Friday, April 26, 2019

MOVIE REVIEWS #158: "SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE", "CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?", "SHOPLIFTERS", "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE--FALLOUT", "THE PARTY", "BRAMPTON'S OWN", "ETHEL & ERNEST", "AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER", and "THE MIDWIFE".

Alright, I'm starting to get back into the swing of things here. And I'm catching up on some films at a regular pace. I'm also watching more television that I've missed recently. I'm not having everything perfect, of course, but it's a hole and I've been down before and I do know the way out, it just takes time.

Anyway, I want movies that I saw that I have chosen not to review this week. I've been catching up on some Ozu; I finally got around to "Late Spring" as well as Wim Wenders's tribute to him, "Tokyo-Ga". Both of those are pretty great. I'm not the biggest Ozu guy personally, they all do feel a little too similar at some point, although "Floating Weeds" is usually my favorite, but "Late Spring" was good too. I finally got around to "Tig" the Netflix documentary about comedienne Tig Notaro; I actually read her autobiography and listened to her famous performance where she did stand-up shortly after finding out about her breast cancer diagnosis, so it was kinda unique see the behind-the-scenes of what was going on in her life at that point, and the events that happened after. I also loved her now-cancelled Amazon series, "One Mississippi", if you haven't seen that, check that out; it's really an underrated and amazing comedy series.

I also got around to the Georgian film "In Bloom"; solid film. Didn't love it, but I could admire it. I also finally watched Corneliu Porumboiu's "The Treasure". Porumboiu is the New Romanian Wave director of "Police, Adjective" and "12:08: East of Bucharest", I loved those movies in particular, "12:08...", but "The Treasure" I wasn't much forward to; it's not as blatantly satirical or political, but it was definitely funny and observant, and really a sharp little twist on a typical genre setup. Really enjoyed that movie.

Alright, let's get to the reviews!!!!


SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018) Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman

★★1/2

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(Sigh)

I know I'm going to get shit for this from some people, but I'm-, I'm barely recommending this; I'm genuinely close to panning this movie outright. I can't quite get myself to that, but-eh, well, let me start the positive, 'cause there are some really cool wonderful things about this movie. For one, I like Spider-Man's parents, Jefferson Davis and Rio Morales (Brian Tyree Henry and Luna Lauren Velez), for thing, they exist in this world! Seriously, it's a little odd that everything is based around his Aunt and Uncle, while there are some narratives that explain the parents' disappearance, I like this change. Another thing, I like that we get Miles Morales (Shameik Moore) as Spider-Man, a young, half-African-America, half-Latino intelligent but troubled young kid as the Spider-Man in this version. Peter Parker has always been mostly a blank to me, which him versatile as a character I guess, but it sometimes makes him too versatile, and allows him to see to be able to do anything, when I like Spider-Man best when he's limited not just in ability but as a character as well. So, I'm kinda there's no Peter Parker here. Well, except there is a Peter Parker (Chris Pine) and more importantly, a Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) but, I'll get to that in a bit.

I also, love the animation. There's a few styles colliding upon themselves, and almost all of them look amazing and surprisingly, the collision and mixing of them actually does something that most comic book movies don't do particularly well, and that's have a movie that genuinely looks like a comic book. All this stuff, I find inspiring and kept giving me hope for this movie that something was gonna click and eventually I was gonna get into it.

Sadly, that- that just never was to be. Not fully anyway. I think part of it is probably a bit of my bias; I have made it no secret that I have never particularly found Spider-Man compelling, in any form really. Well-, that's not true entirely; I actually really like "Spider-Man: Homecoming" a lot, and I probably gave a pass to one of the "The Amazing Spider-Man" films along the way, but mostly I've been a bit at a loss at trying to understand the appeal of Spider-Man. However, after over a decade and a half of films that I've mostly hated, I'm starting to realize certain things I'm not big on him about. For instance, the-eh, "Great power comes great responsibility" tagline, that sounds like it should be from something better, it kinda sucks. And is total bullshit. I mean, hell, Spider-Man lives in a whole universe where there's several people with great powers and he seems to be the only one who ever gives half a shit about the responsibility of it all. (And I won't lie, with dipshit in the Oval Office right now, yeah, I can totally understand Peter B Parker's more nonchalant approach to being Spider-Man, as well as just a notion that, maybe it's not great to always use your powers, especially if they always end up backfiring on you and hurting someone you love.)

Mostly though, I think I just absolutely hate "Spider-Man"'s origin story. I mean, this is the fourth version of Spider-Man I've seen on the big screen in my lifetime, and the only one I really liked is the one that knew enough to skip over the damn origin. (Even if "...Homecoming" doesn't know that high school trivia teams can afford to buy buzzers and not have to rely on stupid bells!!!! Yes, that's the part of that movie I'm still pissed at.) I hate Superman's origin story more still, but Spider-Man's is kinda dumb in most versions as well. This one doesn't even bother contriving a way to get Peter into a science lab where he can get bit by the radioactive spider, he's just hanging out with his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) tagging one day, and then, a spider shows up and bites him, and now he has to save multiple universes. I don't like that about it either, that it's purely an accident of faith that somebody becomes Spider-Man, and now, we thrust upon them all this responsibility towards them. I mean, he's already an orphan-, okay, well, not in this version, and again that's an improvement, and he surely loses somebody, usually an Uncle, although in Gwen Stacy's (Hailee Steinfeld) case, a best friend, (Which was also improvement in her narrative) like come on? At least when Bruce Wayne loses his parents, he still grows and evolves into Batman; he doesn't have Batman thrust upon him!

So yeah, the fact that this is basically another origin story didn't help me, in fact it generally bored me. I could foresee a little more than I should've. I will say this, at least, the movie knew to avoid Spider-Man's cast of villains, most of whom suffered the same, get-bit-by-something-and-turn-evil Syndrome, with the exception of an admittedly cool use of Doc Ock (Kathryn Hahn) that I genuinely didn't see coming. Instead, our main villain is Kingpin, aka Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), which I know stretches across a few superheroes, although I tend to think of him as being Daredevil's big villain, and a great villain in general. I mean, he was already the villain in the seriously underrated "Daredevil" movie, and he makes sense here. Basically, he's opened a hole into a multi-verse portal, right as Miles gets bit by the spider and Peter Parker is killed in his failed attempt to close the portal. Peter B. Parker comes through and finds Miles first, and later, other Spider-Men, People- Heroes who've fallen through the portal, and now Miles has to save his universe as well as get all the other Spider-Characters home.

See, despite some of the inventiveness, this film is basically just another "Spider-Man" story, and frankly I've longago now felt like I've seen more-than-enough of them, and now it seems like I'm staring at all of them. And I know, there's several, several multi-verse Spider-Man's out there that are popular in the comic book world, I'm not big on the multiverse thing to begin with, and I know quantum theory's fascination with multiverses has made it popular, however, the way it's done here, is not that interesting. You see, the cool aspect of this narrative isn't the meeting of other people from other universes, it's when a character is placed into other universes and begins to observe and look around at all the differences and changes and try to make it in that world, or go through it as one searches for the way out. The movie is called "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", but oddly it actually, never goes into the Spider-Verse. We're always inside Miles Morales's universe and all these other Spider-Men, Spider-Women, and Spider-Ham, they could've just been other superheroes in this universe. In fact, that would make more sense, only one guy gets bit by a radioactive thing in this world, and all but one of them, one of them at a time, decides to be a superhero instead of a supervillain?! All these other Spider-Men, might as well just be other members of the Avengers, and nothing would change....

(Long deep pause, deep sighs. Deep breath.Changes 3 STARS to 2 1/2 STARS)

I'm sorry on this, but the more I think about it, the less I like it. I've gotta pan it outright, 'cause "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse", could've been and should've been better than it was.


CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?  (2018) Director: Marielle Heller


★★★★

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I guess I never thought much about it before, but of all the kinds of authors there are in modern literature, biographer, is one of the strangest. You're not writing fiction, per se, you're actually doing a lot of research, supposedly, anyway and you're goal is get gain a grasp of the life of somebody else, often somebody who's either passed or has long-passed, or possibly through second or third-hand info and sources and evidence and eyewitness testimony. Sometimes they're documenting history; we often think autobiographies are the best first-hand knowledge of a person, but they're often just as unreliable as anything else and important biographies are really far more valuable, other times they might just be, some elaborate form of exploitation made by people about others who really can't always defend themselves. I guess there are still some famous biographers around, Doris Kearns Goodwin comes to mind, but I do think there was a bit of a trend towards famous biographies for awhile there. I guess the most interesting and infamous biographer in this era that I can think about it Kitty Kelley, who was kinda like the Harvey Levin of her day, I guess. I've read her unauthorized Frank Sinatra biography, which is generally regarded as the best and most "accurate" of her works, and-um, yeah, it's interesting, in a tabloid sorta way, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for research.

