Anyway, I've got some things to figure out the next few days, so, let's get to it, here's the latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS!
THE LOST CITY OF Z (2017) Director: James Gray
I think I'm finally beginning to understand James Gray's aesthetic. His classic nature, his fascination with these over-arching narratives. The first film of his that I saw was technically "We Own the Night" a forgettable but classic-in-approach New York City cop drama. I wasn't much of a fan, and never quite got his appeal after that. He then did the interesting romantic-comedy-drama "Two Lovers" with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow, which I liked a little more, but frankly, I mostly remember that movie now 'cause of it's involvement in Joaquin Phoenix's off-field actions as he was doing his crazed Andy Kaufman-esque performance art piece and trying to become a rapper-thing during the promotion of that film. I know some who really enjoyed it; I thought it was okay, but not special. Before that run, Gray had only two movies in the previous 12 years, and I still have his earlier work, I mostly found him uninteresting and I wasn't quite sure what he going for. I guess there might've been some kind of Eugene O'Neill, family drama thing in his films, similar to say, Gavin O'Connor's work, but.... (Shrugs)
His last two films however, with the beautifully made and acted, "The Immigrant" and now this recent one, "The Lost City of Z", I can see what he's really going for now, these classic, sweeping epic historical melodramas, and suddenly his tendencies as a director and storyteller suddenly make more sense. His personal jounreys never seemed as interesting as the literal ones his recent characters are going on, and he's picked a good historical character, Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). So, Fawcett was a British soldier who took a job from the Royal Geographic Society, that's essentially the British version of what we think of as the National Geographic Society, and he and his partner, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) had an interesting job, they had to draw what would become the border between Brazil and Bolivia, and this was back when both sides were fighting over that border, and included among other things, potential tribal warfare.
What happened, is that he would go on several other journey South America, exploring, Amazonia, which is, essentially what you think it is. It was the name given to the vast Amazon Rainforest area before it was finally mapped out, in search of a lost civilization. Not, El Dorado, he wasn't a gold miner, he felt scientifically there was evidence that indicated that signs, of we know and now identify as civilization, existed in the Amazon, much of it, perhaps long before Modern Western civilization. Nowadays, to anybody who has even a simplest understand of the basics of anthropology, they'll tell you that they're, not at all by the fact that, yes indeed, in recent years, there have been lost cities found in the Amazon, remnants of civilizations past, with roads and building and pottery and other signs of civilization and whatnot, but back then, this was a fool's errand. They knew tribal life was around, remnants of pre-civilization eras, but building of a city, and early advancements of humankind, in the Amazon, he might as well have said he was going to find evidence of cheese on Mars.
Eventually, on what became his final mission, the first one he took with his son, Jack (Tom Holland) after documenting much of their journey north, as local legend seems to have it, he ran into some violent tribes, and him and his son been missing ever since, long-presumed dead. The film does follow his life as he made these traverses across the world to seek out this undiscovered world. His wife, Nina (Sienna Miller) is somewhat understanding, although they have a big fight at one point about why she wasn't allowed on the journeys, which, yeah, I know time periods, but totally a dick move, she would've been able to survive and help on expeditions, and yeah, the kids could been sent away for time during that period. She would've been better than some of the people who journeyed with him.
He wasn't the only one seeking out civilizations in South America, this was around the time that Machu Picchu was found, but that was the Incas in Peru, not Amazonias and the movie gets that aspect as well, and dynamics between those who thought he was onto something and were publicly excited for his journey, and those who felt his expeditions were fool's gold is shown here too. Reminded me, oddly of "Gulliver's Travels" as well, with all the coming back to England after each journey, only to set sail again for the distant continent soon after, sans giants and little people and all that, but this is essentially a film about exploration, one career, that's still around to some extent, but has sadly gone mostly by the wayside nowadays, but it rekindles that sense of adventure into the unknown. Overall this is a strong film and as a throwback to a more classical Hollywood epic, it feels like it could fit in, on a double feature, with maybe John Huston's "The Man Who Would Be King" perhaps.
"The Lost City of Z" is a wonderfully romantic look at some, more recent history than we'd think. I know if it's the coolest or most modern thing to be doing these historical melodramas, but I'm glad James Gray's doing them now.
