Sunday, April 1, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS #146: "ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL", "LOGAN LUCKY", "A QUIET PASSION", "OKJA", "CRIES FROM SYRIA", "JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND - FEATURING A VERY SPECIAL CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED MENTION OF TONY CLIFTON", "THE LOVERS", "STAYING VERTICAL", "SHIN GODZILLA", "NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU", and "SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY"

Sooooo, I started a new blog. I mentioned I would be going through a rebranding with this blog, and that's exactly what's going on. I thought about a few ways to go about this, and the process has officially started.

https://thenotafan.blogspot.com/

That's the site, and if you go to it, you'll see nothing, not even a post on there. Don't worry, it's still in the beginning design stages, I don't even is this is gonna be the look; but slowly-but-surely, I'm gonna be transferring this blog, over to "The Not-A-Fan". I'm predicting that, by the end of the year, it'll be complete and I'll be promoting and advising people as there's progress. It won't be the only blog though, 'cause I'm also gonna be creating a page that will only carry my film reviews, and unlike say this post, each film will get it's own singular review post, as oppose to, me dumping a dozen or two film reviews on you like this. Now, I'll still do that, but I'm creating the section on a separate website, and I might be doing the same for the Canon of Film, but I'm not positive on that yet, so don't hold me to that one. For those, that are curious about the name, well, I declared awhile ago that I was "Not A Fan," and don't come at entertainment with a fan's perspective, which wasn't just a perfect declaration of my point of view on cinema, but, was also, a good description of what I want the film of this blog to represent; if it doesn't already. (Shrugs) Hey, if gonna hang myself on a rope, I might as well swing on it too, so.... There we go. I'll be updating and changing and redesigning that blog, and eventually the separate Reviews blog, regularly, so if you want to keep an eye out you can, but I'd been doing this for thousands of reviews, not to mentions hundreds of blogposts, this will take awhile, no matter how I go about this, so..., we'll see. I promised it was coming, and it is.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, eh, a few older movies that I didn't review, eh, I finally got around to "Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones", yes, I never watched the Prequels, since they're "Star Wars", I figured that they weren't important or culturally relevant enough at the time to go seek them out.  I'm not wrong about that btw, but too many are insistent that I am, so I got to "The Phantom Menace" awhile back; I didn't hate it. Didn't love it or anything, but it's entertaining; it's fine. "Attack of the Clones", eh, actually is kinda bad. It's a mess, it's boring, C3PO has some really bad jokes that I probably would've rather just heard from Jar Jar Binks instead of him. It's not good. It's got some entertaining moments and scenes here and there, but no, this one I can kinda understand the angst and backlash to it. I also saw "A Handful of Dust" it's a British period piece from the '80s based off of a famous Evelyn Waugh novel. Eh, this one's kinda forgettable more than anything. Compared to say, a good Merchant-Ivory film, I can totally understand why this one's kinda forgettable. Maybe if I had more knowledge of the work, I might appreciate it a little more, but-eh, I think it kinda got lost in adaptation. I got finally got around to "The Warlords", the sprawling historical war epic from China. It's based on the Assassination of General Ma during the Qing Dynasty, which, okay, I'm not a Chinese historian, but to me the appeal is that this is a good classic, sprawling epic war movie, like something Classic Hollywood would've made, and I appreciated it, even if I had trouble following it. I always watched "Monkey Kingdom", it's a Disney documentary about monkeys. (Sigh) I really don't get why Disney suddenly decided to reopen their DisneyNature Documentary Branch division, but-eh, that was their one about monkeys. Tina Fey does the voiceover, it actually starts with "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees", not kidding. (Shrugs) You know, I used to love "The Living Desert" when I was a kid; I don't think these latest docs get why those Disney docs from before were so appealing. Just a theory.

Alright, Happy Easter, Happy April Fools Day; try not to get those two Holidays confused, you could piss off a rabbit, and let's get to the reviews!



ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL (2017) Director: Steve James

★★★★

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Leave it to Steve James to find what might be the one last true George Bailey there is in the world. It's an easy comparison to make, but yeah, you can't help but think about it and James makes it a few times over "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail" which details the trial of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the only financial institution that was brought to trial on over 50 counts of banking violations including several accounts for fraud in the aftermath of the '08 Recession. If you read that and thought, "Wait, what's Abacus...", you're not alone, and that was the glaring issue to anybody else who understood what was going on.

Abacus Federal Savings Bank, is owned by Thomas Sung a Shanghai-born lawyer who, in the interest of serving his New York City Chinatown, founded the Savings and Loan spot back in 1984. It's a family-owned business and in his early '80s, he seems to be the genuine article. He even calmed his customers down after a run to the back occurred after the first charges against his bank were announced, and managed to stop the run by, using a police bullhorn, calmly explaining what happened and why they were gonna fight the case in trial. Literally like Bailey, he had spent generations helping the local build their homes and send their kids to college with the help of his loans. See, one disreputable employee was pocketing some mortgage deposit checks, he was quickly found out and he and several employees in on the scam were either fired or quietly resigned, and they called the FCC and reported the indicents to Fannie Mae, who of course was the one covering the loans for the houses. See, while it was several other companies that were defaulting on mortgages on a rapid pace, Abacus, despite occasionally having some incorrect details on their documentation, had the highest rate of customer who paid back their loans. Which makes sense, it was primarily a locally-run and operated business, and yet, the Prosecutors believed they could prove that there was a grand conspiracy from the bank to defraud their customers.