Still though, biographer also seems simultaneously like a fairly thankless author job. It certainly was for Lee Israel (Oscar-nominee Melissa McCarthy) who, for a time was a famous biographer, known for her works on Katharine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead, and coincidentally one of those weird celebrities who I actually have fascination with, Dorothy Kilgallen. Her "Kilgallen" biography made the bestseller's list, which is where I knew the name from. I haven't read the book, it's actually a little difficult to afford a copy since Israel's books were taken out of libraries and book stores for awhile. I've found people asking as much as $850.00 for the "Kilgallen" book on Amazon; the cheapest one at the moment is about $28 bucks, but even still, it's an obscure 40-year-old biography.... I'm sure she'd find that irony hilarious and frustrating if she were around today.

"Can You Ever Forgive Me?" based on her best-selling memoir, is about her post-biographer career, which fell badly after some bad reviews of her Estee Lauder biography. She was a petulant misanthropic drunk who cared more about her cat than she did most humans, and she wasn't well-liked in the literary community either. After getting constantly berated by  her agent Marjorie (Jane Curtin) for her upcoming Fanny Brice book that she explains accurately that, "Nobody wants," she ends up forging out a living as a letter forger.

She first stole and replaced some found letters from Fanny Brice and selling them to some local collectors and sellers, but then began replicating or flat out creating from thin air letters from Noel Coward, Dorothy Parker, several other famous people known for their wit and fame. She even gets her one drinking buddy/friend, an eccentric debonair gay drunk, Jack Hock (Oscar-nominee Richard E. Grant) to try to sell some of her forgeries at one point. Hock is interesting character; I like A.O. Scott's observation that if Israel is a modern Dorothy Parker, than Hock is her Oscar Wilde. He's hung around the intellectual literary elite, but he seems unimpressed by sophistication. He seems to be the one gay guy who doesn't know who Fanny Brice is, Israel observes at one point. I presume he mostly just goes from cocktail party to cocktail party for drugs and alcohol.

The performances by McCarthy and Grant are the centerpiece of this quirky little New York story. Social elites, the rejected downtrodden, drugs, alcohol, crime, and a lot of analysis about the art and whether the true artist is the one that matters. This is not surprising when you learn about the strangely weird and talented pedigree of the production of "Can You Ever Forgive Me?". The movie was co-written by Nicole Holofcener, one of the biggest and best female independent directors out there, and you can kinda tell. She's often compared to a female Woody Allen, and there's a lot of motifs and this film that are similar to, both some of her other themes, but also some of Allen's. She was supposed to originally direct and apparently started filming the movie with Julianne Moore in the lead role at one point. Moore was eventually fired for reasons that were never explained and eventually Holofcener gave up the directing job, and that went to another strangely interesting director strange, Marielle Heller, the woman behind one of the very best films in recent years, the criminally underappreciated, "The Diary of a Teenage Girl". It's a bit rare to see a film taken from one great female director and put into the hands of another great female director, and the same with the lead actress role as well, at least this publicly. I don't think we'll ever find out what happened, but as much as I love Moore, but McCarthy is the right choice for this role. As somebody who remember her from long before she was famous, they've known that she's very capable of a dramatic character like this; in fact she's probably better at it somewhat than she is at comedy, and she is great at comedy. There's some really good intricacies in her performance that, wouldn't simply be written on the page. And this is a film where if her performance isn't great, the whole movie would flops. She's an unlikable shrew of a character, but you run through a lot of emotions and struggles with her characters, and you feel all of them in every scene she's in.

A person who writes about others, finally finds her own story to tell, by writing and pretending to be those who she writes about. I don't know if Dorothy Parker would ever forgive her for being a better Dorothy Parker than her, but after the movie got me to forgive her for such a heinous sin.


SHOPLIFTERS (2018) Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

★★★★1/2



"Shoplifters" is one of those movies that I admit, that I wasn't always paying as close attention to as I should, on the original viewing. I thought perhaps if I rewinded and rewatched things carefully, I would probably catch more and realize what's going on, but in this case, I know now that, it wouldn't have helped, 'cause the movie has a really-, not a sly twist, or even a twist at all per se, but...- well, what eventually get revealed in "Shoplifters" is not the kind of thing that anybody looking casually or intently would notice on the surface. It's clearly intentional, partially because that's part of the film, but I don't think that's the only reason. I've only in recent years began to discover the works of Japan's great Hirokazy Koreeda, one of the best filmmakers alive today. He originally began his career as a documentarian, but his first feature film "Maborosi" broke him onto the world stage. My first real introduction to him, when his work first truly effected me was "Like Father, Like Son", a devastating but beautiful movie he made a couple years ago about two families who find out that their children were switched at birth and now must began a long, painful and distressing process of having their kids switch homes and families. It's a movie several times since my first viewing and it grows more and more each viewing. His most common comparison is Yasojiru Ozu and like him, he's got a very deliberate and almost zen-like quality to his films, but he also seems to make movies about families. Koreeda though, often questions and challenges what exactly a family is with his films that I've liked include "Our Little Sister" a sprawling family epic about three grown sisters who have to let into their life a 13-year-old stepsister after their father's passing, and "After the Storm" which is about a private detective who struggles to find his place in his kid's life after his divorce and his struggles to make child support through his work.

Family, and what it constitutes that word, is the major theme in all of his films. "Shoplifters", naturally fits right in; it's about a family of shoplifters. The opening sequence involves a father Osamu (Lily Franky) teaching his young son Shota (Jyo Kairi) to steal. It's a touching scene that suddenly interrupted on the way home by Juri (Miyu Sasaki) a five-year-old girl who's apparently been treated badly by her family. This is the second time they've seen her outside her home at night, and when they take her home, the matriarch of the family, Grandma Hatsue (Kirin Kiki) notices her scars and they decide to take her in as well. It's a bit awkward. For one thing, it's technically kidnapping in some respects, including the legal one, and after a few months when they realize that her disappearance is a news story, they wonder what to do, but they trust their instincts.

The family is a bit larger than this too, and just as eclectic. Basically, this family reminds me of a nicer version of the Gallaghers in "Shameless", only with a lot more love and care and a lot less, well, the other 99% of that show. There's some scenes of the eldest daughter Aki's (Mayu Matsuoka) work at a strange kind of sex shop where she basically performs behind a wall for unseen customers. I know it's tempting to think of those romanticized scenes from Wim Wenders's "Paris, Texas" here, but honestly, it seems even more tragic and senseless as the way they perform, you suspect the customer's would probably get just as much pleasure if they were at home watching some camgirl. (Yes, I know there's stricter porn laws in Japan that make that option less attainable in Japan, don't @ me on that one.) There's also a pension that Grandma Hatsue gets, as well as some other ways they make money that's somewhat vaguely explained.

Everything on the surface of "Shoplifters", seems normal to the Shibata family, despite their industry based on petty shoplifting as a way to make money. They were a loving family that lived in a room of an apartment that did all they could to hustle and survive. Then, for reasons that I won't explain, we start to grimmer and sadder look at them and the family's true origins. In hindsight, we see hints of what was coming, but-, you could hypothetically call this a cheat twist, 'cause even with the foreshadowing it's too elaborate to fully predict or grasp on initial viewing, but that's the point. The movie reveals how the family came together, and ultimately what eventually disintegrated them, but the movie about how loving the family is. It's about how they are, the fact that this is a loving, caring family, and ultimately how is all that matters. Even if they're a family of shoplifters, they are still a family and that doesn't change no matter what else is going on.


MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE--FALLOUT (2018) Director: Christopher McQuarrie

★★★

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I'm just bored with Tom Cruise now. I'm bored with this franchise too. I mean, it's a fine movie, I'm recommending, there's only been one, maybe two truly bad "Mission: Impossible" films, that was "Mission: Impossible II", and I was the one that didn't' love, "...Rogue Nation", but it's probably okay, but I'm still kinda confused why we're still making these franchises. Ironically, this is the first in a long while that genuinely reminded of an episode of the old television show that it's based on. Certainly in the credit sequences, the film reminded me of it. And there's some good action scenes, some that are just really outrageous like a climatic helicopter chase where Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has to throw his helicopter into another helicopter before either helicopter collides into a mountain. I prefer the image earlier of Hunt, in the middle of a long multi-vehicled chase, running opposite the traffic on the roundabout in front of the Arc De Triomphe. That was a really cool image.

