Tuesday, May 28, 2019

CANON OF FILM: "LA FEMME NIKITA"

LA FEMME NIKITA (1991)

Director/Screenplay: Luc Besson



I come at this film from an unusual angle so bare with me a bit on this one. To start with, before I begin, I owe a former film school professor of mine an apology, so-eh, Prof. Melgaard, um, yeah, I get it now; you were right about Luc Besson and this film particular, and the inventive and intriguing approach he had to the hitman narrative, (Sigh, grinning teeth as I speak) and, my earlier, younger thoughts on the Cinema Du Look movement were misguided somewhat.

Most of you have no idea how painful this one is for me; I guess on some level I always knew I'd eventually get to this film, but I'm a little surprised that suddenly now, I've found a reason to seek our and revisit this film,- well, not really a reason, more like, a newfound appreciation has come aboout. Besides this is a Canon of Film, not a collection of films I necessarily like the best, or even think are objectionably good, but quantitive the ones that need to be included for a complete most-essential collection of the art of film, with this film we officially enter the "Cinema du Look" movement into the Canon.

That's not my main inspiration though to go back and seek out "La Femme Nikita" Mostly the reason I found myself suddenly drawn into this film, is because I'm just kinda sick of all the praise the "John Wick" movies are getting.

I've seen the first two of those films, the third one's getting a lot of the same kind of acclaim and praise that the first two receive, and-eh... (Sigh) they're-, they're not the worst thing in the world or anything, but frankly I feel like the whole world is playing a goddamn April Fools joke on me with this franchise, 'cause the first two films at least, they're just hitmen movies!!! Not even different or interesting ones, or have a unique or unusual take on the genre; it's the same movie narratives you think of when you think of a generic, average hitman movie! TWICE! I barely panned the first one, originally, you can read the review of that one here:

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2015/06/movie-reviews-110-interstellar-last.html

I wrote it, posted it, and then I forgot I ever saw the damn thing. I'm not kidding. I barely gave a recommendation to the second one, that review's below:

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2018/02/movie-reviews-144-dunkirk-baby-driver.html

I made light of it in my review but it wasn't a joke, I legit forgot I saw the first one entirely and started writing the second one from the perspective of somebody who was jumping into the franchise late, until I looked it up and suddenly realized , oh, I did see the original and wrote a review of it, which I wrote originally because of the acclaim it kept getting...!!!!! UGH! It's not that I don't like these films, I'm just amazed there's any kind of emotional reactions to these films, 'cause I don't get any at all.  I'd have the same reaction the other way if anybody said they were the worst things of all-time, I'd be like, "Oh, c'mon, don't be so verbose and mean; they're just average hitman movies!"

Still, I wanted to dissect this,  and decided to think a bit about it, 'cause-, maybe I'm misremembering or just missing something entirely in this series, but let's test my theory, if these are average movies about a hitman, that I claim they are, well, what's the other side of this narrative, this story? What's the film that's not the normal average narrative story about a hitman? I can think of quite a few answers to this quandry, "The Memory of a Killer", that's a good one. "You Kill Me", that's an underrated modern comedy classic,... but once you start going down this path of thinking about movie hitmen, and you start trying to seek out the most creative and inventive ones well, that's when I suddenly realized that, oh boy, I'm gonna have to give credit to Luc Besson.

His subject matter is actually way more expansive than this, but he'll always be the director of hitmen films to me. Besson is part of a film movement from the '80s and early '90s that's derogatorily called "Cinema du Look". It's a weird term to begin with, 'cause "Look" in French is actually "regard," so if anything, it should be called "Cinema de Regard," but that's part of the point. "Cinema du Look" basically refers to a group of French filmmakers who were making movies in a much more frenetic and American style; they were inspired by the New Hollywood movement of the '60s and '70s, but they were just as inspired by early eras of music videos in terms of editing and filmmaking techniques. They were also heavily pop-inspired, and most of these movies like to relish, circumvent and modernized the more traditional American narratives. The term is still around I think, I see it used occasionally and usually wrongly by lesser film critics and cinephiles, to where it basically means any French/European film that seems way too American for some critics. (Like, seriously, I've seen people call "Amelie", cinema du look, which,- um, no, I love that film, but there's nothing American about that movie.) Generally though, the three directors that make up the "movement' are Jean-Jacques Beineix, who's film "Diva" is generally considered the first cinema du look film, Leos Carax, most known nowadays for "Holy Motors", but started with standouts in the movement like "Boy Meets Girls" and "The Lovers on the Bridge", and the one we're talking about today, and the most recognizable to American audiences Luc Besson. His first film was "Subway", but the two big movies that I think of with his Cinema du Look early films are the two reinventions he had of the hitman genre "Leon: The Professional" which is actually an English-language film that starred Jean Reno and Natalie Portman in a as a pseudo-adopted family that's-eh, um...- that's a weird movie actually that's got a lot of strange and disturbing layers to it that is probably better if somebody else talked about it, and "La Femme Nikita".