The movie does get interviews from many of the people involved, including members of the prosecution, who for some reason orchestrated a strange sequence where all of the Sung's that were named in the charge were arrested together and chained like a conga line, together as they walked through 100 Centre St., even though some of those handcuffed in the line were charge earlier and were brought in for the shot. It's weird and nobody has seen that happen any other time before or since, and I don't even know what they were thinking or trying there, or with anything involved in this. (The subtitle comes from a play on "Too Big to Fail") Honestly, for the great Steve James, the man behind such landmark documentaries as "Hoop Dreams" and "Life Itself", this film is maybe his most conventional and boring among his work. (Which makes it more peculiar that this is the one that finally garnered him an Oscar nomination.) I mean, I'm grading on a curve but still, subject matter aside, James would've been the last documentarian that I would've thought made this one. It's a nice story that's about as much about the community as it is the family bank and it's members all of whom are interesting on their own. I especially like the youngest daughter who worked at the D.A.'s Office before she realized they were investigating her family and immediately quit her job to work on the family's case; her way of working in the family business.

I think the appeal is that it's such an oddity in today's world to see a financial institution that honestly seems quite on the up-and-up and respected and while they have a few branches in a few state, they basically remained local and devoted to helping out their immigrant community thrive. I know, I'd want to bank there more than anywhere else I've banked in the past. Nowadays, bankers are about the only profession out there less-trusted than lawyers and politicians and for good reason. I guess it's just nice to see a story about a bank that's actually a decent local, well-run bank.

Also, Abacus, is the best name for a bank, I have ever heard. That-, that's really genius.


LOGAN LUCKY (2017) Director: Steven Soderbergh

★★★1/2

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Welcome back to the movies, Mr. Soderbergh; we're happy to have you back. I'm sorry your retirement from film didn't work out, and I'm especially sad that your Cinemax series, "The Knick" got canceled, that was a helluva TV show; really sorry that didn't last longer. (Man, Cinemax does not have good luck with capturing an audience for their regular series; I think even Starz looks down them at this point.) Anyway, what have you got for us this time? Hmm. So this was basically "Smokey and the Bandit" meets "Ocean's Eleven", isn't it. (Well, NASCAR's heavily involved so, I guess it's more "Stroker Ace" meets "Ocean's Eleven", but- eh, I like "Smokey..." better.) Digging into that well one more time I see, only in a different setting? (Shrugs) You know what, I'll take it.

It's interesting to see how when Soderbergh tends to go light-hearted and comedic in tone, he often goes for this combination of slick coolness meets slick and sly criminals. Almost always has an old school feel to it too. Most obvious is the "Ocean's" franchise, itself a remake from a movie that was the genesis of cool for it's day, but even look at say, "Out of Sight" which is more "To Catch a Thief" cool than Rat Pack cool, but it's still a throwback to that era, and with "Logan Lucky" he's doing the same thing. This time the tone is those good old-fashioned Southern capers a la Burt Reynolds in the late '70s and early '80s. He uses the Ocean's formula, but that's because all heist films use this formula. (And also, it works, why mess with it) And this is actually a pretty daring heist, where a group of down-on-their-luck West Virginian underachievers in adulthood, decide to pull off a heist of Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600. That is, actually a really good idea for a heist film.

The titular Logan family is led by Jimmie Logan (Channing Tatum) a former high school football prodigy who's on the outs with his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and she's threatening to move her and her daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) out of state while she goes with her new husband, Moody (David Denman) a used car salesman. He recruits, firstly, his one-armed Iraqi war veteran brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) who brings in an explosives expert, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who's currently in prison, but that's just something that needs to be worked out, and his two brothers Fish & Sam (Jim Quaid and Brian Gleeson) who are slightly skeptical of the project, but are willing to do it, providing that they're stealing for the right reasons. There's a lot of moving parts going on, Riley Keough is a hairdresser who comes into play, but it's such a wild cameofest actually that it's kinda worth it to just leave it at this right now.

For those unfamiliar with NASCAR, the Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the yearly calendar, 600 miles at the Charlotte Motor Speedway which is already one of the busiest motor speedways around. (Race track typically, usually have some kind of races or actions going on weekly, even if they're smaller races and local riders.) This race isn't their biggest in terms of name recognition as say the Daytona 500 is; it's actually usually held on the same day as IndyCar's Indianapolis 500, so it's usually overshadowed in the racing world, but it's by any standard a major race on the calendar. And NASCAR racing is loud, it's pretty to believe that through all those engines roaring and 200mph for about four hours that some tunneling and construction might be going on downstairs of the track and not have anybody notice. It's legitimately smart and clever heist.

Come to think of it, it's the exact same timing that revolved around a heavyweight championship fight in "Ocean's Eleven".

You really did just take "Ocean's Eleven" and changed the setting, didn't you Steven? I should really be more angrier at you for this; this is really lazy and you've never been a lazy filmmaker before.... Eh, oh well. I was entertained; if you know what works, beat it into the ground I guess.


