Sunday, April 22, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS #147: "THE SQUARE", "WOMEN WHO KILL", "GRADUATION", "NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER", "LONG STRANGE TRIP", "CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY", "THE WORK", "PHANTOM BOY", and "FRONT COVER"!

I think we're all still following whatever other possible revelations we get out of the Channel Awesome destruction as closely as we can, I'm not gonna update any more on it, 'cause whatever goes on, I'm sure we're gonna find out eventually and-eh, (Shrugs) who the hell knows from there. That said, there's one last thought I have on all this, one that- I don't think has been mentioned before, and this isn't even just a Channel Awesome thing, this can said about the industry across the board: We need to stop being vague about these things. Just,- I understand there can be circumstances where we can't explain everything, but still though, everything-, everything is so vague, until it isn't. Some of the things in that document, absolutely reprehensible, but if much if not most of it, if you just looked at you know, one or two of these incidents, without the context behind it and heard them, "Well, okay those are bad, but there might've been something else going on from their side," kind of things. I had heard a lot of these rumors and stories going around about them beforehand and that's a lot of what I thought, and whether or not Channel Awesome were in the right or wrong, there probably was something more going on and I could probably write off a lot of these incidents as anomalies. Anomalies that every business has, and there's always gonna be a disgruntled employee or two, kinda thing, blah, blah, blah.... When a company or somebody is truly shit and reprehensible, it's not said out loud, maybe they can't absolutely say it for legal reasons, fine, but you still don't get the intensity when you see a statement like, "It was time for me to move on," or "They're a badly managed company," or whatever.... I had a class in film school; I don't even remember what it was called now, but basically it was a class that was trying to teach us, how to- work the room, in Hollywood, but also, how to protect yourself, basically. And we warned about stuff like, "Don't say you'll do anything, cause somebody will take you up on it," or what happens if you ever talk to somebody famous and what to say...- basically, now, in hindsight, I realize that this was a class designed to teach us what to do if you run into Harvey Weinstein. They never said that out loud of course, but basically that's what it was. And you know, for many reasons we probably shouldn't have had it of course, even though it was a good class, but this stuff needs to be more open. It shouldn't be a whisper campaign, if someone or some group of people are really this bad, then, maybe more of these documents need to be made about them. We gotta make a real distinction between, "I had a bad situation with them..." to, "This guy, these people, they're absolute toxic and they're never gonna get better, stay the hell away!" I know it seems like we're at the beginning of that kind of transition, and hopefully we are, but even some of the Channel Awesome people warn us that that document is just the beginning of some of the atrocities they've committed, and I believe them and I believe that we've probably only scratched the surface of some of the other Hollywood names that are being taken down, for in a many cases, far worst offenses. If anything other than the Channel, #ChangeTheChannel that needs to change, that's gotta start changing, if for no other reason then so that documents like the ones they produced, become unnecessary in the future.

Anyway, I hope that rant was somewhat coherent, it probably wasn't but...- yeah, anyway. I watched one docu-mniseries that I talk about a bit in one of the other reviews and I also finally got around to "Memories of the Sword" the Korean revenge feature. Eh, it reminded me a lot of "Kill Bill" personally, "Kill Bill" in a "Crouching Tiger,..." world essentially. It was okay, not overly amazing to me, but it was an okay film. Just a bit of an absurd melodrama mess overall, but it was fun. That's about it, and let's finally get to it. Sorry for all the delays, let's get to this latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS!


THE SQUARE 
(2017) Director: Ruben Ostlund


★★★★

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You ever find a piece of art of some kind, film, TV show, music, whatever, and you really couldn't quite figure out if it was good or not. Not, whether or not you liked it, but whether or not it's any good to begin with, 'cause it's sorta right on that line where you're trying to figure out it's smart or stupid, but every clue, kinda goes both ways? You see, I'm getting a weird sense of that with "The Square" but added to that, is the fact that in some ways, the movie is actually about whether or not art is smart or stupid, or "stupid" and "clever" I probably should say.  This obvious happens a lot when the genre is surrealism, which I presume this is; it's definitely got that absurdist tone of some of the more sardonic surrealists; if you ever wanted to see what would happen if Roy Andersson tried to make "The Fireman's Ball" would look like, this is probably the closest film I could think of.