THEIR FINEST (2017) Director: Lone Scherfig
From what I can tell, "Their Finest" isn't based on any particular real-life story, and if there's a behind-the-scenes of an actual movie being documented in the film, but somehow that doesn't matter as much as you might think. The story, based on a novel by British television director Lissa Evans, is instead, taking a little-remembered aspect of British cinema, and using it to showcase, the position of..., well, of creative and smart women of the time. Oh, she's definitely making some not-so-subtle points about the industry as a whole as well, but it is a curious choice. The movie takes place in London in 1940, and deals with the Ministry of Information, Film Department, who hires a local secretary, Catrin Cole (Gemma Arteron) as a screenwriter for their propaganda shorts that appear between double-features.
Yes, the propaganda shorts. Now, in America, I think we're more with the Cold War versions of these, those "Duck and Cover"-type shorts that were more supposedly informational, but I'm certain there were also some shorts in America as well, although I believe most of them, came, after our involvement in the war, and were mostly promotional propaganda to get people to buy war bonds. Early British Cinema, knowledge is a bit more elusive for me than I would generally prefer, especially in this particular area, other than knowing that Hitchcock directed a couple French-language propaganda shorts, that were mainly shown overseas, but I don't really know much about this. Which already makes this movie intriguing to me.
Then, the story moves more into a "Put on a show" kind of narrative, where she gets hired as a writer on a proposed feature-length propaganda film based around a home front story involving two sisters who collected soldiers and brought them back to shore after they retreated from Dunkirk. (I have a feeling, I'm gonna be learning a lot about that battle in the coming year or so.) Anyway, the Brits are trying to persuade America into joining the war effort, so among the ways they decide to do that, is through the cinema, so this story about two shy sisters who, don't get out their father's boat to bring back soldiers turns into a heroic tale about local British freedom fighters, going out on a death-defying battle on a broken engine'd-boat with an American reporter, an old man, an American reporter/soldier and a dog, are gonna bring in dozens of retreating soldiers under the fire of Nazi warplanes.
And there's several other changes going on, that they need her and her lesser-talented but more respected young writer Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) to work 24/7 on improving/changing/writing the script. The time annoys Catrin's husband Ellis (Jack Huston) an artist who's hitting his creative and critical strive right when she is, and neither seems to be willing to give up their work to support the other. (Although, to be fair, I think the point is that that shouldn't be an option.) The subtext is clearly how she's treated in the industry, how they basically want her, to punch up the slop, or the women's dialogue mostly, to make it seem, believable I guess. There's a lot of subtle sexism throughout the movie.
The single main subplot involves an aging star Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy) who has to take the role of an roughneck old man after his agent Sammy (Eddie Marsan) dies during an air raid and his wife Sophie (Helen McCorey) takes over and insists he get back to work, and not hold out for roles he was getting thirty years earlier. There's also some great supporting work from Richard E. Grant, Jake Lacy, Paul Ritter, and Rachael Sterling among others. The movie was directed by Lone Scherfig the Danish director most famous for one of the most underrated movies of the last decade, "An Education". that's the film that introduced Carey Mulligan to the wider audience, and this is by far the best film she's made since. It's a romantic look at a bygone era of cinema, but with a distinctly, modern, observant and dare-I-say, feminist observational eye.
A UNITED KINGDOM (2017) Director: Amma Asante
I should point out that I came into "A United Kingdom" with absolutely no idea what it was about, who was in it, any preconceived notions of any kind. I thought it was probably a British film, based on the title, but other than that, I generally don't look things up before I watch something anymore, so to find a story about an African Prince, or King, really, marrying a British subject was already a bit striking to me, on top of the fact that I honestly had no knowledge of Seretse Kharma (David Oyelowo) or his wife Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) previously, meant that I was caught off-guard a bit here. I'm not sure how the film will play to those more familiar with the story, in all other distinctions, the movie is basically your typical political biopic, with all the traditional tropes and speeches and whatnot, but it's a story I hadn't heard before, or not enough to know the details of intimately, but I'm glad I'm more familiar with it.
The story of Seretse and Ruth begins in London, where Seretse is doing his studies while his brother Tchekedi (Vusi Kunene) is acting as the regent to the UK for the country of-, um,...- what the- hold on, my usually astute Geography knowledge is being challenged a bit here, um, the British Protectorate of Bech-, Bech-quan-a-land, Bechuanaland. Apparently none of my African globes or maps go back far enough for me on this one, but this modern-day Botswana, where much of the film was shot. Anyway, these two met at a church dance that was playing some jazz music, and they quickly fell in love, and were determined to get married. Now the personal ramifications of this were bad enough, neither family accepted the others' spouse, and Seretse risked losing his right and privilege as King of his people. They democratically allowed him to stay, however, there was a lot of political backlash, that's too complicated to explain, but too simplify, basically, his brother was in bed with the British interests in the area, represented in this film by Rufus Lancaster (Tom Felton) and Sir Alistair Canning (Jack Davenport) who are our stand-in composite representatives of the British Government and their interests in the Kalahari region. Basically what you need to know is on top of the local racial and political tensions they had to overcome, this was back in the mid 1940's, that early, and right around the time that South Africa is enact Apartheid, which the British Government, in not in favor of, but they're still connected with South Africa for other resources. So, needless to say, they're not in favor of this arrangement, and that leads to several back-and-forths.
