Saturday, October 28, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS #141: "PASSENGERS", "LAND OF MINE", "THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE", "GET OUT", "AFTER THE STORM", "SING", "RULES DON'T APPLY", "A MONSTER CALLS", "SAUSAGE PARTY", "HOW TO BE SINGLE", "WARCRAFT", "ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE", "IXCANUL (aka VOLCANO)", "LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD", "MISS HOKUSAI", "SEASONS", "MY GOLDEN DAYS", "MARGARITA WITH A STRAW", "BEFORE THE FLOOD", "OPERATION MEKONG", "THE WITNESS", "NEON BULL", "THE IVORY GAME", "DISTURBING THE PEACE", "LITTLE SISTER" and "BLOOD ON THE MOUNTAIN"!

(Yawning sigh) Yeah, yeah, it's been a longer break than I expected, and I had some unprepared things happen that left me more behind than normal. Well, hopefully, next week I can get back to just writing on the subjects I want, and believe me, with all the stuff going on in the industry I've started creating a backlog of ideas for commentaries that are upcoming, so as long as there's nothing else obligatory that I have to suddenly get too, I'm certain I'll get to them. Completely certain. Absolutely positive, I'll get to those commentaries next. (Sigh, shaking head, sad.)

Alright, well, I'll start by mentioning that the Geekcast Radio Network has started their Top 100 Villains Countdown, so if you liked my ballot, you can check out their podcasts at the link below where they'll count down the final results:

http://www.geekcastradio.com/podcast/geekcastradio/top-100-villains-part-1-100-76

Anyway, believe it or not, I didn't review every single thing I saw during this time period, so to go through some of the notable ones I saw real quick, "Horse Money" is an interesting Portuguese feature that takes place on a Cape Verde Islands prison, and yet seemed to remind me pace-wise of the work of Apichatong Weerasethakul. I got around to the Spanish rom-com "Gloria", which I thought was a good, serviceable variation on "An Unmarried Woman", that's probably worth looking for. The other big one I want to bring up is "Fireworks Wednesday", from the great Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi; like "About Elly" this is another one of his movies that he made years ago, and has only now reached American audiences, and I thoroughly enjoyed it; but it is one of his rare weaker films, but still more-than-worth looking up, and he is arguably the best filmmaker in the world today.

Alright, we got a lot to get through, so here we go. Starting with the Oscar-nominated features, "Passengers" and "Land of Mine", let's get to the MOVIE REVIEWS!


PASSENGERS (2016) Director: Morten Tyldem 

★★★



I can see why there's been a lot of negative criticism against Morten Tyldem's latest, "Passengers", but...- there's something here. There really is, and I'm not sure people are necessarily reading the film right. Every negative and most positive reviews I see, seem to be focusing in on the romance aspect of the movie, as though this is some, sprawling romantic epic, colliding with an incredible-looking stylized sci-fi film. It looks like "2001..." but it feels like "Titanic", or tries to kinda thing. As somebody who's never thought "Titanic" was any good to begin with, I didn't see the romance like that at all.

Let's start at the beginning. In the future, a company has started colonizing a new planet and now there's some hibernation pods taking a 120-year journey to Homestead II, to begin colonizing. We then meet Jim Preston (Chris Pratt), one of the travelers as he is awoken and quickly shown to his accommodations. It's then, that he realizes that he was the only one, of the 5,000 passengers and crew, to be awake. He woke up, ninety years too early; there's nobody else awake, and he can't get back to sleep, the machine's not fixable. About a year goes by, and suddenly, another pod is opened early, and another passenger, Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) comes out, and now, they're both alone, and awake on the ship, for the next, almost 90 years.

Okay, um, hmmm, so, do they fall in love? Well, they don't not, fall in love, although they first try and seek out, you know, how to fix the problem of their being awake, and in that respects I like that movie for the thinking puzzle that it is. This isn't just, two idiots who can't find there way out, they try and there's some logical thought to their actions and how they try to solve the problem, and there's actually some interesting ideas going on about what somebody(ies) would do in the situation.

So, there's a big elephant in the room, that I can't quite avoid, but, apparently, from what I've been told, there's a twist in this movie, that, let's say, wasn't in the original blacklist script of "Passengers" that's in the movie, in a different place, than it probably should be. And yes, while there's some amazing stuff in the movie, the editing is quite questionable, in general, there's some problems with the movie, and yes, there's a way to do this movie, as originally conceived, with this revelation, placed, somewhere else in the movie. That said, I kinda see what they were going for with this idea, but, yeah, when I think romance director, I don't think Morten Tyldum, which is a problem. A bigger problem is that, when I think sci-fi psychological puzzler, I also don't think Morten Tyldum. I don't think he was going for the former, however.  Nor was he going for "Titanic" in space, I think he was really going for something more akin to, "The Blue Lagoon". I mean, for all-intensive purposes, this is a desert island film, except the desert island is stuck in space, and that's not a bad idea, and exploring that concept of what one would do, if there were two attractive young people stuck in a spaceship for, seemingly forever, with no obvious ability to change, alter or improve their situation, then... yeah, I think hormones would act in somewhat nefarious ways, as would other emotions and behaviors. (And actually, considering the strange focus on gardening and planting trees on this spaceship, and not like in a secluded environment like in Douglas Trumball's "Silent Running" or something, like, planting trees, in the middle of this exquisite and amazing production design of a ship, I actually think my "The Blue Lagoon" comparison is more apt.)

Still though, the ending, and the consequences of that ending; yeah I can see people reading that the wrong way, totally. "Passengers" seems to want to ask us these moral quandries and then, back out of them. There's some great supporting work from Michael Sheen as a Shining-esque android bartender, as well as Lawrence Fishburne, who pops up near the end, like a keymaster handing us a new clue, (And there's a bizarre cameo of Andy Garcia, that's pointless-, I get the sense that something happened in the editing room of this movie) but yeah, the movie is well-made, but it's clearly off. There's some amazing sequences, especially involving the gravity on the ship going out while Aurora's swimming in the ship's pool for instance.- like, I think I'm gonna recommend it, as much for the stuff that's good, but also to show others, how a movie, could be so interesting and compelling in so many areas, and then still, kinda let you down and falter at the end, into some cliched, but admittedly harrowing action ideas at the end. It's clearly better in theory than in execution, but that might be why it's worth studying.


LAND OF MINE (2016) Director: Martin Zandvilet

★★★★1/2



It never ceases to amaze me just how many stories left there are to tell about World War II. "Land of Mine", the Oscar-nominated Danish film,  found one that I never heard before, about how German POWs captured in Denmark, after the war, were tasked with finding and eradicating all of the land mines that the German had buried on their beaches, all two million of them! Yeah, million! Okay, first thought, why did they put a bunch of landmines on the Danish beaches? Okay, well, Denmark is like 60% coast or something like that, so you're gonna put them somewhere...- Okay, that was obnoxious and facetious, but Denmark is mostly islands and coastline, but  anyway,  apparently, Germany thought that the allied invasion, could from that direction, and head south towards Berlin that way. Hmm... (Scratches head) I guess that makes some sense, presuming the Allied forced would be lead by England, they might think to go that direction, but as we know, it was inevitably led by America, so they hit the shores of Burgundy instead. I can think of another reason, if I remember "Number the Stars" correctly, Denmark was often how some, including Jews would escape Germany by taking a boat to Sweden, who remained neutral throughout the war, so putting millions of landmines in the beaches, could be construed as a deterrent.

Anyway, while it's easy to simply admonish all of Germany for Hitler and World War II, the movie does show that for the most part, these were young kids these POWs, teenagers, who are only recently begins to recognize the atrocities their country committed, and as to, tension, well, they're digging up landmines and disarming them. This is such Film 101 that I'm amazed this story hasn't been told until now. Literal un-exploded bombs, are at the center of the tale, and no, we don't know when these bombs will explode. And also, let's be realistic, two million landmines is hard to keep track of, even assuming you've got them all, there's still a decent chance you've missed one or two.

The film's episodic in nature and other things that happen, their commander officer, Sgt. Rasmussen (Roland Muller) at first is more or less perturbed by the position. He already doesn't want to have to be in charge of a bunch of German soldiers, much less kids, even with the added benefit that he doesn't care whether he lives or dies. But he does protect them from the worst abuse from his superior Capt. Jensen (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard), but I don't think the story or the narrative is what the film's about. The movie, is more interesting as a tonal piece to me. It's the aftermath of the most horrific and disastrous even in modern human history, and now we have to deal with the cleaning up of afterwards, making sure that the war doesn't result, years later in any more unnecessary deaths, and having to put one's lives on the line to assure such action, and to be constantly doing that, day-in and day-out. The sense of horror and dread, the fact that, the war, might technically be your fault, but your side's actions mean that this is the punishment you must suffer and overcome, if you can. It's a harsh way to return to normalcy, whatever that may be, but it's a necessary one, for all involved. It was that constant tension and worry that the movie's tone sets and keeps all the way through, that I felt was the real story of the movie.

This is the third feature film by writer/director Martin Zandvilet, his first two films dealt with celebrity and fame, so I don't know quite where "Land of Mine" fits in with his work, but this is a powerful tonal war drama that tells a little-known part of a war that we constantly think we know all about, only to find out how much we don't.


THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (2017) Director: Chris McKay

★★★★



"So, is this a trick that can be pulled twice?" was one of my initial thoughts when I heard about "The LEGO Batman Movie". Looking back at my old review of "The LEGO Movie", what really connected with me, was the way they took the ideas that kids would have while playing with toys like LEGOs and then elaboarated on them to create a commentary on a lot of things, society, the movie industry, etc. All, my review isn't really as well-written or organized as I would've liked, and has way too many reference to Pol Pot and the rise of the Khmer Rouge. (No seriously, I somehow digressed into Pol Pot during my review) I like "The LEGO Movie" quite a bit, probably underrated it to some extent in hindsight, but I thought the idea of a LEGO Batman movie, was a bit odd. Thankfully, despite the voice casting, I don't think these two films are that related. There's a few mild jokes and references to how they're all toys and are just LEGOs, but there's no Man Upstairs  or any other breaking of the third walls here; as far as I can tell, this story only takes place in the mind of the filmmakers. The movie is strangely more Batman than LEGOs. It pulls some different tricks, mostly in dealing with the Batman (Will Arnett) mythology and mystique and then, I guess, turning it on it's head? Maybe if I wasn't as familiar as I am with, just how rampant and bizarre these multi-universes idea of Comics is now, I'd probably enjoy this more, but the movie seems more like a parody of the superheroo movie genres and tropes than it does a sequel of multiverse of LEGOs. This is sorta like a PG "Deadpool" I guess? Except it's like super-inside? And includes every villain Batman's faced. All of them, over the decades. (Really, we had to include Condiment King?! [Sigh] I'd rather have Chuck, the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy)

So,  Batman, is a bit of a prick, although he's a lonely one who comes home at night, microwaves his lobster dinner, which, weird, and then instead of going out and being the playboy Bruce Wayne, he stays home and watches a bunch of relationship dramas. Then he adopts a young orphan, unbeknownst to him, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and Commissioner Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires, putting his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson), the Harvard-For-Police graduate in charge, ready to eliminate vigilantes from Gotham City like Batman, and instead institute more of a get-together neighborhood watch method of protecting the city. And in a peculiar turn-of-events, it seemed to work, as the Joker, and every other villain, seems to turn themselves in and is imprisoned in Arkham Asylum. Of course, this is part of a bigger master plan, for the Joker to trick Batman into bringing in, the greatest supervillains in all of literature to come down from the Phantom Zone and destroy Gotham City and Batman, all because Batman doesn't appreciate him and the Joker's (Zach Galifianakis) relationship, one of several relationship dynamics that are confronted during the story

I think I have a couple issues with this, that kinda hold me back. One, is that the movie is really making fun of the ultra-serious loner aspects of Batman. I mean, they make fun of a lot of Batman mythology, and I'm a little familiar with some Comic books trends and I'm aware that there are some, really twisted and disturbing portrays of Batman out there, that, I don't really think of or consider as Batman, at all, but in general, I like serious Batman. I don't get why the need to take it comical and jokey; have you seen the old Adam West "Batman"? It doesn't really hold up that well anymore. All the elements of the story, work when you take it seriously; they don't work when you take it and make him, asshole and stupid, but serious, yes. I think they're making fun of stupid asshole Batman, but then we have a comically over-the-top Joker causing havoc all over Gotham City.... Playing it comically isn't wrong either, but it just doesn't have the effect to me. Even with LEGOs, at least in the mind, to me, you're taking it seriously, even and especially when you're playing.

