Alright, so-eh, first things first, I chose not to review the documentary "Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities", mainly because I couldn't tell if this film actually had a theatrical release. According to Google, it did, but when I checked the date they gave me, it was the date of their screening at the Sundance Film Festival, which I don't tend to count necessarily. I also, double-check with last year's Academy Awards list of eligible films, and it didn't make either their Documentary or their Best Picture longlists, so, since I couldn't really determine a theatrical release, I decided to not review it it. That said, it's an okay documentary. probably better suited for PBS where it aired recently than on the big screen....- other than that, it's fine.
Anyway, I watched quite a few films I'm not reviewing this week, let's go through them real quick, "Sembene!" wonderful documentary on the great Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, I'd seek that out as well as his films, in fact I gotta seek out more of his films. I watched a French horror thriller called "Alleluia", which I didn't particularly liked. It's inspired by the story of the Lonely Hearts Killers, if you know about, eh, it's basically the same just in modern-day France, I think, some differences, it's a bit more sexual and fucked up, but...- (Shrugs) I finally got around to "Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie", I know, I'm late on that one. I can take it or leave it personally, but it's got it's moments, although admittedly, I'm a little annoyed that they the giant monster didn't destroy the Las Vegas Strip in any logical order. Like, you can't go from destroying Mandalay Bay to destroying the Paris's Eiffel Tower like that, they're miles away, he's be destroying so many other casinos in between! Eh, that's a Vegas thing. (Also, Robert Urich cannot possibly turn right onto Desert Inn like that...- nevermind) I watched this old Pre-Code Golden Age film, "Indiscreet" starring Gloria Swanson, it's interesting as a curiosity and it has a line of interesting lines of dialogue that probably plays weird now, although from I gather it wasn't overly beloved at the time, but it's got a genuinely funny bit at the end where Swanson's character has to sneak onto a cruise ship. The last thing I watched was "Unfinished Song", which-, eh, if you remember the documentary "Young@Heart", which I think everybody loved except me, this is basically a fictionalized variation on that, which a personal narrative or two in the middle that came cut out from the used screenplay factory. I-eh, yeah, I didn't care for that at all. I thought it was boring. I mean the old people music group did a decent version of Motorhead's "Ace of Spades", but...- again, I didn't like the documentary, so....
Alright, that's the rundown of other films I got through, let's get it. Here's the latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS, starting off with the Oscar-nominated features, "Victoria & Abdul", "Faces Places" and "Loving Vincent"!
VICTORIA & ABDUL (2017) Director: Stephen Frears
Eh, I don't know what to make of this one. I'll say this though, the last dozen or so years of Stephen Frears's movies, about half of them have had a common thread involving older eccentric women as the center star, usually Judi Dench, although Helen Mirren will work if she needs to be younger than her, unless an American is needed, Meryl Streep will do, unless she needs to be sexy, then-eh, Michelle Pfieffer's underused, we'll get her. Seriously, "Mrs. Henderson Presents", "The Queen", "Cheri", "Philomena", "Florence Foster Jenkins" and now "Victoria & Abdul", and sure there's some other things in there, some minor interesting project that, now that I'm looking at them usually have something to either do with sports, politics or both, except for "Tamara Drewe", but for a director most well-known for being the ultimate chameleon who will drift from project-to-project with no previous discernible pattern in his work other than it always being different than before, this is as close as it gets to a true trope or motif for him.
(Shrugs) Um, I don't know what exactly to make of that to be honest, but it's starting to become a trend, and it's noticeable, and that's basically all I got. As to the movie, um...- (Shrugs) I think it's one of his weaker ones? I mean, this should be somewhat interesting and compelling, and it's apparently loosely based on the true account of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal) who spent a few years as Queen Victoria (the aforementioned Judi Dench) munshi. (A munshi, and I'm looking this up to try to be as accurate as I can, basically it's a Secretary or Assistant, although in this case, one who specifies in languages. See, after a few initial mostly ceremonial meetings, the Queen becomes intrigued by Abdul and hires him to teach him Hindu and Urdu as well as educate her on the country. I mean, she is Empress of India, so she thinks should learn a little bit about the nation she's technically the monarch of. It sounds reasonable, which naturally means it's completely shocking and utterly unreasonable to much of the other Royal and political aristocrats who take great umbrage in his presence and influence over the Queen. There's a long supporting cast of these that are interesting, but the best of these is Bertie, Victoria's son who'd become Edward VII when she passed and is played by Eddie Izzard who's so over-the-top while simultaneously hiding in plain sight so well behind a ridiculous yeah fascinating beard that I thought he was Kenneth Branagh for half the film. It's by far the most fun performance in the film.
I'm half-amazed that Judi Dench is still able to work regularly and so well at her age, and with the recent health scares she's had. She's 84 and still has several projects in some form of development, despite not even able to travel on her own because of general old-ageness on top of Macular Degeneration Syndrome that has eradicated most of her vision. Yes, she's going blind and is still basically able to perform as well as she's always done, which is probably the least surprising revelation ever. Ali Fazal is also quite good, I don't want to discount him. I think this is one of those cases where I wonder if the historical story is actually interesting or compelling enough for a feature film, and I'm not sure this is, not the way it's been told here. Perhaps from a different perspective it would've been more compelling, but as it stands, it's mostly just forgettable.
