and Michelle were at, even one outside the Baskin-Robbins, (Well, now I'm told it's a Subway, Barack will like that, according to this film, he didn't like ice cream that much) where they had their first kiss. I guess this movie is an inevitable consequence of them becoming President and First Lady, and the importance of that fact. I mean, let's say for the hell of it that every President after Trump, is African-American from her on out, it'll take 44 Presidential administrations, before there's the same amount of African-Americans to Caucasian Presidents. It took us over 200 years to get to that many. (And that's counting the strong possibilities of women Presidents, Latino Presidents, an Asian President, Muslim Presidents at some point, perhaps....) So, is it fair to their personal selves and mythologize them through fiction? (Shrugs) Yeah, sure, why not. We remember John and Abigail Adams damn love letters, so, sure, why not. I seriously doubt there's ever gonna be a movie about Donald meeting Melania though, and thank goodness for that.
SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR (2016) Director: Deborah Esquenazi
So, years ago, when I was in high school, I participate in a county-wide "Youth Forum", that the Las Vegas Sun had put up, and-eh, if there's something similar to that in your area and you ever get a change to attend, I'd recommend it, 'cause it was quite fun and engaging. It's where high school students, some of the more expressive and socially-conscious and aware ones would go and essentially debate and discuss the issues of the day. Anyway, one of those forums, not the one I was in, was moderated by the then-Senator John Ensign. He was and still is a conservative prick, but he was fairly affable and pleasing to be around and at this point in his career was gaining popularity in the GOP hierarchy. At one point they thought he was a potential 2012 Presidential candidate, until he had to resign in disgrace after having an affair with the wife of his co-worker, who he was paying off under-the-table funds to. Anyway, I heard a story at that conference about him, this would've been around, 2002, and he was talking at a high school, and an openly gay student asked him a question about his anti-homosexual stance, and he responded,"Well, let's compare homosexuality with pedophilia...". I bring this up, 'cause, that was a thing.
A genuine fear, not founded, in anything, really, that homosexuality was somehow linked to pedophilia, which by the way, there is no connection to those things, but the fear was out there, and it happened to coincide also with a bizarre trend that is an even more ridiculous and inexplicable theory going around that there were a rise is Satanic cults and rituals that occurred in the '80s and early '90s, because.... I don't know, kids started listening to The Cure or whatever-the-fuck it was, but it was taken seriously, and many started believing that these things were also related and when there was suspicion of both of these details, and there's a grizzly or disturbing crime that's occurred, especially in more Conservative areas of the country, this led to the belief that there was an uprise in crimes that were due to gays or other eccentrics practicing their cult-like Satan worship, and that was the motives for their actions, and many were convicted, often with barely any legitimate evidence, and many times, with incorrect criminalistic evidence attached as well. You might've heard of the West Memphis Three for instance, who spent almost thirty years in jail for murders they didn't commit, all because one of the defendants, dressed like a goth, basically. They've been the subject of several movies, most famously, the "Paradise Lost" Trilogy of documentaries. (If you throw fear of African-American men into that mix, which also happened around the time, you can probably throw in The Central Park Five into this mix as well.) The San Antonio Four, is considered by some to be the last gasp and hopefully the last injustice that was done in this name of this combination of homophobia and paranoia, but the fact that it's more recent doesn't mean it's any less of an injustice.
The San Antonio Four are four Latina lesbians, Anna Vasquez, Cassandra Rivera, Kristie Mayhugh and Elizabeth Ramirez, who lived together after coming out to their family and friends, some successful, others, not-so-much. Anna and Cassandra, who both had children from previous relationships fell in love, but shortly after, two of Elizabeth's young nieces accused all four women of sexual assault.
If that's already ringing a red flag to you, yeah, there aren't many known cases of female lesbian pedophiles, for one, also, all four, is a bit odd, especially when you consider the story the girls told of them, which bordered on the ridiculously fantastical, almost like the event was something out of the testimony of the Salem Witch Trials, which, let's face it, these cases were indeed the modern-day forms of that, and despite lack of evidence, including faulty medical evidence, the four women were sent to prison. This was 1994, and only recently were all four women let out. One was out on parole, all of them nothing happened, Anna, who is the major interview subject, even talks about how she refused to go to the prison Sex Offender Program, despite being court-ordered too. It cost a lot of her privileges but she didn't do it. Eventually, people got involved and started questioning the case, and the evidence, especially after several other similar cases were under scrutiny, and eventually, one of the young accusers, now in her early twenties recanted her testimony, confessing that her father had coached her and her sister to make up the story, unaware of what they were doing. (The other sister hasn't recanted yet) There's still a lot for the San Antonio Four to go through, but they seem to be adjusting back into civilian life well.