Maybe that's what's bothering me, to me, when I was young and running my own plush animal professional wrestling league in my bedroom, 'cause I play with cool toys, not LEGOs and action figures, I took everything pretty seriously. I made it as realistic as possible and I got more enjoyment out of that, and this was a world where Roger Rabbit and Snoopy would try to kill each other over a paper belt that didn't fit either of them, but you play along, with the rules. I tend to put these LEGOs in the opposite categories of playing, where the rules went out the window, and that's sorta what makes me sad when looking upon them.

I've also never bought much of the theory that The Joker and Batman were two sides of the same coin; that idea, has never made sense to me, There's reasons for Batman's actions, and in no version of the Joker that I like, there is reasonable explanations for his behavior, Batman is bringing things to order, Joker is chaos to me, so their combatants, but not much similar elsewise, so-, that idea, I struggled with.

I am being 'cause overall, this is a good movie, with interesting ideas done and shown well, and it got a couple laughs out of me, and it plays on the motifs enough for me to be entertained. It was directed by Chris McKay, who's most known for "Robot Chicken", which makes sense. I'm struggling to figure out where this fits overall; it feels like I'm at somebody else's house and playing a game that I don't quite know how to play, but I play along anyway, 'cause they all seem to be having fun. I guess that's not the worst thing, but, I don't know, that's fun once, maybe twice; I don't know how much more however.


GET OUT  (2017) Director: Jordan Peele

★★★★★



It's been a long time since I've been this infatuated with a horror movie. Hell, it's been a long time since I've been infatuating with any movie, lately, (I might talk about that some other blogpost) but yeah, "Get Out" is one of the sharpest, smartest and strangely funnest horror films I've seen in a while. It was written and directed by Jordan Peele of "Key & Peele" fame, but thing this is a straight-up comedy. There's some funny lines and moments, but this is good, true psychological horror, that truly had me worried and guessing, and had a point of view on the genre. One of the things that's really held horror back, is the lack of point of views from the filmmakers. They may have an interesting idea, they so rarely have an interesting perspective. They mainly spend their times, putting characters together in a room, and letting whatever play out, and usually they don't have much more of an idea than "put the pretty people in peril," or "make the pretty people suffer a bloody, messy death," or something along those lines.  Of course, we're not getting that with Jordan Peele, who's got too unique a perspective for a simple horror film.

For one, the movie takes a famous film set-up and begins to subvert it; the "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" idea. In this case, Rose (Allison Williams) is bringing home Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), her new African-American boyfriend to meet her upper crust, intellectual liberal parents. The kind who are first to note that they would've gladly voted for Obama for a third term. Her father Dean (Bradley Whitford) is a highly-accomplished doctor and surgeon and her mother Missy (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist, who specialty was hypnosis. At first, they seem eccentric but protective parents, although they do keep African-Americans employees as a groundskeeper, Walter (Marcus Henderson) and a maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel) which seems peculiar, mentioning how he doesn't like the image, but that their family friends. What' peculiar though, is their behavior. At a get-together with several other locals as well, it appears that everyone's behavior seems strange. Georgina unplugs Chris's phone, supposedly on accident, and when he runs upstairs for something, every guest suddenly stops talking. All of whom, rich white people, who try very hard to talk to Chris, and get to know, but mostly want to show how they like African-Americans without sounding racist about it. "I know Tiger", says one old man who claims to be a former professional golfer. One of them seems to be a wiser more aware old man, Jim Hudson (Stephen Root) who runs a museum and art distribution company, who's gone blind in recent years, but had heard about Chris's work as a photographer and treats him fairly well. The only other black man at the party,

I don't want to give away too much more about what happens, 'cause it's, it's- really well done, and the reveal is perfectly set-up, but not overly set-up, which I like. Some movies, even great movies, love to relish in paranoia, before inevitably, they're paranoia is revealed. "Get Out" does have it's paranoia moments, but nothing as strange as surreal as say Mia Farrow scrambling Scrabble tiles or anything like that. It's a movie that begins realistic, everyday fears and awkward, yet scary moments, that can, in a moment's notice, either be completely disregard and washed away as just a paranoia or can turn into a sudden life-or-death dangerous moment. Every review I've read of this movie, seem to talk about the opening scene, where a young African-American guy is looking for a house in an affluent white community and suddenly, there's a car that seems to be following him. I can think of some ways to interpret this scene, the George Zimmerman-type fears for instance that I suspect more African-Americans share than most of us would think about, although I suspect most people can relate to this scene, speaking as a white Caucasian male, we've occasionally those feelings of being in a neighborhood that's primarily not-white, maybe one you see named too often on the 11:00pm news at night, and let's just say that you tend to make sure your doors are locked when you're driving through it, and I think most critics relate to that scene on that kind of level; honestly I didn't find that scene particularly interesting to me. I thought the dynamics between the characters were interesting, 'cause walking along a quiet neighborhood, that's one thing, suddenly being in the middle of a scene that's clearly a group of people who's culture you don't understand and don't relate, and seeing them trying to relate to you on their level, and vice-versa, and neither one of them is ever gonna understand, that stuff is interesting in of itself, and can be done in a bunch of different genres, and focusing on the unease and tensions of that kind of situation to propel into a horror, nightmare scenario, is a really strong one, that's not done enough, and usually not done well when it's tried.

It's done incredibly well, here, cause it doesn't necessarily read or play as horror, and that fools us at every turn, which makes it incredibly satisfactory and when it finally does inevitably play itself out. There's also some good performances here by Caleb Landry Jones as the twitch drunk little brother of the family, as well as Lil Rel Howery as Chris's best friend, but the real accomplishment of the movie, is the screenplay by Jordan Peele, who has made-, this might be the most interesting horror movie, American horror movie, in a long time. Like, maybe going back a decade or two. It's already a bit of a throwback in style, it's a bit "The Stepford Wives," it's a bit "Rosemary's Baby", but in terms quality writing, and storytelling, and point-of-view  I can't stress this enough;- Peele, on the DVD talks about how setting up a scare in a horror, is similar to setting up a joke, which is true, but also, similar to comedy, horror, works best, when those scares have a real point-of-view and perspective and a unique one at that. And compare this to something like Amy Schumer's "Trainwreck", which is another movie that takes a typical genre, but sends it through a unique and singular perspective and takes something that's been boring for years and suddenly makes it fresh; every so often I saw on Youtube these stupid videos by people who don't know what they're talking about, about Amy Schumer can't or tell a joke correctly and focusing on certain shock value things, or whatever bullshit that was; trust me, she's being doing stand-up for like fifteen years, she knows how to tell a broke the normal way; what she's doing, is changing the structure to match her perspective. That's what makes "Trainwreck" so great, and in very much the same way, Jordan Peele, has done the same for the horror genre with "Get Out". He knows the rules, he knows the conventions, he uses them when necessary and then twists and subverts to his vision and his view of the world, to make a genre film seem fresher and newer than it has in years. Absolute kudos to Jordan Peele on this one; this isn't just a great horror movie, this is a great movie, period, and I'm more curious than ever to see what else he can come up with.


AFTER THE STORM (2017) Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

★★★★



I know I'm definitely very late to the party when it comes to the films of Hirokazu Koreeda, but I'm definitely realizing that this is truly one of the greatest directors alive. Describing his films is almost impossible, 'cause there basically slice of life pieces of poetry where plot and story are secondary to human nature. He tries to capture complex and confusing emotional struggles. I've known about him for years, his first international breakthrough was "Maborosi" a movie about a young mother who has to suddenly figure out what to do with her life after her husband's sudden, unforeseen and inexplicable suicide. I haven't seen that film yet; the first movie I saw of his that really got me to remember his work was "Like Father, Like Son", which is about two very different families, who have only recently found out that their kids were accidentally switched at birth and must now go through a slow but painful process of inevitably each family having to give up their own kid and learn to love the other as their own as they make the switch. That movie nearly broke me by concept, and yet explaining actual events that occur in the movie, would be very difficult for me. I don't remember specific incidents or moments, I remember this general overall feeling from the movies, even from his lesser ones like "Our Little Sister" which I only barely recommended, it was a film that had a similar undercurrent of struggling to adjust to a new situation, but the situation, was kind and peaceful, and sometimes fun. Honestly, I think it was boring because of that. It's not a bad movie, but....- I'm told there's a Japanese literary term that's often used to describe his, "mono no aware". I don't think there's English translation of what that means, conceptually, but it directly translates into the phrase, "The pathos of things." It's difficult to completely describe, but I think it's a term that reflects a gentle state of sadness as one becomes more aware of the transient properties of life.

I guess, simplified, it could mean a mid-life crisis, but that's just a flippant way of expressing it; I think it's more about living with that feeling of going about the regular day-to-day meanderings of life, while going through the everyday meanderings of life, and the sadness that that realization invokes. It's the inevitability that you can't feel the walls closing in, but that you can't push the walls back, 'cause if you push one, then another one inevitably pushes another way. (Shrugs) I think that makes sense. I know, in "After the Storm", there is a character going through a painful mid-life crisis, Ryoto (Hiroshi Abe), he's a novelist who had a hit fifteen years ago, but hasn't published anything since and has instead turned to work as a P.I. to pay for his child support after divorcing his wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and his gambling habits. Right now, he's broke, and has taken to living with his mother. Yoshiko (Killin Kiki), and we often see her patiently telling him to get on with his work as a novelist, and insisting he is, but her not buying it. He also asks her about his father a lot, who recently passed, but she moved on quickly, tossing everything of his away after fifty years. "How could you do that?" he asks; she retorts, "Fifty years of stuff was just laying around now." (Paraphrasing)

There's several other characters who come in and out as well. The title is a reference to an upcoming typhoon that everyone's preparing for, the latest in an unusually long line of them, and they've been destructive on the country in recent years, and leads to several in the house at the same time while they await for the storm to pass. You'd expect in a normal movie for this to be where all the conflicts get resolved, but it's hard to say that. A few things happen, but mostly, there's only the slightest change from Ryoto and everyone else. Things don't get better, they just, the situation just gets a little more tolerable than before, but those natural instincts of the characters still remain. "After the Storm" is reflective and powerful as it soaks itself in that feeling of mono no aware and let's in float in it with them. When it comes to Hirozoku Koreeda, I think the more powerful the emotions, the more effective the film, but they're all effective in trying to achieve that emotional connection. Here's he focusing on, ennui, I guess is the best description, a collective accepted sense of ennui. I like ennui, and I related to those feelings, so I like the movie. It's not his best, but, what he does is so difficult to begin with, that you gotta grade on a curb. Anybody can tell a story about lost love and struggling to defeat one's writer's block, few do that, with an emotional narrative instead of traditional narrative.


SING (2016) Director: Garth Jennings; Co-Director: Christophe Lourdelet

1/2★



You know, I don't exactly go after him as much as I should, but, yeah, there's a segment of Hell out there somewhere waiting for Chris Meladandri. For those who aren't 100% familiar with him, he's somewhat of an allusive figure, there's actually not a lot of material out there on him, but I think I'm not gonna disappoint too many people by saying in animation terms at least, he's probably the biggest hack out there. Well, I should say that he's most known for animation, but honestly, he doesn't have much of an animation background; he's spent his whole career producing in fact, and his career didn't start in animation. He's not illustrious as a producer; the pre-Disney movies he made, range from the forgotten to the forgettable, until he had relatively minor hit with "Cool Runnings". He was the head of Disney-affiliate called "Dawn Steel Productions", but shortly after his run there, he went to 20th Century Fox's, where he took over the visual effects department, Blue Sky Studios, which he is credited for turning into a profitable animations.