At one point Ruth is stuck in Beuchanaland alone and pregnant while Seretse is trapped in exile for years in London as he and his wife try to convince the world of their rightful place and travesty of the situation,- basically both sides are doing everything they can to break up the marriage. or else risk breaking up the country as it's currently standing. It's kind of a surreal situation especially for Britain when you consider a few years earlier they're country was practically split apart when their King got married and now they're trying to break a country apart for the same thing. Both sides are trying to play game in this cat-and-mouse, and it's not until diamonds are finally found in the area, and Seretse finds this out, crucially before the British do, do they finally begin to wrangle away the upper hand.
I don't know the real history of the Seretse's but I'd love to learn now, and have been since I watched "A United Kingdom", it's the latest feature from Black British actress-turned-writer/director Amma Asante who's well-known for the romantic historical drama "Belle" which was about a person of African descent having to mingle in an upper British society, so this conflict of race and within the political and socially-accepted norms of the British Upper Crust is poignant to her and she makes some fasctinating films about it. "A United Kingdom" had it been about somebody's who's story I know, I might've relectantly recommended it. It's a little formulaic and it feels like one-two many speeches are given as solutions, but overall, this is a story of two amazing people that I haven't heard before
EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY (2017) Director: Catalina Aguilar Mastretta
Every review I seem to find of "Everybody Loves Somebody" is basically some variant of the idea that, this is a romantic-comedy, but it's a good one. How far have we gone with this genre, this used to be a premiere genre and the majority of the time, you simply assumed that the film in this genre, was at least gonna be enjoyable or decent. There's such a backlash to it though, and sure, it's in no small part do to the predictable and formulaic approach the genre tends to take, and the lack of, really great films lately, sure, that's apart of it, but couldn't this just be a good movie, not have that caveat that it's, good for a rom-com?
I don't know maybe that's just me wanting to go back to the days when that was a more consistently better genre, but "Everybody Loves Somebody" is a fun little relaxing rom-com, and there's nothing wrong with that. Clara (Karla Souza) is an L.A. gynecologist by day, and, somewhere between lonely and batshit wasted at night, depending on the night I guess. She does also on the weekends, occasionally go down to Mexico to visit her family, who is of course, annoyed that she's not married. Well, she is going to a family member's wedding soon, and she ends up recruiting a fellow doctor, Asher (Ben O'Toole) to be her date to her younger sister Abby's (Tiara Scande) wedding. Of course, they sorta kinda hit it off and try to start dating afterwards, and the family likes him but they also the reason Clara is such a committment-phobe, Daniel (Jose Maria Yazpik) who left Clara years ago, and suddenly he's shown back up, trying to snake his way back into her life, and her family's who do in fact, still like him.
The obvious comparison to me, is that this is a little bit of a lighter, and smarter "Bridget Jones's Diary", story here, with a nice little twist that it's a nice little twist that it's an upscale bilingual story, that takes place on both sides of the border. It makes perfect sense that this character is a doctor in Los Angeles, that's probably a lucrative profession there if you can speak a couple languages. and I actually liked, in many ways, those scenes of those, with her patients, more than I like much of the movie. She is a good, interesting character to watch. This is writer/director Catalina Aguilar Mastretta's second feature film but she works quite a bit with television, one of the criticisms of the movie, is that felt a bit sitcom-ish at times, but honestly, I think this would actually make a good sitcom, that's not a negative to me.
I wish it had a more interesting story arc, and didn't follow MOVIE RULE #855: If a major character is a gynecologist, the movie's climax will involve a child being born, so rigidly, but that said, that's a minor complaint.
HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS (2016) Director: Michael Showalter
On Twitter, as I was watching "Hello, My Name is Doris", I commented somewhat jokingly that this felt film like a plotline from "Gidget", just taking place now. Alright, part of me, was going for the cheap laugh at Sally Field's expense, and to be fair, she's good in this movie, but that's like saying the freezer was good at keeping ice cold, she's always amazing. The movie, is cute. I don't know if it's anything great though, but it's got some moments. I certainly can't hate anything too badly that realizes how a plastic ball isn't an adequate replacement for an office chair. Field plays Doris, the personification of one of those older female office people who seem like the longest relationship she's been with is with her several dozen cats. In reality, she is recently grieving her late mother, who she took care of, despite some of her antics. Her brother, Todd, and his wife Cynthia (Steven Root and Wendi McLendon-Covey) want her to sell the house, or at minimum, get rid of all her stuff, and both she and her mother became hoarders. She has one close friend in Roz (Tyne Daly) an old hippie friend who goes to inspiration seminars to steal the cheese plates. It's around then, that Doris decides to try to start changing her life. Inspired by a new, much younger boss, John (Max Greenfield) who she has a crush on, and constantly finds herself fantasizing over, which is particularly awkward for those moments when she appears to just, stop. Some of it can be really JD from "Scrubs", weird at times.
It kinda works though. She scours his Facebook page pretends to be someone else he knows to see his tastes in music and such and they begin conveniently running into each other at concerts and such. Things get a little iffy when he realizes that he has a girlfriend, Brooklyn (Beth Behrs) and now she's trying to figure out how to both, get rid of her, and then, find her way to get him. I mean, this is a, fantastical relationship between a 20-something and a 60-something, but I think the idea is that, it doesn't matter what it is that make Doris get out of her funk, but that eventually she does.
Still though, am I that off the mark? This could easily be "Gidget", right. She sees some guy, gets a crush on him, tries to finds stuff he likes so he'll like her, finds out he has a girlfriend, so they has to scheme her out of the equation, then get him to notice her that way.... That's not a criticism, by the way, I'm just saying that it could be.
OUR KIND OF TRAITOR (2016) Director: Susanna White
I hate to make this confession, but someday, somebody's gonna have to explain to me the appeal of John Le Carre. I know, supposedly he's this great writer, the definitive writer when it comes to Cold War spy thrillers. but, I gotta be honest, I'm generally unimpressed when I see his work adapted to film. Whether or not they're good or bad is not necessarily the issue either, I like, for instance, that Tomas Alfredson version of "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy", the one with Gary Oldman, but did I love it, or any of the other adaptations of his work I've seen? Eh, I guess I love "The Constant Gardener", but I don't even think I knew that him, that felt more like a Fernando Mierelles film to me than a Le Carre adaptation. Maybe that's the thing, I don't think most of the adaptations are distinctive enough. Like, the first adaptation of his was "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold". and that was by the underrated Martin Ritt, the guy behind "Sounder" and "Norma Rae" and "Hud" among others. I'm not the biggest fan of him either, but I'll be damned if his movies aren't distinctive and memorable. Susanna White has mostly been a TV director for most of her career, and not a bad one by any means, but when you're directing everything from "Generation Kill" to "Masters of Sex" to her previously theatrically released film, "Nanny McPhee Returns". (Shrugs)
Maybe some will point to the script adaptation by "Drive" screenwriter Hossein Amini, but I don't know, in hindsight, I always thought that film also had a fairly generic, by-the-book script enhanced by a great director, a director who himself is notoriously hit-and-miss, but that's a discussion for another upcoming blogpost. Maybe it's also a bit of time having given me a more anachronistic perspective on him; he was doing it first and now everyone else has come around and copied him and done it better, so what he presents doesn't seem as impressive to me as it probably was then, but then again, "Our Kind of Traitor" is one of his newer novels, and it's not even a period piece; it basically takes place, in today's time period, and ironically seems more relevant than ever considering the state of current affairs the West has with Russia, and yet, if someone told me this was an average and forgettable action film, ten, twenty, maybe thirty years ago, I think I would've believed it.
The movie focuses on four major characters, a British couple, who are on vacation in Marrakesh, Perry & Gail (Ewen MacGregor and Naomie Harris) who are invited to a Gatsby-esque Russian mobster's place, and they begin to get acquaintance. The mobster, Dima (Stellan Skarsgard) shows them around, plays some tennis, and introduces his family to them, which includes some little kids, that he's particularly worried about. He gives a note that he informs Perry to give to British airport security a computer chip, who then contact MI-5, as apparently, lists the names of several high-levels gangsters who he's done the accounts for. He wants to leave the country, and more than that, protection and asylum for his family. The complication and the details behind this arrangements as well as more information about the Russian Mafia are mediated by Hector (Damien Lewis), which involves one elaborate act of espionage scheme involving a meeting in Paris between the couple and Dima, who've on one hand become friends, and the couple, who are both professional in the education fields, have begun to care and worry about Dima and his kids, but on the other hand, are basically how much they can trust him. They're not even really sure why Dima picked them to deliver the message. These mysteries don't necessarily get explained, either, not that they need answers, but, yeah, it feels like this is a forces coincidence, but that's probably the point.
