Not too much going on, other than just, the usual watching of the TV toke boards to see what shows got renewed or canceled or picked up or whatever; admittedly it's been unusually interesting this year, but I'll save any other thoughts on that 'til later. I'm also thinking of doing a Top Ten soon, so if you have a good idea for a Top Ten List that you haven't seen done before, let me know, either comment below or better yet, find me on Facebook or Twitter. Remember, I don't want to do the lists that everybody else does, so I want entertainment-based (Preferably film or TV, but not limited to them) topics that you haven't seen Top Ten Lists done for, if possible. (Or rarely if ever have seen them.) Anyway, enough of that.
Let's get to the reviews!
DETROIT (2017) Director: Kathryn Bigelow
I'm not exactly sure how to tackle a review of Kathryn Bigelow's controversial "Detroit". It's by no standard a bad film, although there are some critics of it out there. Most of their criticisms,- well, well some I don't mind, but the main crux seems to be this notion that, as Christopher Orr of the Atlantic put it, "Detroit... is strangely disengaged from the cultural and systemic forces that led to Police brutality in 1967 and continue to do so today." I'm not saying that's not necessarily true, although I'm not sure I agree with that, but I hear that same complaint about Paul Haggis's "Crash" all the time, and I never agreed with it there either, mainly I never got the impression that that film's intention was to explain racism, only to examine aspects of it through a modern lens, how it's practiced and shows up in everyday modern life. "Detroit", well, it's goal is to create a document about a very specific incident, involving corrupt, abusive and murderous white cops and their actions against a group of African-Americans and as far as I can tell, it does it really well. Does it have to get into a detailed history of racism in the United States and it's Social Impacts on Society today lesson as well? Also, how disengaged can it be, it's a whole movie where a specific historical even is used as a symbolic reference to shine a light on how the modern society's view on Police Brutality today, have in many ways not been changed too much as well as show just how the Justice System has been systemically broken not just now, but seemingly always. This feels like asking more of the movie than the movie's trying to do, this line of criticism to me.
So, the Detroit Riot of 1967, also known as the 12th Street Riot lasted for five days, at the time, was considered the largest riot in American history and certainly the largest race riot until the L.A. Riots of '92, as the African-American community and the Police were basically at arms against each other after the Police raided an unlicensed nightclub called the Blind Pig. During this time, there were attempts to alleviate the raid by local leaders in the African-American community, but also outside forces from the state and national level were brought in. In total there were 43 deaths over the five days, including that of a four-year-old girl who was killed by National Guardsman because, and yes, this is as stupid as it sounds, because they thought she was a sniper. The movie shows several of these scenes and incidents, but it's all briskly shown in chaos, which is understandable, all this happening in a short period and we have a lot of characters to inevitably introduce as they head to the Algiers Motel.
So, it's in the middle of this race riot that an incident at the Algiers Motel occurs, one where the Police act beyond the scope of their legal means and end up killing three black men, all of them, in cold blood, none of them in self-defense. I'll spoil the punchline, they were found not guilty, despite basically terrorizing the occupants of a motel, mainly because they could. There was a report of a sniper that seemed to be after a group of Police, and at least according to this movie, there was a customer, Carl (Jason Mitchell) who did something stupid and decided to mock shoot at the cops, using a starter's pistol, just to scare them. Then, believing there to be a gun and that they were legitimately shot at, led by Officer Krauss (Will Poulter, in a really amazingly evil performance), a cop that's already been accused during the raids of shooting an killing an unarmed Black looter trying to escape, (And one that might not have even been a lotter by the looks of it) decides to use the situation to terrorize and abuse as many of the motel residents as possible until things started to get worst and worst and one cop, unaware that they were only insinuating that they were killing African-Americans one-by-one until someone confessed, actually killed someone.
There's other storylines crossing here, for instance, two of the members of The Dramatics, Larry & Fred (Algee Smith and Jacob Lattimore) were at the hotel at the time after their performance was canceled due to the riots, this was right before they hit it big in Motown, there's two white girls from out-of-town Karen and Julie (Kaitlyn Dever and Hannah Murray) staying the hotel who they hooked up with and when they find the girls in a room with a Black man, they immediately presume they're hookers and that one of the men, Greene (Anthony Mackie) a soldier home from Vietnam is their pimp, there's a Black security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) who's hired to protect a local store where the Police and national Guard are staying and he's able to manipulate the situation well in order to make sure he's protected and not mistaken for, a looter or sniper or something. The movie is a bit of a mess, but the situation is a mess within a mess and it doesn't attempt to hide what it was or make it understandable, maybe to it's detriment it unflinchingly shows us what happened, to the best they can reconstruct, at this time.
And remember, Bigelow's main motif through the majority of her work isn't race or any social issues for that matter, her fascination has always been the study of masculinity. Now that certainly has a major role in race, but she's fascinated by the examining of it in dire situations and say whatever else, "Detroit" is a fascinating portrait of masculinity on multiple levels through many different forms of it. From that perspective, I have to give "Detroit" some credit. There's certainly some flaws in the film, but I couldn't look away if I wanted to. To me, that's a successful movie.