So, he got into animation, after he left Disney; so that's already an odd path. I'm sure he might've done some uncredited work on some of their animated projects at the time, but I don't know that for sure. Anyway, BlueSky Studios, has been relatively successful, especially with their "Ice Age" films. Now, Blue Sky has done some good work, but very little with his name on it, and the thing that's particularly noteworthy for some is that he's apparently the one that got the rights to the Dr. Seuss adaptations, and yeah, he's gotten a lot of ire for those films, and I gotta admit, Dr. Seuss, even going back to "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T", has never really worked on film, but he just seems to be the kind of guys who doesn't understand the right decision to make on a project. His most successful endeavors is probably the "Despicable Me", franchise, which he made under his own studio, Illumination Entertainment, and those films aren't bad, and the Minions are fun characters, but it still ssems that even when he does something right, it's by accident. I don't think he expected the Minions to take over, but it makes sense. There's clearly a tone involved with his films, where it clearly seems like he knows the method, and the notes to play, but he doesn't the understand the music.

Which is ironic, 'cause even going back to he pre-animation days, something that does seem to fascinate him is music. "Sing" is not the first film of his where the characters are going to put on a show, and music seems to be more important and relevant to his films than anything, and...- look I actually do think I get what he's going for, but,-, it's what he's going for that's kind of the problem.

So, yes, "Sing" is a put on a show kinda movie. It's main character is one of those theater producers who's down on his luck, a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), he's the worst theater producer in town, and he owes everyone in town, so nobody will fund his next project, which, instead of a new play or musical, is a singing contest. Now, it's advertised like it's some kind of "American Idol"-esque program; it even has a prize money, and to a certain extent it's like, but...-, well, I'll get to what it's really like in a minute. Anyway, the whole thing begins to go kaput, 'cause Buster accidentally promised more money than he had, and of course, other events happened to put a possible end to the show. It doesn't usually required the flooding and destruction of the theater, so I guess, nice touch in that regard? (Mock double thumbs up?)

We also get to see the lives and people of the other characters, eh. (Sigh) Okay, "Sing" has parts of it and characters that actually work. Like, Seth MacFarlane as this obnoxious crooner mouse who's a great classically trained musician, but is kinda like Sinatra meets Phil Silvers, and it just a complete conman prick, who happens to be a brilliant musician; that's a great character. He could have his own movie or set of cartoons; like I could write a bunch of great adventures with him, but he's not the star of the thing, instead it's the owner of the theater. Like, who makes a singing competition story about the producer? (Well, yeah, Meladandri's would've been my guess on that, so....) Now, I know, the obvious thing is to pin this as him, basically animating "American Idol" or "The Voice" or something, and yeah, he totally is, but that's not actually the main influence. See, he's clearly influence, by, 1930s musicals. Especially like early Busby Berkeley pieces; the movie that this movie more than anything reminds me of "Footlight Parade", which makes sense also, cause the animator who Meladandri's work most reminds me of is Max Fleischer. Fleischer is of course most famous for characters like Popeye and Betty Boop, but he was actually way ahead of his time when it came to combining music and animation, and he also invented the earliest known rotoscoping process, so back in his day, he would film people, and then animated the images he had filmed, but then he's put those images to music, and the music he used at the time, was, well, this was the 1930s, so he what at the time would've been modern jazz. Now, as innovative and important as he is, most of his cartoons, I'd say, don't particularly hold up well, other than for cinematic analysis only, some of them are pretty adult and surreal at the time too, but, you see, we were still writing a lot of the language of film, especially the language of sound in film, so his projects made more sense at the time, as progressive experiments in the medium. Fleischer was essentially documenting, the music of the day, by compiling and juxtaposing it with animated images, and that's essentially what I think Meladandri does. He doesn't make movies, but he finds some pieces of animation that intrigue him, as a way to then, essentially create this short sequences to modern music.

Now, two things, one, I'm sure there were people who thought modern jazz was the devil's music at that time too, but that music has aged pretty well, and secondly the modern music of today, most of it, it,- just doesn't fit with this process anymore. For one, Fleischer, basically invented the early concept of the music video, it's eighty years later, we're not intrigued by this anymore. If we're being completely honest, we're not sure how much we liked it back then, and 30+ years after MTV, the novelty was worn off. We don't see somebody trying to put new images to a song to make it special, we're seeing somebody piggybacking on whatever's popular at the time instead, and trying to make it cool for the kids, (or worst, trying to desperately pander to the kids) by having "Shake It Off" performed by a couple of pigs. Fleischer wasn't the most inventive or interesting storyteller either, but at least his approach fit in his time period. Meladandri's works, and instincts and ideas..., um, in this era of, so much animation available out there, just-, well, they just don't cut it. I get it, he's trying to modernize, what are basically the Follies and bring this idea to today, but there's such a lack of genuineness to his work, that even when it's sorta good, it's in one ear out the other. For what it is, "Sing" is probably fine. but I'm just tired of letting him off for "fine", but I'm not sure I'm willing to put up with letting him get away with "just fine".


RULES DON'T APPLY (2016) Director: Warren Beatty

★★1/2



Well, Warren Beatty is by no means, the first one to come to the conclusion that Howard Hughes's life and persona is so strange and mysterious that he's essentially open game for literary fiction. Mostly I'm both happy and surprised to see Warren Beatty back in movies again; I guess he's offcially off the blacklist. (Oh, if you don't know that story, I'm not sure I'm actually allowed to tell it, but, boy is it a good story! Like, a really good story. Like, "Oh yeah, you're getting blackballed for that, but that was awesome!," like, that kind of story.)   Anyway, despite that "Rules Don't Apply", is a bit of a frothy, dated mess that feels like it might've been a more interesting idea years ago, instead of today. Beatty plays Howard Hughes and the movie takes place within the surround world of Hughes. My family, actually has some interesting past with Howard Hughes, believe it or not; so, Hughes stuff does always fascinates me, and I'm sure that was the thinking with Beatty and co-writer Bo Goldman when they came up with this sweeping romance. It begins with Hughes still in Hollywood, and purportedly was still interested in making movies, and he hires a couple young people to work for him. First, one of several young ingenues he had on payrolls to supposedly be his next big star, Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), who he provides a paycheck and apartment and of course things like acting lessons and whatnot. He also hires a driver, Frank Forbes (Aiden Ehrenreich). a young religious man who even winds his way into Hughes's personal driver, among other positions. Occasionally these two cross paths and they begin to develop a sexual chemistry, of course, Hughes soon ends up developing a relationship with Marla as well. It's an interesting love triangle, although a strange one. Frank is more religious for instance, but also entrepreneurial and mostly wants to talk Hughes into his own investment plans, while Marla gets more frustrated as she becomes less actress and star and more kept woman. He kept a lot of women. And of course, Hughes, as we know, would start to really let his OCD lose it and become more of a hermit and more crazy over the years, at some point just buying and living in the Desert Inn hotel in Vegas, and yes,  I have heard several stories involving the ice cream before, they're 100% true.

Personally I'm on the fence on this one, 'cause I don't hate the movie per se, but it's a mess, and tries to throw way too many conflicts together. More than that, this is a piece of flimsy but fun historical-fiction, sure, but it mostly just feels like it's been done to death. Maybe it's just me, but after Scorsese's "The Aviator" I'm not sure we need too much more on Howard Hughes, even in a fictional setting. I can see why Beatty would relate to him so much, they're very similar people in hindsight, and have spent an unexpectedly and unusually long time out of the spotlight at the end of their careers after being omnipresent for the majority of them. Plus, a relationship within the realm of the world of Howard Hughes has a lot to live up to, and the two leads are okay, the acting's certainly good, but Hughes is always gonna be the most interesting person in the room, even when he's not there and not letting anybody in to see him or talk to him personally. The movie is bookends which some dramatizations of his famous last-known public address, you might remember seeing clips of it from "The Hoax" the biopic about fraudulent Hughes biographer Clifford Irving, and with a revelation that, yeah is basically a historical-fantasy more than historical-fiction. I don't know, maybe I would given this movie a break had it been made, in like the mid-eighties or something, and there's a lot to like about it overall, but I feel like this is a movie that's just too out of place and time. Hughes is just way too interesting in real life, that creating a fiction around him, just seems unnecessary and pointless.

Here's hoping we don't wait another couple decades for Warren Beatty's next film(s).


A MONSTER CALLS (2016) Director: J.A. Bayona

★★★1/2



I'm not actually sure what angle to take on "A Monster Calls". I'm not familiar with the award-winning children's book it's based on, so I can't really come at it from that angle, although the animation and special effects, are impressive and seem special at moments. I'm certainly not gonna pan the movie outright, it's too well-done for that, but I've just seen too many movies beforehand. Too many movies, read too many books, seen too many similar projects..., this is the kind of movie that's either gonna work on you or it's not, and I've just become a little too jaded over the years, or maybe I've just outgrown the narrative.

Actually, that's not true, I've never liked this narrative structure. Structurally, the movie that "A Monster Calls" reminds me of, is Tim Burton's dreadful, "Big Fish", which was also another that was coping with death, but through a storytelling device where between scenes of dying and eventual death of a major character, we'd get to see this fantastical images and stories, in that case it was about the past, (Spoiler) but it could've been fictional that, in a way, is supposed to help us deal or confront the inevitable emotion wrung of death. It's not saying much to say that it works a lot better here, but I still don't like this structure. I always thought the best way to do that was to make the images and stories in between to be experienced from the perspective of the main character, like in Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol", if all ghosts was just talk to him about Scrooge's past, you think it would've changed. No, the thing that holds the story up is the Scrooge is taken on this journey and forced to recognize his past, present and future.

Anyway, "A Monster Calls" is a classic British children's tale about a quirky young man, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) who's mother, (Felicity Jones) is dying of cancer. He's aware that she's dying, but he's not dealing with it particularly well. And to be honest, nobody really is. His mother tries to calm him down by saying that she'll be okay and other such lies, and the Grandmother (Sigourney Weaver, the best she's been in years) doesn't really bring things to reality as she's stuffy and stubborn as well, and her and Conor are often at odds. The father's (Toby Kebbell) mostly out of the picture. Oh, and he's the kind of weird kid who is constantly bullied in school. (Sigh) You know, just as thought, if for once in one of these stories, it was actually the sadistic bully who has to deal with this shit, and he's just a huge prick to everyone and whatnot? He's like big and buff, and an athlete of whatever,...- Just a different idea on it; that's all I'm saying. So, anyway, this gigantic Yew Tree from the backyard, starts coming to life at night and talks to Conor. Yes, a Yew Tree. That's the Monster (Liam Neeson) in the title. I'm told Yew Trees are medicinal in nature, and some of the medicine that the Mother's taking comes from Yews in some original...- somebody who knows about trees, comment section's yours.

So The Monster, demands that he'll tell three stories to Conor, in exchange one story based on his truth to him. And this is upsetting, 'cause he's surrounded by lies, so his truth is a little shaky to begin with, and also because he's not a natural storyteller, and with his mother dying and all, why would he be at that moment? But that's the deal, or he ends up, somewhere bad. Falling into the depth of special effects oblivion, I guess. I don't mean to be so flippant about the movie, but like I said, I can appreciate it from afar, but this is a movie that's only gonna work if you immediately connect to it, and even then, it's a movie that's mostly some elaborate metaphor for the death of a parent, when, frankly I might argue that the story of a kid just going through such a tragedy would've been interesting enough without adding so much more to it. But I'm sure I wouldn't say that if this was my first movie that was like this. This is the kind of film that's done in that dark, scary adventure way that kids movies used to be made; the kind where we'd fear the Monster until we inevitably befriend them. It is a good and important message to tell, and yeah, I guess there's worst ways to tell it. I doubt that this'll become one of those great future childhood classics that everyone will see like "The Wizard of Oz" or "Willy Wonka....", but I wouldn't be saddened to be wrong about that; I think it's more gonna have a cult appeal for some but, who knows, I've never been the best at prognosticating this. I still don't get why "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is so beloved. (God, I'm ripping on Tim Burton a lot in this review. [Shrugs]) That said, I can see people loving it, but to me, this is in the good-not-great category for me.