I guess "Our Kind of Traitor" technically works, but I can't imagine why I'd ever go look at it again. I feel like the tone of something that's a spy thriller, with the filmmakers not realizing that the best tone for spy thrillers is the exact opposite tone of a traditional thriller, 'cause it's how well the characters seem unassuming and normal that makes their spycraft more thrilling. I guess that's why I don't feel attached to these stories, they feel so soaped in espionage as they are, and aim for that tone that it seems like I'm watching a style of filmmaking instead of a movie. I can see others filmmakers taking this story and making it far more intriguing, but if I'm just a get a traditional old-style spy thriller out of this movie, I can go and watch an older better one.
GOAT (2016) Director: Andrew Neel
If you know my stances on people who flourish in a "big fish, small pond" situation, it shouldn't be that surprising that I never had much use for the concept of "fraternities" in college, or elsewhere. (I'm not crazy about sororities either btw.) You'd probably think, me having graduated UNLV that this would be more of a party school, and frats would be a center of the University life, but actually, I'd probably argue, at least in my circles that it's the exact opposite. Yeah, there were definitely one or two obvious groups of just the kind of obnoxious stereotype asshole frats that you see in "Goat" and sure, I know a stripper or two might've worked an out-of-control party at a frat there, and they seem to regret it from what I can tell, (What? I live in Vegas, it's shockingly common for somebody to have a stripper friend or two despite myself, having never gone to a strip club.) but honestly, they were a minority presence. UNLV is a school for older people who've gone through life and are now trying to find a new career path. (I usually befriended most stripper friends 'cause they were classmates of mine.) And those who did party, I can't imagine had much influence outside of their parties. I mean, this wasn't Princeton or Harvard, no rich kid ever had to have strings pulled to get into this school, at least I hope not. (Although Toni Lahren's making me question that theory.) So, we surprising rebel against fraternities, and I'm fairly certain that unless there's a Girls Gone Wild camera around, there's nothing too nefarious going on there. (Besides, there's like a hundred nightclubs on and off the Strip every night, so why even bother with a stupid frat party?)
I certainly don't buy that for every school and every frat, however, and "Goat" is basically that nightmare version of "National Lampoon" that shows just how little fun there actually is in places like this, and just how, sadistic and sociopathic their so-called "Rites of Passage" processes are. The first look we get at the Phi Sigma Mu is through Brad (Ben Schnetzer), the younger brother Brett (Nick Jonas) a frat member who's showing his sibling what it's gonna be like. What happens, is that after he leaves the party, he's assaulted and spends most of the summer in the hospital recovering. After he recovers though, and begins attending Univesity himself, and afer some reluctance from some of the head frat leaders, they agree to let him go through initiation. Technically, they say they're not hazing them, but they're hazing them, and pretty sadistically so at that. Yes, there's a goat involved, although all the pledgers are also called goats by the higher-ups as they force them through several tortures and abuses that, frankly I would rather not talk about. Not that I'd be giving anything away, but I just don't want to talk about them, cause they make me queezy. Think Abu Gharib only less humane. Things get rough when one pledger collapsed on a running track and there were several bruises all over his body. Things were going out-of-hand long before that however.
The thing that really is at the core, isn't really the shit they do, but the-, well, every other review I see calls it "toxic masculinity" although I can't think of too many occasions when masculinity isn't toxic, but yeah, it's this idea of a dominant behavior, and groupthink in a small group. There's all these rules and pride within these fraternity, and this one in particular, they're jocularity run amuck, and what do they have to be proud of? And on the other side, these kids, who are ready and willing to go through life-threatening humiliations just for the opportunity to be in a fraternity. That's all I really think about when I think of shit like this and it just irks me.
There's a cameo by James Franco, in the film that apparently I completely missed, which is fine, 'cause most of these young actors, they weren't immediately recognizable to me anyway. The story was based on a Brad Land memoir, and based on real events, I'm not surprised there and was co-written by the director Andrew Neel, and curiously, David Gordon Green of all people, that director who switches between some fascinating indy slice-of-life pieces and lately some high-profile Hollywood stuff, that's mostly been comedic in approach. I actually haven't gotten around to his last couple films, "Manglehorn" and "Our Brand is Crisis", both of which didn't have particularly strong reviews, but I would've believed it if somebody told me that this was his latest, 'cause it does touch on a lot of his traditional themes and approach. He's good at seeping us into the insular world of his characters, and dramatically focus on people, with simple and limited goals and objectives, and seeing them, not necessarily being met, as they underestimate these outside influences. I don't know Andrew Neel's work as well, although I'm not surprised to find that most of it's in the documentary genre.