FACES PLACES (2017) Directors: JR and Agnes Varda
I have to be honest about this, I don't have a big knowledge of Agnes Varda. I've certainly heard of her and I did previously watch "Cleo from 5 to 7", a long time ago, and I've seen "The Beaches of Agnes" but that's about it, and I didn't make that much of a impression from "Cleo...", although I probably need another watch. She's not taught as often as most of her male French New Wave counterparts, and it's also somewhat weird to even place her in that group, because her old pals Francois and Jean-Luc, she had a very strange and indirect route to filmmaking. Originally raised in Belgium before moving to Paris, she originally went into still photography with plans to become a museum curator, This was in the late '40s and early '50s so she was considerably older than most of her New Wave contemporaries, and unlike most of them, the majority of her work, especially recent work is based in documentary, she hasn't made a feature-length film that wasn't a documentary since '95's "One Hundred and One Nights".
Now at age 89, she's even more older than the current contemporary that she's hanging out with a 34-year-old muralist named JR. His thing is basically to take pictures, large picture often that they take of people and transposed them on the sides of places. It's actually quite impressive and there's definitely something clever about the little photobooth van that JR and Agnes travel from town to town in, just photographing people and putting up murals of them. Sometimes lifesized one of the locals, like a farmer's picture on his barn, or a really interesting one of dock workers wives on the side of storage crates. Varda's toes got placed on the side of a cement truck at one point, something she appreciates although may be slightly embarrassed by. "Faces, Places" or "Visages, Villages" as it's also known as, is basically just that, JR and Agnes traveling from different places, different villages, and photographing people's faces. Recording, other people. They have their own conversations too, some of them have a slight sense of staginess to them, but I don't mind that too much. JR and Agnes seem quite natural together, and of course there's the nice scene of them running through the Louvre, recreating that scene from "A Band Apart", only this time, Agnes taking a ride in a wheelchair. They do go and try to visit Jean-Luc Godard and without giving too much away, there is something sad yet satisfying with the fact that Jean-Luc even today and now, still seems like a complete asshole, even when he's not on screen. I wish she didn't leave those pastries she bought for him with him.
"Faces, Places" will probably work on you more if you have the affection and appreciation for Agnes Varda that I probably should have by now, but I can't get to everything, but this film makes me want to get to more of her work. And to look up JR's work as well. His part's gonna get overshadowed but more than anything else, the movie is actually a showcase of his art and places it in a powerful and emotional context that makes some of it, not just breathtaking on a visual level, but on an emotional one too. Right now, I'm just gonna starting her films to my Netflix queue and maybe I'll revisit this film after I've seen more of her work then.
LOVING VINCENT (2017) Directors: Dakota Kobeila and Hugh Welchman
There's been several attempts over the years to bring Vincent Van Gogh, the man onto film. He certainly seems like he's a compelling enough character for a film, so that makes sense, but there's always been a little something off about all the adaptations so far. The Vincent Minelli film "Lust for Life" with Kirk Douglas is generally fondly remember, but it's far from great; I think Robert Altman's "Vincent & Theo" is underrated as all Hell, but if you ask if it tangibly gets us a sense of Van Gogh, I would be reluctant to say so. Now we get, "Loving Vincent" the first animated film to be entirely animated through painting, the movie was shot first with the actors in front of a green screen and edited together and then the commissioned over 100 classical painters to frame-by-frame paint each scene in Van Gogh oil paintings style and it's visually one of the most cinematically fascinating and enchanting films to sit through. Does it capture the essence of Vincent Van Gogh? Well, I mean it certainly captures his art and makes it comes alive, and that alone is enough to see the movie. It's visually overwhelming, all the scenes and setting and characters are recreated from Van Gogh's own art work and it's really magnificent. As a film, well, it's actually kinda interesting, it does struggle to get a grasp on Van Gogh the person, but the movie is kinda about that.
The main character is Armand (Douglas Booth) a son of Van Gogh's postman, Joseph (Chris O'Dowd) who's made it his reluctant mission, first to send a letter that Van Gogh (Robert Gulaczyk) wrote before his suicide to his brother Theo (Cezary Lukaszewica), which was for some reason sent back as undeliverable. Of course, we know that Theo also killed himself a few months after his brother, but eventually the path leads Armand to the people who knew Van Gogh, and he begins to suspect foul play was afoot in his death the more he struggles to find out about the elusive mad genius. There are some contradictory statements and accounts, but it also seems like Vincent was a man of contradictions. A depressive who was under constant care of a Doctor, Dr. Gachet (Jerome Flynn) most notably and six weeks before his passing was mostly seen in a fairly good mood. Like most attempts to deconstruct Van Gogh the man, Armand eventually gets boggled down. There's a bit of a "Citizen Kane" flashback aspects to the storytelling, although the movie it most reminds me of actually is "Hollywoodland" in terms of plot structure, as we constantly see our protagonists struggle to seek out and search for an answer that's simply unable to be found. That's probably the best approach to trying to understand Van Gogh anyway. He's a mystery to us and that's why he's an utter fascination, along with the hundreds of paintings he left us, it's amazing how they've been recreated here and animated; I think this movie may literally bring us the closest possible into the life of Van Gogh. The character aren't just people from his paintings, they're the people who he spent much of his working life with and around, and there's some great voice work from several of them, John Sessions, Helen McCrory and Saoirse Ronan particularly stand out to me, but the star of the film is the animation, as it should be. The focus of Van Gogh should above all else be focused on the paintings more than anything else and this movie does that.