So, there's two trees, one of them says to the other, "My last leave leaf fell off in January last winter," and the other one says, "My last leaf didn't fall 'till February," and then this snake goes up to them and says, "I shedded all my skin last April." Then the trees stare at each other for a bit, before one of them finally says, "Holy shit, a talking snake!"

Sorry, I felt like I needed to end that on a joke.


SAUSAGE PARTY (2016) Directors: Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon

★★★1/2



Yeah, I'm sure somebody's going to Hell for making this one, and I'm probably going there with them, although considering the options, I'll take it. I'd rather be swinging on a star and carry honey-flavored mustard in a jar than be a fish or a pig, or a hot dog or a bun, or be that jar or honey mustard, or for that matter, pretty much any food one can think of. Of course, I know what happens out in the Great Beyond, the legendary place outside Shopwell's supermarket where all the foods hope and prey that one day, they'll be chosen by the gods to go to. The latest hallucinogenic-inspired piece of insanity from the writing team of Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg, is an R-rated animated feature, about food. Sorta in the same way that "Toy Story" was about the world of toys when no one was watching, or how "Foodfight" was about, the world of food, when nobody was watching, except, not that stupid.

I'll let you all know right now, that you're probably gonna figure out really damn quick if you're gonna enjoy the movie, based on whether or not you enjoy the opening song that the food sings every morning as their morning prayer. The movie, at first, focuses on the relationship between Frank (Rogen) one of ten hot dogs in a package who long for one day to be let inside Brenda (Kristen Wiig) an attractive bun, both of whom have been taught to remain in their packages until it's time to...- okay, you want the less backstory the better. Anyway, Honey Mustard, (Danny McBride) one day, comes back from The Great Beyond, after a God returns him, and he tries to warn everybody are some of the horrors that are out there for the food. Naturally, the don't believe them, and through a horrific and ridiculous series of events, Frank and Brenda end up out of their package and have to find their way back into the store by morning. However, Frank is concerned and decides to take a long way down the liquor aisle along with, new friends Lavash (David Krumholtz) a-eh, lavash ? and Sammy, (Edward Norton) who are exactly the stereotypes you're thinking they are, and are exactly why they hate each other, as well as lovesick lesbian taco named Teresa (Salma Hayak) who has a bit of a crush on Brenda,- anyway, they accompany Frank to see Firewater (Bill Hader) the leader of the non-perishable items who know the truth about The Great Beyond, for confirmation of Honey Mustard's story. Meanwhile, Frank's fellow weiner Barry (Michael Cera) a dis-shapened weiner has escaped from The Great Beyond too, and struggles to find his way back to the supermarket, also with information for Frank, plus, there's an angry douche (Nick Kroll) who's pissed at Frank and the others, because he didn't go out to The Great Beyond, 'cause he apparently knows what happens out there to him, and was particularly excited, and after he rapes a juicebox, he begins his rampage until he finds Barry and the others to seek revenge. (Believe it or not, the thing that most perplexes me is that I didn't know you could buy firewater at the supermarket)

This is one of those comedies, that's just on the borderline; is this stupid or is it clever? I mean, of course it could be both, but it's-, it's borderline. Does it have a point of view? Yeah, I guess so. Does it execute it well, is it well-made? Yeah, I can't imagine this being made worst than it is. (Oh wait, I've seen clips from "Foodfight", so, yeah, actually I can) I guess, there's certain parts of the humor, that I'm not crazy about. Rogen & Goldberg sorta fall into the same trap they did with "The Interview" when it comes to making light and fun of other cultures and people, although, I guess, doing it with food, sorta gives them an out? But yeah, their use of stereotyping for jokes, is a bit questionable to say the least, I'm gonna go out on a soft limb and say there's enough of a secondary and tertiary reasons with the subtext of the movie for it to make sense here, but a stronger connection and reason could've been made if they wanted to. I don't think they did though, and this isn't the kind of story you take that seriously anyway. "Sausage Party" is stupid, perverted, twisted, weird, maybe a bit too meta, especially at the end, although, how the hell it could've ended, who the hell knows, and god help me, I laughed and I like it, more than I should have.


HOW TO BE SINGLE (2016) Director: Christian Ditter

ZERO STARS



Oh my God, who's aborted "Sex and the City" self-insert fan-fiction did this devil spawn come from? Okay, well, it's based on a book by Liz Tuccillo, who was a writer on "Sex and the City". Oh, it gets worst, she co-wrote the book, "He's Just Not That Into You"! which was inspired by another writer's line on "Sex and the City"! Look, I love "Sex and the City", but let's think about this for a second, we have "Sex and the City", and now, one horrible "Sex and the City" derivative, "He's Just Not That Into You", which was also adapted into a terrible movie, and now, we've got a second level derivative in "How to Be Single". Which is a stupid title, 'cause, nobody who can teach you that, is actually single. Ugh! And god, this franchise and derivative of it, have not done well, and they shouldn't have, and this one might be the worst of them yet.  I mean, from the voice over narration to the four main women, to the fact that it's about single women in New York City;- this seems like it's pretty close to have been an expansion of a bad spec script, fifteen years too late. If you wonder why I think "Girls" is so revolutionary and brilliant, remember, this is how everybody else tries to remake it, and that's how Lena Dunham, turns it on it's head entirely and makes it something new and modern!

Are we even sure they're all even friends, in hindsight, I don't even remember how the Lucy (Alison Brie) character even relates to the rest. Maybe they went to college together or something. (I think I stole that joke from Tina Fey, and I actually think that's how she connects with the other main characters.) Well, Lucy, is the worst kind of single girl, the one who immediately talks marriage and is under some kind of misguided belief that the magical scientific formulas involved in online dating, will somehow lead to true love. And is also obsessed with marriage and finding a soulmate. How this guy Tom (Anders Holm) managed to fall in love with her, legitimately, I don't actually understand. Although it does make sense for me that she ends up with George (Jason Mantzoukas), but whatever, waste of a tertiary character who wasted other tertiary character's main plotpoint. Oh how do I love sitcom cliche, let me count the ways. Alice (Dakota Johnson), I'm assuming named that after "Alice in Wonderland", but I suspect that's giving this movie too much credit, is engaged to Josh (Nicholas Braun) in the beginning, and they seem quite the happy couple with great chemistry, but they've been dating since their college meet cute, and Alice now wants to wait in order to find out who she really is, and not just who she is in a relationship.

Okay, quick, what show is this stolen from:
A.) Friends
B.) Sports Night
C.) Community

Take your time and vote. I'll wait.....

(15 seconds later)

If you guessed "Friends", eh, not quite, this is actually more stolen from "Sports Night", but yeah, it is, basically the "Let's take a break" thing, and it always, always, ends in exactly the same most horrific backfire way it can possibly end. Oh, and-eh, for some reason, she runs into Robin (Rebel Wilson) a co-worker who's a complete party girl that, is the source of most of the best humor in this film, which is both a compliment and unfortunate situation. She's not bad here by any means, but you can tell, that she's basically just a punchline and a joke. At one point, I wouldn't have been surprised if we had found out that she wasn't real at all, just a figment of Alice's imagination. Alice also has an older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann) an OBGYN, who's only now decided to have a baby, and gets pregnant from an anonymous sperm donor, right as she meets Ken (Jake Lacy), who she has an instant connection with. Meanwhile, Alice spends about a year going through a bunch of guys, 'cause she can't live without being in some kind of relationship, and like...- what the hell am I doing watching this?

"How to Be Single" has some ideas in it, but it's so superficial about them, without any real depth, that I can't even understand where the idea came from by the end of it. I mean, one relationship on the rocks, another oversexual man-woman who's striving to get out of a relationship, one who wants to get married, another who is struggling with having an unexpected child, this feels like a thrown-away draft from "Sex and the City: The Movie", a movie that was redundant and unnecessary to begin with, I might add, and also sucked. There's taking an idea and doing something new and unique to it, and then there's just taking and idea and tweaking it a little, hoping the audience won't realize just how badly they're beating this dead horse. I think I would've respected the movie more if it just admitted to how much of a bad retread it was or just blatantly said outright who and what they were stealing from. (Well, more blatantly than they did.) This film is worst than just average bad, it's lazy and hackneyed and just such a trivial and outdated retread of a genre that didn't particularly work on film to begin with. The more I think about this film, the more I feel like, as a single person, my intelligence is just being insulted.


WARCRAFT (2016) Director: Duncan Jones

1/2★



Well, a lot of times, it did make me feel like I was watching a video game. Not playing one, just watching one. One I didn't like at all,  had no interest in, and most importanly wasn't playing, but the effects and the graphics, were often quite skilled and good, and often felt like they reasonable images I would come across, when playing a video game. I don't know whether that's a compliment to the movie or the game, but either way, I don't think it helped improve the movie much, but that's something I guess. Trying to figure out what the hell, the rest of this...-  w,ell, my "plot notes" are a bit murky, and most consist of self-portraits doodles of me fantasizing about cutting myself, so I'm gonna try to reconnect and understand this, deformed attempted "Lord of the Rings" clone, but I'll try to piece together in a way, that almost makes sense. Anyway, there's these humans, and there's this something called Orcs. There's also something called "The Fell" that's this uber-powerful thing that nobody should have because it's powerful, or something equally goddamn stupid. Anyway, the wrong person is apparently gotten control of the powers of The Fell and this means that Orcs and Humans, have to work together, in order to get The Fell away from this guy, and then, destroy The Fell, or put it back in Pandora's Box or something in order to bring the kingdom back to peace or something.

Honestly, am I even remotely in the ballpark. I know, I've never played the video game, I'm missing things that I'm not familiar with, and I'm judging an art form without being overly familiar with it blah, blah, blah, and sure I'm notorious for literally hating every film adaptation that even tries to emulate the structure of a video game, much less damn-near every actual video game adaptation I've seen. That said, I can't imagine anybody actually thinking this movie's any good, even by video game movie standards. For what I gather, this is a role-playing game, where you create your character and personality and then go out and explore this fictional world and essentially have your own experiences, in the fantasy universe, along with several other online players. So, essentially, it's,- oh God, it's "Westworld".  Ugh. So, apparently there's more to it than that, but essentially, what we're watching is, as far as I can tell, a fictitious world where, I as an active viewer, am supposed to be involved in, but aren't. This is like, so much worst than just a normal shitty video game adaptation really; it's basically just, a collection of cut scenes from a video game. I know, I'm probably the only who really hated both "The Raid" movies, 'cause they were nothing but actions, but goddamn it, at least they were really good action!

Actually, come to think about it, isn't this called "Warcraft"? Was there any actual warcraft in this movie. Some military strategy, some  thought manuevering, even with the fantasy element, that should be possible; that why I actually thought the last "The Hobbit" movie was actually, despite my feelings on all the other films in "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" franchise, a good movie. It was a great combination of unique action fantasy scenes and battle strategy. I remember there being battles, but I'll be damned if I remember anything remotely interesting about the battle scenes in "Warcraft" or any talk of strategy. As far as I can tell, it was basically, "We gotta bring these armies together," and a bunch of bullshit above a bunch of other crap that happens years ago, stuff that fits more into a Jane Austen piece than a video game adaptation.

I'm sure the actors gave good performances, but whether they were live-action or CGI roles, who cares? I'm not listing people who were in this. There wasn't a memorable character in the bunch, or a performance worth distinguishing, it was all just make up mixed with varying levels of quality special effects; the actors might as well have not been there. I don't know what relationship Director Duncan Jones has to the material either, he's the guy who did "Moon" and "Source Code", he's a psychological mind-bending thriller, this is fantasy, and worst-than-normal fantasy at that. This is that boring video game you stop playing, and forget to turn off and then the the game starts playing itself.


ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE MOVIE (2016) Director: Mandie Fletcher

★★★



You know, I wasn't crazy about the idea of American series coming back for a movie later on, but actually, now that that trend how sorta hit England, I don't mind it so much. "Alan Partridge" for instance, wasn't that bad, and now, "Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie", is okay. Not great, just okay, but then again, I've only got limited experience with the original series. I remember in the nineties, when through airings on Comedy Central in America, it became a bit of a cult hit here, but I never really watched it 'til years later. I'm actually a bit surprised that it took off here, 'cause it's a really British show. I literally can't imagine, even a modern-day American remake, remotely working. The joke, seems to be that these two BFFS, Edina (Jennifer Saunders) and Patsy (Joanna Lumley) have made their way to, somewhat respectable players in their own corner of the entertainment industry, and despite that, it seems like all they ever do is get drunk, buy expensive clothing, and hang around the house. Edina has a couple kids at this point, including one that's all grown up, but she pretty much raised herself from what I remember of the series. I also recalled that Patsy was an editor for a fashion magazine, so you can kinda see where they were kinda going for an exaggerated Anna Wintour-type with her, and apparently Edina does P.R. What exactly is public relations in the entertainment industry. I always tended to think of the position more as somebody who basically handles the press, but who the hell knows in this show. As far as I can tell, whatever celebrity even considers hiring Edina, is bound to get terrible P.R, because of her association with Edina. When she tries to pitch a new book based on her life, the publisher's aren't interested, 'cause A. it wasn't interesting, and B. she wasn't even particularly known for doing P.R. for the biggest names out there. I suspect that these two, worked backwards, and decided that they saw the extravagant lifestyles of the rich and famous, decided they wanted to emulate that, without, going through all the work of being/getting rich and famous, and then somehow stumbled drunkenly into jobs that sorta fit that image, but only superficially. I guess that's the joke, and that there's people like that in England, at least at the time the show was on the air. Like many British series, it's had a staggered run over the years, coming back most recently in 2011, but the show first aired in '92, and to say the least, celebrity culture since then, has changed gigantically several times over since then. I think it's easy to wonder if the humor is just outdated; I'm not such who and what they were originally satirizing still exist out there.

Like, onto the movie, where Edina and Patsy sneak into some red carpet event, in an effort for Edina to try to get Kate Moss to hire her for P.R., and instead, Edina throws her into the River Thames, and she's missing, and they needed that job 'cause they're broke, but now they're on the run, and everybody's wanting to get to them. This leads them, to the French Riviera and several weird scenarios involving everything from a draq queen kareoke contest to a "Some Like It Hot" scenario that's too ridiculous to describe, several revelations involving things like, how much money Bubble (Jane Horrocks) actually makes, and celebrity cameos, a lot of them. Mostly, I was confused at the notion that apparently Kate Moss and supermodels are, like still a thing in England, I guess, 'cause that trend died years ago here, but anyway, it's too ridiculous to explain, but "Ab Fab", was never a plot-driven show anyway, it's all about the characters, and how they react, very poorly and wrongly in most situations. There is a Lucy-Ethel dynamic to them that I always enjoyed, although, yeah, I think this fame-searcher bit, just a little too tiresome anymore, at least the way they originated it. Still, it's Lumley & Saunders, they're funny, and I enjoyed enough of it to recommend it. I'd probably recommend going back to watch the series first if you can find it instead, but still, I think you get enough of the material. Patsy & Edina end up in ridiculous situations they shouldn't be in, somehow they manage to booze and stumble their way out of it, and despite Edina's promises and Saffy's (Julia Sawalha) pleas, Edina only mildly sorta learns something, and Patsy, just seems like she's had more botox and booze than ever, and we're still not exactly sure how the hell they can afford to do anything but starve, but somehow they manage to survive disaster again and again.


IXCANUL (aka VOLCANO)  (2016) Director: Jayro Bustamante

★★★★1/2



It's recently started occurring to me that there is one major untapped artistic geographical area of the film world, that I suspect is just beginning to break out, and that's Central America. There's occasionally been a film or two from that area of the world that's popped on my radar, but now that I think about it, even when I took a Latin American film class in college, we talked a lot about, Mexican, Brazilian film, Argentina, even Cuba, but, I don't think we talked or saw a single Central American film, or discussed a filmmaker from that area. Mexican cinema has a long history, and went through a recent revolution with names like Cuaron, Inarritu and Del Toro breaking through into major world cinema masters, South America, especially Brazil's had a long filmmaking tradition, with their own version of a New Wave movement with Cinema Novo, and other countries have had a film or filmmaker or two who's made a known impact, but that little area in between gets ignored. I'm not sure why, although my guess would be economics; I've yet to see a movie from there that showed their country, in any kind of lavish light. The last movie, I saw, a really great movie too called "The Golden Dream", which was technically a Mexican film, but was about young Guatemalan teenagers as they made their way up through Mexico in an attempt to make to cross into America.

I've seen some others from Central America over the years, but I think "Ixcanul", is gonna be the first one that really strikes a memorable cord for me. It was Guatemala's submission for the Foreign Language Oscar, and it's the movie ever to be primarily spoken in Kaqchikel, which is the local Mayan language. You might also find the film under the title, "Volcano" which is what the small Mayan, peasant village is on the side of.  These people, they don't quite live in the old, old ways, but pretty close. Maria (Maria Mercedes Coroy) is the seventeen-year-old daughter of Juana and Manuel (Maria Telon and Manuel Antun) where they grow coffee on the side of the mountain. They also, still arrange marriages and Maria is arranged to wed Ignacio, but during a drunken night, she has sex with Pepe (Marvin Coroy), who she has a crush on, although more than that, he's about to leave for a little while to America, and Maria, is mostly fascinated by the tales she hears from Pepe of this other world far away from here.

She gets pregnant, which,-, it's a little hard to explain, but pregnancy, is very much, looked upon as sort of, both a duty, and almost a cure-all in this culture it seems. They celebrate the fact that their women are fertile, of course, they aren't happy that she's pregnant with someone else's child before their wedding. I won't explain, exactly what happens next, but there is a medical crisis, that climaxes this film, and it involves the entire family, having to travel down the mountain, very fast, some in the back of a pick-up truck, in order to get to the nearest hospital. It feels very kinetic, but there is a great subtlety in these hospital scenes, but these scenes place this movie, in this location, and explains everybody's place in this world, so well. There's no narration, if you're not 100% sure whether Ixcanul even is, I'm not sure people will know exactly where this movie takes place in, these are the only real scenes in the movie, where were confronted with the modern world, mixed with the older world, and this confrontation, during this time of crisis, is really well-done. It's basically the crux of the movie, we've been following in on the lives of the characters, and now we're gonna see, where they are, in conjunction with the rest of the world. It's only a large city, and I presume it's


LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD (2016) Director: Werner Herzog

★★★★★



The opening of "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World", begins on hallowed ground. Not a church, not a memorial, not a cemetery or anything like that, but in an otherwise non-descript science classroom on the campus of Cal-Berkeley, where in the corner of the Room 3024, stands a relic of a different time and a different era. It looks like a refrigerator, but is actually, the computer on which the internet was invented on, where the first message was sent from one computer to another. There aren't that many places in the world where one can legitimately say that the world where on this day or that particular day, one can claim that the world was changed forever, even fewer can one claim that this spot, or this artifact led to a modern revolution. It's strange to think about how, I have, this job now, that I couldn't have had back then, because that happened; around fifty or so years ago. Hell, I distinctly remember a time when it was rare that somebody had a computer, in their home, and it was especially rare for somebody to have a modem. And that 25 years ago, I can't imagine a time back when literally, the entire collection of people who could communicate with each other via a computer, could literally be made and counted and collected, into a directory, no bigger than a local, small town, phone book.

It is of course of no surprise to anybody that Werner Herzog would be fascinated by the internet, anything that dares to shape and conquer human or any other kind of nature (And vice-versa)  fascinates him. "Lo and Behold", is essentially a history of the internet and it's effects, and perhaps it's, and technology's future. It's an overall film, and episodic one; it's even divided into chapters. Some of them look back at the early history, I imagine that stuff will fascinate people like me more. Others might be more fascinated by interviews with Elon Musk talking about their Quixotic attempts to colonize space in the near and far distant future. Herzog saying that he would gladly volunteer to be among the first to start a moon colony, is possibly the least surprising thing he's ever said or done. Although when presented with the hypothetical that a machine could one day make movies, he's quick to point out that they wouldn't be as good as his, although they might one day make soccer playing robots that could be good enough to compete for the World Cup. Not today, yet of course but someday. (Right now, they could beat the Men's USA team. Yeah, believe it or not, rest of the world, we're surprisingly pissed off at that. don't be surprised if we  fix that in four years.)

He of course, has one family stand-in to represent "The Dark Side" of the internet, 'cause, unknown and unrealized to those legendary names like Leonard Kleinrock and Bob Kahn at the time that their invention might lead to such horrors that the web, or more importantly, the people on the web who take the technology they have available, and distort it and manipulate to perpetuate the worst of humanity. Herzog refused to show the clip of the family's daughter who's death picture taken by police at the scene of a car accident made the rounds on the Dark Web. (She was almost beheaded in the accident, and the family received jokes, memes, death threats, etc. There's a reason I myself don't like that dark web either.) There's other positive aspects though, like how genetics researchers turned genetic research into a game that helped cure disease by figuring out how diseases are diagrammed with DNA that everyone could play. That was ingenious. Still though, what Herzog most focused on was the human connection to the internet and technology and how that was forever changing human connectivity in general. And wondered exactly how close we are 'til humans and technology basically mold into each other. "One day, we'll be tweeting thoughts." one experts proclaims, fearing Herzog, and us, frankly.

He might not be wrong. I guess this information can be found elsewhere, but I like the way Herzog organizes it into this mosaic of the past, mixed with the fears and visions of the future and present. It leaves us in a state of wonder that propels to a state of meditation, which is kinda what the internet does. First we're in awe, and now we're forever linked, figuratively and possibly literally.


MISS HOKUSAI (2016) Director: Keiichi Hara; English Version: Stephanie Shah and Michael Sinterniklaas

★1/2



"Miss Hokusai", is another reminder for me that not everything in a genre is as great as it's best material. This is another anime feature, that frankly, I wasn't impressed with. That's happened more often lately, which is unfortunate; I tended to look forward, to the next great anime features that cross my path, but-, I honestly have no idea what the hell they were going for.  Apparently this is a biopic, about the famous painter Katsushika Hokusai, one of Japan's most famous and most influential artists back in last days of Edo. (Edo, is the ancient name of the city of Tokyo) I've looked up some of his most famous work, it looks good. Looks nothing remotely like the film to me, but "The Great Wave" is special and apparently his erotica is well-regarded and his  "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife" is noted for being an early influence on hentai porn. Which, the painting is a naked woman getting eaten by an octopus who's tentacles and engulfing her, so yeah, I can see how that has been influential to hentai. That still like a weird fetish to me, but alright. (Seriously, Japan, what's with the tentacle porn, fascination?) He's famous for several other works, and that's brought up in the movie. And that's brought up 'cause the film isn't really about him, it's about his daughter, O-Ei. She is also an artist, according to this movie, which is inspired by a manga series, she was also an artist and in many cases would take credit for some of his work later in life, including some of the erotica. She took care and crossed a bridge a few times, as far as I can tell. This is a big metaphor in the film, the crossing of a particular bridge a few times over. She meets people there, she sells or buys things there, there's anachronistic rock and roll music playing as she crosses the bridge, which...-, look I'm not against that, but I have no idea why they played that music in the beginning and I think in the end and no where else. I guess they're trying to imply that she was ahead of her time or something, but I don't see it. She seems very much a person of her time and place to me. I'm getting a Dorothy Parker vibe or something from her. She stays at home, takes care of her father, occasionally has a demon dragon that one of his art works created, or something odd like that. There's some out-of-body experiences she has, and she takes care of her sick sister, O-Nao, at times, she was born blind, and passes away young. She's a child of divorce...- I really don't know, what I'm supposed to grab onto here about her. Apparently she lived a long life and became a major figure in the early days of Tokyo, we're informed something to that effect at the end of the movie, and all I kept wondering was "When is she gonna do something interesting." The sister's fascinating, convinced she'll go to Hell when she dies; there's some trauma. The father doesn't pay much attention to her at all, and that's unfortunate, but I understand, he's a creative in a visual art form that she can't connect with and frankly, she has more pressing worldly concerns. "Miss Hokusai" though, I don't know why I'm supposed to care about her. I mean, I can look at her Wikipedia page and her art work, which only somewhat looks a little like the movie and make some guesses, but I feel like this movie fell into the trap that just because somebody's life is noteworthy and worth knowing, doesn't mean that there's enough material out there to make a compelling movie. They damn well try, but even giving this movie a break that I'm just not familiar enough to be knowledgeable about the subject, I didn't learn anything from this movie, and I really found no reason to care. Despite some good sequences and ideas, I can't imagine why or how I can recommend this. This was an episodic, boring movie that doesn't go anywhere and just leaves you confused when it tries to indicate that there was something special about it's title character.