Still though, this is a franchise that's gotten six movies? Really? Like why? Okay, I know why, but-, especially from Tom Cruise-, "Mission: Impossible" is not a franchise that's about a single character. There was only one actor who was in every episode of the original series and he wasn't the star of the series. The show is somewhat for it's revolving door cast,  it wasn't about any one particular member of IMF, hell, the IMF's motives changed half-way through the damn series. That's actually why it's a perfect franchise to transfer to movies, 'cause it's not only naturally a cinematic plot that allows for a good amount of infinite possibilities, but also, you can bring in new members and take out old members of the cast, pretty easily and regularly, and it wouldn't effect the damn thing.

However, you wouldn't think that watching this franchise, and especially not after this film, which, at teams seems to just be a giant blowjob to how great Ethan Hunt is. Seriously, the dialogue all seems to just be reaffirming to us constantly that yes, Ethan Hunt is still Ethan Hunt, and he's still capable of saving the world and this is his life! Here's all his old crew! Luther's (Ving Rhames) back. So is Benji (Simon Pegg) so is his newest love Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) also, his past love, Julia (Michelle Monaghan). God, if there was one movie franchise where I didn't think I'd have to pay close enough attention to the overarching backstory it would be this one. Even his old nemesis Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) along with a new villain, August Walker (Henry Cavill). Okay! Also, Alec Baldwin's here, so is Angela Bassett! Wes Bentley, were they in any of the previous films, I don't remember anymore. This franchise is six movies and a quarter-century old and now I'm supposed to pay attention to this?

I hate to make such insinuations that this franchise has basically just become a Tom Cruise vanity project now, but I don't know what else to think about it at this point. Even the Bourne franchise knew enough to have a movie without Jason Bourne. I'm not against more "Mission: Impossible" movies, but I definitely think I'm against more Tom Cruise ones. We should be getting "Mission: Impossible: The Next Generation" at this point. The fact that these movies are generally good and overall have improved from the confusing albeit interesting first movie, and the godawful pointless explosion-fest of the second, makes this confusing, but I'm just done.

It's not even that Cruise is currently not en vogue with the general public anymore, especially now that we're getting way more information about Scientology and just how corrupt and perverted a cult of a pyramid scheme of a religion it is, that basically he's become relegated to action movies now. I mean, he's still big enough that he can basically pick the best action movie that he could want to do. I mean, it wasn't that long ago he did that with "Edge of Tomorrow", but four of his next five projected projects are sequels to other action movies he's done, including two more "Mission: Impossible" movies coming, as well as a sequel to "Edge of Tomorrow", which I hope is just a rumor, and of course, the long awaited sequel to "Top Gun" that nobody wanted. (Sigh) I'm genuinely disappointed in him.

He put it forever, but he's basically finally in the Burt Reynolds phase of his career. People forget this, but when Tom Cruise was coming up, Burt Reynolds was the biggest movie star in the world, and around that same time, the Tom Cruise Film Formula was just getting written and discussed. It's not entirely untrue or inaccurate, btw, but here's the big difference between Reynolds and Cruise. Cruise, genuinely sought out projects that challenged himself as an actor. He did this for a good solid twenty years or so, you'd be hard-pressed to find a "Cop & a Half" or a "Cannonball Run II" on Cruise's filmography, cause he never did forget that, it wasn't that people wanted to see Tom Cruise, it's that people want to see Tom Cruise acting, and dammit, we still do. When he is on, he is one of our best actors and has been for years. But I came out of "Mission: Impossible--Fallout" just feeling like this film was a total waste for him. We know he can and should be doing so much more, but he seems more intent on trying to prove, not that he's this actor, but that he's this physical marvel of a man, who can still do the greatest action scene, somehow always find a way to be the good guy, even when he's supposed to be the villain, and run across cities from rooftop to rooftop and perform superhuman stunts.

He's 57 years old and it's not like he was ever exclusively thought of as an action film star before; I certainly never thought of him in those terms. Maybe it's his own doing, and this is all he can get, but I think he can still be seeking out better, more interesting, more challenging roles and material if he wanted to. I hope he does, and I hope if there is two more "Mission: Impossible" films on the horizon, I hope he's not in them. I hope he lets them reboot this franchise, create new characters, find some new stories for a new IMF gang to do


THE PARTY (2018) Director: Sally Potter

★★

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Sally Potter's one of the last filmmakers I would've thought would make a movie like "The Party". This movie belongs in that weird subgenre of indies I call the Hollywood Party movies. Now, this one takes place in London, but essentially this is the kind of movie that's basically just getting a bunch of close friends and actors together in a room or a house or a loft, and they act out a party scene of some kind. Sometimes it's literally just a movie about a party that seems to be able to pass as a party. Alan Cumming & Jennifer Jason Leigh's "The Anniversary Party", is probably one of the best of these, as well as one of the most insider of these. One of the few Joss Whedon's projects I actually like, his adaptation of "Much Ado About Nothing" feels quite like this as well. There's others, some are theatrical experiments, others are just some modern variant on "The Big Chill". Potter's "The Party", is basically an experiment, which is something I expect from Potter. My favorite film of hers is "Yes", a romance story where all the dialogue was spoken in Shakespearean rhyme and rhythm, so she's prone to an experiment or two, but I always gave her a little more credit than this.

"The Party" is a barely-70 minute long snore where a bunch of people gather for an event, there's a few revelations and a couple things happen. Now, in the right setting, this narrative can be amazing. Here, however,- well, it really is much ado about nothing.

There's talk of things, politics and life theories, political correctness, relationships all get mentioned and thrown around, but you never get the sense that there's any meaning behind these topics. Apparently, Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) has just been placed in some high political position, while Bill, she learns over the night, is dying. What political position? It's never specifically explained, although it seems like this is a left-wing collective group. We have a pregnant lesbian couple for instance, Jinny and Martha (Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones) as well as an eccentric opposites attract couple with the philosophically extreme April and Gottfriend (Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz), she's a left-wing radical totalitarian who criticizes everything and everyone, most especially her husband a flightly life coach who seems to think the right records can help bring people back to life. Then there's Tom, the rich banker drug addict, who's high on coke the whole night, and causing his own mild chaos wherever he goes.

I don't know, like, I can see, maybe Richard Linklater taking similar characters and materials and making a compelling narrative out of this, but he's used to restrictive settings and he loves discussion of high-minded subjects from several different perspectives. Potter just seems annoyed by it, everything's vague and nothing matters here until Bill announces his upcoming death and even there, there's-, the movie begins and ends with a character, pointing a gun at us and shooting, just like the end of "The Great Train Robbery", there's no need for that gun or any gun to even be in this movie. This isn't a movie that needs that kind of Chekhovian planting and it doesn't even payoff at the end.

This movie gets worst the more I think about it, honestly. I can appreciate the attempt at doing something like this, by a natural experimental filmmaker, but this is so far away from Potter's strengths that I'm confused at why she was even trying to make this. There's not much else to say, this was a boring, uninteresting, bad barely a blip of a movie, and I'm shocked that somebody as great as Sally Potter made this.


BRAMPTON'S OWN (2018) Director: Michael Donager

1/2★

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So, about halfway through "Brampton's Own" a Netflix movie that got a limited enough theatrical release apparently that it qualifies for a review from me, my friend who I was watching the movie with, and who coincidentally was the one who picked the movie out, stated that, "This is one of the ten worst baseball movies he's ever seen." This led into a thinking exercise as I tried to figure out what the worst baseball movie of all-time was. I'm not 100% knowing in this case, but I feel fairly safe in saying that there's gotta be a "Bad News Bears" sequel or two that's genuinely the worst of all-time. "Major League: Back to the Minors" would probably be the one I've seen to completion that I'd vote for, unless we're counting, "Angels in the Infield". No, not "...Outfield", "Infield". There's a little-remembered challenge for those Youtube critics, seek out the horrible TV/Straight-to-DVD (finger quotes) "sequels" to that thing.

I'm bringing this up because it's way more interesting than anything I can talk about with this movie. I struggle to put it on the aforementioned Worst Baseball Movie list, since I'm barely certain that it's even worth counting quite frankly. Also, 'cause it's barely a baseball movie. It's barely a movie at times. I'm actually still watching it while I'm writing this review, 'cause it's just too painfully bad to actually sit down and let the movie play all the way through; I can only put up with the strange camera choices like the awkward panning between shot in one scene where a camera moves from one set of character to the other that's talking, instead of doing some kind of two-shot, or the weird OTS shot I'm looking at now of the lead actor talking to, I think it's his sister about his old high school girlfriend...- It's not even either of those character's shoulder, it's like somebody shot a master from an OTS of the most annoying side character in the film, for no reason, and just kept it. I can't entirely blame the aimless directing, the confusing over-plotted script isn't helping. The actors are,- well, I guess Jean Smart can never do anything wrong, but they're not given the best to work with, but I'm hard-pressed to think of "Brampton's Own" as a well-cast film either. I mean, this movie couldn't even find a Major Legue ballplayer to play the Major League ballplayer for a cameo scene.  Like, they didn't have to get Ichiro or anything, but you couldn't convince one Seattle Mariner to be in a scene? Like you don't have to get Felix Hernandez or anything, but I mean you couldn't convince Edwin Encarnacion to be to do a page of dialogue? I mean, the main character plays for the Tacoma Rainers, that's a real baseball and they're the real Seattle Mariners' AAA affiliate! Like, c'mon here!