The first thing I notice about the film is how often people are asking for help in the film, help that is never answered by anyone around them that we see, or more specifically, isn't answered when the person asking for help, is asking the general public for it; it is often answered, usually by those who were asking for it the most, when it's asked for by Christian (Claes Bang). Christian is the head of a museum that's putting on a  "The Square" in the title is a reference to a signature art piece that their whole new modern art exhibit is centered around. It is a square space in from the Stockholm museum that Christian is the head curator and face of, and inside is a plaque that reads "The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all have equal rights and observations." This has to of course be promoted for a modern audience, and they bring in a firm to do that, and more notably, Christian gives an interview to an American reporter, Anne (Elisabeth Moss). He ends sleeping with her. She also, has a monkey who does art himself. This is never explained or elaborated on, except for a scene that seems like a lost scene from "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" when a visiting artist Oleg (Terry Notary) interrupts and disrupts a black tie dinner party by acting and dresses like a monkey. Eventually the guests retaliate and murder him. Somehow the literal monkey, a bonobo I'm told, actually makes less sense to me, but that's neither here nor there. What's important is that basically everything is going to shit for Christian. He believes it's all started in the beginning when he's the victim of a clever robbery. He then tries to get even when he finds out that his missing cellphone was in an apartment building and he distributes by hand a message to the thief to return his items, only he distributes that letter to everyone in the building and some take exception to it.

"The Square" earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Feature and won the Palme D'Or at Cannes, and basically the movie is a really elaborate joke about the ideals of man and the realities of our actions and, I don't know, a lot of other pretentious, artistic bullshit that constantly and continuously double-backs upon itself. This is the kind of movie where everything is undercut by absurdity. Interviews are cutoff by an audience member with Tourettes, and art exhibit is accidentally vacuumed, a major conversation is interrupted by construction workers...; I'm not even revealing half the weird shit that happens in the film, it's a Murphy's Law of absurdism and Christian only barely realizes until the end that things are worst than he realizes. Sorta. "The Square" is almost too dark of a satire on modern art, modern culture, modern materialism and altruism ideals, and almost everything. I think that's the point, like modern art, it's supposed to supposedly represent everything and nothing and the art ends up being just as shallow as those it's trying to enlighten. This is why I'm confused on how to rate this. I think I'm recommending it, 'cause there's way too much here and it's way too clever not to be considered. It was written and directed by Ruben Ostlund who made one of the favorite films in recent years, "Force Majeure" a film that examines people's reactions after surviving a potential life-threatening situation. That movie was about human instinct; I think this one is too, but on a much sardonic and metaphysical level. "Force Majeure" could've been played for satire, but I took it seriously as an examination of human behavior; "The Square" is clearly comical. I can appreciate it, more than I like it, but I do think it ultimately works.


WOMEN WHO KILL (2017) Director: Ingrid Jungermann

★★★★1/2

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There's a great little scene in this film that I love. Jean (Ann Carr) asks her ex-lover and podcast co-host Morgan (Ingrid Jungermann, the film's director) to sit down in front of a fountain. Morgan doesn't want to, 'cause she knows Jean is trying to talk to her, but she does it anyway. Morgan then pulls out a notebook that she writes stuff in and Jean immediately gets up and calls her out on her passive-aggressive bullshit, pulling out a notebook in order to seem distracted. It's a brilliant scene that's well-written and paced beautifully that makes us feel like these characters know each other so well that they are always ten steps ahead in the others' thought process. I think we all know a few couple or two like this, a couple who's not necessarily on-again/off-again but might as well be based on how they act with each other. They're always just one awkward pause away from either fighting or fucking and they're never sure which one it'll be until it happens.

"Women Who Kill" is one of the most fascinating and assured debut features I've seen in a long time. Jungermann's film is one of those movies that benefits from having an original and observant point of view. Morgan and Jean are podcasters who do a show on female serial killers, both discussing past ones as well as interviewers current famous known ones from prison. Basically they run a popular true crime podcast, and are general well-liked in their somewhat eclectic group of friends, most of whom are lesbians, and most of them also talk and complain at times about the struggles with their home and love life. Then, Morgan starts dating Simone (Sheila Vand) a new student she meets one day at the co-op she helps run and they begin to hit it off, despite Sheila being about twenty years young than Morgan and also a bit still stuck in that moody-gothic phase. Their friends, including Jean, are originally ambivalent-to-concerned about the pairing as Simone is a bit odd and quirky and they can quite put their finger on it. Then, a few of their friends start, just dying off suddenly and Morgan and Jean both begin concerned that Simone is a serial killer, and try to figure how to investigate her, without tipping off this thought to her, or you know, before she kills them, if that's what's happening.