WIND RIVER (2017) Director: Taylor Sheridan
I think I'm safe in saying that the biggest accomplishment that Taylor Sheridan have figured out is that, rather conventional, classical narratives can become new again by setting them in new modern environments. His breakthrough screenplay was for Denis Villeneuve's "Sicario" a movie, that I thought was okay, although I don't get the huge acclaim it got; I called it "Traffic"-lite, and that's not a negative but it was nothing special. He then got an Oscar nomination for the script for "Hell or High Water" a modern-day western about bank robbers that was...- (Shrugs) okay. I didn't see the big deal about that film, outside of some performances and oddly not even Jeff Bridges's one to be honest. Basically all it really amounted to was, give a decent reason for the robbers to be robbing the banks. (Shrugs) I guess, cool, but that seemed a little simplistic to me. It might also be that he's used the Desert Southwest and Mexico for his previous films and as somebody who lives there, granted in the weird part that right next door to the adult playground of Las Vegas, eh, let's just say the setting didn't inspire me.
"Wind River" is probably the first of his films where he uses the setting and location to a real advantage in telling his story and not just a convenient symbolic one. The title, "Wind River" refers to the Wyoming-based Indian Reservation, where Eastern Shoshone and Arapaho tribes still live. If you're not entirely familiar with Wyoming's demographics, it's the state with a lot of land but very little population, especially in the Western part of the state. We know Yellowstone, but it's also quite a mountainous terrain that could easily be confused for say, the Yukon perhaps. Now, it's also this weird area where law enforcement, what there is, is itself handcuffed given the worst of circumstances, like a woman found dead on the Reservation. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) finds a young dead woman, Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) while. Lambert is a Wildlife Service tracker, which young rookie FBI investigator Jane Banner (Elisabeth Olsen) quickly realize that he's probably the most useful person to have around as they seek out her killer, along with the look Indian Reservation Sheriff Ben (Graham Greene) Cory, meanwhile finds Nathalie's boyfriend Matt (Joe Bernthal), who is also found dead, both of them beaten and sexually assaulted, with less-than-viable clothing considering the weather.
The movie take a chance by having some strategic-placed flashbacks to these two as we slowly reveal their secret relationship and their inevitable deaths. One of Sheridan's weak spots is how he's inspired by real-life events for these otherwise interesting genre pieces, and it's true, there's been a large amount of missing Native American women on reservations such as Wind River, and several accounts of sexual assaults against them, although calling this film, "Based on a True Story", is maybe a bit of a stretch. It's strange and contradictory to some extent, like he thinks he's foreshadowing real issues with the world and society when he's basically just making some decent westerns. It works here, 'cause it's a different environment than we're used to, the cool, frigid, mountains of Wyoming that are so out of the way, that what few people are around, they don't exactly have much to do or easy contact with others; it's almost too perfect a place for the most violent of crimes to take place. It reminds me a lot of wonderfully Courtney Hunt feature "Frozen River" which also involved crimes taking place at a cold frigid northern areas of the country, that also coincidentally involves a strategically-placed Native American reservation. It's not that good but it's easily the most interesting and best of Sheridan's work so far and I appreciate his directing as well.
CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE (2017) Director: David Soren
Wait, what? Oh-kay, maybe I missed this, but apparently there's a joke/trope in comic books that, apparently superheroes look like they're running around town solving crimes in their underwear. Ummmm-, I-eh, huh? What? I'm sorry, am I missing something, 'cause I've never thought that at all. (Sigh) Let's do some Google Image searches.
SUPERMAN: Uh, who wears a blue unitard as underwear?
BATMAN: God, I hope some of those don't resemble underwear, some of those metal things look uncomfortable as is.
SPIDER-MAN: Eh, he looks like the world's worst Luchador jobber, but not underwear.
WONDER WOMAN: I mean, it's revealing; it looks like what half my friends wear to either "Rocky Horror" shows or to their bondage orgies, and what my one slutty friend wears almost everywhere. (You know who you are!)
GREEN LANTERN: Nope
GREEN HORNET: Nope
CAPT. MARVEL: Eh, maybe gym clothes?
IRON MAN: No.
CAPT. AMERICA: No-, okay kinda.
THE INCREDIBLE HULK: Alright, I'll give you this one, but that's not fair, he busts out of his clothes, so he's in his underwear essentially.
DAREDEVIL: Mostly just looks somewhere between Kane and a Ninja.
BLACK PANTHER: I don't see it.
WOLVERINE: He always just dressed weird to me, but he never dressed in his underwear.
AQUAMAN: Well, he's like a fish, so...-
GREEN ARROW: Okay, am I missing something here, 'cause I'm not getting this trope, like at all?
ROBIN: Oh-kay, now I see it.