A QUIET PASSION (2017) Director: Terence Davies

★★★★1/2

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As strange as it may sound, I relate a lot to Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon). Not just because I'm a huge fan of her poetry either, although "I Would Not Stop for Death" is one of my favorite poems, but for better and for worst, there's a lot of things about her that I do relate too. It helps that she's the go-to example for those like me who are,- I'll just be honest here, I'm not really much of a "Death of the Author" guy, and let's face it, you think Dickinson, you think one word, "Spinster". The thing is, while that's interesting enough, why and how she became, or ended up a spinster, is equally interesting. And frankly, at times, I do get statements like, "I don't think I can imagine myself away from my family." As disturbing as that kind of declaration can be, I can understand and relate to that kind of impulse, more that I probably should. It also makes her relentlessly fascinating to everyone, myself included, and yet, kinda difficult to make a really interesting piece of art based on her.

"A Quiet Passion" is probably as close as we're ever gonna get to this...- Although I say that, and I know that there's another Dickinson project in the works that analyzes the rumored lesbian attractions she had, which-eh, I knew there's always been a few rumors with her and Susan Gilbert (Jodhi May) her aristocratic Sister-in-law. as well as her sister Vinnie's (Jennifer Ehle) best friend Vryling (Catherine Bailey) and Director Terence Davies, he allows a little reading between the lines with their conversations. (And casting Nixon, who not only is an out lesbian but actually bears a striking similarity to Dickinson certainly doesn't hurt) but I don't think that's a main intention of Davies. Anybody can make up or insinuate or explain Dickinson's behavior and actions, the key, and I think he realizes this, is that in order to fully get into Dickinson's mind, herself. A daunting task, but one that I think he damn-near succeeds at. It's not that he's measuring every grief she ever meets, but he clearly sees that it's all another layer of grief to her, so naturally as time goes on, she grows more and more insular. Already an outcast who, except for her time at Amherst when she was a kid, she's mostly an introvert. Her family is rich, in fact her family founded that college so she's educated and she's got relatives and friends who help her become cultured, but she's clearly one of those people who just sees the inevitable triviality of the world around her, and it depresses the hell out of her. Most people know that she spent the majority of her later life, basically never leaving her house. She wrote poetry all the time and was actually published more than people realize during her life, but she was never a celebrity and when her family, after her death tried to publish her work, they tried to fix some of the poems and their non-traditional use of hyphens and rhyming patterns. She even argued with one publisher about how he sees her work always like fairy tales, which, yes, she shares a rhyming pattern with something that wouldn't seem out of place in Mother Goose, but she uses that to enhance and strengthen her work.

The movie finds ways of her confronting these facts that are mostly known about her post-mortem, but we get some nice scenes with her, including some as a teenager (Emma Bell) getting thrown out of a religious prep school because she pissed off too many administrators with her questions about God and religion. I'm describing a dark film, but that's the paradox of Dickinson, she grew up wealthy and her life actually was kind bright at one point. In another world, she could've been a character in "The Great Gatsby" or something, but she slowly rejected the artifice that her conservative well-to-do family would rather try to uphold. The Civil War is one turning point for her, her brother Austin (Duncan Duff) go into a fight with their father (Keith Carradine),  over whether he should join or pay the fee to buy out of the draft. Emily is of course more distraught that such a war ever should've took place. That's the kind of disjointedness she had with her family, which she loved, but we're clearly not on the same wavelength.

Cynthia Nixon's performance and Davies's meticulous direction make this film. Nixon's most known for "Sex and the City", but she's been acting since "Little Darlings"; she's one of those classic New York actresses who if she ever really wanted to be as big, she could've in L.A. and be listed on-the-tip of everyone's tongue for one of the great character actresses today, but preferred to stay local; taking roles here and there that she cared about often in the theater world, but occasionally for film and television. I don't know if this is her best work, but her complete work I've seen in a film so far, and Davies directing takes a performance that might've been great but otherwise lost to history and makes it insanely memorable. Fame seems to be a fickle food for both Dickinson and Nixon's who's complex relationship with it took a really interesting turn recently as she's now running for New York Governor, a decision I'm mostly annoyed at because I had Cynthia Nixon in my EGOT pool. Hey, she's got a Tony, Emmy, and believe it or not, a Grammy already, if she ever found the right role in the right film,.... Well, I guess that theory's out the window, but if this is the closest she ever gets to that illustrious honor, than it's a great one to leave off on.


OKJA (2017) Director: Bong Joon-Ho

★★★

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Bong Joon-Ho has been one of the more fascinating, yet frustrating directors around for me. I've ranged wildly on his films, sometimes thinking quite highly of them as with his best film, the emotional murder-mystery, "Mother" to finding his work comically awful and ridiculously over-the-top like "The Host" and a little like his last film, "Snowpiercer" which others seemed to like a lot more than I did. "Okja" is somewhere in between the outrageous premise of "Snowpiercer" and the special effects monster movie of "The Host". Basically it's...- "Charlotte's Web" on steroid, literal steroids. Okay, GMOs, and not really "Charlotte's Web", it's more, I don't know, "Shiloh", "Beethoven", any kind with a beloved animal story I guess.