SEASONS
(2016) Director: Jacques Perrin; Co-Director: Jacques Cluzaud

★★



There's something off about the French's approach to nature documentaries. Like, I can't quite explain it, but... alright, let me start at the beginning. Jacques Perrin is not your typical documentary filmmaker. For one thing, he's mostly everything else. He first received an Oscar nomination as a producer for Costa-Gravas's masterpiece "Z". And not like, how Tom McCarthy is an actor and does other work to subsidize his filmmaking, actor,; he's not the biggest name in France, but he's a big name. He's been working since he was a child actor and had been getting accredited acting work since the '50s. Now, his work as a documentary producer, correlated with his work in voice over, where's he's apparentely their Morgan Freeman or Richard Attenborough or someone like that. The first time I really recognized the name and associated it with documentaries was the groundbreaking nature doc, "Microcosmos". "Microcosmos" was one of the first movies to really document insects from the inside out; using really tiny special cameras at the time, we got a look inside the insect world with that movie like we've never seen, and it's an accomplishment. Perrin, was a producer and a narrator of the film, which amazes me, 'cause I don't remember a narrator in that movie. I've never liked "Microcosmos". I also never liked the first documentary feature that Perrin directed along with Jacquez Cluzard, "Winged Migration", which does something similar to engrossing us in the experience of insects that "Microcosmos" did, but somehow that movie was worst. I think it's just that the length was off; like I get it, it's insects they do insect things. It's birds, they do bird things, mostly fly, and that's cool, the videography itself is amazing. I kinda have the same feeling also with "March of the Penguins", which, was by a different French nature documentary, although I always think it's related to this group in some way. Now, in America we got the Morgan Freeman version of that film, I'm told in France, it's a little more, "The Adventures of Milo & Otis" meets "Homeward Bound', from what I've heard. Anyway, the U.S. version is probably superior, but there always seemed to me like there was something off about "Microcosmos" and "Winged Migration" in the same way, like yeah, they got great footage, but, it seemed like in another universe they might've planned out something more "Clutch Cargo" with the voices and narration.

For people who originally thought that, like me, "Seasons" feels like, confirmation that I might've been onto something. I get what they're trying to do, but, this is the kind of thing that I think can only sorta work, at best, and that's film a documentary, but sculpt a story out of the footage, to where it takes place in a different time period. Yeah, it's about the seasons, and there's a lot of great documentary footage of the animals in the forest, except in this forest, there's also, some hopefully well-compensated actors in tribal and caveman attire. Yeah, this is a movie about the beauty and elegance of the forest and the seasons of course, that's supposed to take place in the distant past. Like I said, they're trying to recreate, what shooting a documentary at that time, would've seemed like, but, no, this is really kind of stupid. I think there's just this strange idea that you can take any footage, especially nature documentary footage out there and contort it to a story, that the French seem to enjoy, but I certainly don't. It just doesn't come off for what they're trying, it just feels like, w555hat it is, you shot a forest, got some, in some cases, really amazing and compelling footage, and then, tried to shoved a plot together, with some kind of environmental Utopian fantasy preaching about the past, which, no, you don't see that in the footage, do an overlay, dissolve into the modern city, which is nowhere near where this forest is, and say that this forest we've shown you four seasons of, that used to be here centuries ago, and look now, it's a freeway or whatever. Yeah, this basically just pissed me off. It's probably more entertaining than I'm letting on, but it's a such a weird thing to do. You have great footage, just show a nature documentary. I didn't like "Winged Migration" or "Microcosmos", but I've liked other similar docs like, "Sweetgrass" for instance about sheep, and even still, those were amazing footage, why are they trying to screw it up? Doesn't seem to matter what season they're showing, they're little missing the forest through the trees.


MY GOLDEN DAYS (2016) Director: Arnaud Desplechin

★★1/2



I don't know what to make of "My Golden Days". There's a way to do this kind of movie structure, to keep it interesting, but this just felt like, some really bad self-congratulatory autobiographical storytelling. Pointless autobiographical storytelling. Like, literally, what the hell did all this lead to?

Like...-, okay, "My Golden Days" is the first film I've seen from French director Arnaud Desplechin, now I've heard of him before but only now got around to him, but I'm not sure I want to get to more if it's gonna be more of this kind of self-indulgent crap, but maybe I'm  not getting his tone or approach, but I'm not sure about that. He seems like the kind of guy who made basically variations on the same movie in the past about a guy who's basically struggling between two very unsympathetic roads he could've taken. In fact, this film is actually a sequel believe it or not, to an earlier film of his called "My Sx Life... or How I Got Into an Argument". In that movie, Paul Dedalus (Mathieu Amalric) was at a personal crossroads in his life. Now, "My Golden Days", who's French titles is "Trois Souvenirs et de ma Jeunesse", which, translates to, Three Sou-, that's not right. (Check google translate) Three Mem-, that's it, Three Memories of my Youth" starts with him, in the present day, preparing for a trip to Tajikistan 'cause he's some kind of famous archaeologist professor now and for some reason, he's flashing, to before the first movie, to three separate, who can tell, points in his adolescence (Quentin Dolmaire, as a youth), before the first movie.

So, if I'm understanding the structure of this film correctly, this is a sequel to a film, that flashes back to before the first film. (Long thinking pause) Okay, that's not entirely unprecedented, I can think of a sequel that did, actually do that, and a big one at that, but-eh, (Deep sigh) okay, we'll get to why this doesn't work in a minute. Now, what does he flash back to. Well, there's one interesting story where he flashes back to a road trip he made in Russia, where he actually sold off his identity to someone. This idea that there are two Paul Dedalus's out there, is sorta interesting in it's own right, and there's several directions that can go. Switched, mistaken and alternative identity stories are quite common in film and are usually a good way to develop a character and advance the plot. This is assuming that the movie has plot, or that this would lead somewhere, it doesn't. It's just another fragment of his past that he chooses to remember. Not the whole memory, but a fragment of one. There's also a couple narrative shoved together here one involving his struggles to get out of his home, and then there's another involving his sexual awakenings and the early days of his sex life, because, main character has penis, I guess. I don't know what I'm supposed to make of this, "Oh God,  you have multiple women wanting to have sex with you, and you don't know which one to be with, 'cause you had a somewhat difficult childhood?" I hate to be so blase about this, but this movie doesn't have Truffaut's grasp of empathy.

So, what's wrong with this movie. The scenes themselves in the flashback, they're a mess but they're not badly shot or acted or anything, but I get the feeling that "My Golden Dreams" is supposed to be some kind of grandiose epic reflection on the past, like, we're getting big revelations here, or we're finding out the things that we never did. I mean, structurally, it clearly is trying for "The Godfather Part II", that's the obvious big comparison, a sequel that proceeded in the future, but also spent a considerable amount of time on the past, before we first met these characters. However, another movie that does this flashback comparison thing, in a similar way, that I tend to compare these films to is Gregory Nava's underrated masterpiece, "My Family/Mi Familia". Now that's an epic that also flashes back to the past, and with each of it's reveal of new characters and story arcs and adventures that play out like family lore that's been passed down from one generation to another, and is a reflection of how our narrator got to be where he is today. This is a lot of "My Golden Days", it's personal reflection, except the problem is, those other movies were a greater reflection of the group of the characters and the family, not one guy. I mean, even a movie like "Cinema Paradiso", it's as much about the love and relationship the director had with this old blind man at the movie house, and even the Director's Cut of that film, the romance subplot is more woven in with that as well. "My Golden Days" like a guy reflecting on his past; it feels more like an old man bragging to us about how great his life once was, and how he overcame so much to get to where he is. Maybe it would help if I saw "My Sex Life..." first, but I seriously doubt it. This movie feels like it's inflected wrong. I came out of the movie feeling like I was battered by somebody's subconscious and electrocuted by their ego. It was somebody who did that, that was more interesting, than maybe I wouldn't have minded, but, I don't know, if those were Desplachin's golden days, fine, good for you. Now, make a movie next time.


MARGARITA WITH A STRAW (2016) Director: Shaneli Bosa; Co-Director: Nilesh Maniyar

★★★★



I've had more than a few friends of mine recently asking me if I'd seen "Margarita with a Straw", which is one of those movies that I actually had been meaning to watch for awhile, but kept having something get in the way, so I moved on to other films. I finally did get around to it though, and I can understand the attraction and appeal. The movie is a coming-of-age story for Laila (Kalki Koechlin) a smart, young, artistic Delhi woman who suffers from cerebral palsy. She doesn't speak as normally as some of her other friends with disabilities does, and has to use a wheelchair to get around. That said, she's smart and vivacious, and a talented artist; she even gets some gigs as a songwriter for a local band, and has a boyfriend Dhruv (Hussain Dalal) who's wheelchair bond, although they do manage to sneak away into, well, not a broom closet at the closet, but something that can't fit a couple wheelchairs in for some a makeout session. Like most teenagers, she's interested in sex, and she is pretty.

I'll be completely honest here and come clea, before I continue on, I came into this movie, completely blind as to what it was about and who was in it, and part me is ashamed of that, and part of me is happy I came in that way, 'cause,- I'll just up front about this, I didn't know who Kalki Koechlin was before this movie, so I did not know, throughout the entirety of this film, whether the main character actually had cerebral palsy or not. I've since looked her up, and now, I'm ashamed I didn't know who she was, 'cause I really should've; my blindspot of Indian cinema, really hurt me here, 'cause I know now that, not only does she not, but she's quite an established actress and quite a global one at that, since she is from India but is also of French descent, which makes her somewhat unique in her country, I'd even seen one of her films before, "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" years earlier; I never wrote a review of that film 'cause it wasn't theatrically released in America to the best of knowledge,.... Anyway, look her after you're done reading this. She is one of the most interesting people in the entire artistic world at the moment,  an actress, writer, poet, humanitarian, civil rights activist, spokesperson for some really amazing causes, just do a Wikipedia search, search for her on Youtube and such...- Anyway, I'm taking the long road to get there, but I legit didn't know if this girl had cerebral palsy or not, and I'm not gonna make an argument on whether they should've hired one or not, I know, that I totally bought into this character, and believed her performance. It's apparently based on the Director Shaneli Bosa's sister's life, so I wouldn't have been shocked if I learned her sister was actually playing herself in the role. So... (Shrugs) take with that what will, to me, it means that this is a great performance.