"Women Who Kill" is a really unique little film. It's constantly keep me on my toes and off-guard and all the characters are really well-written and always playing each other at angles. and not necessarily obvious ones either. These are characters that all have secrets with each other and histories with each other and those details are always working with each other. This is the kind of movie that on paper, would simply work fine, anybody could make it and make a worthy, viable, version of this film. I think this movie didn't with the plot, I think Jungermann, started with creating the world of these characters and then figured out how to insert a plot that is what changes and alters and swings the dynamics of this world to and fro and it continues to unravel, which is really how something should be done, and it's really impressive for a first-time feature filmmaker, and I'm looking forward to what she'll do next.


GRADUATION (2017) Director: Christian Mungiu

★★★★

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It seems like one of the great things about being a cinephile or film buff or whatever is that there's almost a guarantee that somewhere in the world a film renaissance is happening and eventually we will be inundated with loads of films from the great new filmmakers from that country. There's always the stalwart countries like the United States, France, Japan, Italy, etc. but those non-traditional cinematic powerhouses are often where the most interesting and intriguing films come from. One of those countries in recent years has been Romania and one of the leaders of this Romanian New Wave is Christian Mungiu, most famous in this country for "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" a movie that shows a young coed take another down into the depths of the Bucharest underworld in order to get an illegal, emergency abortion. That film was shot with a claustrophobic intensity and seemed to document real time with few obvious cuts and the feeling of following as we watched a dangerous, perilous into the underworld.

Interestingly, "Graduation", kinda has the same approach to it's material, even if, on the surface it appears to be something far less controversial. Romeo (Adrian Titenti) is a father who returned to Romania after living in exile until the Communists wall fell. His daughter Eliza is attacked and seriously hurt on her way home from school. He's concerned about her and getting the suspected rapist into custody, but the thing that's really concerning him is that this attack took place a few days before she was supposed to take her final exam for high school; she's in line for a scholarship to go study in England, which to him, means an opportunity to get her out of this place and perhaps have a real chance in life. I know, it's overdramatic, but he figures that he and his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) tried to get out once and still ended up there, but she stil has a chance, but she must pass these exams, and now that she's suffered a traumatic attack like this, he's worried it could effect her getting the scholarship. (The Romanian title probably translates more accurately as "Baccalaureate" than "Graduation".) So, in the few days in-between as he's concerned about her future and even walking to-and-from class, he basically dives into the underworld himself, only it's to the police and politicians and school officials, all in order to grease the wheels a bit, in case her test doesn't pan out, even if, it would be completely understandable.

Meanwhile, the real story is how much he's put into this test and essentially how happy his daughter's life turns out, whether or not that's exactly what she wants, and more-than-that, whether or not she'll even be grateful for it. It also, kinda goes in a few other weird directions, from here, that I'm not sure entirely work, at least story-wise. Still though, this is a minor criticism, "Graduation" paints a picture of run-down Romania suburb that's filled with pessimism, corruption and heartfelt angst from all sides. Angst to make things right, angst to protect others from forces that can protect them from, and angst because they can't protect all of them, and that's just the way it is. I imagine this is a film that's more powerful to the Romanian people than it is to a more Western viewer, but I thought it got it's point across nonetheless. It's a bit slow, but ultimately an emotionally stirring film.



NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER (2017) Director: Joseph Cedar

★★★

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You know, for somebody who's so noted for being zen and Buddhist in his personal life and very friendly in every other aspect, and being so anti-violence he got booed at a concert honoring 9/11, that took place only weeks after 9/11, it's amazing how good Richard Gere naturally is at playing con artists. Seriously, have you all noticed how good he is at this; there's a lot of liars and creeps in his recent resume. "Arbitrage" he plays a corrupt hedge fund, "The Hoax" where he plays Clifford Irving, that's arguably one of his best performances; he's good as a "Fixer", I guess in "Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer" as well, he's played several lawyers over the years, his big breakout part was "Days of Heaven" and that's a character's got a violent temper and he tries to convinces his girlfriend to marry his boss, figuring she'd get his money when he suddenly dies. It struck me as curious as I watched "Norman...". The guy is arguably the most underrated actor in Hollywood, and maybe the last name you'd think of for playing a disreputable character, but honestly, he's really good at it. Sometimes, too good, which, I think is part of the problem with "Norman...", we only really know this guy as some conman who's trying to get ahead, and not much else about him, honestly. Still, I recommend it.