So, this movie begins with a really stupid idea, with Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, because of course) is the heir to Mirando Corp. and in an effort to help alter the chemical company's abhorrent history, decides to hold a contest around the world for who can raise the biggest and best new genetically-engineered food supplying animal that they've created, which is genetically created, for lack of a better word, Superpig. Already, waist-down in the "Not making sense shit", until you realize, (And when I say "realize," it's not like it's a reveal, it's pretty obvious actually) that Mirando, is an obvious stand-in for another infamous company that begins with an M and ends with an O, that probably invented products that harmed a lot of people, especially in foreign countries. Ironically, that's an odd motif that keeps popping up in Bong's films, I'm beginning to notice. Although, by no means a surprising one.

Anyway, the winning Superpig, ten years later is the titular Okja, a Korean superpig who's being taken to New York for-eh, fame, promotion and slaughter, I guess...- God, this was a stupid idea. Here's our new great animal for all the world to see, now let's eat it! I-eh; what?! (Sigh) Anyway, Okja's best friend, a farmer's daughter named Mija (An Seo Hyun) decides that's a horrible idea and just decides to go run off and rescue Okja. Somehow she breaks into Mirando's Seoul headquarters and on foot, manages to catch the big rig that Okja is traveling in. That's around the time that Okja is kidnapped by the Animal Liberation Front, a peaceful group of eco-terrorists led by Jay (Paul Dano, because of course it is.) who works to try to help Mija reunite with Okja, but they need to use Okja as bait, to prove that Mirando uses some abusive tactics on the animals.

So, I get it, this is a children's fable, and it's also a satire on, business and culture, as well as a warning about GMOs. (Most major countries have laws that requiring GMOs being labeled on food, something the U.S. has for reasons that make no logical sense, have not yet adapted.) This is also a very broad Asian-style comedy; it reminded me at times of say Stephen Chow's "The Mermaid" or something along those lines, only it's got a western cast and they're surprisingly good at adapting to this style. I didn't even bring up some really strong performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and in particular Shirley Henderson, who's normal squeaky voice is so amplified that until I finally got a decent look at her I thought she was Yeardley Smith for about half the movie. Because I think it's a requirement now, Tilda Swinton again plays multiple roles here as both Lucy and her evil twin sister Nancy, the more cold-hearted unflashy businesswoman member of the Mirando clan; personally I think it would've been stronger if these characters were combines and Lucy was just revealed to be more two-faced than we would've thought, but I guess it works. Giancarlo Esposito has a nice role as both sister's assistants; admittedly a cliche for a guy who played the Magic Mirror in "Once Upon a Time", and he seems to be the straightest of straight guys here in this movie that's over-the-top everywhere else, but I think that also works to his advantage here.

I think I'm less receptive to this side of Bong Joon-Ho's work; I think when he dives into fantasy he's more interested in effects and metaphor than he is good storytelling, which I know he can do, but I guess if I were to appreciate this side of him, I could appreciate "Okja" the most, for being the most original of these films of his I've seen. I guess that's why I'll recommend it, plus the special effects are quite special here. I'll say this, the guy has a lot of ideas, maybe too many in some of his movies, but at least they're interesting one usually.


CRIES FROM SYRIA (2017) Director: Evgeny Afineevsky

★★★★★



(Sigh) Do I really have to review, this?

Goddammit. Yeah, "Cries from Syria" is...- a lot of dead children. It's one of the first images, it's an image that's shown, along with several, several, (Depressing sigh) several, other images of the dead. I'm telling you this now, because, essentially the movie is more than that, but that's all I'm really gonna remember. We've been getting a lot of documentaries about Syria lately, there's a reason. That's where all the shit is happening. You know, I heard people during the last election, some truly idiotic people talking about how they didn't want to vote for Hillary Clinton because she was supposedly a "Warhawk". They feared that because of Russia's involvement in Syria, she would send troops there. I'm not sold that either A. she's a warhawk or B. that she would've, but she probably should've. Trump probably should've too. Not just because Russia's involved although they are and they are destroying the civilians there, but because, well, they need help and we're the ones with the ability to provide it. Those that somehow escape and become refugees, are treated like shit in half-the-countries they're temporarily placed in, and frankly the fact that they got out or survived at all is amazing, and this is movie is, somewhat about them, but mostly it's documenting the slaughtering of everyone else.

For those who don't remember, in 2011, the Arab Spring took over the Islam world and democracy suddenly spread over several countries as they overthrew their leaders, Tunisia, Egypt among others, and Syria got caught up in it as well. Now, for the most part, the rest of the transitions were, considering the region, surprisingly peaceful, at least more peaceful than they probably could've been considering their histories. Syria, was not so lucky; it's long-standing dictator Bashir Al-Assad, decided to fight back and they've been fighting ever since. He's got the Syria government, along with the Russian government's backing, and everything from regular bombs and attacks to full on chemical warfare at his disposal. Oh, and ISIS is also somewhere in this mess causing chaos of their own. The Resistance is also divided to some extent and they made some mistakes. The film is cobbled together from footage of whatever they can, whether it be from a high class camera or from a cell phone. Every time you think you get a small break, there's more destruction. Hospitals being bombed and assaulted as they're trying to serve the injured and dying of those that just came in. Parents and kids dying on tables next to each other, and by kids, I mean some of them are babies. It's no wonder why teenagers in this country are themselves trying to be militarized.

