Tuesday, November 27, 2018

CANON OF FILM: "FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!"

FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! (1965)

Director: Russ Meyer
Screenplay: Jack Moran based on the story by Russ Meyer



When I originally wrote this years ago, which,- (scoffs) here's a long story that I won't be finishing..., but this article actually originated as a sample piece I had written for a job as a porn critic that I ended up not taking, I started the article with the line: 

"This one will take some explaining, but it’s actually much more logical than one may think." 

On the one hand, I think that sentence is hogwash now. I'm by no means the first person to include "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" among the pantheon of essential cinema, nor the first to acknowledge the cultural importance of the film's director Russ Meyer. Yes, this movie is certainly a cult film, and that status will remain always, but it’s influence is not overlooked by any knowledgeable person in film. Rumors have been abound for years now that Quentin Tarantino was prepared to shoot a remake of "Faster, Pussycat!...", and it's not at all hard to see how he's influenced by much of Meyer's work. We also credit Meyer for being an influencer on artists as wide-ranging as John Waters to Norah Jones to Patton Oswalt to Madonna. Hell, his influence is so widespread that we're often giving him credit for inspiring filmmakers who weren't inspired by him at all. That happened recently with Anna Binder's masterpiece "The Love Witch", a movie that most viewers and critics, myself included, felt that the aesthetic and themes of female empowerment were inspired by Meyer when in actuality, she not only wasn't inspired by him, she finds the comparisons completely detestable.

Which is what the other hand is for, 'cause-eh, in a post-#MeToo worl-, okay scratch that- I'm calling it something else. In an era now where we're more sensitive to the widespread realities of sexual harrassment, assault and objectification against women in their daily lives, Russ Meyer's films aren't exactly en vogue right now. 

Russ Meyer, is one of the unsung heroes of independent cinema. His low-budget skin flicks, (in fact he’s credited with inventing the skin flick) would lead to the creation of popularly accepted soft-porn pornography and would eventually influence not just the high-grossing pornos of the 70s, but his comic book-like action and vibrant pop imagery and campiness that in some ways has completely overtaken the cultural aesthetics landscape.John Waters has called “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!,” “…Beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future.” I think “Citizen Kane,” and “Casablanca,” might have better arguments, but he might have a point. 

That said, a closer look at his films now reveal well, an abundance of females with enormous breasts; his favorite image to photography. Still, it's a towering female with enormous breasts and most of his work shows strong, independent female lead characters who are as strong, if not stronger than most male characters within those film. They may be naked or close to it through much of the movie, but his females were not exploited, quite the opposite, they disregard their sexual liasons with men the way most pornography throws away the female "characters". 

I know that sounds, basically like a description of Kim Cattrall's character from "Sex and the City", but this was the late '50s and early '60s, these archetypes and characters were decades away from being mainstream; he was the one creating them. Take the Varla character in this film (Tura Satana), she dresses in all black leather complete with a low-cut black top that holds closely in place her oversized breasts. Yet she is abrasive, confrontational, greedy and strong, strong enough to KILL A MAN WITH HER BARE HANDS!!!!!! right in front of his small-pint hourglass girlfriend Linda (Susan Bernard), and yet still has to fend off gas station attendants from ogling her. 1965!!!! I remind you. This wasn't "La Femme Nikita" either. All the main characters are buxom go-go dancers by night, but during the day, Varla along with her European accent girlfriend Rosie (Haji) and co-worker Billie (Lori Williams) relieve themselves the stress of their week of being eyefucked by the lowest of the male species by hitting the desert and ripping it up and driving as fast as possible. 

After a race with the musclebound kid eventually leads to his death, they drug his girlfriend and start heading back towards town until getting distracted by a colossus-built specimen (Dennis Busch) who’s father reportedly has hidden loads of money he got from the government for a train accident that left him paralyzed. Now comes the tricky balancing of simultaneously searching for the money on the property, keeping all the men, including the paralyzed old man (Stuart Lancaster) entertained and distracted, and keeping the half-pint’s mouth shut and keep her from running off to tell the old man’s other more competent son. It's actually a rather mundane, simplistic plot, but it's the executioning that pulls it together. Or more than that, it's that the women, these women, are the ones that seems to be doing what in most films, would take a literal army, or at least a ragtag band of misfits, but almost always, were men.

Meyer would make numerous films, not only his skin flicks but would dabble in film noir, and even some serious drama. The only other films of his I’ve seen is the southern nightmarish “Mudhoney,” and his campy X-rated satire “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” the latter of which is just as popular a cult classic, and yes, was actually written by Pulitzer-Prize Winning film critic Roger Ebert. I wonder what he would think of this world we live in today; much of his writings make it seem like he's just as infatuated by breasts as Meyer was. He might say what's wrong with that, and technically I don't necessarily think there is.  Hey, if Pauline Kael can write whole reviews based on a person's face....

Love him or hate him, Meyer’s work has invigorated the pop culture scene to this day, “Faster, Pussycat…” and “Mudhoney,” became names of rock bands. It might be harder for some to see it nowadays but look closer at his work. Long before many people had ever even heard of the term, in his own top-heavy way, as one of film’s first true feminists.


Wednesday, November 21, 2018

THINGS I JUST DIDN'T "GET', UNTIL I GOT THEM: Some SELF-REFLECTION and re-evaluating some old Bias and Prejudices.


You know, as this Thanksgiving weekend arrives, I must confess that while I have been thankful for, a lot, mostly I've been in a bit of a self-reflective mood lately. Several reasons for that, I guess the main one being that I've been trying to work on better myself. It's going, oh-kay; I could probably still be doing a lot more and a lot better. 

(Sighs)

A lot of what I'm self-reflecting on is how I analyze art. Most of you probably know that, as a film critic especially. I think quality is measurable and is about 99.9% of how to analyze a film and I don't have any value in people who mistake quality with preference, and blah, blah, blah. I've said it in so many different ways before, and I think I mainly say it and repeat it so much because, well, a lot of people don't seem to understand that, or they get it and think it's weird or odd or just plain stupid. Well,... (Shrugs)

Yeah, I know the kind of critic I am and I know that kind of analysis gets me in trouble at times. I'm trying to, focus on those issues and better myself be being more understanding of others positions on that analysis as well as understand their perspectives. I think I'm doing better, but it's difficult; it's a position I, by definition, don't understand. I strive to eliminate bias when analyzing art and I think overall I do a pretty good job at it. Not perfect, but I rarely regret a review or an opinion, even if I'm the only one with it.

However, thinking back and again, doing a lot of self-reflection, I realize that there's just some things that I-, I don't follow or understand.

I can't always help it. I mean, I'm not changing my way of analysis; any time I try to understand preference over quality, it just sounds like people talking about the things they like, and I just, don't seek that out and don't see it that. That said, let's face it, I do have biases and as much as I want to I can't always completely block them out from my analysis. I try to, and I usually think I'm successful, but I can't always be sure that my thoughts on something isn't based on some predisposed imposition of mine. Sometimes nature tops nurture and I don't always realize it when it happens, and I'm sure that happens to others too.

I like to act like I can just analyze something by comparing the parts and measuring them up, good and bad, and if there's more good, it means it's good and if there's more bad it's bad; I do think that's measurable and valid, but sometimes, there's a block. You don't realize it, 'cause it's a block, you don't realize it, you think it's just another, quality analysis measurement. And that's the stuff I want to talk about today.

I'm sure I've gotten several things wrong over-the-years, but sometimes I just, simply, do not get something. I think we all have things that we just don't get at first but we just don't talk about it. Or maybe it's because I'm the only one and I just don't understand things quicker, but I don't think so. I think if we really deep down think about it, everybody has had those things where, we just completely missed on something the first or second time through, and then some time later, maybe years later, we finally realize, "Oh shit! That was actually, you know, pretty good. And I just, didn't get it at the time."