So, the guy who seems the most responsible for this is Michael Donager, he's a Writer/Director, this is his second feature directorial effort after something called "This Thing with Sarah" from seven years ago, however he seems to have gotten the most acclaim from co-writing and being a lead actor in a film called "The Escort" that actually didn't do horribly on the festival circuit. That movie had a different director though, a guy who has a lot more credits, most in television, but still, that's the first advice I'm giving this guy; he needs to put the camera down. There's a few scenes are kinda well-written here, so I don't want to bash him too much. (Although the use of the phrase, "I want to eat you like a watermelon", um...- yeah, oh boy, yeah, if that scene doesn't damn this movie to a future "MTS3K" episode....)  I get it, we're all struggling filmmakers, it's a mini-miracle anything ever gets made and he's trying. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that this film probably as something that was supposed to be grander and more epic than this, and for whatever reasons, budget, producers perhaps, it just ended up like this instead, but even then, this movie at best feels like a part of well-worn ideas from other movies. And not always better movies either.

You have the longtime Minor Leaguer, Dustin (Alex Russell) who's never made the Show, and instead of staying on, he's come home to the titular small town where he's still somewhat of a folk hero, but now, after twelve years, shockingly, everything's change! His mother,  is engaged and moving in with a new boyfriend, Bart (John Getz, who's also decent in limited work here) and who has a son Dustin now befriends named Cody (Carter Hastings). There's the old high school girlfriend Rachel (Rose McIver) who's engaged to the town's new local dentist but might still feel for Dustin, but doesn't want him to keep chasing his dream of playing in the Majors...- Who still holds onto his past memories as a high school star...-. There's some other friends from his past...- there's a lot here, way too much.

There's a way to tell a story with these elements, even a way to make it new and fresh; "Brampton's Own" just trying to be a tire-old nostalgia-esque romance of Americana. Small town, baseball, apple pie, high school sweethearts,.... It's not adding anything new to this and it's not well-done enough to make the classic tolerable. It's trying to do too much, it's lazy or just bad at most of it. I'm- I've been talking about this movie way more than it really deserved to be talked about. I don't want to be so blunt and I don't want to be this mean to this movie, there are far egregious and worst wastes of celluloid I can think of, but there's absolutely nothing here worth discussing. I'll give the movie some credit for not having the cliche happy romantic ending, but it didn't established well enough why it deserves to have the ending it ultimately had either.


ETHEL & ERNEST (2017) Director: Roger Mainwood

★★★★

Image result for Ethel & Ernest

Okay, so there's a famous British cartoon called "The Snowman". I think I've seen it once or twice, it's not particularly memorable to me, but it's apparently a major Christmas tradition in the UK, the same way that say, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" or "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas". Anyway, the author of the original children's book "The Snowman" is based on is named Raymond Briggs and he's the author also of the graphic book "Ethel & Ernest" that this movie is based on. It's also directed by one of the animators of "The Snowman", so that's gonna be the starting point for a lot of people when considering the film.

As for me, I just think it's a wonderful piece of animation about a lovely couple, which is all Briggs really intended. "Ethel & Ernest" follow it's title characters from their youth to their old age. Ethel (Brenda Blethyn) is a young maid who's smitten by a tall lanky milkman, Ernest (Jim Broadbent), and that's it. We see them grow up, and raise their son Raymond (Luke Treadaway) eventually meeting his future wife Jean (Karyn Claydon). They're fairly ordinary as a typical loving British couple and parents, and that's basically the point. We occasionally hear radio reports and eventually TV reports about the events in history they lived through and how they observed through it, mostly it's just for observation. We get a sense of these two, how they change, how they see the world, the things they decide to talk about and obsess over.

That's all "Ethel & Ernest" is, and it's wonderful. The beautiful hand-drawn animation takes this material that could easily be banal and makes it extraordinary. There's a care and sentiment to the film that most pieces of animation couldn't have. It's simple, it's lovely, it's very British, but it's universal as well. A loving tribute to a one's parents.


AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER (2017) Directors: Bonni Cohen & Jon Shenk

★★★★

Image result for an inconvenient sequel truth to power

When Hurricane Sandy pummeled it's way into New York City back in 2012, and I saw the images of New York City being overrun with rapid waters, including the World Trade Center Memorial Site, that was still under construction, I couldn't help but think about "An Inconvenient Truth". I'm actually surprised more people didn't because Gore's prediction that that would happen was pretty startling, and frightening at the time. The original film was billed as the scariest film ever, and it lived up to it's billing. All it basically was, was a brief look at Al Gore's post-Political life as an environmental activist, and his slideshow that he still routinely tours the world with, adding and adjusting and altering as new information, good and bad, is found. I think most people have forgotten the film nowadays as many seem to do with certain documentaries that are relevant mainly in terms of the zeitgeist in which they're made, but I certainly didn't. In fact, I still had it on my Top Ten films of 2007 list, years afterwards. Admittedly, it's hard to recall and remember it's power since we've been inundated with a saturation of environmental documentaries since, but than only underlines how "An Inconvenient Truth"'s importance has been.

And let's be clear before we go any further, anybody who doesn't (finger quotes) "believe", in climate change, their ignorant assholes who aren't just voluntarily misinformed, they're trolling, and they're dangerous assholes, some of the worst out there. There might not be anything worst to the world right now, then those, especially those in power, who refuse to believe what Mother Nature is trying to tell us. "An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power" is a strange mix in hindsight. It does show us more of the slideshow, but it mostly shows Gore traveling the world and meeting with leaders, including before and at the Paris Accords in 2015. Gore was in the middle of a 24-hour broadcast promoting the event when the Paris Attacks happened, forcing the broadcast to cancel.

That's one drawback, and it's easy to see the several, several drawbacks that the modern environmental movement has had to suffer through. The movie was mostly inspiration and hopeful when it was originally screened at Sundance in 2016, until Trump won the election and he proceeded to back out of the agreement. The recklessness and ruthlessness Trump seems to be willing to pollute the nation is basically just trolling. Once-a-week, I still see that news item about him letting companies pollute rivers again, and frankly I should because it is such a wrong-headed and outright stupid position that only people who would financially benefit and have the coldest and most callous of hearts could possibly think it's a good idea.

We are getting better with alternative energy fuels and sources, things will be better in the near future, and things are getting better everyday. We see that, but we also are show footage of new weather disasters, much of the time, we see Gore traveling to downtown Miami during high tide when parts of the town is now flooded and there's a huge effort being made to elevate the roads a few feet to combat the tides. There's a huge reconstruction the state of Florida's doing to combat the effects of global warming and yet, the state's Governor continues to deny climate change's effects on the world.

Syria's drought btw, might've helped lead to their current situation as well, as prior to the Arab Spring Revolution and the current Syrian Civil War, 80% of the nation's farmers went under in the few years prior. It's strange to see a world coming together to actually combat climate change and put money and funding towards it, universally agreed upon that, "Hey, these glaciers and islands are falling into the sea, let's do something!" and to see alternative energy sources becoming cheaper and more widespread and just when it looks like we're turning a corner, we go back ten steps and the fight continues.

"An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power" isn't as good as the first film, but it's just as important, in fact, I hope there's another movie in ten years. The documenting of our current state of the climate change and the state of our drastically changing planet is something worth documenting and through the eyes of the most high-profile and major advocate is probably one of the clearest-eyed perspectives we can have, and looking back on his effects and the continued journey is one we're taking anyway, and it's worth documenting, no matter how it ends up going. Hopefully these movies get more happy and ecstatic and less scary and frightening as they go on, but if they don't I want to see that too, and we'll know for certain how foreboding Gore's predictions were.


THE MIDWIFE (2017) Director: Martin Provost

★★★★

Image result for The Midwife film

I've had some experience with Martin Provost's work in the past. I've seen his biopic "Seraphine" about the famous French painter Seraphine de Senlis, and "Violette" about the author Violette Ludec. Based on these two projects, I mostly saw Provost as a director/filmmaker who makes films about other artists. This wasn't true of course, but to be honest, I didn't get much else from his work. He isn't particularly flashy or stylish or unique, he's pretty basic as a director, gets the few shots or angles he needs and lets his actors work. This makes sense since Provost started out as an actor.