Still though, eh, is this as common as thought as the movie thinks? Maybe I just grew up in a post-Madonna world, but if someone tells me their outfit looks like underwear, I'm gonna need more than spandex + '80s gym clothes patterns. It plays less like underwear to me and more like, "American Gladiators" for most of them, although there are some obvious exceptions.(Boy Wonder, boy does he make me seriously wonder.) Anyway, apparently this joke is really funny to George and Harold (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) two young best friends who live in ridiculous prison-like school where the Principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) is a sadistic dictatorial menace who's out to get them because they prank everyone. Okay, this is like the second film I've seen recently that involves elementary and middle schoolers having to pull off pranks because to spite their Principal, are Principals really these big bully villains everyone makes them out to be, who are just making school miserable? 'Cause the only people I ever knew who thought that got in trouble a lot, and not the pranks going too far kind, like I don't remember anybody going to far out of the way for a prank i school, and least that students would relish and admit to, and people found out about. Usually it was the quiet person who sat in the corner of the lunchroom alone that nobody was paying attention when something would happen and he would quietly disappear all of a sudden and nobody would be the wiser...-, um, perhaps I'm revealing a little too much here. Anyway, they live next door to each, which really makes Mr. Krull moronic idea of separating them and keeping them apart forever particularly moronic. (Like, how does this even work, they won't be friends anymore 'cause they're not in the same class? Like half my best friends I never had a class with-, what-the...-) Anyway, Harold and George put their juvenile sense of humor and artistic vision towards their comic book, "Captain Underpants". Anyway, due to circumstances, the Principal suddenly, magically becomes Captain Underpants and they can control him, through, some kind of hypnosis when they snap their fingers. Using this, they help struggle to improve the school.
This is when Captain Underpants's arch-enemy, Prof. Poopypants (Nick Kroll) a mad scientist genius who wants to rid the world of humor and along with the school intelligent inventor, Melvin (Jordan Peele) who doesn't have a sense of humor in his brain, constructs a device that will alleviate the sense of humor of all the kids in the school. So, it's time for Captain Underpants, and George and Howard to the rescue, since Capt. Underpants is basically a Hong Kong Phooey kind of superhero who thinks he's more powerful and doing more than he is. Uh, look I hate to sound like Melvin here, but I guess I've just outgrown this flatulent-based sense of humor. (See, farts aren't inherently funny, unless there's an embarrassment factor involved, something that I think is elusive to some kids' minds; that why whoopie cushions never really worked. Well, that and they're usually way too big to properly hide, although nice try 4th Grade assholes, hope you liked those expulsions you got in high school, that you swear you didn't do and were framed by somebody for, but can't prove it, not that I know anything about that or playing any other kind o long con game....) I guess I'm recommending this, it's fun and harmless and apparently it's a popular book series for kids. I mean, it wouldn't be my choice, but I laughed, it's goofy, it feels like something that immature elementary school kids would come up with, and that's all that really matter with "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie"; I guess I just like my dopey comedy children's lit to be based a little more in realism than this. I think I grew up in the last generation of kids that this would really work for and I wasn't really apart of that generation. I think I was more Minkus than Melvin is, I certainly have never been talented enough of an engineer to invent anything, but I can't say I don't empathize with him a bit. (Although Stuart Minkus had a sense of humor and self-awareness.)
I suspect most kids will like this, and it will click that repressed part of an adults' minds that can appreciate the goofiness of this kind of humor, and it goes for all it all the way through, so I'll definitely recommend this for that. It's fun if nothing else, so.... (Shrugs) I still don't think much of the "Superheroes look like their wearing underwear," thing.
DAWSON CITY: FROZEN TIME (2017) Director: Bill Morrison
Before I get into everything else, I'm not overly crazy about the movie's constant use of subtitles instead of a narrator. That's a bit of a curious choice, but that's a minor issue; "Dawson City: Frozen Time" is one of the best films of the year and one of the greatest love letters to classic cinema ever but more than that, it's a look into a history of a town and of early cinema that feels likes it's only now be discovered and written.