And it's a daring one. After graduation, she gets accepted to NYU, and despite her parents' objections, her motherm Shubnangini (Revathy)  goes with her to New York to settle into the unfamiliar surroundings, and she begins to take in the experience. She quickly has one friend in Jared (William Moseley) who helps her with some of the in-class assignments, and she ends up in a relationship with Khanum (Sayani Gupta) a blind desi girl who's half Bangladeshi and half-Pakistani, and eventually they move in together, and of course, her parents aren't completely aware of her bisexuality, even after she gets brought along to India for a visit during the school break, but yeah, this is also an LGBT film, and it's a good one at that. Honestly, you don't too many films dealing with the coming out of bisexuality, and the struggles that can occur when you're young, not used to being in a new relationship, and also have a partner who is gay. I can see movies going deeper into these subjects, but this is just a light, uplifting, positive character study; that doesn't let anybody off the hook, including Laila, but it's better than average at showing these complications in relationships when both people have physical and emotional handicaps they have to overcome and adjust to. The title comes from Laila's favorite drink to order at a bar, which, yeah, normally I'd pick at, because you're supposed to sip a margarita into order to get the salt from the rim of the glass, but Laila need a straw to drink, so I'll save that smartass joke for some other time. I imagine this film could introduce some in the west to a major acting talent in Koechlin and the film is, despite some cringing moments, a nice, light story, that, sure it has a message about CP and how not to berate the disorder, the film was produced in collaboration with ADAPT, which is an Indian disable rights organization, but I didn't find this film preachy or anything. There's a couple scenes early in the movie that make note of her disability in a less-than-positive light, including an egregiously stupid one involving a music competition, but those are very minor, and if you took those aspects and you didn't mention that was a movie about disabled people, and just said it was a movie about a young girl struggling to come of age through her sexual relationships, you wouldn't notice and you wouldn't care about the disability. This is a good movie, above everything else, based around some really great performances.


BEFORE THE FLOOD (2016) Director: Fisher Stevens

★★★★



Among his several other accomplishments, Leonardo DiCaprio has the position of UN Messenger of Peace for Climate Change. That's a position that might surprise some, after some of the stories and reputation I've heard about DiCaprio, I wouldn't necessarily think that climate change is a big concrn for him. He admits that his carbon footprint is larger than most, although almost every American can make that declaration. It's not like we're intentionally trying to, most of us, but it's a fact that one of the side-effects of our lifestyle is that, we basically do destroy our environment with our actions. DiCaprio has been a major advocate for protections against climate change for years; and yeah, sure it can come off a bit like he's some Hollywood lefty proselytizing; he even shows an old clip of him on Oprah from the turn of the Century, promoting how we can reduce our carbon footprint by switching to a different light bulb. He's not wrong per se, and sure I love those light bulbs, I've switched over, even if some stubborn members of my family haven't, but that's not gonna stop that glacier from melting tomorrow. (Although switching from meat to chicken to help stop the growing methane expansion from cattle, probably would help, and they don't point that out there.  The movie, "Before the Flood" titled after a section of a Hieronymus Bosch's mural "The Garden of Eartly Delights", follows DiCaprio as he travels around the world, studying and looking into all the efforts or lack thereof to stop the erosion of the planet. Islands like the Kiribatis that are soon falling into the sea, daily flooding in Miami that's being battled against by raising the streets of Miami to avoid the rising sea level and flood waters..., for about 40 or so years. The movie also shows DiCaprio on the ill-fated set of "The Revenant", which, sure, earned him that Best Actor Oscar, but it also required stopping filming in the middle to seek out snow. They had to travel from Canada to the mountains of South America to find a set that wouldn't be melted away. There's a few things and places that he goes to that I wasn't as aware of. I know, Greenland was melting, but I didn't realize that palm oil production and s corrupt government is destroying the Indonesian rainforest, one of only three that are left, which is probably more than I can say for the Coral Reefs. They also explain methane more than most.

There's also some fascinating interviews he has with some of the biggest world leaders. Obama of course, reminding me that this was made last year, and he felt confident that whoever came next, wouldn't reverse his work because reality would hit people quickly. (Sigh) Well, assuming the occupant in the White House is a person, of course. (Sigh) He also speaks with the Pope after he declared that fighting global warming was a result of human activity, a kind of declaration that's rare among popes, and he did it for climate change. DiCaprio is lucky, and he knows that others aren't capable of getting audiences with people like Ban-ki Moon whenever he wants, but I don't think that should stop him. "Before the Flood" is a reflective yet sobering and foreboding look at how screwed we might be after all the destruction, but how surprisingly easy it could be to shift our lives and improve it, but, maybe not stop it entirely anymore. "Before the Flood" might not be the kick in the balls that this country needs but it's a solid jab to the ribs and one of the better environmental docs in a while.


OPERATION MEKONG (2016) Director: Dante Lam

★★★



"Operation Mekong" started somewhere interesting but it inevitably sorta devolved into, if John Woo tried to make "Infernal Affairs". That's not necessarily a bad thing, and from what I gather, it wasn't anything that was unexpected, different or shocking from Dante Lam. It's the first film of his that I've finally seen, but Lam has been one of the most productive filmmakers around. Since he made his first feature film in '97, he's made 23 feature-length films, with a 24th in post-production, that's one a year. The fact that he's doing this as an action filmmaker is particularly startling. It's a bit unfortunate here, 'cause this film is actually based on a well-known disturbing incident called the Mekong River Massacre, where thirteen members of two ships were killed and dumped in the titular river, after a drug war in disputed land got out of hand. It is the most deadly single attack on Chinese nationalists in modern times.

You can look up the actual incident on your own if you want, although from I gather it's just as confusing, as the film, but basically, the Mekong area, also know in as the Golden Triangle, is a small area that incorporates, parts of Thailand, Myanmar and China that's a critical crossing point in the Southeast Asian drug trade. Apparently, for American audience to compare, this area is, basically if all of El Paso, and Cuidad Juarez were a disputed area. Basically, the 13 dead, are claimed by the Chinese government as collateral damage after a succcessful drug raid, but this is quickly disputed, and after an investigation, that leads to either two or three sides, I can't tell, each sending in spies on the others, as the police, and the vicious drug kingpins all try to get the upper hand in the war. That's a simple explanation, for, what essentially boils down to, a bunch of people shooting at each other for a very long time, with every bullet in the world, and they seem to manage to kill everybody but the people they're shooting at.

It's done well, and for a while, I was interested in getting caught up in this labyrinthian tangled web of cops and druglords, each turning and spying and killing each other, but eventually I just got more entertained by the action instead of intrigue by the actual event. I guess that's sorta on purpose though. I guess it's a lukewarm recommendation for one for one of the biggest-grossing Chinese films ever, but I suspect that was more, intrigue by the scandalous and notorious subject matter. I doubt that this well be the only movie made on the incident and certainly not the definitive one. For what it is though, I can quite pan it, it's too well-made and the technical craft work is pretty good. Not great, but pretty good if you just want to see a bunch of good action.


THE WITNESS (2016) Director: James D. Solomon

★★★★



"The Witness" is a peculiar for this documentary, a more accurate one would be "The Witnesses". If you're at all interested in modern forensic folklore than you've probably heard about the famous story of the movie's subject, Kitty Genovese. On March 13, 1964, Genovese, a 28-year-old bar manager was assaulted outside her Kew Gardens apartments in Queens by a burglad named Winston Mosely; it was one of several crimes he committed during a spree over a few days period. However, she was apparently screaming about her attack and lied on the street, and eventually bleed to death, despite 38 witnesses from her apartment building, apparently having seen the attack, but none called the cops, presuming that somebody else did or would have already. I've seen this story retold and joked about several times over the years; several cop shows and movies have used the narrative, it's become quite an infamous case. It's been the subject sociological pieces, and has been studied several times over; I'm pretty sure I've seen it come up in some sociology classes I've taken. It's the incident that coin the term, "Urban apathy",  and also something called the "bystander effect" a socio-psychological state where people, particular in more urban areas like New York City, are less likely to offer help to bystanders when there are other around them. The ABC show, "What Would You Do?" is basically a televised version of various experiments that test this theory out to the public.

Here's the thing, is it actually true? It was reported in the New York Times as such, but years afterwards, the paper had done it's own investigation and questioned it's own reporting. In the movie, we, for the first time ever, get a response from a member of the Genovese family, as Kitty's younger brother Bill, a Vietnam War vet who lost both legs during the war, decided to do his own investigation, the more he investigated, the less and less likely the Times' claims of 38 witnesses did nothing, seems pretty flawed. For one thing, there were only five witnesses who testified during the trial, sure, Moseley had confessed, but I would've thought there'd be more. Also, not everybody who "witness", well, first of all, was actually a witness, most of the witnesses, only heard Kitty's screams, they didn't see, anything that happened. Third, the part about the cops not being called, is also a complete lie; in fact at least two calls were reported in, but apparently, they were mislabeled as domestic violence incidents, not sexual assault and attempted murders, so, the cops weren't in a hurry to get there. Meanwhile, a few of Kitty's friends and neighbors heard the screams as she crawled into a building and even one held her in her arms as she passed, while trying to heal her wounds. The 38 witnesses who did nothing, is a very bad stretch based on names of people who simply heard the scream, and many of them, like some who were asleep previously, didn't know what it was and didn't see anything when they looked out the window. Like I said, I've studied this, and studied sociology for a decent part of college career, and this is a big construct that's getting eaten to shreds here, and disproven as completely phony. Working solely as a parable as oppose to, an actual event.

From these new leads and interviews, what ones they could fine who were alive, Bill suddenly decides to begin piecing back together Kitty herself. Her murder is famous, but not much else is known about her. For instance, she had a few boyfriends in her youth, and was apparently arrested for working for a bookie once. She also was a lesbian, and was in a relationship at the time. Bill was much younger than his sister and his family didn't talk much about after her death, so this discovery is essentially  a greiving process for him, as well as a learning experience, the ability to discover the sister that he only knew through this one famous incident, that turns out to, now, be heavily exaggerated. He makes one effort to talk to Moseley, the man who killed his sister, but he apparently won't concede to an interview. He remains behind bars by the way, and there's conflicting accounts on him, but I think it's safe to say,  that while he might have turned some of his life around, I think it's probably best that he's still in jail, where he won't hurt others.

"The Witness" is a real eye-opening experience. It's a fascinating slow-paced investigative piece that takes a significant story from modern history and show just how the demystify the legend that was inevitably printed, and finally reveal a less exclamatory, but more heartfelt and realistic truth. It's tempting to print the legend, but there's much more harm that can be done when one tries to create one out of this air.


NEON BULL (2016) Director: Gabrield Mascaro

★★★



It seems like there's only two real economies in "Neon Bull", one is the local rodeo, the other is the strip club. I hindsight, that's about all I can really remember about festival favorite Brazilian film, "Neon Bull", and the way I just described it, it makes the movie sounds like some kind alternate surrealist fantasy world, that might hypothetically exist in the same world as "Blue Velvet" or something like that. Unfortunately, the strange part of "Neon Bull" is that it doesn't particularly seem that strange. The movie is instead more of slice-of-life as it follows some of these characters in a northern Brazilian town, where they go from brushing the tail of one of the bull, right before they're about to go out and get pulled by it. Apparently, it's a major job at the rodeo. I'm not exactly sure who goes to this rodeo or who participates, the town doesn't seem large enough to be that invested, but I can't imagine this is an area of Brazil that attracts a lot of tourists either. The main character, I guess is Iremar (Juliano Cazarre) one of these rodeo workers, who works a night job designing outfits for the dancers at night, often incorporated some of the discarded tails from the bulls before. He's dream goal is to one day work making clothes at a factory as a seam-, seamstress? That can't be right. Seamster? (Checks dictionary) Seamster,- well, some say sartor? That doesn't seem quite right and tailor is-, well, tailoring is more specific than gender, it's a particular approach to sewing clothers...- I'm going with seamster. He does see a factory, but mostly he ends up dating the security guard, who also works as a perfume salesman, Geise. (Samya de Lavor). There's also Galega (Maeve Jenkins) another tailbrusher who works as a dancer, and travels around from place-to-place with her daughter Caca (Alyna Santana), there's some great shots of her buying lingerie off the street from a vendor with her daughter in the car as she tries to find performance-wear, working as a dancer at night too. One of the dancer works wearing a bull's head, which I think is meant to emphasize how bodies are, sold in this world they live in. The title comes from pouring paint on one of the bulls at night during the rodeo, as a show piece, and he's portrayed as the "Neon Bull". The same kind of exploitation is explored here through this troops of nomads who form this pseudo-family. I'm kinda going back-and-forth on this one, I think it's an interesting movie, paced, slice-of-life, it has some fascinating images that I haven't seen before, but the movie doesn't really go anywhere. It's aim I suspect is more of a recreation of what, might otherwise be documentary footage. Geoffrey Cheshire's negative review of the movie, offers a hypothesis that this was the kind of movie that he calls an "Emperor-New-Clothes Film" a movie that's popular on the world festival circuit because of it's New Wave-, well, this is Brazil, so Cinema-Novo-esque portrayal of reality in an otherwise remote part of the world, yet doesn't ultimately have much to say other than, these people exist. I'm paraphrasing, but I do see his point. There's stories here, interesting characters, interesting lifestyles, a different look at the perils of poverty, and the intriguing focus on appearance and the selling of the body for survival is examined, but it might just be merely examined. Maybe I'm a fool for barely recommending it, but, hell, the clothes they make in the movie look okay to me.