"The Midwife" marks the first film pairing of France's two great Catherines, Frot and Deneuve. Frot plays the titular midwife Claire. She lives a fairly quiet life on the surface, a stark contrast to her worklife where she's a calming and emotionally-charged nurse that helps mothers with their children getting born. This sounds like a cool job, but the movie never shies away from the several struggles that such a job entails. It's actually kinda startling how many babies they must've had to get on set come to think about it...

Anyway, one day, Deneuve's Beatrice comes back into her life after, around thirty or so years. She's a bit like Richard E. Grant's nomadic character, only mostly going from guy-to-guy or place-to-place, in an effort to enjoy life. The free spirit's return to Paris and her reconnection with Claire coincides with her health problems, as she's suffering from a brain tumor. Claire's reluctant to reconnect is due to Beatrice's leaving her father, after her father and mother broke up when she was a teenager, soonafter leading to her father's suicide. This explains a lot about Claire, although it also leaves a bit of a mystery to her.

Claire does have a son, Simon (Quentin Dolmaire) a young medical student who's engaged to his pregnant girlfriend Lucie (Pauline Parigot) and desires to quit school to become a midwife himself, or a "Birth Technician" as it probably more proper. Claire explains that she raised Simon on his own, and hasn't shared or revealed much about her past with him. Basically, the movie is about how Beatrice's arrival opens her up from her closed-off self. She starts to have a little more fun, drink a little bit occasionally, even starts dating her neighbor a nice truck driver named Paul (Olivier Gourmet).

It's honestly not the most unusual or unique plot, but they make the details matter and that's because the acting is great. The movie is at it's best when it's just Frot and Deneuve in a battle of acting. The story seems less and less interesting upon reflection, but it worked for me at the time. Of course, I'd probably recommend anything with these two in the lead. I'm still unsure of what to make of Provost as a director. I guess I'm still waiting to be blown away by him. "The Midwife" is probably the best and most memorable film of his I've seen so far though, and Deneuve and Frot are more than worth it.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

CANON OF FILM: "WONDER BOYS"

WONDER BOYS (2000)

Director: Curtis Hanson
Screenplay: Steve Kloves based on the novel by Michael Chabron



Curtis Hanson, as far as I can tell, was pretty universally beloved by the film community as well as by the critics. Not every film of his was universally beloved but I don't hear too many people singling out a completely bad film of his. I often find comfort in rewatching some of his later, so-called lesser films like, "In Her Shoes...", or "Lucky You". The guy did work his way up though, starting in low-budget horror, action and teen comedy before making his way up to his breakthrough films of the late '80s and early '90s, and the movie  That said, it does seem odd that, basically the only film that pretty much everybody agrees is an absolute must-see masterpiece is "L.A. Confidential".

"L.A. Confidential" is a masterpiece, and I've already added it to the Canon:
https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2016/09/canon-of-film-la-confidential.html

However, I think a second of his films should be considered on that level. "Wonder Boys" was his follow-up film to "...Confidential", and it's one of the most cerebral and strange screwball comedies of all-time. Trying to explain the events of this movie make the film feel more outlandish and outrageous than the film actually is, but it also makes it unpredictable. Rewatching it recently, I was startled by how strange it still seems. I'd seen the movie several times, it's been one of my personal favorites since the movie came out and yet, I still couldn't piece together the scenes from memory, and I was genuinely fascinated watching the movie continue to expand it's narrative and take such unexpected and bizarre turns. How it managed to go off on strange paths that seem completely unrelated, and sometimes are unrelated, how there's several red herrings implanted through the film that seem likely to head the film towards one or two directions and instead, we end up following completely different red herrings that lead to a different kind of nowhere.

Well, not nowhere, nowhere plot-wise, but personally, we're following a main character who's in the middle of a crisis on one of those long weekend that'll change his life. That character is Grady Tripp (Oscar-nominee Michael Douglas) an author who had a major hit novel several years ago but who's now seven years late on his follow-up, stuck in Writer's Block purgatory. He's currently an English professor at a New England University while there's a literary festival going on as most of his life is falling apart. His wife has recently left him. He's having an affair with the Headmaster's wife, Sara (Frances McDormand) who's now pregnant. His New York editor Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey, Jr.) is in town aching to see his progress on his book and getting into his own troubles. How this ends up involving a stolen car that's got a trunk filled with a dead dog, a tuba, Marilyn Monroe's jacket, and a suitcase with a 2600-word manuscript, riding around town trying to save a student who doesn't need saving,...- seriously, this movie's story is so difficult to explain that I'm constantly amazed that I can both follow it every viewing and it continually manages to makes sense in the moment. It's engrossing 'cause we're watching Grady's change from stoned-out wonder boy who's trying to run as far away from himself as we can, to when he finally decides to get his barrings straight and start making choices both in his life, and in his writing. He may believe that any minute now, he's expecting all Hell to break loose, but he's been around and fucked up enough to know that, Hell won't break loose in the way he'd expect it to.

Since it is a literary festival, the weekend is peppered with even more strange characters matriculating around then normal. There's Q (Rip Torn) a famous author, who I presume to be Stephen King (might be James Patterson) that's the most popular guy at the festival and puts out a new book every six months or so, there's Hannah Green (Katie Holmes) a red-booted red herring that's both a student at the university and seems like she's empathic enough towards Grady that, in another universe, she'd be willing to have an affair with Grady, despite him being her teacher. He's aware of that too, but he's probably just bored by the prospect of another coed who's attractive to her professor. There's Oola and Vernon (Jane Adams and Richard Knox) an attractive pregnant waitress and her angry jockey-sized boyfriend who's real name we never figure out, 'cause the only background we have on him was made up by Grady and Crabtree while they seemingly kidnapped another troubled student, James Leer. (Tobey Maguire)

Leer, on the surface seems important, I mean, he is essentially the mysterious character that Grady spends the majority of the movie trying to figure out. He's already finished a book, and it's good, yet he's a social outsider who may or may not be lying about his living arrangement and situation. Also, Crabtree's attracted to him enough to basically dump a transvestite, Miss Sloviak (Michael Cavadias)  he brought with him on the plane trip over. Yet, he always seems like a MaGuffin more than an actual character.

Like I said, "Wonder Boys", has a screwball narrative, but it's arc is focused on Grady's redemption. It's one of Michael Douglas's greatest acting performances, arguably his best ever. Other movies would have all these ridiculous situations going on around him, and the main character would let everything go on and take their natural course 'til they blow up in his face. Some of the stuff he's doing, he deserves for him to have them blow up in his face like that, but sometimes when you're about to fall, the greatest accomplishment is to just regain your balance enough to stay standing and re-focus, with a clear, and un-self-medicated head.

I've tried reading the Michael Chabron book that "Wonder Boys" is based on, it's a tricky read. The movie gets right the first person narrative and there is voiceover from Grady's perspective, the opening scene of Grady reading from Leer's story in class, before diving into his voiceover is actually quite creative. That said, it helps that in the movie, we see and observe more than just Grady's skewered perspective. We hear his voiceover, but we can also observes Grady's failings from the outside, as opposed to following him blindly like he's a trustworthy narrator. I credit the screenplay, but I also think Hanson's to credit as well. No matter what he directs, he managed to understand relationships between characters better than almost anybody. He's an actor's director who let's great actors work, and knows how to frame his films around them. We see the things at the corners of the screen the way Grady sees them and the way they actually are, which helps us become more engross in the story as well. I'm not sure most other directors would've gotten that right. "Wonder Boys", takes the elements of screwball that could've easily become a bad remake of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in the wrong sarcastic hands, and finds a strangely loving and surreal film that finds a new way of telling a classic story.

That's probably the thing that "L.A. Confidential" most has in common with "Wonder Boys", taking a genre that's popularity dated back to the golden age of cinema and re-imagine it in a modern way. I'd argue taking a screwball setup and re-working it was actually harder and more difficult than a genre like film noir that's filled with scene-licking characters and crime narratives based around violence and sex; taking a screwball farce and saying you're gonna slow it down to a crawl and make it pseudo stoner comedy about the upscale literary world?" Hanson doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves for managing to walk that tightrope.



Sunday, April 14, 2019

MIXED BAG BLOG #18: WATCHING VIDEO GAMES ON YOUTUBE, NUMEROUS CELEBS IN CRIMINAL TROUBLE, and ALBUM REVIEW of EDIE BRICKELL'S "

After a few more months off than I intended, I'm trying to still catch up, but honestly, there's not too much that I missed that I actually feel like discussing or commenting on at the moment. So, every so often when there's nothing going on in the entertainment world that I feel is worthy of a whole blogpost devoted to it, we do a little Mixed Bag Blog, where we talk about a few things in minor detail. This time around, I'm gonna discuss my reluctant admittance that I do watch video games on Youtube now, (Although only sports games) we'll discuss the streams of celebrities in high-profile criminal investigations, and I have a new Album Review of a CD in my collection that I've never listened to before.