Norman Oppenheimer (Gere) isn't exactly a conman, in the traditional sense anyway, he's technically an Advisor on Tax Receivables, or, "In the realm of tax receivables". He doesn't really have a job, he's basically, just, an in-between guy. Or, not even, he inspires to be an in-between guy; a guy who tries to find an in with the rich and elite and manage to gain just enough smattering of trust, in order to be trusted. Other than that though, he seems to be on the outside-looking-in, constantly. The only fact that we ever learn is that he has a nephew, Philip Cohen (Michael Sheen) who works for a big company and can occasionally use his Uncle for some connection work. That's about all he does, make connections to people and through those connections, he manages to fall upward to success, even while still falling down everywhere else. He eventually, befriend the right guy, Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkanazi) an Israeli diplomat who we helps get around during one of those New York evenings and buys him a very expensive, nice pair of shoes. One's that it seems hard to believe he could afford. This lower level undersecretary to the undersecretary to a cabinet member, would seven years later become the new Israeli Prime Minister and they meet up seven years later and Norman uses this connection the best he can, now that he's got an in with the Israeli PM, he's suddenly in-demand somewhat. He also drives the rest of his staff nuts, as they mostly see him as a hindrance, which, technically he is, and one who seems likely to get the PM in political and legal trouble.

Also true, and Norman has to somehow, fix everything for everybody. There's also some good small performances here by Charlotte Gainsborugh and Steve Buscemi among others, and Ashkanazi's performance in particular is really strong; he can just overtake a room with his presence here, it's quite special. That said, the movie is Gere's performance watching him. The movie was directed by Joseph Cedar, the great Israeli director who made "Footnote" a few years back; this is his first film made mostly outside of Israel, who's really good at these low-key pieces that seem to be about the people who value the allusion of importance and power and strive to achieve it, and when they think they do, it turns out that it's, in some ways tainted and unearned. Norman perfectly fits in a Cedar world, a man who acts like he belongs, but truly doesn't, but will continue to act like he does as long as he can, to keep up the charade. "Norman" is a good movie, not a great one, but is centered around some amazing performances that enhances the material into something tangible. Leaving it to great actors to take a story of a fake who managed to scheme his way into corruption.


LONG STRANGE TRIP (2017) Director: Amir Bar-Lev

★★★★1/2

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Okay, so this was exhausting. So, for some reasons, my Netflix queue was having some laughs with me by scheduling both "Long Strange Trip" the four hour docu-miniseries about "The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead" right next to me watching "The Defiant Ones" the four hour documiniseries about the careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, back-to-back! Now, you'll notice that I'm not reviewing "The Defiant Ones" but have decided to review "Long Strange Trip", and this is because from everything I can figure, "Long Strange Trip" did have a theatrical screening while "The Defiant Ones" was strictly a TV program that aired on HBO. This is further confirmed that "Long Strange Trip" was on the Academy Awards list of eligible Best Picture films, while "The Defiant Ones" was not. Now there has been a debate recently about whether or not situations like this, should even count as feature films, while other films are TV programs, and while isn't actually that new of a debate, at least in terms of documentaries, oddly enough, streaming services have really begun to make this annoying. Frankly, I do think this should be separated and that programs declare themselves to be one or the other but I go by theatrical releases, so we're reviewing "Long Strange Trip", which is probably the only possible title a film about the Dead could have been called.

Like "The Defiant Ones" "Long Strange Trip" is an epic bio rockumentary that spans the entire careers of it's subjects, in this case, from the strange beginnings of how a cult acid rock band formed from some each member having strange backgrounds themselves, but forming together after basically working on their material separately at a San Francisco coffee shop, up until the band's official death in 1995 when their frontman Jerry Garcia passed away. I remember it being a big even personally whenever The Grateful Dead came to town, especially as a kid, this was a major news story every time it happened. I great I just presumed they must've been one of the biggest bands in the world, which they technically were but strangely they never really had that many radio hits. Only one song, "Touch of Gray" broke the Top 40 and that a weird blip of newfound popularity they had in the mid-1980s. Mostly, they're known for jamming. They're one of those bands who, although they do have some great studio albums like "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty" usually you think of their live performances and shows, which not only became synonymous with garnering a cult-like fandom, with Deadheads traveling from town-to-town just following the Dead thousands at a time, but also, fans, practically joining in with the band as they perform. They are probably the most egalitarian of bands, just let everyone in and out and perform as with them wherever. It's clear that the fan connection is by far the biggest aspect of the Dead, and that's not a knock few bands cared as much about them as they did, and that's not to say that the music is secondary, 'cause it's not. I love the Dead as much as anybody and there music still holds up and is still influential to this day.