PERSONAL SHOPPER (2017) Director: Olivier Assayas
Olivier Assayas is somebody who I only really now realized I have a difficult time grasping as a filmmaker. I always have, of course, but I'm rarely if ever understood exactly why. He's always made good movie, but I've always had a hard time figuring out a connective thread between them. He's a rare breed today, he was originally a film critic who later made the jump to writer/director and looking back at some of his movies now, there's spiritual in his approach to film. Well, not necessarily spiritual, but otherworldy, I guess is the word. I always got the sense that he was aiming for feeling and tone more than plot and sometimes that worked like with "Clean" or "Summer Hours" sometimes it didn't like it really didn't with "Something in the Air". He's had a few interesting muses over this period of time; he was divorced from his wife Maggie Cheung when they made "Clean" together and him and director Mia Hansen-Love had a child together before their amicable split recently. He seems utterly fascinated by Juliette Binoche, but who the hell isn't, but lately he's moved onto Kristen Stewart and this is the second consecutive film they've made together after her amazing performance in what's probably his best film, "Clouds of Sils Maria" and playing a somewhat similar role on the surface.
Instead of a personal assistant to a major European actress, she's playing the titular "Personal Shopper" Maureen, to a famous European actress, named Kyra (Nora van Waldstratten). She's even moved to Paris for the gig and Kyra will keep her busy even if they're rarely if ever around together at the same time, and the few times we do see her, see seems like she'd be a pain to work with. Maureen basically says as much to Gary (Ty Olwin) her boyfriend, who are apparently both world traveling globalists as he's working in Oman, of all places. She wants her to join him but she's got a reason to stay. Part of it is the work, but mainly, it's the fact that her twin brother suddenly passed away after a sudden heart abnormality attacked him; a heart condition that she also apparently suffers from, requiring her to keep getting regular check-ups. She's also something of a medium, and while she's caught up a bit with some of her brother's Lewis's friends while in Paris, where he lived and passed on, she believes there's some sort of presence from his old house that, may or may not be calling after him, and that may or may not be Lewis.
My immediate reaction is to read these parts almost as two differing stories entirely they're so different. That said, I of course have never really bought into the European thriller mentality of the nightmarish and surreal having more relevance than the logistics of plot, or as I call it, "Way too inspired by "Vertigo"", but that said, I'm kinda fascinated with the idea of mediums, and they usually end up making good characters in interesting movies. I think the practice bullshit in reality, so don't go spending your money to be conned by John Edward or someone of that ilk, but I do think those who do have that power probably would try to seek out careers and lifestyles in an attempt to suppress those feelings. I mean, if you're able to contact with the dead, that's gotta be a frustrating life. So, yeah, traveling half-way around the world to work at the exact outskirts of entertainment and fashion, arguably the most trivial of shallowest of industries, hmm, I can kinda see that. Of course, nobody in film or television is ever a medium, without having some inevitable connection to an afterlife, and this one seems to be haunting her.
At first it's just sounds and noises, just slightly above feeling, but then there's a visual presence and then it starts to be trying to contact her, including some eerie messages on her cell phone. I struggle to figure out what exactly all of this means, if it actually means anything at all. The contrasting setting and narrative keep us unease. There's good performances all around, but this is Kristen Stewart's film and she is in every scene of this movie. Even during the height of the hatred of "Twilight" I had never understood the negative attention towards her and her acting. Sure, like any actor, she's gonna get good parts and bad parts, on a regular basis, and when she gets those good roles, she blows them out of the park like she does here. (It might've helped that I had seen her in great performances beforehand going all the back to working with Jodie Foster in "Panic Room". Note: if Jodie Foster ever works with a young actress in her teens or younger, just presume she's already a star, 'cause she's going to be in a few years. Seriously, Stewart, Lawrence, Breslin, this is a pattern, she's training them on set, 'cause lord knows, she's easily the best person to do so, so....) Few people can pull of this dressed-down ragamuffin every-woman type character and yet still seem to naturally switch to enticing ingenue with a simple change of clothes, and I can't imagine this role working for too many other stars. As to the film, I think it's more of a mismatch than some may think, but it's still compelling enough to recommend and lord knows, I've seen far worst ghost stories this year. I wish it had a point, but just because a ghost is trying to contact you the beyond, doesn't mean they have to have a good reason to do it either.
DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE (2017) Director: Rick Barnes, Olivia Neergaard-Holm and Jon Nguyen
It's a documentary where David Lynch narrates about his life while we watch him paint and sculpt and observe and soak everything else that is the day-to-day world of David Lynch, how many starts did you think I was gonna rate this?
Alright, lately I have been more critical of Lynch than some, but it's Lynch, I'm ultimately a fan like any good cinephile and even if you aren't a fan; you're still fascinated by him. He is naturally a strange character, an enigmatic cerebral filmmaker who's fascinated by images over narratives, conventional narratives at least, (Most of the time, anyway) and seems to relish in his imploring of dreams. He is one of those filmmakers who makes us wonder, what exactly makes him tick.
I have no clue, if we ever actually learn that in "David Lynch: The Art Life", and for that matter, forget about him talking about his films, like that was ever gonna actually happen anyway. No, we get the personal Lynch here. Lynch, the artist, and he is an artist. He's dabbled in nearly every genre of art you can imagine, film is by no means his first love, and a love of his best stories are about his apprenticeship as a painter. He grew up mostly in the Philadelphia suburb, where just around the corner as he'd walk down the street, he's hear several violent and even racist slurs around town, shedding his perspective of the perfect image of a small town and as one that seems to always have more dark and lurid corners lurking about it. (As somebody who got's family that grew up in that area, that makes absolutely perfect sense, and I can't believe I never pieced that together before) We get a lot of stories about his formative years growing up, very few of them are actually strange or unusual, although there's one noted incident that some have noted bares a striking resemblance to the infamous scene in "Blue Velvet" of Isabella Rossellini battered, bloody and naked suddenly showing up on an otherwise idyllic front lawn. (That god he didn't grow up in Vegas, 'cause in some parts of town, except for the fact that she emerged out of the woods, that would otherwise just be Thursday.) We do see him playing with his young daughter a lot as well; it's a little weird to think of Lynch having a family, he admits that for most of his life it didn't seem likely. What "The Art Life" I suspect is trying to show, is not so much the myth or legend of Lynch, and it barely gets into his film work at all, with only occasional mentions at the end of how he evolved from painting to shorts and then his AFI grant to make "Eraserhead", but the process of his art. We are seeing the artist at work, creating, thinking, imagining, recalling, he's not giving us his narration because he wants us to focus on in the details of his past, but rather show us what's inspiring and going through his mind as he develops his art. He knows he has to create, as all artists of all kinds, and therefore we must seek out and dwell on those pieces of our life and thoughts, until something comes out. I do it, we all do it, "The Art Life" shows us how Lynch does it, and I don't better or worst than anybody else's process, but it's uniquely his.
For me, I can put on a 12 hour version of this and just let Lynch soak over me and still be disappointed and annoyed that their isn't enough of it: I don't know how others will react or should react the same way, although I can't imagine why anybody would watch this film without knowing who David Lynch is to begin with. I guess you can call this fan service, but it's more fan indulgence to me, and frankly is must-have must-see for cinephiles of all ilks, so I doubt anybody with a casual awareness of Lynch is gonna react to this, butI can't imagine why'd watch and seek this film out anyway.
HELL ON EARTH: THE FALL OF SYRIA AND THE RISE OF ISIS (2017) Directors: Sebastian Junger & Nick Questad
There's a sequence in this movie, it comes after a particularly gruesome death, that is the result of the Bashar government in Syria, a death that, thankfully, at least in the televised version I saw, was edited out, but I've seen enough movies in recent years on this part of the world, and enough images of the violence...., so...- anyway, one of the talking heads, goes through the history of civilizations and how public displays of violence, by the governing body, has always been used in cultures to, keep the people in line. Drawn and quartering in England, various forms of slut-shaming in France, not to mention, guillotines, China would run over it's citizens, America of course is where the whole town would come together and have a lovely town picnic to go with their regular-scheduled lynchings. The last image in the montage is of Ancient Romans and one of their more famous methods of public punishment through violence, crucifixion. It is, undeniable bizarre to think of such things as ISIS beheading foreign journalists on the internet as simply a continuation of this tradition a modern form of violence to quash public discord, but of course, I'm sure for them, they don't see it as a complete spit in the eye to the sanctity of life, but a tool for their own preservation. All countries are blindingly unaware of their own violent tendencies. We didn't drop the Atomic Bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to kill 700,000 Japanese, we were stopping and preventing a World War from causing more death and destruction; that's one of the more common and memorable lies we tell ourselves here. Hell, even as I write it, I'm tempted to rebut it with explanations about it prevented more harm and life and ended an already drawn-out and deadly war.