Not stuff you necessarily thought was bad or awful and then you realize was good, but stuff that you just sorta whiffed on for whatever reason. Sometimes, you just thought one thing when really you didn't look close enough. Sometimes, you got a bad first impression and you never really explored it further. Just whatever, just things that you originally didn't see what the big deal was, but then, you looked around and realized the big deal that you actually missed. 

So, I thought it was time for me to think through and go think about and confess in some cases to things in entertainment in one or another, that I just didn't get at the time, or the first time around, but eventually I got them later. There's no ranking or anything here, it's just some things that I didn't get at first, and now I totally get. May not entirely love personally, sometimes I will, but the main thing is that, for some reason, my head didn't work the way it should've and I didn't get them until, some time later. 

Frankly, this Thanksgiving week, I feel like I need to put my own hand into the flame a bit. Give penance, and realize that, I am just as capable of letting my personal biases blind me and I should recognize that more often. So, let's confront some uncomfortable inclinations and thoughts I had in my past. 


THE OFFICE (UK Version)



I suspect this might be a common one for some people. Especially since it does take such an unusual and unique perspective on the sitcom at the time, but yeah, I had trouble with "The Office" originally. Not the American version ironically, but the UK version, and I had seen it before most other people did. 

See, before Steven Moffat was doing "Doctor Who" and "Sherlock" and some weird shows, he had a series I loved called "Coupling", that I still think is seriously great and underrated. Anyway I would stay up late at night and try to find episodes on BBC America, so I would try to watch the original "The Office" as I waited for "Coupling". Honestly, I didn't really-, well, I didn't get it. I mean, I knew it was a sitcom, I noticed that it was mockumentary format, but did I understand it's appeal, or get enough of the jokes and subtleties to appreciate it? Not at all. In fact, it was the American version, which I was expecting to flop as badly as the American version of "Coupling" did that actually got me to go back and re-analyze the series. I found that I loved the American version the more I watched it, and using that as a guide, it actually helped me to appreciate the original a lot more, and now I absolutely love it and consider it great. But at the time,...- I mostly just wondered what the hell it ws.


RAP/HIP HOP MUSIC



(Sigh) Yeah, I'm not gonna pretend that I'm a rap guy, per se, but-, just in general, I have a questionable history when it comes to music. Certain music in particular makes me squirm and cringe. For a while, I was in the "Rap Music" is just a trend group. There were several reasons for this. I was mostly a pop and rock guy and the idea of a musical trend that doesn't even have musical instruments as a main staple of the genre just irked me. A lot of it is that I grew up in the mid-nineties, and the all-time stupidest musical beef occurred during that time and left young men dead depicting who depicted a violent and aggressive gangster culture in their music. A lot of it was that I just didn't get the art form. I still quite understand it; like, I will never understand songs that have random guest rap verses from artists who are clearly not rappers, or for that matter, the artists who I was trying to listen to instead. 

Also, I should mention that as a kid, I found a lot of the so-called great artists of rap music to seem, hypocritical to me. You see, the argument, as I understood it at the time, was that they were depicting a culture, like how a movie depicts a world or a lifestyle; they weren't apart or glamorizing gang culture, but it's a part of our society and somebody has to highlight and show that part of it and depict it for all to see. Now, that argument I understood. I didn't suddenly become a big Tupac fan overnight or anything, but you know, I got it though. What I didn't get, was when, in a lot of the incidents, many of those same artists making that argument would suddenly get arrested, put on trail or otherwise involve themselves in some of the same activities they were depicting in their songs. To me, that was like, the last straw for me to ever accepting this genre as anything othe that a complete manipulation of the audience and the consumers. 

I should remind people that I was between eight and twelve or so years old at this point, and had unusually deep thoughts and issues about whether or not I should trust the musicians who talked about gangbanging, drugs and murder, so I was probably way more messed up then I want to admit, but I don't know what to tell you, I didn't get it. Like, "Are you a violent gangster or not? This shouldn't be a hard question!" Honestly, I still have reservations about rap music in general, it's probably never gonna be my genre but I've evolved from that early simplistic perspective. And I certainly can appreciate great rap music when I do hear it. I get that it's not simply a beat or sampling other's work, and I get that, not everything an artist says in their music, or says about their music is real life and that, some people who were gang members eventually made music to get out of that life, and that's why they depicted it so well and from their life experiences come up with unique and fascinating criticisms of society.  

Also, I finally heard some rap music that I can appreciate as music. I know it's a cliche answer for a white guy to say that Eminem got them into rap, but yeah, Eminem. I wasn't too big on him either at first, but the first time I heard "Stan" I was in awe, I still consider it to be one of the greatest songs ever written. (Seriously, that five minutes of lyrics is more effective than most horror movies) After that blew me away, I started digging closer into his lyrics and just how clever and brilliant some of it was. I had a copy of "The Eminem Show" somewhere; never listened to it, but I read the lyrics a lot. People like Eminem, Common, Kendrick Lamar, many many others from the beginnings of the genre to now, I'm not a rap guy, but I can appreciate the genre now that I've evolved as I've evolved alongside. 

Well, a lot of it's evolved anyway.... It's like any genre, there's good and bad, sometimes very bad. 


ALLY McBEAL


Abertura Ally McBeal (Intro/Opening) Season 1 from Anderson Narciso on Vimeo.

I honestly have no idea why I so hated this show at the time, now. Like "The Office", it was also kind of a unique spin on the sitcom at the time, and it's humor came at stranger angles than people were used to. Eh, I think mostly it had to do with the fact that it aired on FOX. Not because of it's politics, but at that time period, FOX was the channel I despised the most because, well-, (Sigh) it's a bit hard to explain, but at the time, Fox was mostly known for airing some, what we might consider now, some teen soap operas. After "Married... with Children" era ended, they started shifting their focus more towards the "90210"-type series as the network's focus, and (Sigh) while in hindsight, I- (Sigh) honestly I still feel that way, onl now it's for CW. And honestly, I should probably add that whole network to this list too. Anyway, this way they promoted and advertised towards kids and teens with much of their programming, most of the programming, I considered to be crap, that basically kept me away from Fox for a few years there outside of football. When this show started getting popular, it basically confused me in the same ways that all those shows getting popular seem to confuse me. 

The thing is that "Ally McBeal" really doesn't fit into that mold, and this was me badly judging on the cover, not even the cover of the show, but the network cover. (Oh, and the fact that it won the Emmy over "Friends" that one year is patently ridiculous.) It's not the greatest show of all-time or anything, but I was letting some stupid prejudices get in the way from actually enjoying a show that, honestly I didn't start watching until the end of the series, and all because of the network it was on. (Scoffs) I realize my mistake years later with CW who were doing what Fox was at that time, only ten-fold, but eventually they found some good shows too. (I can probably add "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" here and it would be the modern version of this for me. See, this isn't all just the past, sometimes our biases are still present; I knew they shouldn't be, but... (Sigh)

"Billy Elliot"



I guess I can also put this one under not completely getting Stephen Daldry either, but yeah, "Billy Elliot" is one I really missed out on at the time. I don't even know why,  on this one. I think this just came from reading reviews as a kid and trusting the negative ones more than the positive ones. Usually it worked, and it still works; you want to find out if a film's worth watching, read reviews. Back then, before Rotten Tomatoes was popular, I usually read about seven or eight critics before I saw a movie, and despite the acclaims the film was getting I suspect the mixed batch of reviews I read led me to judge the movie negatively. I've gone back to rewatch it, ever since one friend of mine reacted particularly negatively to me after I made note of how I wasn't a fan of it, and- yeah, I totally screwed up on that one. 