The movie that this most reminds me of is "A Film Unfinished" a documentary from years ago that was about the Nazi films of the Holocaust that they themselves filmed. Like that movie, it's basically a document of atrocities, except it's not happening in the past; this is all the stuff that, even during the most gruesome days in Vietnam when the media truly was independent from the government, a lot of this footage even they wouldn't air. Yet, it needs to be seen. One way or another this is the battlefield for the 21st Century's version of a supposed "Cold War" and we're gonna end up dragged into this in one way or another either way; it might be kicking and screaming, but at some point, the longer this continues... and there is no end in sight at the moment, we're gonna have to be there, and God help us to do our damnedest to help the innocent and take out the Dictatorship and those who fund them and those who try to take advantage of all sides for their own selfish causes, and God help us that we don't somehow make it worst. I have absolutely no idea whether this is the best of the Syrian documentaries or not that we've gotten, but it's the most shocking and disturbing of the bunch. Yes, they show the White Helmets, yes a lot of this footage comes from the ragtag groups of on-the-ground "journalists" who document this footage, yes there's talking heads to put it in context, but this movie is about images. Powerful, distressing, nauseating images of what a violent Civil War in the Cradle of Civilization has become and I will not be able to get them out of my mind for awhile. It's a hard watch; but it needs to be seen.


JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND - FEATURING A VERY SPECIAL CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED MENTION OF TONY CLIFTON (2017) Director: Chris Smith

★★★★

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So, I've heard rumors about this for awhile now, from several differing sources. Just scattered hints about Jim Carrey's behavior while on the set of "Man on the Moon", the Milos Forman-directed biopic on the great Andy Kaufman. I've heard bits and pieces of the reports, but the big rumor was always that he pissed off and annoyed so many of those around him that it cost him an Oscar nomination for the role. "Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Avery Special Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton" is a compilation of both Carrey's interview along with behind-the-scene footage of the movie along with occasional comparison clips of Andy Kaufman. Now, when I remember hearing about the casting, I wasn't a big Jim Carrey fan, but I distinctly remember thinking this was perfect casting. I'm not quite positive it's as perfect a casting as I originally thought, but I honestly can't think of anybody else I would cast as Kaufman, but that's got a lot more to do with Kaufman being such a strange and unique figure.

If you're not familiar with Andy Kaufman, or the biopic, "Man on the Moon" to begin with, this'll sound a little bit weird, but Kaufman wasn't so much a legendary stand-up, although he was that, but he was essentially one of the early modern experimental performance artists, ones that really challenged what exactly performance was. He was funny as hell, but he'd much rather antagonize and frustrate the audience before ever letting them in on the joke. He would have multiple voices and personalities, he even infamously wrestled women which led to a real wrestling angle that spread out on the David Letterman show,- when he died, nobody believed it, everybody thought it was one of his pranks. (Some claim it still is in fact, even close friends and acquaintances of his.)

So, Carrey, an unpredictable comic with a brilliant skill for both imitation and mimicry, he seemed like a natural choice. And he is talented, but for some reason, he decided to go a little too, method, with the performance. Apparently on-set at all times, he was in character, and in some cases, he's claimed that he was basically taken over by Andy Kaufman from the great beyond, during the whole production. And he drove everyone nuts and from what I can tell, was really obnoxious. He's talented as all Hell, there's a great shot of him just slipping into Tony Clifton, Andy's infamous abusive lounge singer, it's startling how good he is at imitating Tony Clifton, and the way he can contort his body and face is absolutely ridiculous. He does a pretty good Kaufman too, during the shooting but also everywhere else. It's not a great Kaufman, and you gotta remember, this movie had a lot of people in it who were actual friends and acquaintances of Kaufman and knew how he acted on set, and that's when the stories started to peel out. A lot of them have to do with Jim completely ignoring those who would tell him what Andy would do and how he'd do it. Instead Carrey, seems just to be using this shoot for his own chaos. Now, I can't say that Andy wouldn't do that, 'cause he had occasionally; that said, it still seems like he was going over the top. It's fascinating to watch and to hear Carrey's perspective on what he was doing. He was convincing if nothing else.

Those who thinks Hollywood actors may be a bit up their own ass with their work, especially method acting performances will probably not be convinced elsewise by this film, but it's an entertaining documentary about how an actor approaches a role and what happens to that performer. The movie does showcase other parts of Carrey's career as well as Andy Kaufman's, although I suspect they have less in common that Jim might've convinced himself that they do. By all accounts, Andy, when he wasn't performing, which might've been never admittedly, but he seemed to be a nice, sweet guy and by some accounts I've heard of Jim Carrey, he's occasionally been a bit of a handful to deal with at times in his career, none worst it seems than during this time. It led to a good movie and an award-winning performance, sure, so I guess it was worth but Carrey does straddle that line between performing and just being obnoxious. Either way, this film is utterly fascinating, whether you buy into Carrey's assertions or not.


THE LOVERS (2017) Director: Azazel Jacobs

★★1/2

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Okay, before I even get into anything else, and I don't normally bitch about this detail, but the Score for "The Lovers" is awful. I don't know what the hell they were going for, but I hated this score. It felt like,- I think they were kinda going for an operatic vibe, but every time this loud pompous score would blare through the screen, it took right out of the movie.