"Southwest of Salem..." is a reminder of just how far we've come and how we still continue to have a lot to go through. It's easy to forget just how such things as homosexuality was so stigmatized that it frankly wasn't a major leap to go from that to, pedophile raping witches....- I ran into Sen. Ensign as I was walking out the Youth Forum that day, and could him an asshole to his face. I regretted that for most of my life, because frankly, it was pointless, it was easy, didn't change or prove a damn thing, and sure I like that I was vindicated on that regard in the public eyes, but yeah, that was stupid and hollow and I really should've just been asking out the cute brunette I met while I was there. Then i remember that it was probably cases like this, that made him in his delusion really believe such bullshit about homosexuality, and suddenly I don't feel so sad about saying that. These women lost a chunk of their lives because people assumed the worst because of who they were.
OUR LITTLE SISTER (2016) Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
I'm only just starting to finally get around to the films of the great Hirokazu Koreeda, and even then, I'm still struggling to fully-, well, not understand him, but maybe I struggle to get on his emotional wavelengths at times. I first admired his wonderful film "Like Father, Like Son", a devastatingly emotional tale about two families having to go through a painful transition after they find out that their kids were switched at birth and now are going through the process of having each kid slowly adapt to their new families, as well as the adults struggle with their emotions through the process. That film was just an emotional wreak of a movie, and that's not the best introduction I got to Koreeda because I think it was so powerful that something like "Our Little Sister", which is a good movie, with some similar themes of adjusting to new family members, but, I just found that it was on a different and lesser emotional level, so my reaction to it, is both a little more ambivalent than it would've.
"Our Little Sister" is an episodic but lightweight family drama, about three sisters, led by Sachi (Haruka Ayase) along with Yoshino and Chika (Masami Nagasawa and Kaho) as they take in their younger stepsister Suzu (Suzu Hirose) after the death of their father. And there isn't much to the film besides that. There's some struggles at first, although Suzu never seems that saddened to leave her mother, (Yoko Asano) although admittedly the sisters are a preferable option, and there's some funny slice of life throughout the film, and some sad ones too. These scenes are there to create mood and replicate the poetry of real life and it succeeds and while you're watching the movie, your caught up into the tone and feel like a part of the family yourself. I think that was the movie's objective which is why I'm recommending it, but I still feel the movie is lacking in some of the drama that could've made it more compelling. If not literal action, then perhaps emotional wreckage. I mean, this is a traumatic change, a father's passing, and now three daughters have to raise this scruffy and eager young sister, who none of them know about, there's so much there for emotional upheaval, and it doesn't have to big emotions; it could just be subtle emotions, and you know, we don't really get enough of that. We get a lot of other stuff that's good in it's own right, but yeah, the balance between these two extremes is questionable to me, especially since I know what this filmmaker can do.
FASTBALL (2016) Director: Jonathan Hock
Next to my notes for "Fastball" I only left a single note, the name Steve Dalbowski. It's the only note I left, because being a longtime baseball fan, I pretty much knew of every other name they were talking about in the movie, as well as gone through some of the typical inside baseball discussions and analysis several times over with others regarding, the Major League fastball. Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Nolan Ryan, Aroldis Chapman,- okay, Chapman I'm not particularly familiar with but, I'm a Phillies fan, so I haven't exactly paid as close attention as I used to the last few years, (Sigh) but yeah, pretty much every discussion I can ever imagine having or have had about the fastball, I've probably had at some point in my life had with other baseball fans. Steve Dalbowksi, however, his name alluded me, and it even alluded some of the other players and names interviewed in the movie, especially the younger ones. The older players had heard of him though, and were aware of the legend. Dalbowski is often listed in major league folklore for having thrown the fastest fastball in history. The reason you and I have never heard of him is because he never made it to the Major Leagues. The reason, he was also the wildest pitcher of all-time. There's several legends about him, although even the ones that people can confirm are so mystifying that it's unfortunate that there's just not enough recorded evidence of him to really tell his elaborate story. Basically if there's a minor league record out there for most strikeout and/or walks, he probably still holds it, and his legend was so vast, he was the inspiration for both Tim Robbins's character in "Bull Durham" and Brendan Fraser's character in "The Scout". Amazingly, he's still alive and despite severe dementia that came after several years of alcohol abuse that occurred both after and during his playing days, Dalbowski talks briefly about his strange and wild left hand, that was wild as Hell The joke I always told about Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams the great former closer who I would usually took defense up for in most "Who Threw the fastest fastball arguments was that, especially when he was playing for the Phillies in '93, that you didn't whether he'd throw it to the plate or to New Jersey, but it was fast. And Dalbowski was way wilder than Williams ever was, and I'm certain Williams never once through a baseball without the catcher having to move his glove to catch it. For other baseballs junkies, the movie is fine. It's nothing particularly special or unique, but if you like people talking about the craft of baseball, than you'll enjoy it, especially since the subject matter is fastballs. There's some amazing rare footage of Sandy Koufax when he threw his perfect game that's pretty amazing to find; that game is notorious for having not been televised. They also decide to try and really figure out the debate, using the best uses of modern science both at the time, and today to try and figure who exactly holds the record for the fastest fastball. Chapman's been clocked fastest on a radar gun, but the Guiness book and most scientists still agree that adjusting the results for how the speed is recorded now, Nolan Ryan in his prime takes the cake. I saw Nolan Ryan play when he wasn't in his prime, and he was still ridiculously fucking fast btw, so yeah, I'll buy that Nolan Ryan has it. Overall though, while it's fun to discuss such matters again, this time with those who know better than anybody else instead just me and my old buddies, I can't say that I learned that much, but it's fun to watch anyway, and there's no reason not. And while, I'm not particularly thrilled to re-learn about the legend of Nolan Ryan, I am happy to known that there actually was a Steve Dalbowski.