I don't think there'll be too many surprises here, there's a few modern interviews includes with Garcia's surviving relatives and some rare recordings of the band that are worth looking at, mostly I think this is just a love letter to the band that anybody, particularly the fans of the Dead can get soaked up in and I can't imagine it wanting to be anything more than that. It's extensive and definitive and basically covers everything you would want to know about them, and I suspect your appreciation of the film goes hand-in-hand with your appreciation of the band.


CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY (2017) Director: Matt Tyrnauer

★★★★★



I think it's fair to say that any random city and Las Vegas are complete opposites from each other, but I can tell you that there definitely is a wide difference between my hometown of Vegas and real cities, like the ones back east. I spent some time last year back in Philadelphia where my family is, and I also spent some time walking around Washington D.C. while I was on that vacation, and I do mean, walking around, 'cause, while some of those areas, I saw cars driving down the roads, I can't for the life of me imagine how. Of course, any city that existed pre-automobiles are gonna be a little bit smaller but there was a time when the suburbs were being formed and the urban renewal movement began where the basic idea was, well, A. that certain parts of the city, the slums areas weren't pretty and needed to be gotten rid of, but also B. that cities needed to be designed, or redesigned in order to make room for the automobiles. And you know, that's not the worst idea, out west. You see, there isn't really other transportation possibilities for us; we've tried to figure out a high-speed rail system, but to go to and from large cities, that are often too far apart for any other reasonable option, short of an airplane, highway are actually a go idea. Now, notice I said "to and from" cities, not, "in cities." See, is this another weird thing about Las Vegas in particular, it's a really new city. The didn't really start even really building anything here until the 1940s at the earliest, and they didn't build a neighborhood or anything-, I mean, I guess they had Boulder City back then, which was a little of Vegas and was built mainly to house people who were working on what we now know as Hoover Dam, but the National Highway system was in it's infancy, Las Vegas in particular, was barely above 25,000 by the fifties., it's about the equivalent population today of Cudahy City, CA, which no, I've never heard of that town either. So highways going through the city, actually made sense at that time, 'cause the one thing we needed was to bring people in, and that was the best way to do that. There's two major ones here, the interstate highway, the I-15, which starts in San Diego and actually goes all the up to Canada, and right through Las Vegas, and there's also the U.S. 95, which, is more Vegas-adjacent than in Vegas, although they do meet up and connect to each other through a nightmarish atrocity of a U.S. highway system known as the Spaghetti Bowl in town, and also heads up towards the Canadian border, but it's more the suburbs of Vegas which is why I'm actually more familiar with that one. And again, these highways made sense back when Las Vegas was a one-hotel town, and it even made sense for them to go through the city, 'cause there just wasn't much of a city to begin with.

Annnnnnnnd-, that's kinda the drawback. The joke is that Las Vegas doesn't have any culture of it's own, well, Las Vegas doesn't have an culture of it's own, specifically a city culture. We are working on it, in hindsight, these two highways, especially the I-15 really separate the city out, especially since, there wasn't a city to begin with and Vegas was being built during the suburban sprawl, so there's really no city here, and what you get is more this idea of carving out a completely separate census-designated area as opposed to a real city of Las Vegas, (Hell, the Las Vegas Strip isn't technically in Las Vegas, it's in Paradise, Nevada) it probably wasn't the best city planning to have them cut right through the Las Vegas Valley, but again, it made sense for us at the time. Now, that's a long introduction to "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City", but this was the constant battle, for the cities over the years; it's bad enough that a barely populated area like Las Vegas would get a couple highways, but Jane Jacobs was fighting to make sure highways weren't built through Manhattan, in the '60s! Yes, Manhattan, I mean, they already built one that cut The Bronx in half, and basically carved out less desirable neighborhoods, and replaced them with gigantic art-deco monstrosities of public housing projects, many of which were large monoliths that soared to the sky and essentially, eliminated the safety and connectivity that a community had, and basically turned a community into a slum. This wasn't just in New York, this was a cross-country movement that thankfully's starting to be eliminated across the country, most notably the failure of The Pruitt-Igoe Complex in St. Louis, and while I think the idea of public housing could work, not the way it was done and funded back then.