I'm sick of these documentaries about Syria, but like the last one I wrote about, "Cries from Syria", which doesn't feel like I reviewed two long months ago, "Hell on Earth..." needs to be watched. They all need to be watched, even if this one has some now, in hindsight, unfortunate interviews with Michael Flynn as a talking point in the middle. I'm honestly kinda amazed that this one is as conventional a narrative as it is, directors Junger & Questad aren't exactly against talking heads and whatnot, but their most famous works, the sister documentaries, "Restrepo" and "Korengal" were very much based in documenting the realities of the soldiers in the Afghan War, from the soldiers point of view, very much, cut away from the politics of the situation, but "Hell on Earth..." distinguishes itself by stripping down the story of Syria in the last eight years or so and telling the exclusively political tale of it, from the the Arab Spring to today and while, yes there is still plenty of death and destruction all through the movie and white Helmets and nuclear bombings and all that soul-crushing destruction, it's also the most of succinct of the movies so far that explains how and why we go to this point. How a country on the verge of democracy, was slaughtered by it's own government, backed by Russia, and opened the door for ISIS to come in and thrive and that's not even getting into the several disparate rebel groups in the middle fighting both sides or one side or...- trying to get money or resources from elsewhere, so there's a new alliance or group everyday.... (Sigh)
It's a clusterfuck, that's not new, that's not surprising, but that's what it is, and frankly the more we see of it, the more it's shoved in our face, the...- (Sigh) I don't know, maybe nothing will happen, or we'll continue to do nothing I should say, 'cause stuff's gonna keep happening there whether we want to pretend it is or isn't. I don't blame us for being reluctant, we want our presence in the Middle East to be as diluted than it is even now, and there's a distinct chance that whatever best intentions and plans we could have by being more involved, can just as easily backfire and make things worst. We've fought through two metaphorical Hell's on Earth in the Middle East twice this century already, and frankly neither ended as planned and the after-effects,- well, frankly I get why we wouldn't be particularly keen to march back into a new warzone anymore, although the fact that we're trying our damnedest not to take in refugees, is just outright obscene after seeing the world they're living in.
The movie seems to insinuate that the effects may already have hit our shores as there's been a rise in lone wolf ISIS attacks in the west, including in America. Even after a film like this, in regard to Syria I'm not even sure they're problem number one despite all the destruction they've caused. The movie accurately paints them as basically a bunch of hoods, a street gang that's basically into terrorism for the money they can get for it. Even compared to Al-Queda their ideology seems non-existent.
According to Junger, all Arab Spring Revolutions and demonstrations were essentially, "Anti-Corruption Demonstrations", and when people like Assad decide not to concede but to fight for his right to continue with his unwavering power and corruption, all it really does is allow for other corrupting influences to come in and try to enforce their own form of corruption and call it a change for the better. That's not entirely true as there's of course legitimate influences trying to stop and save the country from ruin, although food for thought there. "Hell on Earth..." of all the Syrian documentaries is probably the one best suited for say a Sociopolitical classroom history lesson on the area. Personally "Cries from Syria" will probably continue to haunt me the longest, but "Hell on Earth," will certainly do that in a pinch as well. From here on out, whatever happens, God help Syria if no else will, and if anybody actually does try, well, they'll probably need more than help from God, but good luck to whomever takes up that mantle.
BETTING ON ZERO (2017) Director: Ted Braun
So, multi-level marketing businesses are pyramid scheme, plain and simple. This is-, not even remotely subjective or debatable, they're pyramid schemes, with a fancy term. Now, this alone should be enough to knock out most of the brands and companies and arrest most of their CEOs and other top people in their positions, but for some weird reason, there are several prominent MLMs around to this day. I mean, from what I hear, at least Mary Kay cosmetics actually work, which is more than some of these brands have going for them. So, I'm not exactly surprised that William Ackman decided to short Herbalife one of the major MLMs in the world.
Never heard of Herbalife? Or what a short is, or who William Ackman is? Yeah, me neither. Well, I probably heard of Herbalife and what a short is, but...- so, funny thing, I think I actually did go to an Herbalife "Nutrition Store" once. They are, as they were shown in the movie, deceptively hard-to-find, they have a green foreground, either with their door or an awning, little-to-no advertisement on what the place actually is, and once inside, I felt like I was trying to be sold a health lifestyle when I was really just looking for something to drink while I had some other walking around to do. Inside it seemed okay, and I think the drink was fine, although I don't remember much of it other than it being too expensive even for a smoothie and I'm pretty certain I decided that moment there that I was just gonna hit the Circle K across the street from my bus stop with the any size 89cent sodas whenever I needed to from there on out. I doubt it's still there now, and just a quick check on Herbalife distributors and storefront in the Las Vegas area indicates that it isn't. Like most people who become a distributor for them, they probably lost money on a product that frankly shouldn't be hard to find in stores, but they really try to sell you on it. (That should be a weird sign when they're so determined to sell you on investing in an entire company's line of products.)