I still maintain that you should read reviews, and even if you don't, I still think it's better to check sites like Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic just to get a more solid overall outlook on how good a film is or how it's doing. I didn't have that option as widely available back then, and while occasionally slips through the cracks for me today; it's fair to say that it occurred much more often back then than it does now. Bigger sample size means that the result is more likely to be accurate. Sure, you might miss one or two things, more importantly though, don't do what I did and dismiss something entirely. 


Meryl Streep



I know there's still some people out there who might share this idea that Meryl Streep isn't as good as, say, the Academy seems to think she is. And, for a while I thought that as well. And don't get me wrong, the A.M.P.A.S. is ridiculous for several reasons and it's not unfair to say that she's been nominated a few too many times and sometimes unnecessarily nominated her but there's a difference between over-nominated and not talented. And for years, I couldn't accept that Meryl Streep was good for some reason. It's the same kind of dismissiveness and anger that anybody gets at when somebody's really talented and somehow seems to constantly get all the breaks. Basically, I used to hate Meryl Streep the same way I hate Tom Brady or Sidney Crosby. 

I used to avoid all Meryl Streep films because of this and god was that stupid. I missed so many films that I had to go and catch up with them later. It wasn't until I saw her in "Adaptation.", one of the first times I ever saw her in a comedy, that I finally realized  just how incredibly talented she was, and still is I might add. I still have relatives that have this dismissive view of Meryl I might add, much older than me too. Some initial biases are harder to overcome than others. This one was just ignorant and ridiculous. Of course Meryl is a great actress and the only person being harmed by not seeking out their work and trying to embrace it was me. I can still have days where I think it's patently ridiculous how much acclaim she gets compared to other women and men who are just as talented and beloved, and she'd probably agree with that sentiment herself, but that doesn't mean I should've been hating and dismissive towards her. 

This is probably one of the reasons why I don't typically find myself critical of actors who for one reason or another strike the ire of other film fans. I'm glad I eventually got it, when it comes to Meryl. 


ANIMANIACS




Saying this out loud now, sounds almost, science-fiction-like surreal, but I used to not get "Animaniacs" as a kid. It wasn't later either, I was around when they went on the air. And this one was really stupid on my part to, 'cause in any other decently-run universe, I would've adored this show at the time too. I was a huge fan of "Tiny Toon Adventures" still am, but, something about "Animaniacs" seemed...- I don't know. In hindsight, I don't remember what my initial negative reaction to the show was, but I know what it was that made me start dismissing it entirely as a kid. It was when other gradeschoolers like myself would talk about it, and then, they would bring up how the show was better than "Looney Tunes". 

Yeah,- look I realize now that this isn't the most sacriligious statement ever, but at the time, I thought any statement like that was downright blasphemy. I grew up on Looney Tunes, and understood that they were the standard. That they'd been around for a long time and that nothing was ever going to overtake them in terms of greatness as a cartoon franchise. In many ways that's still. If we're talking the most important or iconic cartoons and characters, I'd be hard-pressed not to mention about a dozen Looney Tunes creations, and I probably wouldn't list "Animaniacs" character, even Pinky & the Brain with such high regard. But, man was that a faulty, flimsy reason to dismiss something. 

And the really idiotic thing was, that I knew they were funny. I had a former classmate who hang out with my family occasionally after school, and she loved "Animaniacs", would make me watch it everyday and I would try, (Sigh) not to laugh. I know, I know. Anyway, it usually didn't work and eventually, I realized my initial instincts were wrong. 

I think it hurt that I didn't really understand their influences either. Like, with "Tiny Toon Adventures" I understood that "Looney Tunes" was the base of the series and that this was the next generation. "Animaniacs" was more influenced by the Marx Brothers than traditional Looney Tunes of the era, and I didn't watch the Marx Brothers until much later in life, so even though I liked it and knew it was funny, I didn't know why, and that scared me a bit. I just, didn't get it. 

A lot of these biases we have is just a fear of the unknown, in fact I bet most of them are. We trust an initial instinct and we don't seek further. I'm not gonna say that every initial instinct is wrong, most of the time I've usually found that they're mostly accurate, even upon reflecting, but sometimes they're not perfect, and they need to be re-evaluated. Even and especially my own, sometimes. Maybe there will be things that I'll look at in the future that I realize I just didn't get now, but I'll just be thankful that I have to save that self-reflection for another day. 




Sunday, November 11, 2018

"PROJECT RUNWAY" LOSES TIM GUNN AND HEIDI KLUM, JUST AS BRAVO REGAINS IT: A LOOK at the HISTORY of the NETORK and the FUTURE of the SHOW.

First things first, let's talk about Bravo for a bit here. Like nearly every cable channel that used to be worth a damn, Bravo, with few exceptions, mainly feels like it's a channels that pumps out unwatchable and formulaic reality shows that are all so similar to each other that it's impossible to tell them apart. The network itself has somewhat of an interesting history though. Back it originally began in the early eighties, it was actually a premium cable channel you had to order. It didn't have commercials and was more of a movie channel than anything else, and an upscale one at that, often airing independent film, international cinema, even softcore erotica. It then started evolving into more of a channel that mainly aired artistic material in general. It was known for airing theatrical performances, biography on various artists from all areas of medias, had shows that focused on jazz; presented a lot of operas, this was basically an ideal channel that you would imagine if Frasier Crane teamed with the Sundance Channel. 

Now, in the late '90s-early 2000s, the channel changed hands a few times, before eventually getting sold to NBC-Universal and a transition began to take place after Andy Cohen became the head of programming and started turning the channel into a reality-based cable channel; one of the real first cable channels to really embrace Reality too. Now, to most people this would represent the death nail of a network that they previously admired, and I can list other networks that have gone and made this transition that I can probably legitimately argue have ultimately worsen their network's brand and quality. Here's the thing, at least in the beginning, not only did Bravo do it well, the transition from an snoddy high-brow artistic network into a more pop-culture-oriented reality-based network, actually was done really, really well. To some degree, the transition was actually seemless and natural and produce really good shows.

For one thing, they didn't change entirely overnight, the channel still aired popular movies that were beloved by the Indy crowd, they still aired some of the more popular programming, including most notably, "Inside the Actors Studio" which I'll get to in a bit as well, 'cause there's some changes that have happened there lately, but also, the reality shows they did air, well, they all kinda fit the motif and themes of the network. They were reality shows that not only focused on artists, but also showcase the art and often the process and skill in making it. It was different forms of art then what the network would used to shocase, but it still seemed like it fit. It made perfect sense to me that the network that would air Gilbert and Sullivan performance would now be the home of Kathy Griffin's standup specials. Shows like "Top Chef", "Flipping Out", "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List" and others all seemed and felt like natural evolution of the old channel, and used the medium of reality television to it's biggest advantage

And the centerpiece of this new popular and critically-acclaimed channel was "Project Runway". The surprise breakout hit had become one of the biggest and most important brands on television in the last twenty years and remains one of the biggest American-originated reality shows ever. 

Now, I've talked about "Project Runway" before on this blog, several times in fact, including a two-part blog where I tried to analyze why, from an artistic perspective, Season 8 of the series is the best reality season of all-time.

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/09/reality-tv-as-art-considering-and.html
https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/10/reality-tv-as-art-considering-and.html

It still is btw. And, I've even mentioned a few times in passing just how major it actually was that "Project Runway" switched channels from Bravo to Lifetime after The Weinsteins Company bought the rights for the series out from Bravo's nose. In fact, the move ranked number three on my Top Ten List of the Most Landscape-Altering Times a Television Show Changed Networks.