And what of this movie, "The Lovers". Well, I don't normally make this criticism, because it isn't really a good critique; it's not meeting the movie on it's own terms, but this movie is told in the wrong genre. It's not completely off, we're still in the subgenre of romantic-comedy essentially, but this is a film that's played for drama essentially, but my God, if any plot is begging to a comedic farce....- Okay, so, "The Lovers" are Mary and Michael (Debra Winger and Tracy Letts) an aging couple that's fallen out of love with each other, and are both in the middle of having affairs, and both of them, are pressured to tell the other by their fellow paramour to leave their marriage and both of whom are somewhat gunshy about that prospect, especially when their son Joel (Tyler Ross) calls to announce he's coming home from college for a visit, so both Michael and Mary decide to hold off revealing their affairs until after Joel and his girlfriend he brings, Erin (Jessica Sula) head back to college.
See, even without giving details of who their cheated on each other with, this is already a funny premise, for a farce, and yet, it's a rom-com, but it takes itself way too seriously. Mary's dating a younger writer named Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Michael has fallen for a bit of a crazed, obsessive dancer named Lucy (Melora Walters) and while they're both frustrated and annoyed with having to deal with their double-lives for a little bit longer, Mary and Michael's own romance starts to heat up.

Yes, this is a movie, where a husband and wife, are essentially cheating on their partners, with their own spouse. And it's played, for romance?!?!?! You know, I tried to accept this, I mean, I know Azazel Jacobs's work a bit; he did a movie that was also a dark comedy called "Terri" that I really liked and he's been directing some television I really admire like "Doll & Em" and especially the most underrated show on TV, "Mozart of the Jungle", but I don't see what he's going for here. It seems like he wants to zero in on the amazing romance between this husband and wife, and it's refreshing idea, I'll give it that, and this could still work in the right context. Noah Baumbach's "Mistress America", the great film penned by Greta Gerwig was also a slow-moving farce that feature a main, relationship at it's core that would lead to a hilariously and disastrous third act old-school single-location farce, comedic farce, but this plays almost like tragedy, even with the tagline joke at the end that I won't give away entirely, 'cause it's funny and progressive, even. which I guess could be the point, but I think it could've gotten there without playing so much the emotional connection and instead play the plot. (And also, this has a lot to do with the ear-bleeding score seeming completely at odds with where the movie wants to go too.)

I was gonna, kinda let this slide, because there is a lot of good here, the acting especially, but after I thought about this for awhile, I couldn't get around why this movie was constructed the way it was? Maybe it's just me rewriting it in my head, but honestly, I shouldn't be thinking about doing that. Remember that Woody Allen movie, "Melinda and Melinda", where he showed up the same plot elements but told from two different perspectives, so you had the same story first as tragedy and then told as comedy, and they also cast the story differently based on the genre? Okay, if you ever do see this, imagine this movie, with a more comedic cast. Nothing against these actors, they were great, especially Melora Walters, who's criminally underused, just in general, but inside of maybe, Letts and Winger, maybe we had, eh, I don't know, Bill Murray and-eh,  Jane Curtin for instance, in the leads, and maybe he cheats with Tilda Swinton and she cheats with, I don't know, Alex Karpovsky perhaps. Even if you don't change the tone, this is already a more interesting film, but turn this material into something slightly more comedy-centric.... I don't know, maybe he's going for realism, and on that level I guess it worked, but there is enough off about this movie, in it's current form that makes me suspect that were better options that were available and the people involved were capable of pulling off. For that reason, I gotta reluctantly pan this. You might appreciate it on a first viewing, the more I thought about it the less it worked.


STAYING VERTICAL (2017) Director: Alain Guaraudie

★★

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So, I'm not terribly familiar with Alain Guaraudie's work, like, at all, so you might have to take this review with a grain of salt, but, from what I can gather, this film is not that unusual for him. Take that for whatever that's supposed to mean, for me, my initial observation was that for a film called "Staying Vertical" it had a lot to do with it's characters constantly being horizontal. Not to mention a particular focus on a vagina when it's in a horizontal position. There are a lot of sex scenes and a lot of vagina closeups in this movie. I'm sure there's a reason for them....

(Shrugs) Honestly, I'll spoil the review a bit here, but this movie mostly just bored and confused me. What the hell happened here, based on the description I read, it sounded like "Three Men and a Baby" minus the two other men. Sure, that was originally a French film that was darker than the American remake I suspect most of you are more familiar with but still, that's not gonna help you, or me, try and figure out this movie, that seems to be a movie about how babies are like wolves that eat our sheep and so we, eh,  love them?!?!?!

So, the movie has a weird opening, that I'm told is important involving the main character, a screenwriter named Leo (Damien Bonnard) sees a kid, Yoan (Basile Meilleurat) who he mentions that he thinks he could be in movies and basically sorta/not really but kinda, propositions him. Honestly, it's creepy and I'd rather just think of this scene as the arbitrary Steinbeck opening scene, that's supposed to give us insight into the characters through an unusual scene. At least I hope that was an unusual scene, although I doubt it. Anyway, he drives down to some rural house, (Apparently this director likes to shoot in rural France, a lot.) and eventually he comes across a young woman named Marie (India Hair) and after a few moments, they have sex and jump cut to a kid being born. Again, I'm not joking about the vagina closeups. Leo, at some point ends up back at the house, where apparently Yoan actually lives with an old man, Marcel (Christian Bouillette) who I presume is the Kid's grandfather, and I- I guess he mostly listens to this acid rock track that perpetuates much of the movie. (I'm not 100% positive but I think it's "Persephone" by Wishbone Ash; um, remind me to defer to my music friend on that one, that's a little outside even my classic rock purview, but-eh, I like the song anyway.) At some point, Marie isn't there anymore and while he's supposedly working on a script, he's now watching a baby. (Shrugs) And yeah, there's this thing with wolves terrorizing the shepherd's sheep...- I'm sure there's a metaphor or point I'm missing with this but I don't really care if I ever dissect this and figure it out.