So, there's a place in the Sierra Nevada's called Bodie, California that at one point was the state's third largest city, about 125 years ago, that is now a ghost town. It was a mining town that benefited greatly from both the California Gold Rush and the Comstock Lode silver discovery in Nevada, but after the profit ran out on that, people eventually started leaving and now the town, basically is a tourist trap. I bring it up, it's probably the most comparable thing I can think of to Dawson City, or Dawson at least in America. Now Dawson City, is not a ghost town, there's still about a 1,000 people living there, but it's literally about as out-of-the-way as you can get; at one point it was the capital of the Yukon Territory where after the land was originally owned by Natives, of course, the town found a mass population boom in the late 1800s as the Klondike Gold Rush hit. And no, I had never heard of this place before I saw this movie; I really have to study maps more like I used to, my geography knowledge is slowly whispering away it seems)
Now, the movie has two stories, one is the history of this town, which it tells through photos, old articles and subtitles; it's basically a meditation on the birth, rise and inevitable decline of this town, and the town is amazing! As obscure as this place is, it's apparently one of those weird places where like, everything happened. Jack London lived and wrote there, Sid Grauman of Grauman's Chinese Theater started his empire there, even Fred Trump, yes, that Fred Trump, ran a brothel that was located on the travel route to the town. I'm leaving a lot of stuff out too, 'cause this is a gold mine that needs to be discovered, in more ways than one. This is one of the most historically fascinating towns you'll ever see. The more you read into this place, the more fascinating it becomes, even like the early remnants of what would becomes the National Hockey League has origins there . That was until the end of the World War II, when the Alaskan Highway bypassed the town by 300 Miles, and since then it's basically become this dwindling small town that's mostly cutoff from the rest of Canada and by the 1950s the capital city of the Territory switched to Whitehorse.
That is until 1977 when, inside a long-abandoned swimming pool that now resided under a hockey rink, they found 533 nitrate films, most of them dating back to the Silent era, having remained protected from the elements by Permafrost, the majority of these films were long-thought lost or destroyed. (Remember, this was nitrate film, so it was, and still is, highly flammable so the fact that it was basically preserved by permafrost is kinda amazing, even if it led to most of the films having suffered from severe water damage, the restoration efforts are worth it.) It's weird to think of just how recent the Gold Rushes were, but right as Dawson City was becoming a hub at the center of the Klondike, film was beginning to explode across the world and the town has itself a rich history of entertainment, including multiple movie houses in those days. The thing is, it was still really out-of-the-way and back in the days where film reels would literally travel from town-to-town and Dawson City, was literally the last stop, like the last places the reels would travel to, after traveling up and down the continent, and before the days of film preservation Hollywood, never picked them up. This led to a few fires and some movie houses and entertainment hubs having to get built and rebuilt and pretty soon, the idea of what to do with the films came up. Many were destroyed, purposefully burned, some were thrown into the Yukon River, but several found homes and survived and the story of their survival and inevitable rediscovery and preservation is probably bigger and more important than many of the actual films.
"Dawson City: Frozen Time" doesn't tell these two stories to fill up the time either, they're both intertwined with each other and with a part of our history that's forgotten and under-told. One of Director Bill Morrison's great tricks is now only splicing in footage of the films or other time period movies and movie scenes with the historic photos whenever possible, but it's amazing to see just how much of the films made back then, really were also telling the recent realities and stories of the time, much of it easily fill in as tales of Dawson City itself. Not only do we have all these films, we now get to look at them with fresh eyes, but also imagine them being seen by the Miners and their families of Dawson City and perhaps wonder what they saw and what they were thinking as they watched this representation of life and rare glimpse into the outer world on the screen. In a way, "Dawson City: Frozen Time" gives us a rare opportunity to look into our past and the past of cinema as a tool for recording history as it's happening, and simultaneously as it's already happened. It's one of the most inspiring and important films of the year, and it's absolutely a miracle that such a document can be made today.
LUCKY (2017) Director: John Carroll Lynch
“Lucky” isn’t so much a movie as it is a hallucination. The ones you get when you’re somewhere between daydreaming and falling asleep while watching one movie and suddenly remnants of other films and other random thought seem to intervene and invade the film you’re watching. (In this case, I suspect the movies are probably “Paris, Texas” or more likely, the lesser-known Sam Shepherd/Wim Wenders collaboration, “Don’t Come Knocking”, or maybe it's the other way around.) There’s a scene in this movie where David Lynch sits at a bar with Harry Dean Stanton and mourns about how his tortoise, President Roosevelt, ran away from home. That alone is worth the movie and this whole movie to some extent feels like a long sequence of just random, bizarre scenes like these that you'd only imagine during those late-night REM sleep dreams that peak out into your memory, or those that might simmer randomly to the forefront of your mind during those medicinal "Trips" that don't go horribly wrong. It's a rare starring role, and inevitably it became the final one for the great Harry Dean Stanton who passed away shortly before the film's theatrical release. He plays the titular Lucky, a role that only he could play.
The movie takes place, in some out-of-the-way desert town, one that's small enough where everybody knows exactly where everybody else lives. Lucky is...- but that's a hard question to answer. We occasionally learn a little bit about him. He lives alone, likes a game show, is good at crossword puzzles, has gotten thrown out of most places in town, goes to a small convenience store for cigarettes every day, he does yoga, which is pretty good for a 90-year-old. In fact, when he does have a sudden fall, his doctor, Dr. Christian Kneedler (Ed Begley, Jr., with a curiously symbolic name for a character who only shows up in one or two scenes) says that at his advanced age, he should keep smoking and drinking 'cause any drastic changes to his current lifestyle could be death.