VIDEO GAME WATCHING ON YOUTUBE, SPORTS (aka A Small Apology) 



I think I owe part of the video games community an apology. Or gaming or gamers? community-? Look, I'm born-and-raised in Las Vegas, so the word "gaming" never feels right to me. That's always gonna mean, "How much did we make at baccarat this month?" to me. So, "Video Gaming Community" is what I'm gonna go with, but yeah, I can't find exactly where I've said it in the past on my blog, but I'm sure on several occasions that I've mentioned that I don't really understand the appeal of watching other people play video games. I know E-Sports is a big thing now, and in some parts of the world has been for years; I'm honestly never gonna fully get this. Watching E-sports, not participating. I can totally understand why people would want to compete, but it's like when you play soccer, and you get up in the game and break your collarbone when you get pushed in the back after stealing the ball from them while running at full speed, but you try to watch and it's just boring as fuck! (Exception: Women's soccer. Sorry, futbol fans, the stereotype is true, the men are just taking dives the whole game but the women are fucking trying to kill each other out there.) Anyway, I gotta admit, I've starting watching other people play video games on Youtube, and I get the appeal, and I find it entertaining.

I haven't been watching PewDiePie or any of the big gamers or whatever, but I have been watching a lot of Youtubers who play sports games. Part of that is that, while I still think "Fortnite" is just a fancy of saying "two weeks", I do like sports and I've always sports video games. That's not the only reason though; I mean, while the narrative in most video games I don't find as compelling unless I'm playing them, 'cause they're generally first person narratives, sports games, especially some of the more elaborate EA and 2KSports games, they have narratives as well, and they're usually a little more diverse. There's playing as a player of course, and especially for many of these games, there's a franchise mode, where essentially you're playing as a team, which, of course, but it's kind of a combination GM, coach and player mode. In the old days a mode like this might last a season, but with the game now they can last, seemingly infinity it seems, but they're also really elaborate. You can see players starting from when they're being recruited to drafting them, to forming one's own personal franchise...- it's kinda unique to me. I don't know of too many games where you essentially have this much interest and control of fictional people who you suddenly take a real interest in. That's the thing, I don't really care about most characters in other video games. It always amazes me, especially when it's not the main protagonist character that purportedly I, as the player, usually am controlling, that people actually have interest or care about them. To me, they've always just been obstacles to overcome.

Sports games are different. You're goal is to defeat through talent and skill. Still though, I think the appeal of this is the same reason that fans are fascinated by other sports. We like seeing great athletes and following their stories and narratives and not only that the narrative of teams. How they're put together and what that involves. Basically, these are the dynamics that we watch sports for. One of the reason's Tom Brady's mythology is so amazing is that he was a sixth round draft pick that most teams ignored. Creating stories like this is quite a skill.

And the ones I tend to watch aren't just, airing the footage of them playing either. Just watching somebody play a video game, even and especially a sports video game, is still boring. But, taking that footage and expressing and elaborating on the narratives of the players, teams, coaches, franchise, GMs,... in those ways it's quite compelling. It's edited like highlight to tell stories the way sports journalists do. I never did think I'd enjoy watching video games, but there's definitely more than a few Youtubers who have taken this formulaic approach and I often find myself spending days watching old and new series of there's, often waiting anxiously for new episodes.

It's not much, but I gotta admit when I'm wrong. I'm still not certain I'm ever gonna get into e-sports or anything, and all this video game watching does make me more compelled to play a game myself; I came this close the other day to buying an old PC copy of NBA Live 2000 that, for the reason my local library had, and had it on sale. I'm not even certain I'd be able to get it to play come to think about it, but, eh... I'll settle for watching other franchises have their story told as oppose to trying to create a new one for me. I've got my own stories to tell anyway.


CELEBRITIES ON TRIAL, AND NOT FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT OR HARASSMENT EITHER, MOST OF THEM!!! So, yeah, #MeToo?!?!?!?!?




Most of the big Hollywood news in recent months seems to be centered more along the lines of some of the major names having some infamous run-ins with the law. I guess this isn't particularly unusual, I mean, once upon a time, there was a terrible daily news magazine show called "Celebrity Justice" and somehow they filled twenty-two minutes five days a week on this subject. That said, there's been some recent high profile incidents that have really taken the attention away from nearly anything else going on.

There's the college cheating exam that Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin got arrested over among dozens of other of the rich and well-off, in a fraud scheme that's horrible and hilarious. There's the whole Jussie Smollett supposed gay bashing that he may or may not probably set up himself for the publicity, which I don't even want to friggin' know what to make of that. There's New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft arrested for soliciting prostituting as apart of a sting in a massage parlor that run by someone who apparently is in league with Trump..., and let's not count him as a celebrity and all his court problems. What else, Julian Assange got arrested today, thank Christ, eh, Allison Mack plead guilty for helping running that sex slave cult, which is one of the biggest and probably the most under-reported of these incidents on the WHAT-THE-FUCK SCALE....  And I actually heard the rumors about that ahead of time, even making a reference to it during the prologued of last year's OYL Awards, before that came out nationally, and that's only the second biggest story going on right now about a celebrity running a  sex slave cult!!!!!!! The less said about R. Kelly, the better.

There's others that I'm probably over-looking or missing. Even the one recent #MeToo-involved issue just broke recently and that was a positive one. Turns out, Geoffrey Rush, not a creep!

https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/11/asia/geoffrey-rush-defamation-case-win-scli-intl/index.html

We thought he was a creep, turns out, he's not, and he won a civil defamation lawsuit against his accuser,  so, you know what, good for him. I'm glad Geoffrey Rush is not a creep. That seems to be the best we can celebrate nowadays, so I'm running with it.

I get there's always been this perverse sense of fascination we have when people who are rich and famous run into trouble from the law, but I gotta admit, it's been awhile since we've seen such a varied and wide array of news and incidents like this awhile. They're all so different too. Like, I feel sorry for Felicity Huffman. She was barely involved in this fraud, and by account every I can read, it seems like she was reluctant the whole way and even seemed regretful of actions. And on some level, I can totally understand, if I had the means and the ability, and I could bend the rules to get someone I loved into college, I'd probably try to do it as well. Meanwhile, Lori Laughlin, seems to have just run full-steam into her actions. She put half a million to get her kids in, faked athletic scholarships, photoshopped her kids into actual photos, and frankly, I mean, I could be wrong, but boy, her one daughter doesn't even seem interested in that education, does she? Just go to a different college, there's no shame in it, you know?

BTW, how weird is it that we all instinctively think of her as "Aunt Becky"? My "Full House" is admittedly a little rusty, but I seem to remember that she didn't start out on the show as an aunt, right? She was a co-host on Dan's show and that's how she met Jesse and they got married, like, the third or fourth season or so, I think? Actually come to think of it, anybody else think it was weird that Dan was a morning TV host, like that was his job? I mean, Joey working on TV, I got, but that seems like a weird job choice? But yeah, she's not even just "Becky", it's "Aunt Becky"? Weird. I mean, I don't refer to any of my aunts as Aunt, and she wasn't even any of the girl's actual aunts! The only other show I can think of that did that was "How I Met Your Mother". (OHHH! That's why he turned into Bob Saget in voiceover!)

Also, she's been around a lot longer than people realize. Like, she was on "The Edge of Night"! Do people even know what that was? That was a long running soap opera that ended before I was born! Although I'm the only one that seems to remember Jussie Smollett and the rest of his family mostly from "On Our Own", which, I'm still amazed nobody's ever called out Tyler Perry's entire career for copying from, but.... (Shrugs) Smollett, ever since he got that role on "Empire" though, did seem to be the kind of guy who loved the spotlight. In a way he did grow up with it and seems to have a keen interest in staying in it, and portraying an image for himself in the media.I don't think that has to do with the fact that he's one of the few major openly gay African-American actors out there, but it probably helps. He's been around forever too, since he was a kid, and now that I think about it, I did see those messages he'd send out earlier about some of the hate mail he was getting and thinking how weird that was. I mean, why him? I know, he's a major actor on a major show, but he's the third lead at best on a series that, frankly I haven't thought of as a relevant series in years. I streamed one season of "Empire" on Hulu, I liked it, I didn't get back to it. (Shrugs) Just seems to me that if somebody was sending hatemail, they might try sending it to Terence Howard or Taraji P. Henson, or even Lee Daniels' first though. Smollett gets a lot of publicity, moreso than I would've thought somebody in his position on a show would've gotten. That's not an accident; he's somebody who actively sought out publicity before this latest strange incident.