"Nikita" as it was originally titled in it's native France,- begins with-, I guess we're gonna call her a juvenile delingquint- maybe not, she's young though, can't be much older than her early twenties, and I guess she's a drug addict, based on the gang she's with,- anyway the mysterious girl who claims her name is Nikita (Anne Parillaud), and before anything happens, she's a fucked up character. I don't even know how to describe her; she doesn't seem human at first. She's almost animalistic at this point. She gets arrested after killing a cop during a dumb robbery attempt turns violent, 'cause all the male criminals that are apart of the heist are, unbelievably stupid, she basically just says the word "Nikita!", sometimes screaming it, whether she's asked for her name or not, and attacks any other authority figures around her. After she's sentence to life in prison and literally having to be dragged out of court, in some really amazing low-angle dolly or steadicam shots, whatever those were. We don't know really know anything about Nikita's past; we never learn if that's even her real name, I suspect that Nikita is something she named herself, but whatever her past was, it's clear somewhere, somehow, somebody must've kicked her around, a fucking lot.

Investigating her past would make a pretty interesting narrative, but instead, government officials fake her suicide and a mysterious government agent named Bob (Tcheyo Karyo) tells her that she has two options, either to actually be killed by the government and occupy a grave that's already made out for her, or become trained to be a government hitman. She attacks Bob and when she eventually is outnumbered in her escape attempt, tries to kill herself. She fails, Bob shoots her, and is basically forced into having her turned her into a killing machine. Going back, several reviews of this movie compared the narrative to "Pygmalion", honestly, I never considering this to possibly because she was such a strange character to begin with that I never entirely took to the idea that she had entirely transformed into someone else, but I guess there's accuracy to that. Even at her most normal, she seems like Nikita to me. The movie is clearly visually inspired by then-modern action thrillers, there's some car chases and violent insane shootouts and action scenes that you can put up there with anything else.

This whole movie is insane, from concept to execution it's a compelling insane that become more fascinating on every viewing. Nikita starts her years of training, martial arts, guns, all kinds of self-defense, um, some make-up and grooming lessons from Jeanne Moreau of all people-, what the hell?- I guess she needs them, but they got Jeanne Moreau-, alright whatever. Eventually she sorta resembles a human being enough to be put on her first kill, which goes well-enough that she survives, although terrible enough that her planned escape route was bricked up and she had to escape by flying down a laundry shoot headfirst, wearing high heels, and what barely qualifies as a dress. She nearly kills Bob over this, but she's let out and begins her new life as a sleeper agent.

Believe it or not, this is when the movie turns into a love triangle, when she starts to date Marco (Jean-Hughes Anglade), and just as their tender romance begins to bloom, Bob wakes her up, while they were on their honeymoon in Venice, a trip Bob bought the tickets too. There's a strange observation about how Bob is constantly, as the movie calls it, "Mixing business with pleasure", when it comes to Nikita, always paying a compliment and praise, or giving her a gift, along with a new target to assassinate. He's as compelled and fascinated by her as Marco, even if it's not in a romantic way, although Nikita might want some kind of attention that's not connected to this new profession that was forced upon her. She might just be attracted to these two men 'cause it's easy to believe that they're the only two who have treated her with any kindness and compassion until now. Still, while "La Femme" only means "The Woman" in French, I like that fact that the film's titled "La Femme Nikita" here, the reference to her being a femme fatale, is accurate, and that's another weird subversion of genre, it's kinda rare to see a movie especially one with some roundabout film noir roots to be from the perspective of the femme fatale.

I'd also be remissed not to mention Jean Reno's famous performance as a Cleaner who helps fix up a killing-gone-wrong. It's a pretty good extended cameo; some people like to connect this performance with Reno's work in Besson's "Leon...", but-uh, other than the fact that they're the same actor, writer/director and both are about hitmen, honestly I think it's best that we leave these two films as separately as possible.