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2017/02/the-top-ten-most-landscape-altering.html


So, unfortunately due to the other news involving the Weinstein Company, (Eye roll) the future of "Project Runway", was a little bit up in the air for while as the rights of the show had to reanalyzed again, but eventually Bravo finally got "Project Runway" back to it's original and rightful home recently. So, it took awhile, but perhaps, finally, this might be the beginning of Bravo's new Renaissance, a rebirth and renewal of the old and past and perhaps move the network from punchline to what should've been it's rightful place as the proprietor of premiere quality of reality television-

https://variety.com/2018/tv/news/heidi-klum-tim-gunn-leaving-project-runway-new-amazon-show-1202934347/

Ooooooh, shit! Um, is this for real or just rum-



Nope, this is real. Oh-kay, this is something that I honestly didn't, really consider before. I don't know why I didn't exactly, but-eh, well now....

So, let me briefly um...- well... hmmm.-

Okay, this could be, not good. 

Could, not necessarily will be, but-eh,...- yeah, we have an issue here. 

So, Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn have the left the series to create a new series on Amazon Prime. Honestly, that makes some sense. Amazon is also not the only ones digging into Bravo's past for their current reality lineup. Netflix has brought back "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" with a whole new cast, successfully I might add, and OvationTV, which is basically what Bravo could've been had Andy Cohen not gotten his hands on it, has picked up "Inside the Actors' Studio", the last holdover of Bravo's previous incarnation. (Oh, James Lipton's retiring from that show too, they're searching for a new host at the moment.) That said, is the "Project Runway" brand, big and major enough still, to try to continue it without Heidi & Tim,- well, I mean, on the surface yes. Lifetime has certainly worked at making sure they aren't the only ones in the position to host. They've had a few different hosts and mentors for "Project Runway: All-Stars" and after an original botch attempt at a kid's version of the series, they finally succeeded with "Project Runway Junior", which is, frankly amazing, and really good at making you feel completely inept at life. ([Sigh], I really should've learned to sew.) It's definitely too big a brand and series to not have brought back, the series, which Heidi Klum originally conceived of and created by-the-way; she doesn't get nearly enough credit for that, it does have a huge cultural and critical benefits, not-to-mention, it's generally a ratings winner.

That said, Bravo, doing "Project Runway" without Tim Gunn or Heidi Klum, well....




Don't remember that? Probably for the best. You see, unlike cooking or police or um-, well, cooking I guess, being the most successful, um, the thing is "Project Runway" is basically the only really successful and in many ways, quality reality show that's based around fashion designers. I mean, maybe there's one or two others that aren't Reality-Competition Series, but mostly they're few and far between and those usually are limited series ideas to begin with. And-, I guess there's things like "America's Next Top Model" that are fashion-related, to some degree, but let's be blunt, I really don't know yet if this series can work beyond Heidi Klum and especially beyond Tim Gunn. Gut instinct, I think the structure of "Project Runway" still holds up. It's a great show, and should be a great show now that...- wait, who do we have replacing them? 

https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/live-feed/project-runway-karlie-kloss-christian-siriano-brandon-maxwell-elaine-welteroth-join-retooled-bravo-s-1151167

Oh God! SIRIANO! (Sigh) I know, he's a better designer now, he still shouldn't have won Season Four! Okay, my bias aside, that makes sense, and-eh, um-, eh-, Kar-lie Kloss? Who...- Um,- okay maybe this is just me, or just a sign of the times of how unimportant and non-celebrities most supermodels are, but I have no idea who this girl is.

(Google search) 

I'm just saying, I damn sure knew who Heidi Klum was before "Project Runway" started, but then again, this is a different time, so...- Okay, this Karlie Kloss, she seems, young and interesting. Good friend to Taylor Swift, that's something...-

from Wikipedia

Kloss began dating businessman and investor Joshua Kushner, brother of Jared Kushner (Donald Trump's son-in-law), in 2012.[80][81][82] On July 24, 2018, she announced their engagement,[83] one month after she had converted to Judaism (her future husband's faith).[84][85][86] Kushner and Kloss got married on October 18, 2018.[87]

Ah, well, she was a good friend of hers, before marrying a Kushner. 

(Long awkward pause)

Alright, I should probably just move on from that. 

I do think that ultimately, the structure of the series helps, and Heidi Klum's right, the series actually grew, and technically, yeah it's begin enough that, it probably doesn't need them. That said, the show also evolved into what it is today. The basic concept of "Project Runway" was mainly just, let's create a show with a bunch of fashion designers and they didn't really think that much further ahead. The idea of Tim Gunn being a mentor was more-or-less an accidental discovery of the series than anything else. They didn't realize they'd have a strong sets of judges, they didn't really recognize that the show was going to even be anything more than an experiment. That's one of the huge advantages of the series, it was the first of it's kind and because it was the first to dive into fashion, every other show, including Bravo's other flimsy and forgettable attempts to do a fashion designer-based reality show have flopped. Structurally, it's all worked out, but they did in fact get lucky with Tim Gunn. They've tried other mentors on other versions of the series, including other past contestants in "Project Runway: Under the Gunn", a whole series where the contestants were acting as the mentors in their own competition, but honestly, it's never really worked out. 

That's kind of the one thing I didn't really think about until now, just exactly how important is a reality star, to a reality show. I guess, obviously it varies. Any attempts of E! bringing back "The Anna Nicole Show" after Anna Nicole Smith's passing, were probably scrapped pretty soonafter. But a Reality-Competition Series, should be able to survive stuff like this. I mean, is anybody really gonna miss Jeff Probst if he ever leaves "Survivor"? Or Phil Keoghan on "The Amazing Race", probably not. The same way "The Tonight Show" has had mutliple hosts over the years, I'm certain a lot of these Reality-Competition Series can also do that. Even "Top Chef" didn't originally have Padma Lakshmi until Season 2. It's weird though when somebody as integral to the series as Tim Gunn is to "Project Runway" leaves. Not just because he's placed in the role of mentor and advisor, but he's probably one of the more trustworthy figures on TV. There's a quality to him that frankly other mentors on other series, just don't have. It's not impossible, but it's a noticeable difference, one that-, frankly I'm curious to see if "Project Runway" could survive. 

Or, maybe it's time. It should move on and walk on it's own. I stand by my assertion that it's the best Reality-Competition Series of all-time, but I'm not gonna lie, the last couple seasons of the series, they haven't been as great as it once was. Not for lack of fashion talent either, if anything, one of the cruel fates of the series is that, it's become so major and respected in the industry, even if they haven't founded too many huge superstars in fashion, (Although they certainly have found quite a few people that are still working regularly in the industry in one capacity or another) but the designers have uniformly and across the board, just gotten better. At this point, everybody knows the standard and you have to be this good to even really get seriously considered for the series. The series itself, it's been easier and more rewarding to find more consistent and fascinating narratives in seasons past than it has been. (Honestly, if you put a gun to my head, I'm not even sure I watched the last season of "Project Runway: All-Stars".) 

Now, that leads to the next question as to, whether or not there's actually room for a second major fashion-designer-based reality-competition series. (Shrugs) I mean, it hasn't been proven yet, but there might be. God knows there's way too many goddamn cooking competiton series out there. Then again, only like four of them I really consider good in that subgenre, so what do I know. (P.S. Unrelated issue, Food Network should really get much more "Iron Chef America"-centric.) 

Reality television, more than anything, I think is about niche. I think we'll definitely watch something that might be a trainwreck, Paula Abdul's short-lived reality series "Hey, Paula", comes to mind, but in order to really be memorable, they gotta stick out. "Project Runway" stuck so far out that anything that's come after seems like a copycat, however that wouldn't have necessarily been a bad thing had it remained as the centerpiece series for Bravo, I suspect. 