I'm not sure why all these things have so suddenly captured our attention or why now they all seem to be happening at once; it reminds me a lot of the mid-'90s tabloid era, when everybody was in trouble. Woody Allen, O.J. Simpson, Tonya Harding!!! We even had a supposed figure skating sabotage incident recently after Mariah Bell might've accidentally hit Korean skater Lin Eun-Soo during a practice before an event. And it's not like some of those names from the mid-90s aren't coming back into the spotlight, so yeah, maybe the stars are aligning again or something and all this stuff starts flooding our mindspace and airwaves, who knows? Let's hope nothing happens in Brentwood anytime soon, make sure my mind-drifting is wrong and all these are just coincidences of timing.

Other than that, I'm not really sure what else to make of all this. Let's sit back, try to empathize as much as we can with everybody involved and see how all this turns out.


ALBUM REVIEW: Edie Brickell & The New Bohemians-"Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars"

I know it's been awhile, but the last time I did one of these Mixed Bag Blogs, I introduced a new feature where I started reviewing CDs. Which CDs? Whichever ones in my collection that I own, but have never listened to, which is quite a bit, and believe it or not, I actually still add to this list somewhat regularly. I'm the guy that buys CDs from the library still. Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not up on most new music technology or advances, I still like CDs. Anyway, last time, I reviewed Dave Matthews Band's album, "Before These Crowded Street", I liked it quite a bit.

Thought I would do the same a different album. So, back into my CD drawer I go,

(David opens drawer)

and I'm pulling out, the first one, alphabetically, of the title that I keep alphabetically, and-eh, I'm gonna be reviewing. Let's see, Dave Matthew Band was the D's, since it's was a band, and after them, Dido, I've listened to her several times, I've listened to all my Bob Dylan CDs several times over, eh,- have I listened to all my Eagles CDs? I believe so-, yeah, I have. I definitely have, and-eh,... (Pulls out CD) ah! Alright, I'll be review, Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians, and their album, "Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars" from 1988.

So, before I listen to it for the first time, let me tell you how weird I am. (No pun intended, but cool pun anyway) You would probably guess that this was an album I've had forever, I bet, but actually, I just bought this CD, a few months back. I'm somewhat familiar with Edie Brickell, and I definitely know her big song, "What I Am". She's actually a little before my time frame; obviously she fits in with most of my collection of female-lead rocker CDs, but I don't know much about her. I'm much more of a post-grunge '90s singer-songwriter movement guy, this album was her debut, and I think of other albums I have from around that time, a lot of them are also debut of artists who would do more interesting work later, like Sinead O'Connor, Melissa Etheridge, eh, 'Til Tuesday if you count that as Aimee Mann's debut.That was a little earlier, I tend to this era as the beginning of the end of hair metal, where the early alternative scene like The Pixies, started to break out, and this weird miss-mash of where rock was beginning to head in the alternative rock scene. I guess Brickell is apart of this scene, which was a bit classic rock and a bit alternative folk, but it is a bit hazy for me. It's really before my time, so this one, unlike the last album I reviewed is a bit more of a mystery to me, and I don't quite know what to expect.

She popped up on my radar recently a few years ago when she got a Tony nomination for doing the musical score for "Bright Star". I know she's married to Paul Simon, she's worked with Steve Martin on an album. I know she's pretty eclectic, so I'm expecting anything frankly here. I have fewer expectations or knowledge of this album than I did the last so-eh, we'll see.

And-eh, as always with these, I don't have a music background, I'm not a music critic or expert, this is just for fun, so don't hold me to anything here. Alright, let's put the CD in.




EDIE BRICKELL & THE NEW BOHEMIANS
"Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars"

★★1/2

Well, I didn't hate this album by any means. I thought it would be a little more eclectic, it kinda was at the end. Mostly I came away from the album thinking that Brickell kinda came around, a little too early. She would've been much bigger in the early-to-mid-'90s, 'cause there's a real wit and irony to her lyrics. I guess that's not totally unexpected, "What I Am" was always essentially a joke song to begin with but there's a sardonic undercurrent to the whole album, and you really hear it in a full. There's a detachness to her wit that's peppered throughout, and a lot of that, I've elsewhere, but I like a lot of it here, especially when their was something. Musically, I was a bit bored in the middle. Although I like most of the songs on the album, musically her most interesting songs often have the least lyrics. I mean, "Keep Coming Back" has like fifteen words of lyrics on repeat, and it doesn't feel that way lyrically until you realize that. That said, I can see why she's never been, like the biggest name out there even on the alternative scene, or continued on the success of "What I Am" as a hitmaker. I think she's more interesting as a songwriter instead of a musician. That said, I liked the album, I'd like to it again, I'm interested in other stuff Edie Brickell puts out, but I think the album's more interesting in concept than to actually listen to. Glad I listened to it, glad I picked it up, but I think she broke too early and probably has more interesting stuff later on that didn't break out and get popular, and I want to hear more of that, if I can find it. This was a cute debut, but yeah, I'm probably never gonna listen to this again. That's sorry for me to say, I do like some of the songs, I might listen to them separately some time, but as an album, um, I thought it was just okay.


Thursday, April 4, 2019

WHY "BLACK PANTHER"'S BEST PICTURE OSCAR NOMINATION IS NOT A BIG DEAL. (And, no, this isn't a Hot Take or anything, it just isn't.)




So, those Oscars...,

I-eh, I'll tell you this, I'm happy that if I had to voluntarily pick a year where I skipped the Academy Awards, it would've been this one. So, I guess I should be fortunate that the fates were plotting against me this year to miss reporting and predicting them this year, but that didn't mean that I could avoid much/most of the controversies regarding the show. I guess I could go one-by-one and make arguments for/against the nominations/wins of the films I did see so far, or I can do a more thorough criticism of the show itself, and yeah, believe me, it deserved a more thorough criticism. And of course, a show that messed up so much it couldn't figure out how to have a host, would have movies that are seemingly universally beloved or panned depending on the circle of cinephile friends that day. I think I saw multiple pieces for and against "Green Book", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Vice" and "Black Panther"'s nominations, everywhere. And it wasn't a matter of, "They just thought there were better more deserving films," criticisms either; there were articles crying out that these were some of the worst Best Picture nominations, ever!!!!!!!

Like, damn! I'd comment on those, but it's way too late since everybody else has already written rebuttals to those articles, and then rebuttals to the rebuttals and rebuttals to those..., all over the internet, and frankly, if I'm gonna come back to posting after an unplanned absence, there better be something that nobody has been calling out or talking about. (Sigh)

Yeah, I'm going after superhero fans/fanboys again.

As many of you know, I've written, several times, criticizing fandom, in particular involving this wave of comic book and superheros superfandom that has been infesting the world of mainstream pop culture and Hollywood for-, well, pretty much this entire century so far! However, there was one thing about this build-up to the Oscars that, I realize I couldn't deal with, and it's how everybody was so excited and important and groundbreaking it was that "Black Panther", a superhero movie, got nominated for Best Picture. A turning point, a major moment in the widespread acceptance of superheroes and superhero culture and blah, blah, blah, blah....-

(Frustrated sigh)

Okay, first of all, no, this is not important, nor is it a big deal. Secondly, it's seriously crap like this as to why I hate fans. Like, I saw people, treat this moment, like, "We made it! We're finally getting recognition!", like it was Sidney Poitier winning the Oscar or something. It's one thing to cheer for a movie, but it's like everybody taking a whole sub-subgenre, and then saying that it represents them, and now their getting recognized?! Or criticized. Or-,

This will take a little time to explain, but trust me, I'm getting to a point, but I gotta start at the beginning, "Black Panther", did I see the movie? Do I like the movie? Do I think the movie deserved a Best Picture nomination? Well, first of all, I've written a review of it, so I've seen the movie, and-, I liked it a lot! You can find my review here:

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2018/12/movie-reviews-155-black-panther-shape.html

Which also brings me, to something else that happened to me, that's entirely unrelated but not really...-, you see, when I posted my review originally, people saw the picture of "Black Panther" come up, and clearly didn't read it or anything else in my post, and didn't check the other film reviews, and- I saw one person in particular snarky comment something along the lines, "Oh, look another hot take on "Black Panther"! Now, it's true that, there are several reviews and opinions out there and analysis of the film, and I think deservedly so, but-eh, I didn't claim I had a hot take, or any take really. I just wrote a review. One of several I posted that day, and the only reason that picture came up was because it was the top picture on my post, and that's only because it was the first review on that post, and that, was only because I thought it was the biggest film of the ones I was reviewing. (That's one of the ways I order the film reviews) I wrote a lot about it, sure, it's a review, that's what I'm supposed to do, and fine, I was late and didn't get to it in the timely manner others did, like every other film I review..., but...- I couldn't even mention the damn film, without somebody making a comment that I was commenting on it, like I'm trying to say something more than that?! Even this article in the grand scheme of everything "Black Panther," is pretty benign, and so was my review for that matter. So whoever that person was, and I'm not gonna look it up to find out, but fuck you! (Middle finger) It was a review of a film, it was 4/5 STARS and it wasn't a hot take of dick, or any other take of anything!