HARRY & SNOWMAN (2016) Director: Ron Davis
Okay, you'll have to forgive me on this one, I have a fairly extensive knowledge, more than I would say the average laymen has on several different sports, even some obscure and less-remembered ones, but uh, equestrian is not one of them. I'm familiar with horse racing certainly; I've watched at least one if not all three Triple Crown races every year since I was kid, except the one goddamn year where a horse actually won the damn thing! (Frustrated growling sigh) And I'm knowledgeable enough elsewise that I could talk about it and discuss the sport with-eh, a reasonable amount...- well, let me put it this way, if there's something about the sport that I don't know, I could look it up and completely what I'm looking at. But equestrian, or show jumping you might know it as, yeah, this one, I'm not so sure on. I've watched it a few times over the year, mostly watching it during the Olympics, it's the only Olympic sport that actually involves non-humans participating in it. I watch it 'cause I feel like I have to and I should know about it, but I'll be honest, this is one sport that I don't quite understand. I'm told there's multiple disciplines, dressage, which I think is scored scorer to the rules of a dog show than a normal athletic event, show jumping, and a combination sport called eventing. I'm impressed at how well horses can jump, in fact, I'm impressed more don't get killed doing it; maybe that's just me having grown up on 'Gone with the Wind" and Christopher Reeve and hell, even that time Madonna fell off her horse and like shattered her upper body I remember being scared to death for her, and also wondering slightly what-the-hell she was doing on that horse to begin with. Riding a horse is hard, riding a horse fast is hard, riding a horse fast and having it jump things, seems very impressive to me in theory and even when I actually see it happen, but boy, I just do not get this sport. So, "Harry & Snowman" is not for me. I'm not saying it's not entertaining...- well, actually I am, and that's not the problem with the sport, but that doesn't help, but the story of Harry de Leyer and his horse Snowman, I hate to say this, but it's not really compelling for a feature film. It was made with love, sure, director Ron Davis was friends of the family and knows the tale, and he has a surprising amount of great footage of Harry and Snowman, the farm horse that he paid $80 for and turned into the biggest and most successful name in equestrian of it's time, and this was the fifties, he was big. He was on TV several times, he had fan clubs, people actually made money by charging kids to pet him, the '50s I know weren't the biggest time for sports like basketball or hockey, or even football, at not professional football at that time as they are now; the big three sports in the United States were baseball, boxing and horse racing, so the biggest star equestrian with a good mythos story, is probably a good narrative. It'd be the equivalent of a sixth-round draft pick out of college who wasn't a full-time starter, goes from unknown backup to leading a New England Patriots dynasty and breaks every Super Bowl record imaginable. That's what this is the equivalent to. But, even still, compared to, the stories of, say other subjects of famous sports documentary, eh,... I mean, Harry really felt a special connection to Snowman, and that's good, I guess. He even after Snowman's passing in '74 from kidney failure, after he retired, Harry de Leyer would still be a champion horse jumper years after decades after even, but the movie makes it clear that Harry was never quite the same after the death of Snowman, and the two, to this day seem joined together. There's a memorial and gravesite for Snowman, and Harry spends a lot of his retirement with the grave. It's touching, but I don't know if it's a movie. It's an interesting footnote in sports history, and I guess a big chunk of the sport of equestrian, but I suspect someday there will be a better and more compelling story within the sport that would make it worthy of a film. I just think this isn't it.