It makes sense when you think about it and notice it, the more people on the street, the safer the street it, the safer the road is, the more connected people are to everyone else the better the area is. This is something Jane Jacobs would see. She wrote what was then panned as a simplistic critique of the then-modern city planning movement, which focused more on the symmetry of the buildings and the skyscrapers and really didn't have focus on whether or not it would improve, help or benefit the community. They assumed the people would form around the building, but the building and the highways, they didn't provide anything that would've benefitted the people, so all it did was isolate. Now, it's recognized, but her battle with the infamous New York, the notorious public official, who was never once voted into office that set off all of these plans that forever changed New York forever, are basically the core legendary battles, which ultimately she's won, if not over the immediate history of city planning, but over NYC and certainly over the future of city planning. "Citizen Jane..." is a powerful documentary, it's mostly old footage and talking heads, but it got me really thinking about the area and conditions where we live in and the surroundings I've been around and experienced, and really made me wonder if my perspective and viewpoint on the world couldn't be changed and altered significantly if I went to permanently live somewhere else, or how much that viewpoint was determined by those forces outside my immediate control and by people who didn't know better and designed the world around me, not with malice necessarily, but forced together some unintended consequences and short-sighted projections and assumptions about human behavior.

Like my, desk and basically everything else that's around me at nearly all times that, cities look like chaos, Jacobs observed, but if you actually look closer, there's a pattern and a structure and a method to how they work, and nothing is truly streamlined and perfect, it's often the perfection that looks like chaos that's actually what control looks like that makes the place run. She's right, everything seems like a mess, but so does nature when you look at it from afar, but if you look at it up close and actually live in the environment, or in nature, you'll see how it works. For too long, most city planners didn't see that and I have doubts that my city will ever truly figure it out, but I can tell you this, this movie reminded me of how my clearer and relaxed my mind felt when I was in a place and a city and a community, that, actually works.


THE WORK (2017) Director: Jairus McLeary; Co-Director: Gethin Aldous

★★★

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(Sigh) I hate to sound like a bit of a downer on "The Work", but I really struggled with this one from an entertainment value. It's an honorable film that showcases some interesting characters and personalities, but other than the fact that the setting was unusual, I just felt like I was witness somebody else's therapy session that I just have no real stake or interest in and to be fair, that's kinda what it was. "The Work" documents a successful group therapy session that takes place at New Folsom Prison, where some of the more hardcore and deadliest prisoners, once a week, call off all feuds and grudges and whatnot in order to have an intense group therapy session. It's actually got a really high success rate and these are the kind of sessions where you see grown men, often times emotionally crumble as they look deeper into themselves. The success is shockingly high, so for that alone it's admirably and perhaps worthy of maybe a short film made of them. However, twice a year, civilians are actually allowed to come in from the outside for a weeklong session where they're teamed up with a group of prisoner, to also participate in the extensive therapy. That is interesting, and frankly kinda compelling, 'cause I am curious to see the kind of people who decide to literally go to prison in order to get some emotional clearance in insight, and for a couple of them it makes some sense. Some of them have lots of inmates in their immediate family and were heavily impacted by the penal system, others are just, kinda roving along with life and directionless and hope they can find inspiration on the next step by working it out with those who's next step may never come. He see a lot of really hardened grown men, shatter into catharsis and help out each other, fellow prisoners and the civilians followed in the film as they struggle to understand dynamics about their lives.

Normally, I'm usually compelled by therapy sessions and intense psychoanalysis such as this, hell, I think "In Treatment" as one of the most underrated TV shows of all-time and all that show was basically therapy sessions. Still however, this one was so insular and intense and unflinching that I just don't think it ever reached beyond the walls of the prison. We know a little bit about some of the people but not enough to care. To be fair, this is a documentary aiming to capture not to tell a greater narrative, if there even is one. For that reason I'm recommending it, I just wish it was a little more entertaining for me. The movie does sorta feel like you're at someone else's house while they're in the middle of a major family event and you don't know anybody well-enough to have an emotional connection with them, but there's a chance that maybe that was just me in the moment. Still, I wish we had more time to spend with the people in the session before we simply dived right into it.