So I saw the movie, I liked the movie, do I think it's Best Picture worthy? (Shrugs) I-on't know??? I haven't seen everything from the year yet. Maybe? I certainly had no issue with it being nominated. I had issue with the reaction to it being nominated, which is what I'm criticizing here, but the film itself, I didn't think it was unworthy. Maybe it makes my Top Ten List, maybe it doesn't, but, sure, I had no issue with it being nominated. But, is the fact that it's superhero movie getting in, a major deal?! Something that people needed to get excited about, something that's a major shift in the Academy?

(Sigh)

I'm sighing 'cause now, I have to talk about "Lord of the Rings." Again, I've said this before, and it's nothing new, but I hate "The Lord of the Rings." I hated the movies, I hated the books, I don't like Tolkien, and his influence and inspiration is a big reason why I don't even particularly think fantasy is a good genre, and I consider most of what's been directly or indirectly influenced from him to be an all-around negative. Many people disagree with those thought, clearly, but...- I'm not getting into that argument right now, because I actually do want to talk about something positive about the movies, because, milestone aspect that people want to put on "Black Panther" getting a Best Picture nomination, "The Lord of the Rings" actually does deserve. Not only were all three films Best Picture nominees, along with "The Return of the King" winning Best Picture and going 11/11, a record at the Oscars, a major achievement for film and cinema; but that was an actual milestone turning point for the fantasy genre in film.

I know, it's hard to remember this now, but fantasy, and I mean true fantasy, was not respected by the Academy. I mean, I just typed in "Fantasy Films that got Oscar nominations" into Google, and literally, most of the example they give, were science-fiction or horror, neither of which is fantasy, and even the ones with fantastical elements in them, are stretches at best. I don't think anybody watches "Rosemary's Baby" and thinks, "Fantasy." That's how little fantasy was thought of or regarded by the Academy, and in turn, by Hollywood and arguably the greater pop culture landscape.

There's some minor exceptions to that, if you look deep enough. In 1935, Tim Reinhardt's adaptation of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was the first fantasy film nominated, and won two Oscars, including famously winning for Cinematography despite the fact that the film wasn't nominated in that category, but it wasn't a serious contender to win, Neither was Frank Capra's adaptation of "Lost Horizon" in '37, neither was "Here Comes Mr. Jordan" in 1941, or the aforementioned Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life", which was famously a flop at the time despite critical success, including a Best Picture nomination, that had no chance to win in '46; "The Bishop's Wife" the next year, which is far less remembered nowadays, also not really a film that was a serious contender to win. After that, what, "Mary Poppins", lost to "My Fair Lady" in a close race. "Doctor Dolittle" in '67 somehow snuck in to that Best Picture and I'm not sure how the hell that happened considering it's competition that year. After that, I guess some might argue that "Star Wars" is "Science-Fantasy", which-, fine, but it only got nominated for Best Picture, and that's more than say, "Harvey" did, but...-. After that, um, "Field of Dreams" got in, "Beauty and the Beast," the Disney animated version got in, both of those were considered surprise nominations by many.

You'll notice I'm not listing a lot of movies that most people who dive into the fantasy genre would even think of as "fantasy" in the traditional sense of the genre, and, well, that's the point I'm making. That's how huge this seismic shift was when goddamn "The Lord of the Rings" suddenly crashed the Oscars and ultimately took them over. Even probably what everybody would consider the best fantasy film in American cinema at least, "The Wizard of Oz", the film that the Academy did a special 75th Anniversary tribute to a few years back, that film lost to "Gone with the Wind". (Also, that tribute was ridiculous 'cause those films came out in 1939, the year universally regarded as the best in Oscar history and the best year for film in the Golden Age of Cinema, and they're only gonna honor, one film from that year, and it wasn't even the Best Picture winner?!?! Granted I don't want a tribute to "Gone with the Wind" either, but still...) Back then, the Oscars idea of a fantasy film was "Ghost"! And, as much as I hate the goddamn thing, I gotta give "LOTR" credit for that, although to be fair also, the Tolkienesque fantasy films that did come before "LOTR", yeah, they-, I may hate "LOTR", but other fantasy features, mostly didn't deserve Best Picture nearly as much as Peter Jackson's trilogy did. (And that is a painful thing for me to admit, but it's true.)  I mean, I can think of a few in hindsight I'd liked to have seen get in, Disney's "Pinocchio" would top that list for me, but I don't see too many people arguing that "Jason and the Argonauts" was unfairly overlooked nowadays?

That's the thing too, superheroes are, well, they're mostly a subgenre of fantasy. I know, some want to claim that say, Batman isn't fantasy because he's a self-made superhero and doesn't rely on supernatural powers or live in a supernatural world, or some other technical B.S., but it's fantasy. The genre's direct influence is mythology, which is also fantasy's major influence as well. And that's fine, hell, there's nothing wrote with fantasy being recognized by the Academy; a fantasy film won the Best Picture Oscar, the year before! Remember that one about the Man-Fish that had the affair with the deaf girl, I think it was called "Aquaman" something? I don't remember the exact title, but this is what, really deep deep down, gets me annoyed and upset at just how prevalent, popular and obsessed we are with superheroes. Especially with abundance it's become apart of our pop culture, and certainly how it's just taken over the cinema,... (Sigh)

Let me try to explain how ridiculous-sounding it is, this notion that "Black Panther"'s nomination is important for superhero movies is, by taking something that I really like the same way superhero fans like superheroes, something that I'm personally a huge fan of. I'm really big into mystery stories about world famous female superthiefs who's crime stories are told with an educational slant to them, preferably with a focus on world geography. I am very into this genre, and believe there are nowhere near enough of them out there, and stop looking at me like you think I'm trying to be funny; this is actually my thing.

Let's say, I start getting my wish though, and suddenly instead of say, one story like this every few years, we start getting them more often. And more people like myself, who are really into this, start coming out of the woodwork and talking and insisting that there be many many more movies or books or TV shows or video games or whatever like this. Some will be a little different than others, there are certain stories about female superthiefs who steal famous world landmarks and conveniently leaves esoteric puzzle-like educational clues for the would-be police trying to capture her, some that I prefer over others personally, but suddenly within a few years or so, the pop culture landscape has, basically become nothing but female superthiefs who are really into geography everywhere! There's universes that are multi-platform and require catching up on books, shows, and movies and video games to understand the full stories, and every major Hollywood studio has their own female superthief geography-based cinematic universe that they're pushing, and finally, after a long time, one of those movies, the Academy considers so good, that it gets an Oscar-nomination for Best Picture, and me and every other fan of this genre, starts going crazy! "We did it! We did it! From here on out, all films and stories that bleed into the popular culture, are going to be kick-ass female superthiefs and everybody will be just as fascinated by the geographical puzzle clues they leave behind, and we're finally accepted by the mainstream!"

You'd all look at me and go, "Dude, it's just a mystery film, not it's own special genre! It's been around since Arthur Conan Doyle, earlier than him even! Stop acting like this is a big deal!" Right? Well, if you didn't say that to me in that situation, you really friggin' should, 'cause that would be insane if the entire media pop culture landscape would suddenly turn into that!!!! It would be awesome and amazing, but it would still be insane!!!

Well, it's just fantasy; "Black Panther" getting into Best Picture, was not a big deal. It's not even that different of a kind of fantasy anymore, the same way that my particular favorite subgenre of a subgenre of a subgenre of a subgenre is not anymore special or different or unique than any other. "LOTR"'s Oscar breakthrough was that milestone important moment, 'cause it stood out, not only from other films in the genre that the Academy recognized, on the very rare occasions the genre was actually recognized, but also it represented a huge shift in the kind of narrative and storytelling that cinema could have and honor. Again, overall I don't think in this case that was a positive, but still, that's what it did.

There are reasons that I can see people argue that "Black Panther"'s nomination is important, and a turning point for film and pop culture for some of the aspects of the movie, and dissecting some of those is a fund discussion to have and many have been having than discussion and analysis, but as to it being a superhero movie, that's not one of them. 

Seriously though, when are we getting more female superthief mystery-adventures that teach geography, it's been way too frickin' long!



(Failing to hold back the biggest smile in the world.)

We still need to create more, but this'll do, for now.