So, Herbalife in particular is a health-food company that you never find in stores, it's purely sold through direct-selling, and those direct sellers who buy stock in the product through a distributor also are recruiters who aim to recruit others into selling Herbalife. BTW if this happens like, thirteen times over or something, literally everybody in the world would be selling Herbalife. Now, it's original CEO Mark Hughes died of a drug and alcohol overdose in 1999, and the Board of Directors appointed Michael O. Johnson, the former head of Disney International the new CEO and to be fair, unlike the more eccentric and exuberant Hughes, he seems like a fairly reasonable guy, and a decent salesman. He even makes a somewhat decent pitch about how most distributors aren't looking to get rich from selling Herbalife but are only in their minor programs to get a little extra money. If that were true and not say, purposefully targeting lower-income families, particularly immigrant and Spanish-language distributors in recent years with several lies about making huge amounts of money
So, William Ackman is an investor and hedge fund manager. I know what you're thinking, but stick with me, he's one of the good ones. Very good ones in fact. He has stakes in companies like Target, Chipotle and Valeant, but he's also known for doing something that's sorta the opposite of investing, something called "Shorting", which is to put your own money up and bet against a company. Essentially he's attempting to make money by betting on a company's failure. He's famously done this with Municipal Bond Insurance a company that basically went completely under during the 2008 crisis. (So, if this was a game of craps, a short is a bet on the Don't Pass Line", or maybe more accurately, the Don't Come Line, which I've just now realize how dirty that name is). "Betting on Zero" documents his $1Billion, with a B, short on Herbalife. This caused them, to attack.
For one, they brought about cases against Ackman, they brought in one of Ackman's rivals Carl Icahn, who sounds and talks to a stressingly similar degree to Donald Trump, who recently hired him to the laughable position of Economic Advisor on Financial Regulation, especially if you look up his history, even when this movie was screened, a lobbying firm for Herbalife bought out the tickets for the screening so that no one else would show up. Herbalife had to recently settle with the FTC to the tune of $200million dollars, and they basically have to change their practices, which of course they're not doing much of, but it took seven years for Ackman's short to pan out, and Michael O. Johnson, their previous CEO has since resigned and left the company, with an 8-figure payday of course. Ackman won't make money on this short, his hedgefund's guaranteed to donate all profits from it, he did that just to make sure everybody knows he's serious. He's also fought back and refused to back down from Herbalife and come back with several claims of his own.
This is one of those documentaries where it'll be interesting to check in on in a few years time. In the meantime, the most interesting part is how compelling the Wall Street players are at this. Ackman is an arrogant and snobby son of a bitch but he's put his money where his mouth is and several others and those that try to take him down, he doesn't stand down from them. The back and forth over the rise and fall of a stock of a company, a Wall Street con man out of spite, articificially raising the artificial stock price of a company that's a pyramid scheme; it's like a sham on a sham on a sham. This is what the business world has come to, isn't it? I'm glad somebody who gives a damn like Ackman is around to call bullshit, hopefully it doesn't cost. It's the only industry where being a philanthropist makes you a pariah.
THE WEDDING PLAN (2017) Director: Rama Buhrstein
I have a feeling that "The Wedding Plan" plays differently in Israel and with the more conservative Hasidic sects of the Jewish community there where it's Director Rama Buhrstein, I presume comes from, or she's at least very familiar with.This is her second feature after "Fill the Void" the claustrophobic drama that was about an eighteen-year-old girl who is pressured into marrying a much older man who was her sister's fiance until she suddenly passed away. She's dealing with marriage here, but instead it's an otherwise fairly-independent young woman Michal (Noa Koler) an Orthodox Jew who runs mobile petting zoo, who's marriage-obsessed and at age 32, is in need of a husband. She's got the wedding planned, mind you, the date's set, the ballroom's booked, but her fiance, Gidi (Erez Drigues) has second thoughts. She's determined that God will find her a husband in time.
I guess, technically this is not a story that I've seen before, exactly, but it's close and similar enough to a lot of other narratives; it frankly just feels like a very old and cliche rom-com narrative. I've even seen some reviews refer to the film as "My Big Fat Jewish Nuptials". I wouldn't go that far, but at some point early on in this film, you go on autopilot as you know there's only about three or four different endings this story can have and you're playing them all out in your head already. This one, involves her, go on several speed dates and matchmaking people, usually the ones with a spiritual or religious bent to them. She does have a somewhat mild connection with a famous pop star, Yos (Oz Behavi) but she's vehemently against that connection because, I think pop singer is a little too outside the acceptable norm of her beliefs, something like that, even though she's a big fan, and he proposes a few times and she rejects him, which makes her logic even more suspect as she seems to be turning into the joke of the Old Man refusing help from the flood because God will save him. It does end happily, admittedly not quite where I would've gone or why it does, but- (Sigh) I was bored.