People haven't left "La Femme Nikita" alone at all though. Anne Parillaud's performance is iconic; hell, I even knew a kid in film school who actually named a main character in one of his scripts after Parillaud, as a direct reference to "La Femme Nikita", even though the character he wrote had literally nothing to do with her. This was her breakout role although she'd been acting since she was a kid; she's done a few other notables parts, once in a while acting in English, John Landis's "Innocent Blood" for instance, although she's probably most notably to American audience is as Queen Anne in Randall Wallace's "The Man in the Iron Mask". The only other movie of hers I've gotten around to watching is Catherine Breillat's film "Sex is Comedy"; I-I'm a huge Breillat fan, but I absolutely despise that film. (I certainly don't want to work with her on a film set after that.)  She never became huge as a famous actress but "Nikita" has more-than-lived on.

The movie wasn't an overly huge success at the time; despite some success at the Cesars and a Golden Globe nomination, the movie received mixed reviews in it's native France, although that's unsurprising. Outside of France, within three years there was two famous remakes of the film a Hong Kong film from Stephen Shin called "Black Cat" and an American remake by John Badham called "Point of No Return". The movie also spun off into a successful American cult television series..., twice! Come to think of it, on the popular consciousness, "La Femme Nikita" might be one of the most well-known and biggest French entities in America; there's a lot of people who know the name "Nikita" and have this idyllic image of a female assassin, without ever having seen the movie that originated the concept. I'm sure there were other female hitmen before this film, but that alone doesn't simply distinguish "La Femme Nikita". It's narrative influences are all over the map and it's main character is way too enigmatic to be forgotten. I wouldn't be shocked if someone like "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"'s Lisbeth Salander character was more directly inspired by Nikita, and several other characters for that matter. I think most scholars like to pinpoint someone like Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley charcter in the "Alien" films as the badass female action hero, but I bet more often than not, Nikita was a much more direct influence. She's a strangely flexible character and archetype that lends itself to many re-workings and re-imaginings.

Besson's work has been fairly ecclectic ever since "La Femme Nikita", although despite some strange detours he's never been that far away from Hollywood action films. Arguably the biggest franchise he's involve with is creating the characters for the "The Transporter" films. He's probably still most famous in America for directing "The Fifth Element", which is a strange special effects blockbuster of a movie itself that's probably worth exploring if it was more tolerable, but he's done a little bit of everything. He's gone the sci-fi hitman route a couple times, like with "Lucy", he's worked with Madonna a few times, including in an animated movie he directed called "Arthur and the Invisibles", one of three animated films in the "Arthur" franchise he's directed. (Ah, not the Marc Brown "Arthur", something else entirely, still, he's onr of the last filmmakers I would've ever imagined going into animation.) He's done epic period pieces, other sci-fi blockbusters on both sides of the Pond; I consider "Angel-A" to be his very best film, which is a lovely-albeit-twisted play on another common American movie narrative, the "Ghost"-like character that continue to haunt the living as some kind of guardian angel; it's like if "It's a Wonderful Life" got a David Mamet rewrite filtered through Besson's sense of absurdist humor and style.

In hindsight, Besson seems just as enigmatic as Nikita herself. Capable of such startling and violent breaks with expectations and traditional decorum that it's too jarring to understand of take seriously at first glance, but the more he's allowed to dive and shape his own path and techniques through the world, now that he's got the tools and learned the tricks of the trade, he'll find a new and unique twist to some narrative that I suspect most people thought or presumed were pretty much old hat at that point. (At least I thought they were anyway.) Whatever Besson tries to do, success or failure, he's trying to do it in a distinctly different way than anybody else is at the time. There's some great filmmakers who you can't say that about, and I suspect that's why his best films, have ways of grabbing audience's attention and staying around in the memory long after on paper, many of them should've easily been forgotten the minute after they were watched. Like the "John Wick" movies so far, I might recommend them, I might not, but unlike them, I'm damn sure gonna remember Besson's films long afterwards. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

MOVIE REVIEWS #159: "IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK", "FIRST MAN", "FREE SOLO", "RBG", "FIRST REFORMED", "INCREDIBLES 2", "CAPERNAUM", "WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?", "THE HATE U GIVE", "SHIRKERS", "BATTLE OF THE SEXES", "THE BEGUILED (Coppola)", "CROWN HEIGHTS", "PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN", "THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV", "BRIGHT LIGHTS: STARRING CARRIE FISHER AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS", "MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA", "THE LIGHT OF THE MOON", "BILL NYE: SCIENCE GUY", and "78/52: HITCHCOCK'S SHOWER SCENE"!