The rest of the movie, is just one episodic strange sequence after another, and I don't know how else to explain it. Some seem like they happen in real life, the scenes at the bar he frequents every night or the diner he visits every day seem plausible enough. He gets into a disagreement with his friend Howard (Lynch) after he decides to give his entire estate and fortune to his aforementioned missing pet tortoise President Roosevelt, something he discusses with his lawyer Bobby Lawrence (Ron Livingston) who Lucky considers a conman as he does all lawyers, presumably. Other scenes,- well, there's one sequence in the movie where a red light leads him down an alley and path to a club that feels like something that came out of some old David Lynch project. I think this is a dream sequence, but the whole movie feels like some surreal look at Americana that I would've expected Bunuel would've made as a sublime joke in his old age. Instead, it's directed, not by David Lynch, but by John Carroll Lynch of all people, the great character actor who you've seen hundreds of times before just never knew his name. He's that tall bald actor who that you see all the time, most likely lately from either "American Horror Story" or one of the McDonald's brothers opposite Nick Offerman in "The Founder". I have no idea what possessed him to suddenly direct this or why, I don't even think they worked together before now. (Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong about that assertion) There's nothing wrong with the directing, it's actually quite intriguing to be honest.
Whether it was intended to or not, the movie basically just feels like a tribute to Mr. Stanton. The more you know about him, his work and the iconography of Harry Dean Stanton, the more this movie-, well, I won't say it makes sense, but you can relate to it. It's a meditation on accepting the limitations of one's life and it's upcoming inevitable end, and part of that is surrounding oneself in a world that's unequivocally their own. This one wasn't written by him or anything, but it does feel and play like an homage to him and all his eccentricities. If I were to guess a theory, well-, my theory would be that this world of his probably does exist moreso in the Heavens than it does on Earth; that's the only thing that makes sense to me. I doubt that's the case but like all men and tortoises, we all go off on our own at some point must escape from the comforts of our lives and seek out something greater, whatever that is. If Harry is somewhere in a world like this now, I'm sure he's happy enough with it, probably signing some Spanish folk tune for people between puffs and drinks. I have no idea if "Lucky' is a movie, but as an experience I can't imagine not recommending it, but I'll be damned if I know what to do with it afterwards.
ELIAN (2017) Directors: Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell
(Angry, annoyed scoff)
Please don't let this be a real movie, please don't let this be a real movie, please don't let this be a real movie, please don't let this be...- CNN Films, that's- eh, that could go either way....- dammit, I got to look it up.
TVR rating, no MPAA rating, that's something. Won awards at film festivals, that's not good...- No, it's got a U.S. release date before it's internet release, ooooh, I gotta look this up...- Reviews, let's try the Wikipedia page...- There isn't one, let's look up Elian Gonzalez...- (Scrolling) Documentary on the bottom of his page...- It says, "Debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. It opened in Limited Rel-, SONOFAGODDAMNMOTHERFUCKING-!!!!
(Davis gets up and stomps outside, screaming commences and continues although constantly fades out the farther he walks)
WHY! WHY! WHY DOES EVERY GODDAMN MOVIE I EVER SEE ANYMORE SEEM TO JUST BE ABOUT ALL THE PARTS OF THE 90'S THAT I'VE SPENT 20 FUCKING YEARS TRYING TO FORGET! IS IT O.J.? IS IT GIANNI VERSACE? IS IT PRINCESS DIANA NOW, NOW IT'S ANOTHER ONE ON O.J.! THE MENENDEZ BROTHERS THEY BROUGHT BACK AND NOW IT'S TONYA FUCKING HARDING OF ALL GODDAMN THINGS? BIGGIE & FUCKING TUPAC, AND NOW IT'S ELIAN FUCKING GONZALEZ, WE'RE BRINGING THAT BACK UP? WHAT ELSE CAN WE MAKE A MOVIE ABOUT, HOW ABOUT DON KING, TERRY SCHIVO, HOW ABOUT A 12-PART MINISERIES ABOUT THAT ONE TIME WINONA RYDER SHOPLIFTED WHILE WE"RE AT IT, EVERY PIECE OF NOSTALGIA EPHEMERA....-
(30 Minutes and one movie and
Hmm, (Slurping straw, relaxing sigh) Alright, I think I might be okay now. Sorry about that. Look I- I recognize that that might seem like a-eh a bit of an overreaction to you, but it's- it's been a bit rough personally. I realize that there's probably a good portion of my audience that only knows the name Elian Gonzalez from that "The Racial Draft" sketch from "Chapelle's Show" and half of you probably didn't quite get the joke then. That said, you gotta realize that this stuff, eh, it's hard to explain, but you gotta realize that, while there's certain things that maybe 20 years ago my mother and her generation looks upon, eh, I don't know, like the Patty Hearst kidnapping I guess, but you see, those kinds of exploitative tabloid article stories,- it's-, it's different if you grew up in the '90s, 'cause this was the coming-of-age-, well, that's a terrible term for it, but that form of "journalism", kinda took off around then. There was 24 hours of news on Patty Hearst back then, it was just a really big part of the news, all this shit, that we're bringing back up now, these were like, major 24 hours a day, CNN, Fox News, CourtTV events that, frankly we were just, so goddamn sick of. They seem like weird, strange, surreal footnotes to the nineties to some of you, who might've found out about these weird things on old VH-1 nostalgia series, to us, (Sigh) they were just...- God, I don't even know how to describe them. It was this weird combination of a major weird, new thing constantly happening, mixed with the beginning days of how we were newly finding these medias. The internet was barely a thing, if it was at all for some of these stories and now we have people who have grown up in this and think it's normal, well, no, it's not. It wasn't normal, 'til all this stupid shit happen, then it became normal. You gotta get that timeline right, you know?