Like I said, I'm sure I'm missing a lot that makes this play better in it's native Israel, and I know Rama Buhrstein is a good filmmaker, I liked "Fill the Void" quite a bit and that film's about as different as night and day from "The Wedding Plan", I would've never pegged the two films for having the same director. I'm not gonna tell her to stick to more dramatic films that seem to edge to the line of political as that film does, but I just don't think this was a compelling well thought-out film- well, actually that's not entirely fair, I think the character is not well thought-out or compelling. She's not the most grating character of all-time, but I really had a hard time caring about her desire to get married, and yeah, even in a culture such as hers where there's some obligation towards it she seemed fairly independent. She ran a business, a successful one based on the money she could spend on keeping up a wedding without a groom for awhile, alright maybe her family flipped a bit of the bill, but still, she seemed demanding and eccentric in not the best of ways; I'm honestly not surprised her boyfriend gave it a second thought and had trouble finding others. I wasn't able to root for her, and that's biggest factor in whether or not this kind of film works. That might just be me, but I know this director can create compelling characters and I don't think she did it here, so, star rating goes down.
I CALLED HIM MORGAN (2017) Director: Kasper Collin
I do admit to finding myself more and more infatuated with jazz the older I get, but I am still very much a nubie who lacks true knowledge of the greats, I'm listening to Lee Morgan's biggest hit, "The Sidewinder" as I write this, partly for inspiration and partly just because I want to gain more of a grasp of him as a musician. Until I saw this documentary, "I Called Him Morgan" about his life and death, much of which is recounted from video tape recording of Helen More, his common-law wife who killed him in a night of anger and passion. The recordings were taken shortly before her death by Lenny Reni Thomas, a North Carolina adult educator who instantly recognized who she was once the subject of jazz and Lee Thomas was brought up, Lenny being a jazz aficionado himself. Director Kasper Collin is a Swedish director who is fascinated with jazz; his previous feature was on the the great saxophonist Albert Ayler, here, he tries to reconstruct both the life and times of Lee Morgan as well as Helen, who left the jazz life after her sentencing was up and returned home to North Carolina.
"I Called Him Morgan" is fascinating, although it will probably have more meaning and effect on those who are fans of Morgan. From what I can tell, he was a very talented trumpeter who worked with John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Dizzy Gillespie among others, and was inspired by Clifford Brown. He grew up in Philadelphia but mostly worked the club scenes in New York by the end of his short life. His death in '72 was particularly shocking in the jazz world apparently. From what I do know about jazz, there's quite a history of early jazz greats dying early so I'm not exactly certain why this one, other than the way he died, would be particularly shocking, but I supposed that's enough of a reason. I think the film tries to get us really invested, and teaches enough of the history and importance of Morgan and jazz for us to understand, but I gotta admit, I'm a little disconnected to the film. Maybe it's just a little too cerebral for me as a jazz doc, but maybe I just need a Jazz 101 course. (I knew I shouldn't have taken History of Rock'n'Roll instead for my Music Appreciation credit, but I needed an easy A.) Anyway, yeah, I recommend it. It's an interesting story if nothing else and I suspect jazz people are really gonna be intrigued and fascinated. Mostly this movie just reminds that I wish I still had my Grandpa's old jazz records he used to collect. I guess that's something.
KEEP QUIET (2017) Directors: Sam Blair and Joseph Martins
So, I don't know much about Poland's modern political landscape but I do know that for much of Europe in recent years, there's been a prominent Far Right-Wing contingent slowly eeking their way back into modern politics. Something to do with a Representative Government structure in some countries, also there's been several groups that have popped up; most of what I know about them is that they often go to soccer games and boo and throw bananas and bombs onto the field whenever an African player touches the ball. But they've been growing in popularity and one of them is apparently this Poland right-wing collective known for co-opting classic Nazi rhetoric and some of their more famous iconography, called Jobbik. One of their more charismatic and notable leaders was Csanad Szegedi, one of the original founders of the Party. He was about as hardcore you get for a modern Nazi. Unbeknownst to him, it turns out, he's Jewish.
"Keep Quiet" is a compelling documentary about Szegedi and follows as he slowly begins investigating and realizing that fact that for most of his life was not brought up. His grandmother, on his mother's side, he interviews and she shows the tattoo she got while at Auschwitz, and tells other stories. He had never investigated her side of the family and after the War, she married outside the faith and otherwise grew up in a Christian Nationalist household, at least that's what he thought, only now kinda thinking back on some moments and realizing that something was amiss, like a story about him repeating an anti-semitic joke he heard from school and his mother not finding it funny. The title "Keep Quiet" is titled after what his Grandmother says that she thought was best to do after the War. Go about your life and there's no need to bring up that you're Jewish, she figured.
He then leaves the Party and begins investigated and embracing his faith, even going to a Rabbi Oberlander to study the Torah and faith; he even gets circumcised and begins a speaking tour, this time on what's happened to him and in some way to try to convince this new community of his to embrace him. As a liberal, mostly I want to laugh at the guy, and of course I did; I mean, and it's not like he's the only one who's had such realizations lately. There's a trend now among the Far Right to have DNA geneological analyses done to confirm their so-called "Whiteness", and the majority of them were not particularly impressed with the results as it is genuinely rare for people to be entirely un-mixed as a race. It's nice to see it happens elsewhere. As to Szegedi, I have no idea what to make of him. I suspect his change is genuine if quick; I also suspect he's one of those people for whom he's always looked for a particular group to be apart of partially 'cause he want to belong and partially because he wants to make sure others aren't in order to feel special. I don't think that's what happening here so much, as he's probably kicked out of that now that he realizes how few will completely believe he's changed no matter what he does. I have a hard time with sympathy for the guy, but I can appreciate his story being told.