To go back to Bravo a second, the real problem with their channel, more than anything else, isn't just the copycats of their shows, from them and others although, sure they're out there, and several channels like TLC for instance have just blatantly stolen their formula for Reality success on cable, but it's that they strayed away from the thing that made them unique, this focus on reality through an artistic lens. Shows that don't just celebrate the arts, they showcase it. Not just the behind-the-scenes dramas of people, but the actual work of what people in interesting jobs do and make them compellin. Not even just arts, often work. One of my original favorite reality shows they had was "Workout", which was a behind-the-scenes look at a popular Los Angeles gym. Honestly, good show for most of it's run, interesting characters with interesting lives, and the drama involved in running a high-scale exercise gym, and having to control a bunch of crazy, hormonal fitness people.... That was legitimately interesting. 

Does anybody even remember why they're called "Real Housewives"? It has nothing to do with them being housewives, btw. That term has sorta become synonymous, 'cause Bravo's beaten that one to death after making it the centerpiece of their network after "Project Runway" left, but it was a play on "Desperate Housewives". Yes, the TV series; back when it was the biggest show on television, Bravo decided to create a reality series that essentially was a reality show about the kinds of characters that "Desperate Housewives" had. (BTW, "Desperate Housewives" was the term most porn sites used before MILFs became a common, and Real Housewives, sounds like a porn site itself, so it's derivative in a few bad ways.) It's actually kinda petty to be honest, and the only time I can think of a reality series that blatantly tried to pawn off the fame of a scripted series like that was "The Real L Word", and at least that was the same network that aired "The L Word" and they were trying to capitalize on their own success. Honestly, I can't remember if I ever sat through a full episode of any of those series, but my issue was never just the content; my issue was that, it was the first reality series on Bravo that I simply couldn't find a way to justify, being on Bravo. It really didn't fit in with anything else that went with it; I could not justify it on the same channel that aired "Project Runway" and "Top Chef" and Kathy Griffin, even "Queer Eye...",  a lot of work goes into making over people, even some of the other unscripted reality series on that network, what was the appeal? Less interesting "Real" versions of fictional characters? Exaggerated reality, over-the-top dramas. (Sigh) It might've been popular, but it really should never have been the centerpiece of the channel. Not just because it's not-as-good as the other series, although that certainly doesn't help but because it just didsn't fit. (Okay, other shows like "Boy Meets Boy" didn't fit either, but that was so goddamn stupid that's it's not really worth remembering. They're bad attempts at dating shows BTW, gay, straight, bi...- I mean, it's a low bar, but have they ever gotten over it? [And I should count Cohen's work on the new "Love Connection" as well in that regard; btw, I 100% believe everything Kathy Griffin has said about him.]) 

It was a transition too soon, too far; It never seemed like an evolution from where Bravo was and where it was supposed to go next, at least until it suddenly became the change, and it still weird honestly. It's the franchise that probably alienated me from Bravo as much as possible. There's still some good shows on the network, but it's not what it was, and I don't know if it ever will be again. 

I'm not expecting miracles here; "Project Runway" is not going to reclaim it's spot tomorrow as Bravo's flagship program, it certainly won't now without it's big stars, but it's probably for the best that the series and it's stars and the network at least begin to take what the previous 16 years of the series has done and turn the corner to the next phase. If anybody is capable of making a quality and successful fashion-design-based reality series to compete against "Project Runway", it's Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn. And we'll see for real if the series is truly quality enough on it's own, or if it really needed these two to make it successful, by any standard, or if the result is somewhere in between.  

Let's see who makes it work. 





Saturday, November 3, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS #154: "A FANTASTIC WOMAN", "WONDER", "JOAN DIDION: THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD", "THE DEPARTURE", "IP MAN 3", "THE FINEST HOURS",

I know; I'm late; I'm late; I'm later than normal even by my standards. (Sigh) I wish I had much of an excuse; believe me, I didn't plan for my post to be so spread apart like this, but I've been busy with life lately and it's way of annoyingly getting more and more in the way than normal. I wish I can say that this lately delay is an aberration, but honestly it's become the norm. And honestly, I think I'm gonna just embrace it at this point, at least for the near future. I'm already way behind on my Top Ten Films of 2017 and I don't know when I'll finally be doing it. And I'm probably also gonna delay the One-Year-Later Awards too. It's just not something I currently have the time or the effort to make to catch up the way I'd like to and most of that's not even laziness, it's ability lately.

Honestly, it's starting to get old anyway, I've been more inspired lately in other fields of work, and I'm interested in exploring that more lately. As much as I love this blog, it's time-consuming and can be tedious at times and frankly I want to follow some other inspirations and at the moment I'm more capable of doing that than simply posting blogs.

Oh well, I did get to a lot of films; I'm going over the most recently-made ones as I normally do. The only one I won't be discussing is that "I Am Heath Ledger" documentary, because I saw it basic cable television, although I definitely enjoyed that one as well. Can't believe it's been so long since he passed away. I'll try not to take so long being Review posts next time, or at least find the time to post something else in the meantime between them, but I can't be certain of that, and I'm not certain as of yet about how or when I'll be able to get to some of the other things I wanted to do.

Alright, let's get to it, I'm made some of you wait long enough. Here's this latest edition of our Movie Reviews, starting with the Oscar-winning feature, "A Fantastic Woman"!


A FANTASTIC WOMAN (2017) Director: Sebastian Leilo

★★★★1/2 



I've had some time to mull over "A Fantastic Woman" for a while now, I wish I had recorded more of my thoughts as I watched the film, but for some reason I was lucky to even just find a copy of the movie, through unscrupulous means at that. A movie which won the Oscar this past year for Best Foreign Language feature, the first time a Chilean film won. That's a country, a little bit under the radar, but there has been a lot of good cinema coming out of that country in recent years, and Director Sebastian Leilo has produced a good deal of it. His previous film, "Gloria" about an older woman who begins having a romance with a Naval officer is actually not all that different from this film, at least in approach. He finds a fascinating character, usually a woman, usually it's about relationships,- at least two movies into filmography that appears to be his motif, maybe I have to look through his other films soon,- but he's found something that's worked and given him his most worldwide acclaim yet. 

The titular woman in Marina (Daniela Vega) although I suspect this movie is as much about the actress as it is the character. Like Marina, Vega is a trans woman and primarily a singer-, this is only her second notable acting credit of anything and she is fantastic and fascinating, even though things seem to happen more around and to her. Her older boyfriend Orlando (Francisco Reyes) has a heart attack and dies after being in bed with her and the movie is essentially just her going through the greiving process. Of course Orland's family mostly hates her to varying degrees, while some are arguing whether she should be allowed at the funeral or the wake, some are trying to kidnap and humiliate her. 

Meanwhile, she's also still suffering her own grief. There's one magical sequence at a nightclub that seems like a normal night out, but eventually evolves into an old-fashioned dance number. She is a nightclub singer and the opening scene of the movie is seeing her performing at the moment she first met Orlando. This is contrasted with a more interesting sing where she's taking singing lessons. While she is a nightclub singer, that's a bit misleading as we learn that she's actually capable of opera. 

"A Fantastic Woman" is a a fantastic movie about an interesting woman who despite everything, we want to learn more about. I think that's the ultimate trick of hte movie. It's a profile of an intriguing character, one we feel for, one we want to give a hug to when she's down, but one who is still at arms reach for us. One who leaves us curious. Ironically the movie that "A Fantastic Woman" most reminds me of is Kieslowski's "Blue" the first film of the Three Colors Trilogy that was also about a musician struggling with grief after the lost of loved ones. Danielle Vega's Marina is just as intriguing as Juliette Binoche's Julie, but unlike Julie where we struggled to understand if she even was feeling any emotion she was so locked out to us that sometimes the screen itself would go black, Marina spends most of her life seemingly holding in all of the emotions and pains she feels from day-to-day life, even without the hell of her lover's passing getting in the way. She wants to open up, but the cost for her to do so, could be too great, and therein lies the greatest sadness of the film.