The movie that I keep flashing back to, in comparison is Richard Linklater's "Everybody Wants Some!!" it seems like those are two distinct movies about the entering college experience, and they couldn't be more different from another if they tried. Both of them, a depict a reality I believe, of the college experience, but depict the struggles of fitting in and joining and befriending a new group of buddies, and yet, Linklater's is so much optimistic and fun. Relaxing even. It doesn't not have strippers and partying but it a film about nice people who treat each other with respect and dignity. "Goat'" is about horrible people who use the power that a fraternity, supposedly brings, to treat others as horribly as humanly possible. One treats people like people, and the other,... well, like an animal, I guess.
DO NOT RESIST (2016) Director: Craig Atkinson
"The Policeman is the man, of the city... You fight violence but what do you fight it with? Superior violence. Righteous violence. Violence is your tool, violence is your enemy. Violence is the realm in which we operate in. You are men and women of violence. You must master it, or it will destroy you. Cop has a knockdown-dragout fight, cuff-them and stuff-them, he finally get home at the end of the shift, and- Cop says, "gunfight, bad guy's down, I'm alive!" Finally gets home at the end of the incident, and-..., the best sex I've had in months. Both partners are very invested in some very intense sex. There's not a whole lot of perks that come with this job, when you find one, relax, and enjoy!"
I wanted to write that down, cause I needed to be sure I heard that correctly hoping desperately I had misheard that. That line from a speech given in "Do Not Resist" was said by, the ironically named, Dave Grossman, and he was speaking at a Police Training Seminar. Oh, it gets worst, he's a former Lt. Colonel in the military, who's books have become standard essential reading for the FBI and Police Academies throughout the country. Maybe his rhetoric is more nuanced in his writing, but I seriously doubt it, and I suspect that his work should be nowhere near a police training seminar of any kind. "Do Not Resist" is a short but difficult-to-watch documentary about the militarization of the Police force in America. It starts with footage from Ferguson, which, seems so well-made that I can't tell what if any of it was actual documented footage of the events, or reenactments. (I'm leaning towards actual footage, and I'm sure if I looked it up, I'd find a real answer, but it's not relevant anyway) It was ironic, the timing of the movie as well, I frankly got into some heated discussion with some Facebook friends over the issue of gun control, and somebody was bringing up this point about how most police are former military, so they do, take to their job with the same guns-out approach that most military has. I'm not sure if his statistics were right, but after seeing this movie, it's clear that, the military approach has overhauled police in this country. They focus in on the obvious ways, for instance, how small town police forces aren't given money for, say more proper training or recruiting, but somehow, they manage to have several tanks on hand, along with several other weapons that would only really be necessary for SWAT teams. That's not to indicate that SWAT teams aren't useful, but I'm not sure Mayberry needs one. They certainly don't need a tank.
They do their fair share to show both sides of the conflicts, and there's police experts who are somewhat more reasonable in their analysis. One of them makes a smart defense about racial profiling for instance. Still, the pacing and tone reminded me of "Dirty Wars" another docmentary that was useful and knowledgable, but just ended up boring me, 'cause of how dense the tone of the filmmaking was. But, it's Grossman's work and words that stuck with me most. Mostly 'cause that's completely the wrong thing to teach cops. They're not supposed to combat with violence, ideally, they should combat with as little violence as possible. And there shouldn't be a frontier-esque approach to their work. Violence on the workforce, shouldn't be comparable to sex, and hell, perks shouldn't be a reason to be a cop anyway. Cops are supposed to be trained, sure, but they're not supposed to be active. They're defense, they're protecting and making sure their city and town is under control, and they come in, when things get out-of-hand. They're goal should be, to be as calming influence, that prevents a situation from getting worst. Preventing, absolutely a part of that, and if somebody is unwilling or too unruly to appreiciate the position that the men in blue hold, then, and only then, should they use the necessary amount of force, in order to prevent others from getting injured. It's defense, it's not military, and it's certainly not how police should be trained or how they operate, whether they once were soldiers or not. They're supposed to be the force that keeps the civility in the civilization, not the master of violence that tries to control civilization.