PHANTOM BOY (2016) Directors: Alain Gagnol & Jean-Louc Felicioli

★★1/2

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Eh, I guess there's nothing wrong with it, but it's about a sick little boy who can have out-of-body experiences and can, in this state help out the living a little bit, in this case, stopping a crime. I'm calling them out-of-body experience, because it's either that, or he's "Casper the Friendly Ghost" before he dies, or, the little kid version of "Ghost Dad", either way, it's creepy and way more scarier than you'd remember. (Seriously, has anybody gone back to watch those original "Casper" cartoons? What the hell we're they thinking; some of those things are just depressing, Christ.)

Yeah, I gotta admit, I'm a little squirmed and squeamish at the concept of "Phantom Boy" to some extent. This is the second animated feature from the French directing team of Alian Gagnol & Jean-Louc Felicioli after the Oscar-nominated feature "A Cat in Paris". That film was enjoyable, but it was also mostly forgettable. 'Phantom Boy" is really dark in places. It takes place in New York City and focus on a sick little boy named Leo (Gaspar Gagnol). Leo while sick, does seem to have one weird ability, and it's an extreme form of having an out-of-body experience. He can petaphysically leave his body and effect the literal outside world, at least for a little while. Few people can see him and if they can he's usually incapable of being heard in this state, and his physical body is entirely motionless in it. However, he manages to be a bit of a hero, especially when he starts to help out an injured sullen cop, Alex (Edouard Baer) as he's under pressure to take down a vicious supervillain simply known as "The Face" (Vincent D'Onofrio ) as he works on both trying to destroy the city, and kill Alex as well as his reporter girlfriend, Mary (Audrey Taotou).

A lot of this is foreshadowed in an earlier scene where Alex is enraptured by reading a comic book, one that I believe is of his own design, and I guess this is some kind of dreams come true, superhero fantasy story but real, except through bizarre metaphysical means sorta thing that I'm not getting...- I don't know, this personally just felt like a bad Make-A-Wish wish to me.I don't know I guess that's me being mean, and again, there's nothing inherently wrong with this. I think part of the reason it bugs me is that there's never really a decent explanation of Alex's powers and why they work in certain situations and not others, and I think characters who do find out about


FRONT COVER (2016) Director: Rae Yeung

★★★★

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I fear that "Front Cover" is still an amoeba. An early draft, a forerunner, an early piece of a more elaborate and complete piece of art that still isn't made yet. The movie tackles some subject matter that I haven't seen combined in such a way before and does it well, and yet, I still feel like this movie left me unfulfilled. It's a romance story between a Chinese American fashion stylist Ryan (Jake Choi) and a Chinese movie star, Ning (James Chen) who's come to New York for a little while as part of a promotion for one movie as well as a beginning of an image shift. They first meet as Ning is a bit of a diva on set and insists on a Chinese fashion stylist for the shoot. Ryan's earning his way up in the industry although still not quite there yet, but he's more than capable. That said though, he doesn't really consider his Chinese heritage that much. He's been open for years now and works in an industry where that's regularly accepted. Ning is exceptionally private a bit of a eccentric diva behind-the-scenes but is sweet and loving to Ryan and they soon hit it off and there's a lot of small comedy behind their meet cute of a whirlwind romance. One of the excursions actually gets Ryan fired, although in my mind, his actions were justified in that farce of a scenario, but that's nothing compared to his parents, Yen Fu and Ba (Elizabeth Sung and Ming Lee) come over unexpectedly. This is the movie for me, this additional clash of cultures is combined with a clash of generations, and we learn a lot about Ryan, who for the most part tries to not even let his ethnic background judge his background, while Ning still clings to some of the ways of the old world, including the tradition of upholding family honor, and being outed as a gay man would be a major hit in his career because of it.

I think this is a complicated movie that tries to, at the end, rush on a finish to all these conflicts, maybe a little quickly, and in a little too nice of a bow, but it does do it well, but I think I still want more. It's got a lot there, even the double-meaning in the title is accurate and sharp, but essentially this is just a 90-minute extended comedy-romance while I think it could've probably been a longer even more complex romantic narrative, maybe even a good miniseries, the telenovela-type, although I guess since it's Chinese and not Latin American, then that would make it, eh...- Felzaoju? I'm not sure there's a colloquial term for Chinese Soap Operas; that's the closest I can find. Anyway, I'm being picky, this is a very good film that's brings a lot of smart observations to an otherwise sweet romance. I think it's potential to be more than it was is disappointing, but what it is works well.
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