No wonder she wants to sing opera. 



WONDER (2017) Director: Stephen Chbowsky

★★★


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A few minutes into "Wonder", the movie that I had been keeping as a DVD for over two months holding up my Netflix queue due to anomalies in my viewing pattern and life getting in the general way of everything I was trying to do for the last few months, I was getting that irksome, nauseous feeling that I was gonna watch something that's just gonna piss me off. Here's the sympathetic kid we have to care about, and the whole movie was just gonna be manipulative tug-at-your-heartstrings cliched movie crap that I'm just so sick of. When the bully came onscreen, I literally think, "If this movie doesn't end with Wonder beating and killing this Eddie Haskill piece of shit, then I'm gonna be pissed the hell off."  Spoilers, it doesn't; not entirely anyway, although that last sentence would also make a far better ending for "Leave It to Beaver", by-the-way. 

Then the movie, did something I wasn't expecting. It switched perspectives on us. Instead of just being a manipulative Award-bait tearjerker about how sorry we're supposed to feel for-, Auggie (Jacob Tremblay; I was being obnoxious before, there is no character named Wonder.)  but instead, the movie divulges from this first person perspective about a ten-year-old with a rough and unfortunate facial deformity that's paralyzed his ability to reach out to the outside world, including being home-schooled until now, to, the perspective of his long-suffering older sister, Olivia (Izabela Vidovic). It's not the only time the film shifts focus, partly for exposition, but also because, well, we need it. I mean, sure it's emotional that Auggie, this smart little kid had to suffer through years of surgery just to get his deformity to something as presentable as it is, which still means he prefers to wear his astronaut helmet outside, but the older sister who's had to put most of her life and center of attention from her parents Nate and Isabel (Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts), because, well, his brother needed more attention. 

It's not the only perspective, we get many others, including her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) who's suddenly and unexpectedly given Isabel the silent treatment after returning from camp. There's also Jack Will (Noah Jupe) one of the few friends that Auggie makes in the beginning after the school Principal Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) requests that Jack and two other students help befriend Auggie when he enters middle school, (Which curiously is 5th Grade in this film [I'm used to thinking about 6th Grade as start of Middle School) and the one that most takes to Auggie and recognizes him as a friend. We thankfully don't see Julian's (Bryce Gheiser) personal perspective, and frankly I don't want to. He's the Eddie Haskell piece of shit I mentioned earlier in this film, and after meeting his parents eventually, you can kinda see why, but-eh, I wouldn't empathize with the piece of shit. 

I know, I'm kinda describing parts as oppose to a narrative, and I think that's part of the appeal. The movie and most characters do have some kind of major arc, but the movie is a very loose narrative that explores the character's personal emotions and turmoils moreso than a traditional emotional narrative. I suspect there's a lot more that's missing as the film was based on a popular novel. The movie was also directed by STephen Chbowsky who wrote the book and directed the adaptation of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower", one of the most emotionally empathetic and powerful books and movies of this genre from the last 25 years. No wonder-, no pun intended, the movie, despite not seeming much on the face of it-, again, no pun intended, the movie feels and comes off and far more profoundly deeper than it should, despite the strange ending that seems to be struggling to contradict itself, at least in the editing. 

There's also some strong acting all around, especially from the kid actors. Tremblay we recall from "Room", but most of the rest of the cast is fairly unknown and the adults do a decent job of supporting them. Still I wouldn't mind finding out more about some of the discarded plot threads, like Miranda's journey from camp to theater class or Julia Roberts's arc about her long-delayed thesis and eventual work as a children's book writer/illustrator. (And come to think of it, there's not much to Owen Wilson's character at all.) I feel like there's much more to the story and the movie sorta ended in a rush, but that's a minor criticism. "Wonder" is one of those movies that goes into the So-much-better-than-it-should've-been category. Which is the kind of movies I tend to like the most. It doesn't probably hurt that as somebody who is an older sibling to a brother who needs way more attention and focus than I do from my family, I can't say that I don't empathize, but I can also spot it when a movie is more bullshit than others. I don't get that with "Wonder"; instead I get a full look into a family a situation and real characters acting, more-or-less how you'd expect, or at least hope they'd react in a similar tough situation. It's about learning to empathize and live with those that are different; so, dealing with life. 

It's nice to see a movie that recognizes that, and where most of the characters are better than others at dealing with it. It's hopeful, if nothing else.  


JOAN DIDION: THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD (2017) Director: Griffin Dunne

★★★1/2

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I have to confess that I really didn't know all that much about Joan Didion before going into this documentary by her nephew Griffin Dunne. I certainly recognized the name, and that was about it. She's actually in the news rather recently in the film world as she's listed among one of the several writers listed on the latest remake on "A Star is Born", she's one of the ones responsible for the 1978 one with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I don't even think that film script of her was discussed in this film and if it was, it was quite minor. She is an accomplished screenwriter, but she's mostly known, I suspect as a journalist and novelist. (Two of her books are being adapted into films set to be released next year.) There's always been an autobiographical slant to her work, although in recent years, after sudden and quick succession of the deaths of both her husband, John Gregory Dunne, himself a legendary modern American author, and the death of her daughter Quintana, about a year later. 

If I knew one thing about the Dunne family is that they're a family that's suffered from a lot of personal tragedy.  I can't say that I learned that much about her work; there's occasional snippets of it starting from her early work at Vogue and several other newspapers and magazines over the decades, and by the end of the book it starts to dive more into the personal suffering of greif and pain as she transition more into autobiographical work in her writings, even expanding into new genres like playwrighting. I don't think the movie is meant to; it feels too personal frankly. I think it does document the mood and tone of Ms. Didion, and it certainly does a lot to document her. There's interviews with others, lots of personal and stock footage; mostly it feels like just a love letter from a nephew to his beloved aunt, which is what it is. 

I can't really knock the movie for not being what I would probably prefer it to be, and as a touching love letter, I can appreciate it; and I can certainly see why she is so honored and beloved in most circles. I feel like I have to investigate a little more thoroughly before I'm totally sure what to make of her work, but she seems to have had a great life and remains utterly fascinating and witty, even at her old age, still working well into her 80s and her work is still as relevant as ever; maybe moreso as she seems to get more progressive with the times. (Her takedown of Dick Chaney is monumentally epic.) I like her, I just wish the movie had gone more into her work and it's greatness than it did, but that might be because I came in a little under-educated about her. (Shrugs) 


THE DEPARTURE (2017) Director: Lana Wilson

★★★

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I'm not gonna claim to be an expertise on this subject, but I do that in recent years, suicide has become a major societal problem in Japan. I've heard it's gotten better in recent years, but that there's still basically an epidemic of suicide out there in Japan. "The Departure" takes an interesting look at this phenomenon by capturing the work of Ittsetu Nemoto. He's a former rock star who became both a priest and a Buddhist monk who now hold exercise classes that are basically meditations in attempts to approximate the feelings of death, mostly for those who have strong suicidal thoughts or have attempted it in the past. 

He's become a suicide counselor, and he's busy with the job. Nemoto himself is quiet and solemn; there's naturally a Buddhist like simplicity to both his approach in both the counseling and also in the movie. The film doesn't push or force the issue, Director Lana Wilson's approach is basically to just stay around and quietly observe and listen. We hear his clients discuss their feelings and tortures. We also observe Nemoto's own home life and we occasionally hear about some of his demons as well. I guess it's like how drug addicts are always the ones who become drug addiction counselors, people who know about being suicidal consult the suicidal. I'm happy the movie doesn't dive into all the causes of the epidemic, frankly while that might make an interesting essay, it would make a messy movie. 