So, "ELIAN", Elian Gonzalez, this poor kid. Basically, he was caught in the middle of a custody battle in the wrong places and the wrong time. So, (Sigh) what year was it, Thanksgiving 1999 I think, six-year-old Elian Gonzalez is found by Florida fisherman, alive, floating in a raft; his mother had decided like many Cubans did at that time, to take that ninety mile journey from Cuba to America in hope for a better life not under Castro's rule. He barely made it, his mother didn't. I hope I don't have to explain Cuba-America relations' history at that time, but the Embargo was still intact and while there was some talk between them, they were really not in the best place friendship wise with each other at the time. So, he had an Aunt in Miami who was taking care of him, and there also was his Father in Cuba, and this under the best of circumstances was never gonna play out in any scenario that would be good, but Elian Gonzalez, basically kinda became a symbol of Cuban refugees in America, and in particular Florida, and with the Press and media attention, he also became the center of politics for awhile. (Oh, right, this was also in the middle/beginning of the 2000 Presidential campaign, and yeah, so sure's that shitshow, and yes, as Tim Russert famously put it, Florida, Florida, Florida.)
Going over all the twists and turns of the story and public opinion, and the courts, trying to figure out how the hell to deal with this, and remember between it's between these two countries on top of the family situation, there's precedents upon precedents that's everybody trying to not set, but they're inevitably gonna be set, plus there's this Castro vs. America aspect...- I mean, basically it boils down to, what's more important, the rights of the Father, or what were clearly the intentions and wishes of the Boy's mother, who risked her and her son's life, and lost hers, trying to come to America. (Sigh) Somehow this ended up with Elian being taken away from one home, at the end of a soldier with a gun, sent by Janet Reno, and man, was that not a good picture. I think Reno gets a really bad rap most of the time, including her actions here, but that was a bad photo, but then again, why the hell were the paparazzi staking out this kid 24/7. Then again, the family seemed to be playing it up whenever they could, and there's about 20 other "then agains..." I could add here.
This was the one of the '90s tabloid pieces 'cause this really was a no-win scenario for everyone involved. The most interesting part of the documentary for me, is to see what Elian Gonzalez has become and is now. He's still somewhat famous and Castro, actually did take a genuine interest and liking for him, not just for publicity, and having lived and grown up in Cuba most of his life now, he's basically a Castro disciple. He seems okay in every other aspect; he just spent a brief and memorable time in the U.S. for a bit there. Who knows what'll happen to him now, he seems educated and smart; I imagine he might somehow find his way into local politics at some point; he's currently a pretty skilled engineer now. Cuban-American relations are, better now, although who knows with dipshit in the White House now if that'll stay the same, but the Embargo's lifted and there's still a long way to go. This documentary, basically reminds us one of the strangest, saddest and more surreal of the conflicts the country's had during that time. For some, it'll probably educate and teach, so for that I'll recommend it, for me, it really only reminds me of a past that hopefully we'll never have to go through and repeat those events in any way again.
MR. ROOSEVELT (2017) Director: Noel Wells
I can't believe I'm reviewing two different movies in the same week that involve pets named after President Roosevelt.
Like seriously, what are the freaking odds of that? Anyway, yes, Mr. Roosevelt is a cat who's sudden death is the catalyst for Emily Martin (Noel Wells) a struggling comedienne and editor to come back home to Austin, Texas where she finds out that things have changed since she left. When she previously left for L.A. to hope her career would take off, she and her boyfriend Nick (Eric Thune) were still together and trying the long-distance thing, which inevitably didn't work. Now that she's back, and to her surprise she's greeted by both Nick and Celeste (Britt Lower), Nick's new girlfriend, who now lives with him, and is also in deep mourning over Mr. Roosevelt's sudden passing, who she considered hers as well. She's nice, in what Emily correctly analyzes as being in a life coach sort of way, and is not quite sure how to handle this news. Meanwhile, she's in town for about a week- that is, if she can find a way back home. She's basically broke and between failed auditions and working in the L.A. Improv circuit, she does some commercial editing work for a pharmaceutical company that basically works out of her Boss, Todd's (Doug Benson) apartment.