"Staying Vertical" is a pretentious mess, and not in the good way either. I think there's a bit of flash forwards and flashbacks in this as well, and that just makes it more confusing. There's the mood piece elements like the acid rock soundtrack and the ambience of the French prairies and grazing land, but even these moods seem to be from different movies. It's like part, "High Art" and part "The Tree of Life", those are two great films that you could describe as mood pieces, but they don't go together tone-wise, and I'll be damned what any of that has to do with the plot about the baby and the relationship and what that has to do with his career as a filmmaker/screenwriter, whatever. Oh, and all the goddamn sex scenes....- Look, I'm not a prude, at least not when it comes to movies, but I-, I guess they're an interesting couple and that she leaves this kid with him. Hell, that should've been the plot of this movie, like I referred to earlier. I think we're supposed to care and ride along with Leo as he goes through these erratic feelings and emotions, but here's the thing, A. he doesn't change enough for us to care about him, and he already started out like a creep, and B. it doesn't seem like he really goes through any substantial changes, at least none that I can see, not enough for me to care about how well he's improved. Maybe this makes sense within Guaraudie's work, but I doubt it's actually any good either way, honestly.


SHIN GODZILLA (2016) Director: Hideako Anno; Co-Director: Shinji Higuchi

★★★★

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So, just as a general rule, and partially as a joke,  I've always tended to think that we as Americans should just leave Godzilla movies to Japan, well, after seeing "Shin Godzilla", yes, we should definitely leave the Godzilla movies to Japan, mainly 'cause based on what I've seen, they do them a lot better than we ever will. Case in point: "Shin Godzilla". Now, I'm not a Godzilla aficionado, or expert, I've seen one or two films in the-eh, mother genre, "Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell" for instance, but Godzilla, has just never been an idea that translates well, but I'm an American, and Godzilla or Gojira, as he's known there, has a lot of powerful connotation, starting originally with how he was the end result of the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This case however, while there is part of that story, this movie I like in particular more than any other, "Godzilla" film I've seen, which is admittedly a sample size I can write on a piece of confetti, but this one, is both symbolically powerful, as well as just a well-scripted logically interesting film.

The metaphor this time, as a lot of Japanese art has been using, is of course the Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed, over 18,000. However, the movie doesn't focus so much on the Godzilla creature as it does, with everyone dealing with it. Conveniently, this Godzilla, which runs on nuclear radiation has a temporary period of time where he has to pause and, refuel in an area populated with radiation periodically, granted much damage is caused in the meantime, but it's a great device for the politicians, scientists, diplomats, business executives, and other locals and foreign dignitaries as well, to figure out and dissect a plan of attack. I'm sure this is something that's always been apart of Godzilla films to one extent or another, but it's never been such a focus for me, not like this. This is a boardroom movie where the boardroom may not survive the next day. It's not that surprising and it's even cliche in disaster movies, but it works. There's a lot of tension and drama and it's actually impressive and smart how they try to figure out how to defeat and manipulate it. Reminds me of stuff like, the original filmed version of "War of the Worlds", or more impressively like Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion', yes, it's a giant nuclear dinosaur trying to destroy Japan, but this movie deals with it in a realistic and believable way, even during the most harrowing and horrific of scenarios.

I like both aspects a lot, the destruction and special effects were great, and I equally love the international diplomacy at bay as Japan's government struggles to keep itself standing while the rest of the world also fights to determine what the true best approach to destroy Godzilla. This was a surprising intense and enjoyable experience. Apparently this is a reboot of "Godzilla" so it's no technically involved in any of the main Godzilla worlds,-, those things I can barely care about. That said, we have a good film with strong writing and a real good cast. I had trouble following who played who, and part of that is my unfamiliarity with Japanese actors but there's a lot of constant stream of new characters coming in anyway, it's like "24" how every four or five episodes, somebody new comes in and declares that they're in charge. If you don't particularly have affection for Godzilla this'll probably be the Godzilla movie for you, but I suspect Godzilla fans will also enjoy and appreciate this as well.


NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU (2016) Directors: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady

★★★★

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So, one of the best and most underrated shows on television at the moment is Netflix's reboot of "One Day at a Time", I highly recommend it; it's a modern-day take on the original series, (Which BTW, is also seriously underrated) of a struggling single mother raising two kids. It sets the story in Miami, the family is now Latino, it adds a grandmother character played by Rita Moreno and is one of the sharpest, freshest and most progressive and funny sitcoms on television right now, arguably one of the best three-camera series on TV right now, and it actually proves despite a lot of trepidation that that format is still viable and can work on a premium streaming service, and more impressively maybe, under the Netflix release method. The original series was of course created by Norman Lear, the shocking thing is that, he's involved in this show; in fact he's an executive producer still, and not in name only. No, he's not running series the way he used to in the '70s when he had six shows in the Top Ten at one point, but this guy, is in his mid-90s; as youthful and vigorous as ever, the guy dates back to the earliest days of television-; he was a writer on "The Colgate Comedy Hour" and he's still revolutionizing television, to this day. He's one of my heroes, truly, and he should be everybody's hero who's in this industry.

"Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You", which admittedly is a title that unfortunately makes me think of that horrible Season Three theme song of "Felicity", which he had nothing to do with thank God, is a fascinating documentary on Lear, who is more relevant and important than ever all of a sudden. It's a biodocumentary that analyzes the myth, the legend and the man. It's fascinating to know that he helped write and make up on all of them. The guy is basically the response everyone should have when people complain that three-camera sitcoms don't seem realistic. There's nothing new here for people like me, who've idolized Lear for years, although he admits that some stories about his past that have been legend, but some legends are true. He owns a copy of the Constitution that he often donates for displays during major events like the Salt Lake City Olympics. Something that I found interesting was how he quit television, not because of a lack of success or too much work, (Although he was amazingly overworked considering how many Top Ten shows he was running at the same time) but to fight the Moral Majority influence in America. I mean, good, but it's amazing to think that he feared them having that kind of power and influence. (He wasn't wrong on that either). Of course, I was most interested in the classic behind-the-scene footage of him on the TV sets like "Good Times" and "The Jefferson" and going back and forth between all of them.

Overall, he remains a sharp, fascinating and talented man, with the energy and mindset of something much younger man, and the determination and clout to basically do whatever he wants. He's more of a sad figure to some extent. One who's a great observer of human behavior and a storyteller of others, and yet, surprisingly coy and nervous about how he talks about his own family. I'm glad he's back to work revolutionizing television; that's what he was built to do and arguably nobody's ever been better at it. Definitely watch "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You", and then, go and watch all those great versions of him he's created. Maybe start with Archie Bunker, or go backwards and start with Penelope Alvarez, either way.


SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY (2016) Co-Directors: Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel

★★★1/2

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I actually knew a little bit about this, going into "Seed: The Untold Story". I looked into it somewhat when I watch Ramin Bahrani's film "At Any Price" which was about main characters who sold seeds to farmers in the Midwest, and the territorial war going on between the chemical and GMO companies that produced those seeds that they were forcing to sell to farmers, after they had bought up most of the more natural seeds they had, mainly 'cause I wanted to look up if that was a real thing; which it turns out, it was. It's like when you hear about Nestle trying to buy the water rights in parts of South America and you think that sounds like a weird conspiracy theory nonsense, but then you look it up and it's way worst than you thought it would be. That's kinda the story of what's been going on with seeds lately.

Directors Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, the latter you might remember from some other ethereal documentaries about farming like "The Real Dirt on Farmer John", dissect this story and give us a good historical overview on why important. I know, that sounds like the kind of thing that shouldn't have to be said, actually you'd be shocked. Protecting seeds, in an emergency, could be the thing that saves civilization, and we have not been doing it. For those who are foodies, it can saddening to hear about how many varietals of food out there, that just, do not exist anymore. I don't know there used to be so many different kinds of cabbages, and now there's like, three, worldwide. I never liked cabbage that much, but hell, if I had known, I would've at least tried to some of the others to see if I like them, if I had the opportunity, and that goes for nearly every fruit or vegetable you can think of. The metaphor they keep going back to is that Seeds are both life, naturally, but also, in some ways, currency. There's a lot of talk about how, back in the day, seeds were something that's collected as such and saved, because, essentially they kept you alive, you farmed them and then your food resources would be set for the year. In fact, that's the great metaphor of "Jack and the Beanstalk", it's seeds that lay the golden eggs. They're right really, we tend to think about Jack as the dimwit who made a bad deal, but actually, it is totally the opposite. I bet beans go pretty well with golden eggs, assuming they're the right kind of beans of course.

Lately though, these GMO seeds and the companies that create them have not only infiltrated the market but have severely eliminated a lot of it. Some because the seeds weren't good, and polluted the land, other times, they've basically indebted farmers to indentured servants, and make them personally indebted to them by buying out the seeds and their lands. It's bad in America, although there's some fighting back against companies like Monsanto, (Of course, Monsanto was involved...) but it's apparently worst in places like India. I'm simplifying and leaving out parts of the history, 'cause the science is even tricky for me to follow, I was never good at biology, but basically, a couple bad turns and we could seriously be running out of food soon.

That's why there's been several seed banks and seed storage sites opened up around the world, and why there is a vast effort to collect as many seeds and beans as possible. We see some of these people who travel the world collecting as many varietals of seeds, and even one guy who's traveling in Africa seeking out need food sources in general that he hopes he can introduce into the food supply. That is a difficult process, but it is possible.

I suspect "Seed..." is only gonna be about as interesting to you as you are in the subject, admittedly it takes me a little while to dive in, but it is an important subject and they seem to cover every aspect of it, and do it well-enough. I wish I knew or I'd save some seed those few times I actually eat a fruit. This movie made me want to learn how, so, that's a recommendation to me.
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