LAST CAB TO DARWIN (2016) Director: Jeremy Sims
When it comes to Australian films, I seem to notice, too major genres, the broad and grosteque comedies that seem to be about, breaking out from the expected traditional norms, or, they're road trip films, usually across, well, the Australian outback. The latter, I can totally understand and the former, I'm more of less confused by and just figure there's something about Australian culture that I just don't quite get. This is more of the latter however, so I appreciate it a bit more, for that at least. As a story, "Last Cab to Darwin" based on a stage play, is a fascinating character piece that told in the foreground of the right-to-die debate. The main character is Rex (Michael Caton), a man with, no real family and few friends, who's been suffering and dying from cancer for awhile, and he's just found out that he's only got a few months left to live. He's a local cab driver and after hearing about a doctor, Dr. Farmer (Jacki Weaver) who has prepared, essentially a death machine, in Darwin. Darwin, is about 1900 miles and two or three Australian states away, but he travels that much regularly at his job, so he figures that one last ride is worth the trip in order to end the pain. He leaves a will for his friend/neighbor/girlfriend Polly (Ningali Lawford-Wolf) and he heads off.
The rest of the movie, like most road trips, is the episodic journeys as he travels. He picks up a couple fellow travelers in Tilly (Mark Coles Smith) a charming ex-footballer, and Julie (Emma Hamilton) a bartender in an out-of-the-way bar who's actually a British nurse, who comes along to take care of him after he passed out at the bar originally.
I think the movie, kinda loses it at the end, after he reaches Darwin, and finds out some of the other hoops he has to jump through, and it, sorta begins confronting the moralistic questions, and I don't know, if they really analyzed it, that thoroughly. I imagine that, this would've been the more thoughtful, focused aspects on the right-to-die discussion at the forefront of the play, but on screen, the journey is more emphasized instead. I guess that's okay, but in hindsight, it does feel like a missed opportunity.
EMBERS (2016) Director: Claire Carre
I can kinda see the idea behind this, but, eh, it doesn't really work. Not as a feature film anyway, it works as an idea, and there's some interesting metaphorical stuff going on, there's some questions about the nature of life, and what it means to actually be human and living, but, ultimately, this feels a little too much like, a bunch of random ideas shoved together, which it kinda is. 'Embers" is cleverly titled, 'cause it's a story that takes place in a dystopian future where some kind of disease that has causes them to be unable to develop memories, so they're constantly in the moment and trying to constantly work out the situation around them. I've heard some people recall "Memento" when talking about the film, that's kinda what's going on, but there's no real plot or anything. These characters are pretty aimless, or at least, they seem that way as they try to recall and struggle through the decaying world around them, while trying to remember the past. There's a Guy and a Girl (Jason Ritter and Iva Gocheva) who wake up together in an abandoned house, and they spend the movie, trying to figure out their connection to each other. Are they husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, siblings? They're not sure, but they know they need to be together, until they're suddenly separated. We also see a little Boy (Silvan Friedman) who goes from person-to-person and seems to be able to connect a few things, and might actually be regaining, or at least, retaining some of the knowledge he learns along the way. The only character with a name, and a memory is Miranda (Greta Fernandez) a young woman who lives in some kind of hi-tech secluded area with her Father (Roberto Cots) and has survive and preserved her memories with him, but now finds no human contact with the outside world, deafening and considers whether or not she should go outside and forget preserving her mind, in order to seem more human. This section particular, is just a great philosophical idea, and it's all pretty well executed. There's about two other strained narratives as well, that float in and out, but that's the thing, just like their recall and memory, they float in and out and while that conceit leads to an occasional creative and good scene, after a while, there's only a few possible places this story goes and it goes basically where you think it will. This is, what I suspect it feels like, a bunch of short ideas that were sorta cobbled together. for films like that, eh, I tend recommend if I like, 50% of them, this one, I think is at 45% for me. I'm curious to see what Claire Carre comes up with next time, but for now, it's a better idea than it is a feature film.
COSMOS (2016) Director: Andrzej Zulawski
Somewhere in here, there's some movie that I understand and can make sense out of. The film seems to be aiming for something akin to "Clue" or "The Great Detective" but it comes like a surrealist version of "You Can't Take It With You" to me, (And while I'm not the biggest fan of the former films, I loathe "You Can't Take It With You", so, I'm not exactly excited to see things comparable to that.) I guess there's some Bunuellian undertones, I've seen some compare this to "The Exterminating Angel", but, I don't know; I don't really see the joke that way I do in that masterpiece. Of course, I'm not immediately familiar with the Polish master behind the film.... So, unfamiliar that when I complained about watching this movie on Twitter, I accidentally identified him as French. (Sigh) Oops. Oh, and it's particularly bad that I made that mistake, because he's apparently a Polish arthouse legend, and had just passed away, and "Cosmos" ended up being his final film. (Sigh) Double, oops.