THE IVORY GAME (2016) Director: Keif Davidson and Richard Ladkani

★★★★



I'm not gonna claim that I'm some holier than thou animal rights activist; I'm certainly not; I mean, fur can keep you pretty warm, why not make coats out of animal fur, if the animals are treated respectively and humanely. You know, a lot of that, is, what it is, it's moronic PETA people trying to make some dumbass argument that animal should have every right as people, or whatever, or are more pure or important than people, blah, blah, blah. cow tastes good, and it's not like they're doing anything amazing like filing my taxes or something. But..., ivory? What in the goddamn hell, does anybody need ivory for? Seriously, is there any use for ivory that's not decorative? I don't even think people prefer ivory piano keys, not enough different between plastic and ivory piano keys for most to notice, anyway. You can't make anything out of the damn thing that would actually be useful or to serve any purpose, other than to say that you own something that's ivory, and to be honest, and I'm not necessarily anti-that in theory, but still,... why?!

Well, one reason, although the ivory trade has pretty much remained illegal and severely underground in America and most of the rest of the world now for decades, in China, it's still legal, and it is a thriving business. That's not to say their aren't restrictions, but those "restrictions" but-eh, they aren't exactly hard to circumvent. They might have a license that says they're conducting a legal business, but it's a black market practice run by black market means. 'The Ivory Game" tries to show, every aspect of this trade, and it's scattered, the movie spends significant time on three separate continents, but that's kinda the point. Ivory comes from poachers of African elephants, mostly East Africa, at least in this film, as they investigate a notorious poacher simply known as Shetani or "The Devil" across three countries. Apparently, him and his men are responsible for killing Satao, a legendary giant tusk elephant, one of, maybe 30 that remain, and he was killed and right by a National Park border, he was in a zoo. That mike shock some people, but I'm honestly not surprised. I distinctly remember this old National Geographic special on those militarized troops in the Kalahari who combatted against poachers and seeing, what some thought at the time, to be the very last black rhino, having been killed for it's horn, a piece that's, in some circles, just as coveted as ivory, and now, much more rare that is. I can't find that old special, but an inside look at the government resistance fighters is here too. Of course, even if you stop them, that still often leads a lot of ivory lying around in government vaults, and even if it's accounted for, if you're lucky, it meant next be seen, in some underground storage facility in China, along with millions of dollars worth or more ivory, that's stored away to be sold later. WildLeaks is the website where people turn in video and tips on illegal animal trade and practices. We see, some members of that organization, working together with some undercover journalists in China, as well as some unknown, and still unidentifying whistleblowers and sources, we get those inside looks.

What's most startling to me, isn't just how there's so much ivory, but that the ivory they put on sale, it's really beautiful. Especially the carved pieces, people work on this; talented people work on engraving ivory, some of the pieces are amazingly elaborate. I have to imagine that they can do this with something else, right? I mean, the talent is amazing; I know how difficult engraving, but, why ivory? Why illegal ivory, more than even that.

"The Ivory Game" probably is trying to do too much, in not enough time, and yeah, I'm not gonna pretend that I'm gonna be that saddened if elephants are taken off this planet; that's brought up too, how for many of these African countries, the safari experience is there big tourism trade, but you, that means having to works towards building a fenced country, so that, you know, an angry elephant might not ramshackle your home occasionally, but, yeah, not, not like this. Some of the footage of the massacred elephants is just depressing. The movie ends with the Kenyan government burning several of it's stored ivory that they've acquired through their raids. It's a start. An elephant is killed every fifteen minutes for their trade, at that rate, they'll be gone in fifteen years. I'm confortable having species die out due to environmental or technological advances or necessities, but, they're nothing technological, environmental or necessary about using ivory.


DISTURBING THE PEACE
(2016) Directors: Stephen Apkon and Andrew Young


★★★1/2



I swear to God, I'm not trying to watch all these documentaries about Israel that I've been watching, it just keeps coincidentally ending up that way. I mean, it's not like the nation is short of material for docs, there's certainly more than enough, but my God. Of Allah, if you prefer. "Disturbing the Peace" at least has the benefit of being one of the rare ones that's actually uplifting and hopeful about the future of the State; I'll certainly give it that at least. "Disturbing the Peace" chronicles the beginning of a group of Israeli and Palestinians called "Combatants for Peace". They don't take a side, they're not against either group, they're not even particularly in favor of a two-state solution, although they are shown protesting at one rally demanding it, but they're in favor of peace, and have convinced themselves that the only true way to achieve this is the land of the Sons of Abraham, is for the People themselves to insist upon it. (Shrugs) Well, I guess they've tried everything else, why the hell not.

Of course, in order to accomplish this peace, after centuries of battle, the big you'll need is the spread of empahty, which is coincidentally the one thing that the Jews and Israelis might have more in common than any other two groups in the world. Their past, present and presumably, future, are surrounded by violence. Death and sadness, spread across lifetimes and generations for both of these groups, ironic considering that both of them have basically been doing so, for that same inevitable goal of peace. It might be cheesy, but we see it here. One former Palestinian soldier, talks about being in jail and seeing "Schindler's List" for the first time, and amazed to find how much sympathy he had for those who he was earlier trying to destroy. And frankly, just people of each, eh, creed, just talking to each other and sharing their experiences and pains and sufferings; sometimes, especially with former soldiers, would talk about atrocities that they did, that effected the people they themselves were talking to. Sure, in, the wrong hands and under the wrong influence, that could lead to much more disastrous effects, but, this group wouldn't exist if that were to happen. And they're gaining influence in the region. There's a great scene, where there's Palestinians on one side of a chain link fence protesting, and Jews on another protesting for Peace, and the soldiers are in the middle supposedly to protect each side from one another, but, mostly to protect the leaderships, they find.

"Disturbing the Peace", is inspiring, but has a long way to go. This movie takes place, almost over a whole decade of footage combined, combining news sources and interviews and whatnot; I can imagine a future, say forty years from now, a retrospective on those who started the movement would be made, and a look back at all their accomplishments, would probably be more interesting. But, until then, it's to see something good happening in that region, and it involves people from both sides coming together.


LITTLE SISTER (2016) Director: Zach Clark

★★★



You'll have to forgive me as this is my introduction to Zach Clark; I'm not familiar with his previous independent films; "Little Sister". is his fifth feature film as a writer/director, although it seems like the majority of his work, he gets mostly for Editing nowadays. He edits this film as well. And it's cute, I don't know what else to make of it, but it's got it's moments. "Little Sister" takes place in 2008, and the "Little Sister" in the title is Colleen (Addison Timlin) and she is both, a little sister to an older brother, Jacob (Keith Poulson) who's recently returned home from Iraq and is now severely burned and deformed from the war and has been a bit of a shut-in, and she's also in training, to become a nun. Which, in of itself, you don't see enough of in film, but in this family, it's apparently really shocking. She's was a hardcore goth chick growing up, and literally, her being a nun is the most unexpected adulthood path they woud've expected from this young woman who loves modern underground art of weird 9/11 graffiti images surrounded by Marilyn Manson, and yet, she's constantly trying to please her Mother Superior, (Barbara Cramptom). while listening to Gwar on her headsets. Anyway, she heads home for an emergency, where she meets up with her family, including a stoner mother, Joani (Ally Sheedy, man is it great to see her in a movie, any movie.) and basically, it's your typical, coming back home and revisiting everything around you, from a new perspective. It's nothing more than that, which is what's most disappointing, but, you know, I'm just gonna slightly recommend it anyway. I suspect there's a more interesting story to be told about this kind of character, 'cause I actually do know some people who went from real goth to real religious in adulthood, but, eh, I wish it dived into it more.


BLOOD ON THE MOUNTAIN (2016) Director: Mari-Lynn C. Evans; Co-Director: Jordan Freeman

★★★★1/2



There's an old saying; I don't know where it comes from exactly, but I give credit to my old Sociology professor Carlo DeFazio for it; he use to say, "As the need to believe increases, the ability to see fact from fiction, decreases." What does that mean? That means, the more one needs something to be true, the more likely they will overlook obvious signs that their truth is in fact a falsehood, even when clear-cut indisputable evidence is presented right in front of them. There's so many, many things this can apply to in the general public consciousness at the moment, but the one I'm discussing is of course, coal. Coal country, West Virginia, a state that's nicknamed "The Mountain State" as has spent, literally almost it's existence, basically getting screwed over time and time again, but this one dying industry, that frankly, needs to die quicker. That might be a harsh thing to say, there's a lot of coal mining still in this country, and communities and in places like West Virginia or Kentucky even, everything is based around the industry. It's both their lifeline, and probably, inevitably the cause of their death.

"Blood on the Mountain" is an educational history lesson about coal mining in the Appalachias of West Virginia, and the title's not metaphorical. People don't remember, or in some cases, don't know the fights that had to happen, just for the simplest pieces of, humanity, in some cases. People go down into the mines and die, maybe not immediately, but eventually by breathing in all the coal, they get black lung, sometimes the remnants seep into the town's water supply, sometimes it gets into the air. The executives like to try to blame environmentalists for their over-reactions and want to push their agenda that coal is of course, safe. Yeah, I don't care what you're doing if you're blowing up a mountaintop, the last thing this place truly is, is safe. And forget the fact that, none of the mines seem to be safe anyway, as there seems to be a new cave in or some other disaster that leads to dead miners who shouldn't be dead, but because they twisted the arm of the safety inspectors, they end up putting those miners in more disastrous conditions to work.

When it comes to documentaries about coal mining communities, it's always gonna be difficult to knock off Barbara Kopple's masterpiece, "Harlan Country, U.S.A.", and to be fair, I don't think "Blood on the Mountain"'s aiming for that. I think it's more informational than that. It's looking to place the modern events into a historical perspective, one that's desperately needed. It's bad enough that they've destroyed the state's resources, human and otherwise, but they've so monopolized the area, that for the time being, it's just gonna get continuously worst because there's just nothing to replace the industry at the moment. It's a community of people, brought up, taught, and trained for one job and one job only, to work in the coal mines. You wonder why they don't leave, but I get it. It would be admitting defeat, and the answer shouldn't be to go somewhere else, it should be, to make where they are better.

Well, I wish the people of West Virginia luck tilting at that windmill. I'd wish them more, but honestly, based on, some other outliers, they seem just as likely, if not moreso to hitch their last wagon to the coal company. They go to the family get-togethers, they go to the company-produced and sponsored picnics, and they try force themselves to believe that everything is all right, while the owners of their company's get richer and richer, and smother themselves in the flag, and blind you Ted Nugent concerts or whomever they can wrangle together, instead of spending extra money to, make the miners' job a little safer. It's not like they much choice or options, they have to believe it'll get better, 'cause that's the only option they've got and they know.

That's specifically why movies like "Blood on the Mountain" are important.








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