I suspect the film has a limited audience appeal, personally I suspect "The Departure" would've probably worked a little better as a short subject as oppose to a feature. That said, I certainly enjoyed "The Departure" enough to recommend it. It's a minor glimpse into a surprising major problem that most of us in America, I suspect only hear about at the corners of the news cycle at best, and frankly is too culturally obtuse for most of us to fully contemplate anyway. 


IP MAN 3 (2016) Director: Wilson Yip

★★★

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Have I talked about these films yet? I don't think so. (Depressed sigh)

Okay, so I'm not much of a martial arts film guy. I don't think there's anything really horrible or wrong about the genre, and I can't think of any movie in the genre I've outright hated-, well, I better take that back; I saw a couple of those "The Monkey King" movies recently. What the fuck was those? (Sigh) Anyway, I haven't studied the genre, especially Hong Kong action movies, and it's-, it's just not my thing. I can see why people like it and I do like a lot of things with martial arts in them. I grew up on "Power Rangers" like most everyone else my age, although I preferred "WMAC Masters", but whatever. That said, I like some, I'm bored by others; it's not a genre I seek out, and in general, I think the genre is limiting. The movies are often just,- I mean, I won't say that once you've seen one, you've seen them all, but I do think that if you're not somebody who outright loves martial arts, then the genre is gonna only have very limited appeal to you. 

That said however, I think I need to discuss this trend in the genre lately, 'cause it's- starting to annoy me. So, the martial arts that we think of with regard to Bruce Lee is Kung Fu, but it's actually called Wing Chun or Wushu sometimes, it's a very specific style of kung fu, made popular in Southern China. And the guy who made this style the most famous, other than Bruce Lee, is his trainer Master Yip. Within the last decade, Hong Kong has been making a lot of movies about him.

A lot, of movies, about Master Yip. This is "Ip Man 3", the third in a series, that now is up to four movies, all starring Donnie Yen; the great Hong Kong martial artist and actor. He's the worst perpetrator, but he's far from alone. There's been a second unrelated series of movies called "Ip Man", that has nothing to do with these movies and on top of that, there's even "The Grandmaster" the one, really, really good movie I recommend everybody watch about Master Yip, that was directed by the great Wong Kar-Wai. All, within a ten-year period. 

And it's confusing and annoying. Essentially, all these movies, are basically the same story told over and over again, in somewhat different ways, and now my complaints and criticisms of the genre, really seem, full in-my-face here. This is literally, the third time in this franchise that I'm watching, basically the same story. I'm told that some relatives of Master Yip were on set for some of these for authenticity, but at this point, this is just-, I feel like they ran out of every other martial arts narrative and now they're just taking the Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee narratives and now replacing them with Master Yip narrative, at least that's what it feels like to me, and that's especially so with these movies. 

I've seen the first three of them in a very short time period, just within the last four months or so; I honestly couldn't tell you the difference between them. They're all okay, they're all average; they're all the same origin story, 'cause Master Yip's story, is only story so they're retelling it over and over again.... This one has Mike Tyson in it. 

(Shrugs) I-, eh, I mean, that makes complete sense, actually and he's actually decent in the movie. He's not exactly at that non-actor abuse-of-SAG Card status that people like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry King have, and speaking of Kareem, he showed up in a Bruce Lee once, why not Mike Tyson, who also has spoken about his affection for the martial arts genre in the past, and he actually sorta fits into the film's world, because he's a boxer and- I think it's the second movie how Master Yip competes in a contest where he's banned from using his legs in a match, and here's a guy known for his fists.... It works, it works. 

(Sigh)

I'm trying to build myself up to appreciate the genre, and I guess I liked this one better than some of the others, I'm giving it three stars; there's nothing so bad in it that I'd have to pan "Ip Man 3", but I'm sorta befuddled by this trend and phenomenon in the genre lately. Martial arts movies can be unique and creative and different and these movies, they have some special effects and martial arts, but narrative-wise, conceptually even, I'm at a lost honestly. Like, why would you or anybody, keep at it with the same biographical story and retell it so much. I mean, I barely understand why we keep retelling Batman or Superman's narrative origin, but at least there's several other stories of those characters out there to tell? 

I don't know, if you like the film's before, you'll like this one, I guess. (Shrugs) For me, it's, just not enough to keep me entertained. 


THE FINEST HOURS (2016) Director: Craig Gillespie

★★

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I'm honestly kinda struggling to find some angle or starting off point to begin talking about "The Finest Hours", Disney latest forgettable 3-D inspirational story-, something or another. Well, at this point, "Latest" is stretching it. This is one of those Based on a True Story films that you're going to forget you saw in a week whether you liked it or not. There's some decent performances. (Shrugs) It's one of those movies that sound good on paper, like if I told you the story of what happened, or if you read about the event, you would probably say something to the effect of, "Boy, that would make a really good movie," or "Wow, I wish they made a movie out of that!" but in practice, it's okay. I mean, I think it's easy to throw the blame on Disney, but I'm not sure how great this film would've been in the hands of the best of directors. 

That said, it is an interesting story. It's 1952, off the coast of Cape Cod and there's a dangerous nor-eastern that's flooded the coast and taken out a couple of oil tankards already. There's a crew of the SS Pendleton, which is barely able to keep their sub afloat, is caught in the middle and everybody else was sent out to save the others at sea first. They were lucky to somehow get their radio recognized by the Guard and for them to send out a skeletal crew to, somehow brave the death-storm and bring them home. 

I get some sense that Director Craig Gillespie is going for an "Apollo 13"-type narrative as point-by-point they explain how dangerous every single part of the mission is to save the crew, but it doesn't have the wonder of the seas that "Apollo 13" had with space travel and it's so cold and dark-looking that I can barely tell which ship is which through most of the film. Alonso Duralde's review mentioned how everything in the film is explained to be impossible until it happens, and he hit it right on the head. Of course, that's not an issue if we care and the film is about how they get saved, even with an all-star cast of great character actors all throughout the film, I just didn't have a reason to give a shit. 

The film tries, in fact, the most interesting thing about the movie is Bernie (Chris Pine), the Captain of the ship that seeks out the Pendleton and his girlfriend, Miriam (Holliday Grainger) who's arguing with his P.O. Daniel (Eric Bana) fearing, correctly so, that he's sending Bernie out on a suicide mission essentially. Actually, to be honest, I didn't go into this movie knowing much about what it was about, and the way the film is structured, I essentially thought the film was about Bernie and Miriam's relationship. I mean, it's the main focus for the first ten minutes or so, beginning with their first face-to-face meeting on a blind date and a whole subplot about getting permission to get married that's beyond stupid when you think about it. I'm not saying it would've been  a good movie if the focus shifted more towards the relationship that seems to be suddenly interrupted by a historic sea rescue, but at least it would've given me something to care about. I mean, I tried to pretend that this was important, but again, to compare to "Apollo 13" again, this is not as well-written or well-thoughtout as say, Kathleen Quinlan's role in that film. That subplot had some hokey elements as well, maybe it helps that she was playing a scared adult mother who's husband might not be coming back, as opposed to a lovesick young girl who's future fiance might not be coming back. I mean, we're told at the end that they got married and were together until Bernie's passing at the end, but the way it feels is that, we just got introduced to this couple a few seconds ago and they've barely started their relationship, and not much else. I was trying to root for them, 'cause I was trying to root for something, but there was nothing there to cling to. 