Well, time to start looking him up. Well, he started as an assistant to Andrej Wadja, which sounds right, he's probably the most well-known Polish director, who has mostly stayed working in Poland for his career, but he's been controversial and has been banned a couple times for his subversive films, even once now allowed to finish a project. He comes from the literary elite in the country, his Uncle is a famous novelist. I guess his most well-known movie, to a western audience, anyway, is the erotic horror thriller "Possession" with Isabelle Adjani, and Sam Neill, curiously enough. It seems like most of his films have an erotic edge to them, but that's not the case so much with this, his first film in fifteen years.
I also noticed is that, he did quite a bit of his work in France, and "Cosmos" is technically this is a French and Portuguese co-production so, I wasn't completely wrong and it's, the kind of farcical murder mystery stories, but twisted in an absurd, surrealist way. In many ways, it does feel like a movie that might've been made some of the more cerebral Bunuelian New Wave filmmakers back in the mid-'70s, which I guess is an accomplishment. The movie begins with two fellow law students, the sullen Witold (Jonathan Genet) and Fuchs (Johan Libereau) and they stay at a guest to a Mme Woytis (Sabine Azema), who's an interesting kind of eccentric, at least, compared to the normal world I guess, 'cause everyone else is a bit of an eccentric as well. Her husband, Leon (Jean-Francois Balmer) is an eccentric professional who, throws Latin into his speech a lot, there's a niece with a cleft pallette, Catherine (Clementine Pons) there's a married daughter, Lena (Victoria Guerra) who, apparently Witold might have a thing for, and there's an unusual amount of dead animals being killed and hung up on trees and power lines and such. (Shrugs) I don't get it. I'm sure there's something I'm missing, but it doesn't seem to matter, since the movie is constantly double-backing upon itself as the two law students are constantly discussing and analyzing the events of the movie as their in the movie. It's-, it's weird. It's somewhat-Godard--ish, like, but, I just don't know what they're going for. According to Zulawski and his screenwriter Witold Gombrowitz, who also wrote the novel the film was based on, describe the movie as a "Metaphysical noir thriller". whatever the hell that is.
I think that's why was movie was bugging, I just don't know what it was going for, and it meandering so much that I couldn't really tell what I was supposed to take seriously or not. It wants to be...- I don't fucking know. I find myself just grasping for straws at this thing. Everything's important 'til it's not, everything eccentric, until they pull back the curtain,... it all just feels like a mess to me, and not in like, a fun, "A Woman is a Woman" kind of way, either, (Which actually is a Godard I already didn't care much for) It just feels like, here's idea! And they don't really come up with the rest of the thought. I don't mind a strand loose end here and there, or even a whole of loose ends hypothetically, but even a loose end has to make within the movie it's in, and I don't see how anything does, and worst than that, I don't see why I should care.
Here's to hoping I'll dive more into Zulawski's work in the future and find more compelling films out there. Right now, for his swan song of a feature, I find myself, well, like a lot of animals in the film, left hanging.
ESTEROS (2016) Director: Papu Curatto
It's hard for me to look at "Esteros' the Argentinean feature from first-time director Papu Curotto, to not look at the movie as a fanfiction sequel to one of the best Latin American films this century, Alfonso Cuaron's "Y Tu Mama Tambien". That's certainly not a negative, but the two movies share some themes. Two childhood friends from different backgrounds, who have a certain attraction to each other when they're ⋆young, but they're not quite sure what to make or do about it, grow up and reconnect, and instead of just having a quick lunch on a work break, they spend a little more time with each other and suddenly that untold tensions between them, begins to bubble up to the surface. (Yes, in this scenario, the older woman would represent the feelings between the two teenage boys. It doesn't completely work and there's so much more to "Y Tu Mama Tambien" but basically, that's what this feels like to me.) Matias (Ignacio Rogers) is now a biologist, who's a bit reserved for his girlfriend Rochi (Renata Coleman). They head back to his old hometown for Carnival and that's when he runs into his old friend Jeronimo (Esteban Masturini) who's now an artist. We see their friendship in flashback back when Matias would visit Jero's country summer house, for holidays and suchAt first, things are tense but, bottled up, but once nostalgia starts to kick in, their sexual tension starts to come to the surface. I think it'd be hard to argue that "Esteros" is anything greater than what it is, just a nice little tale of friendship reconnecting leading to other feelings, but I like that that's all it is, and it tells that tale with a lyrical confidence, and an evocative, but soft touch.