Also, for those, unfamiliar with Austin, Texas, eh, well, it's a little hard to explain, but it's sort of the San Francisco of Texas, and a little "weird" in general besides that. From what I've heard, the best way I can describe it's recent population burst and pop culture relevance over the last thirty years or so, is that, maybe not literally, but it feels like at some point The Grateful Dead came to perform a concert, and for whatever inexplicable reason, the Deadheads just kinda decided to stay. As Emily puts it, she left because had she stayed, "like everyone else, they would've been to at home to try to achieve anything." So, going into town to, blow off steam, can get you sucked into this culture pretty easily, as it does here when she reconnects with Jen (Danielle Pineda) a waitress at a party a few years ago that apparently remembers her way more than Emily remembers her. ([Shrugs] I'd say this was weird, but I'm the kind of loner that this happens to a lot, so, yeah, that makes sense to me.) She ends up engulfed in her inner circles of potheads and exhibitionists, and even during one horrible prolonged emotional freakout, she ends up sleeping with Art (Andre Hyland) who's the exact of pathetic, delusional loser she hooks up with, in general now, and usually at the worst possible times with the least possible amount of forethought.
There's a lot going on here, most of it is okay, but not transcendent. Admittedly I can't think of too many stories about people going back to their childhood home because of their pet dying; that's the right kind of yuppie surrealism confused for hippie idealism to find here though. It almost sounds like something I would've expected from say, Miranda July, but instead, Writer/Director Noel Wells's first debut feature is charming and delightful and rather endearing. You might recognize her from "Saturday Night Live" or "Master-of-None" before this, where she showed off some serious acting chops, especially the latter. (I remember being shocked she didn't get an Emmy nomination for one episode of that show in particular) I think she's an interesting talent with a quirky new voice; I know she doesn't like being called quirky, but she is, you could call her eccentric though. "Mr. Roosevelt" overall is a nice twist on a tried-and-true indy genre and I'm looking forward to seeing what else she'll do from here on out.
UNREST (2017) Director: Jennifer Brea
It's scientific name is myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME, it's more commonly called "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome"; I know, it doesn't sound like a real thing either, but it is, and "Unrest" reveals that in unflinching, emotional detail. Director Jennifer Brea, suffers from it. She was a Harvard grad who was studying for finals for her, like twelfth degree or something and then, she suddenly had a hard time even standing up, much less walking. Nowadays, she doesn't seem to leave her bed all that much and the majority time she's basically filming her illness. Her husband, is Omar Wasow, a name that might be familiar to those more digitally-inclined entrepreneurial than I, back in the '90s in the beginning of the mass consumption of the international superhighway era, he was one of the original talking heads who promoted the web; he created one of the early social networking sites, BlackPlanet. He's currently a Princeton professor, but mostly he's his wife's caretaker as they struggle defiantly through medication and cure-all home remedies that supposedly might alleviate some of her pain. At one point, she basically tents outside figuring more sunlight will help; it doesn't really. She even makes him shower and change clothes repeatedly, figuring that may be a way that it might be spreading. "Pain" is the keyword; I believe. It's easy to think that a disease like this might just be confused with normal everyday laziness that some purportedly suspect this new age generation is guilty of. However after seeing Jennifer take one medication that allowed her to get up and walk around outside for awhile, seeing the syndrome, out of nowhere and seemingly un-triggered suddenly take hold of her, practically paralyzing her from inside the mind onward is just startling to see. I'm not gonna pretend that I'm not particuarly sedentary in my lifestyle, moreso than I wish I were, but I have seen pain like that before from people for whom it is a struggle to get up in the morning at times. It's easy to confuse it for being tired, but it is a painful syndrome, to be wanting and trying to get up and being physically unable to, and you don't know why, only your body is rejecting this idea.
She decides to seek out others like her and she begins finding them online, almost creating a community of people suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome with little-to-no end in sight of it getting cured. There's little-to-no funding on the disease, in Denmark, they're still not convinced the disease exists at all, considering cases to be psychosomatic. One woman's husband left her after not believing her illness was real for years, hoping it would be the charge that would get her out of bed. It didn't happen and no their daughter is suffering from the Chronic Fatigue as well.
It's actually a fascinated disease that's been around forever it seems but has only recently been discovered. It usually occurs after somebody gets a thread of some other severe cold or flu or something that's large enough to spread around and what happens for some people is that, the disease will eventually dissipate but not before it attacks the immune system. It's kind of an immune deficiency syndrome; it doesn't lead to AIDS, or anything, it's not that strong as far as I can tell, but since it attacks the immune system it makes you less strong enough to overcome other illness, and it deflates your energy. At least, that's the theory now and there's history on it's side, there's lots of accounts of similar fatigue syndromes occurring in the past, usually after major pandemic or near-pandemic level illnesses. Well, at least we have a theory, unfortunately nowhere near a cure at the moment.