The movie got released in theaters with 3-D screenings; I can't tell although I can't imagine that that would've helped much. I'm sure I'd be able to feel the horror of being out to sea better, but I felt that in "Life of Pi" and frankly that movie had the decent sense to be a little more brighter and visually interesting. Craig Gillespie's filmography is really peculiar so far. He's an Aussie director who back-and-forth but intriguing indy-like artistic project and more commercial fair; his previous two theatrical features include the horror remake of "Fright Night", which was okay although I didn't love the original to begin with of that, and the Disney sports drama "Million Dollar Arm." He's also done "Lars and the Real Girl", one of the strnagest romance films this century and one that divides critics to this day. (I'm on the negative side of that one too.) and most recently the Tonya Harding biopic "I, Tonya". The thing that I'm suddenly finding curious about his filmography, other than the fact that he's an Australian who's two sports movies were about baseball and figure skating; two sports that I don't think have ever really taken much hold in the land down under, but also, he's never written any screenplays. At all, he doesn't have any writing credits on any of his films. You don't have to have written of course, to be a great director; David Fincher's never penned more than ideas for shorts and Kubrick's writing generally made his film's worst, but nowadays, I usually expect a director to have at least tried writing something at least, but Gillespie is a rare modern-day Director/Producer and not much else it seems. Which is weird considering how unmemorable most of him films have been, at least from a visual standpoint. 

"The Finest Hours" is by far the worst thing I've seen of his yet. Maybe he was handcuffed by Disney and he'll turn it around at some point later in the future, but the visuals could've saved this movie and frankly they killed it for me, and the more time I do spend thinking about the movie, the worst it gets to me. I'm planning on finally getting around to "I, Tonya" soon; I hope from what I've heard, it's far more visually interesting and better than this film was.


TUMBLEDOWN (2016) Director: Sean Mewshaw

★★1/2

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There's a strange narrative that indy film seems to like way more than I do; it's this idea of the forgottem musical genius. Usually it's rock'n'roll, and the story is usually the same. Some unknown rock star had an album or two found legendary cult status and suddenly he's gone. Usually he disappears, to live a normal life or some bullshit like that, although "Tumbledown" is automatically better by making it sure that the guy died, but now some, journalist, novelist, etc., tries to go out and find him. 

I'm not saying, this is an impossible story; I mean just a few years ago there was a great documentary about Rodriguez called "Searching for Sugar Man". which was actually kind of a real-life version of this story, and sure, there's quite a few legendary artists with a similar background; Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, Jeff Buckley, Bradley Nowell, Daniel Johnston, there's a few others, but I don't know; this always seems like a particular odd narrative, and the fact that I see, fairly often, kinda confuses me. And I don't think I've seen it done particularly well over the years much, outside of occasionally a documentary. 

I haven't seen it done horribly either, and "Tumbledown" this latest one, has some advantages. It's actually more interested in dealing with grief. Hannah's (Rebecca Hall) rock star husband die after falling off a mountain in the middle of the night, although some like a Hofstra pop culture professor, Andrew (Jason Sudeikis) have tried to mythologize his death, she's making her way as a part-time writer for a local rag that Upton (Griffin Dunne) runs, and he also helps guide her as she begins writing her husband's biography, sorta. She also has a fuck buddy in Curtis (Joe Manganiello) an old high school friend that comes every night between fixing the town's electricity when it goes down. Oh, I should mention, location-wise, this film is interesting for taking place in a small mountain town in Maine. (Shrugs) It's an interesting choice and the contrast with the bigger city is fairly clear. 

I guess there's also this interesting sense that the movie, is somewhat aware of how odd and twisted worshipping or idolizing some past celebrities or artists can be, particularly when they've idolized from afar and mostly mythologize from afar. That's the thing that holds the movie together sorta, the back-and-forth with Sudeikis and Hall. He convinces her to write about her husband in his new book on rock stars that died young and then became bigger. "He only recorded 12 songs" she says. She's not wrong. Sometimes that may be enough, but yeah, it really is an odd fascination when you think about it. I guess that's a good thing, since too many of these movies seem to not challenge this notion about how great an idea it is to, "Let's go find this rock star!" and, yeah, that's- that's weird honestly. 

Still though, I gotta pan this one too. There's some really interesting performances, and I do like the characters and the setting, but I think they took the easy way out with the script and turned it into a rom-com love story. I didn't think that was the chemistry they had and the ending seems particularly awkward. I can't hate on this one, it's a feature directorial debut by Sean Mewshaw, and he's got some interesting ideas and at least this was a twist on this narrative that I'm not particularly big on. I suspect he's got better films in him, I hope he focuses them on settings in the future, 'cause he did that really well.   


REALIVE (2016) Director: Mateo Gil


★★1/2

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It's pronounced, "Re-Alive", like, "Re-Animator", in more ways than one, and it's one of those movies with an intriguing premise and an-, um, interesting execution. I'm somewhat debating how I feel about this one, but, ugh...- 

Well, the main character is Marc Jarvis (Tom Hughes) a young man who's suffering from a terminal disease. Well, not suffering actually, he's not that ill yet, and that's gonna be important in a second, but he's purportedly got only about a year left to live, and he's decided that he's going to kill himself, in order to live. I think most people are familiar enough with cryonics or cryogenics by now, that I shouldn't have to explain it, but yeah, he's decided to have his body frozen in order to go on and live in the future. And it works, in fact, about eighty or so years into the future, it turns out that he becomes the first person to be cryogenically unfrozen. This is in part, because of the manner in which he killed himself and when, by still being relatively healthy and young, before any major effects of the disease overtook his body, they were able in the future to un-freeze and reanimate him first. 

So, this alone, is an interesting idea, and they actually take a more brutally realistic approach to cryonics and what some of the ramifications and difficulties of that. I mean, ever since, even "Frankenstein" was written, we've generally romanticized this notion of coming back from the dead to one degree or another, but actually going through the logistics of it, if you die with an illness and you're suddenly brought back to life, it's likely that you won't live long without severe treatment and you need treatment firstly, just to survive. Also, getting re-animated back to life itself, is a difficult condition itself, and Marc finds out that while in the future things are somewhat better overall, he's never gonna be fully recovered and back to normal. I forget what they call it, but basically he'll be spending much of his life on something similar to dialysis, even at his healthiest. 

So what went wrong here? Well, the movie is more, Terence Malick-y than you'd probably imagine. Not necessarily in a bad way at first. In the beginning of the film, I like the disjointed time frames and the first person narration and the examination of life and death and what that means, but then, it gets really, really, tiring. Especially so, after we learn in the future of this addiction device that records your thoughts and memories, sort of like a hand-free Facebook device that looks like Jordy's visor. Basically, it's a memory recaller, so even while he's alive, he's mostly recalling and eventually re-imagining memories of the past and his previous life essentially while his current like is as a Frankenstein's Monster under scientific observation. They do eventually come around to reviving his old girlfriend Naomi (Oona Chaplin) who also froze herself after his death, although she was not in as preserved a stasis at the time. Mostly however, the movie feels like a retread and re-examining of things done better in other films. 

In fact, I know that for a fact because Writer/Director Mateo Gil, has done this better, several times. Gil is a Spanish Writer/Director who's written some interesting films over the years, including the underrated "Agora"; some of his work is more historical base, but then there's this fascination he has with life and death and how humans consider and observe it. Probably his most famous work worldwide is writing the screenplay for "The Sea Inside", but the more relevant work, and his best screenplay is "Abre Los Ojos" aka "Open Your Eyes". You might be more familiar with Cameron Crowe's American remake, "Vanilla Sky" but either way, these were two of the best of the mindfuck twist puzzle movies during the late '90s and early 2000s, and both those movies, basically are about a lot of the same things that "Realive" is trying to be about and done in better and more entertaining ways. 

Compared to those movies, and some of his other dives into this subject matter, "Realive" comes off and feels like a complete retread of himself, just not done as well. Like a great rock star making what's technically an okay album later in his career but one that's clearly just leftovers of discarded forgotten pieces of some previous better album of there's that you'd rather be listening to.