REMEMBER (2016) Director: Atom Egoyan
So, some of you may know that I don't write all these reviews the second after I see the movie. I'd like to, but what little of it I have, I do need to enjoy having a life sometimes, and if I were to just watch movie and write reviews all the time, I'd have little time to much else, even time to write other stuff on my blog, I need a break, so occasionally I end up not writing about a film for a week or two after I see it, sometimes long if some unexpected circumstances occur. I always have some notes around, but not a whole. So, when I was thinking back on "Remember", remembering "Remember" I guess, in my head this was an interesting little film from a first time filmmaker who's borrowing from some good sources to make it interesting, but is ultimately making a fairly typical revenge film narrative, with a couple interesting-if-not-unique conceits and for good measure, one eh, somewhat eh...- I don't know, a-eh, questionable, I guess, twist at the end? So, suddenly going back to look it up and seeing Atom Egoyan's name of all people show up as the director is somewhat shocking to say the least.
Not surprising, I mean, as much as I do admire, he's made a weird, questionable choice before and has since, but I don't remember anything that he previously ever did as coming off so, not-amateurish, per se, but- the story of "Remember" is very much a Beginner's Piece, as they might say in certain circles. It is a first-time screenwriter from Benjamin August's who most notable previous work...- (Checks IMDB, surprised look, long pause.) okay, as the Casting Director for "Fear Factor". Huh. Okay, but wow! that's a weird career transition; I mean, he's got some producing credits in there too, but until this film, as far as I can tell he's never worked with what we would think of as a something in the vain of a traditional film script. (That's not a knock btw, I know people who've had similar positions to him and there's no reason somebody can't jump from one profession in the industry to something completely different naturally, and this is by no means, the worst transition I've seen of something like that.)
Anyway, so-eh, Egoyan's latest, "Remember" is a revenge story as Holocaust survivor Zev (Christopher Plummer) finds out that the Nazi guard who murdered his son is still alive. It's 70-years-later, his wife has just passed and he's suffering from Dementia, well, movie dementia anyway, and he has a name, Rudy Kurlander and with the help of a fellow patient and survivor in the Old Folks' Home, Max Rosenbaum, (Martin Landau) he has four Rudy Kurlander's he has to seek out and find, sure that one of them is the right one. Structurally, the movie reminds me a bit of Jim Jarmusch's underrated "Broken Flowers" where Bill Murray's character had to travel and seek out four past lovers to try to determine who wrote a letter informing him that they secretly had a child with him. The difference between these two films is that, with "Broken Flowers" you genuinely weren't sure which of the four women, if it was one of those four, actually were the letter of the note and we and Murray were trying to determine based on behavior cues and other such possible indicators, it wasn't so much about finding who wrote it, as it was looking into each others lives. I think that's what they're trying to do with this, but A. SPOILER: It's gonna be the last Rudy Kurlander (Jurgen Prochnow) who turns out to be the one, because if it wasn't then he wouldn't have to go on the four trips and we wouldn't have the movie, but it does kinda show a little sense into the others' lives. There's some good work provided for some extended cameos by the likes of Bruno Ganz and Heinz Leaven, and there's also a memorable scene involving the surviving son of one of the Rudy Kurlander, played by Dean Norris in the kind of role that he basically is born to play, but-eh, I kinda wish he didn't to be honest. He's good, but the scene and character itself, is a bit one-dimensional. I mean, I get why, but when we're already just spinning wheels until the climax, I think I would like a little something more intricate? That might be me though; I can see a good defend of this scene brought up though, considering what happens afterwards.
So-eh, do I have a recommendation here or not? I'm honestly not sure I can tell. This would certainly be nowhere near the first movie I'd bring up to anybody interested in Atom Egoyan, who genuinely is one of the most interesting filmmakers working today and has made some masterpiece in the past and usually even his failures are at least interesting, and this is a rare instance when he even that isn't crossed. But it's a good leading performance from Christopher Plummer, I can't knock that, but the script and story is sorta, well, beneath the talent involved. I keep going back and forth on this one...- I guess the last standard that I can go to here is the, "Is it worth watching, in order to have an opinion on it?" question. (Sigh) And if that's the case...- (Changes 3 STARS to 2 1/2 STARS), then I guess, eh, no. I'm sorry, it's just not; I wish it were,but I-. No, I can't see a need for that. I hope everybody involved, does better the next time. (Well, those still currently alive and working anyway, RIP Martin Landau) including screenwriter Benjamin August. I know he's got other projects in the pipeline, so hopefully this screenwriting direction of his will pay off as he starts writing more and more. In the meantime; eh, yeah, I know there's like 100 cheesy Gene Shalit jokes I can use here with the title, but eh, but just skip-over, "Remember", go seek out a better Egoyan or Plummer film for now.