Hopefully "Unrest" will become a chronicle of a syndrome that will in the future only become a punchline for those who are actually lazy in the future, but I don't think that's happening anytime soon. I'd mention Brea's directing and how I can't wait for her next feature but I'm amazed she managed to pull this off. Credit to modern technology, Skyping and video and editing programs helps, but it's still really impressive. It's a brave and powerful picture to make to document your own disease, especially one that makes people so static. Hopefully this film will educated those on the illness and hopefully be the first of many films and other art pieces as well as several other private and government-funded endeavors and protests into treatments and investigation of the syndrome and hopes for a cure. We're only starting to understand this syndrome....
THE KIND WORDS (2016) Director: Shemi Zahrin
"The Kind Words" is one of those family mystery epics that I seem to admire more as I get older. I'm honestly not exactly sure what attracts me to them, maybe it's just that lately when I've seen them they've been good. This latest one, "The Kind Words" an Israeli film begins with interesting characters to begin with. Three siblings, all of whom are going through their own struggles as adults. Dorona (Rotem Zissman-Cohen) has had several miscarriages and is struggling to keep her marriage together. Her two brother, Natanel (Roy Assaf) recently had triplets, and her younger brother Shai (Assaf Ben-Shimon) has a kid from his past wife that lives in Hungary, but has since come out as gay. Then, she finds out from her Father (Sasson Gabai) that he's been unable to have a kid with his current, younger wife, and he reveals that he's been impotent his entire life. Then, the mother suddenly passes away after a blood clot was formed after having a tumor removed and no, she did not reveal who the father was.
This causes some friction and inevitably a search that leads them to France, and their Aunt Rosa (Florence Bloch) who has only limited information for them, that she's willing to reveal. Without giving too much away here, the strength of the film is how there are so many different dynamics at play here. There's the inner crises of the characters, there's the worry about whether they should seek out the truth about their past and who their father is, there's the realization of the possibility of who he could be and why it was kept secret, there's the dramas between the siblings themselves as they barely get along...- it's a family drama that's full of great characters and great conflict. It isn't perfect, this probably would be a better TV show than a two-hour movie, a la in the "This is Us" vein, but there's a lot of richness here. That's why this genre, when done well can really be special. The movie reminds me a lot of say the six-hour Italian epic "The Best of Youth" or even more specifically with Denis Villenueve's still underrated and underappreciated "Incendies". "The Kind Words" isn't necessarily as great as those, but I thoroughly enjoyed the journey. Great film.
CLOSET MONSTER (2016) Director: Stephen Dunn
"Closet Monster", a title that, honestly I don't quite get, is a- (Sigh), well, I won't say typical coming-of-age story, but it's one that, feels like a certain kind of "personal film". The kind that gives that term a bad name. Dark, moody, eccentric, the kind of movie that struggles to get us to feel the emotions of the character. The character is Oscar- (Checks IMDB page) Seriously that's his last name? Oh boy. The character is Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) a young teenager who grew up in a badly broken home and who at the age of nine (Jack Fulton) witness a particularly gruesome hate crime, him and his pet/spirit animal hamster, Buffy (Isabella Rosselini). Yes, he hear's his hamster's thoughts, who like him, also has a bit of a sexual identity crisis as he grows up aware that he's gay, but not sure quite how to handle it yet. He and his best friend Gemma (Sofia Banhzaf) have some plans and even a down payment on an apartment to move to New York to eventually help fund his career as a make-up artist, which he uses Gemma to help model. He also ends up with a crush on his co-worker, Wilder (Allocha Schneider) and they begin to get-together a bit as he begins to realize his sexuality.
In between this, he's in-between houses and his mother and father Peter and Brin (Aaron Abrams and Joanne Kelly) if/when they are ever together seem to do nothing but fight and claw at each other's throats and meanwhile he's trying to figure himself out, I guess. This is the kind of movie that's fun of surrealistic imagery and, not necessarily dreams but elaborate ideas and sequences, all a way of trying to make us feel as though the character does. The movie is writer/director Stephen Dunn's first feature and I think he's got promise as a director, and the movie is apparently autobiographical, but not everybody's personal teenage angst is really strong enough to be a movie. I know, we all want to be able to express our emotions through our art and as filmmakers we all think we can do this visually with creative shots and effects; I've had moments and thoughts where I've been guilty of that myself, and thankfully I had some professors and classmates who managed to beat me down until I managed to be convinced that it wasn't necessarily a movie. I suspect that this is somewhat more elaborate than my ideas, but "Closet Monster" is basically the same thing, with a little more interesting of a teenage character, but not more interesting of a film. The acting helps, but I just don't think there's enough story here. Which is fine, it's about the emotional perils of the character, but I just have seen better, even among gay teenager films, Gregg Araki's made a couple good films like "Mysterious Skin" and "White Bird in a Blizzard" that I suspect the director was inspired by, at least tonally, but yeah, I'd tell you to just go seek those films out instead. "Closet Monster" is a first feature that I suspect the director will hopefully learn from for his next feature, at least that's the most I feel I can hope for.