Whew! Considering all the films I've seen lately, I'm actually fairly impressed with myself for getting this out, relatively on schedule today. I think the only couple movies I saw that I didn't review this around are, "In the Shadow of Women", which is a modern French Truffaut-like indy that I didn't care for and "Under the Sun" a documentary about North Korea that shows the unaired parts of a propaganda video that they shot there that's fairly interesting to talk about moreso than to watch, but it's still powerful.

As to things going on this week in the entertainment world and the state of the blog, I'm currently debating whether to talk about the two recent finale episodes of series that occurred recently. It's not that I don't have thoughts, and I might end up talking about them on, but-eh, yeah part of me feels like I'll just be treading water if I do, 'cause I don't know/think I'd be saying much difference. Lately, I feel like I'm often just yelling about the same crap and I have and it's not like I'm the only one out there. I always try to find some new or different angle or perspective on something, if not write about something different than everybody else, but we'll see. I haven't made up my mind yet.

Anyway, let's get to the reviews; we've got a bunch of them right now.


IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (2018) Director: Barry Jenkins


★★★★★




I'm not certain how much this is a prepared, pre-planned with the makeup team on the film, or just pure coindence and accident, but I couldn't help but to stare intently at Stephen James, especially the scenes when he in prison, talking to Kiki Layne behind glass, and I swear he looks like James Baldwin. Baldwin was a name I knew mostly because I had to know his name, like several other authors and essayists who's work I have to be familiar enough with to maybe recognize it when he's a  "Jeopardy!" answer but until I saw the documentary, "I Am Not Your Negro", I never really got a visually sense of him. I imagine much of the 21st Century is going to be spent realizing his importance and legacy in several societal fronts, way more than the people who lived when he lived in the 20th ever realized. Perhaps it's the beard, or the eyes, but James's Fonny could be Baldwin's avatar in "If Beale Street Could Talk", or maybe, it's just through the actor as a vessel that we see and feel his presence over his work being adapted by one of the filmmakers of today; one that's clearly Baldwin's greatest acolyte, at least on the filmmaking front.


It is perhaps a safe pick for Barry Jenkins's first feature after the Oscar-winning masterpiece "Moonlight" to be to adapt the James baldwin novel, but it is still a beautifully poetic choice. Fonny (James) and Tish (Layne) are lovers who've known each other since they were little kids. Now, just as they're searching for their first apartment, Fonny is arrested for rape. It's fairly obvious from the first moment that he's innocent. The cop, Officer Bell (Ed Skrein) clearly had a gripe against Fonny, and when a Puerto Rican woman, Victoria (Emily Rios) on the other side of town, claims she was raped, Fonny's picked out of a photo lineup. Right as this happen, Tish discovers that she's pregnant. There's a wonderful opening sequence where she announces her pregnancy to her family. Her mother Sharon (Oscar-winner Regina King) is thrilled and sets up a nice little getogether with her husband Joseph (Colman Domingo) and Tish's oldest sister Ernestine (Tayonah Parris), and she then organizes an impromptu getogether with Fonny's family, most of whom seem nice, in particular his father, Frank (Michael Beach), although Mrs. Hunt (Aunjanue Ellis) is a piece of work.

They arrange for a young idealistic lawyer Levy (Dave Franco) who they know they can't afford, but he does his best despite several road blocks, including having to find the victim after she ran off to Puerto Rico, causing one of several delays. Tish starts working at a shop behind a perfume counter, which involves this really incredible montage about how the white customers will always smell and grab her hand, but the Black customer will always allow her to spray their hand and smell the perfume. Not that I've ever gone up to a perfume counter, but I wonder how accurate that is. The two father work a hustle selling stolen goods out of the back of a van in order to earn money to pay the lawyer. Sharon heads down to Puero Rico to confront the victim, who everybody seems to honestly believe was a victim of a sexual assault even if they know it couldn't have been Fonny. There's one scene that I'm sure is the one that Regina King won the Oscar for that involves her trying to figure out how to wear her hair in the mirror.

The movie has a way of relating all this as though it's not a specific tale. In fact, the movie begins with a quote from Baldwin about how there's a Beale Street all over America, and the fact that this one is in New York is coincidental. Personally, I hear Beale Street and think Memphis and that's a little bit more of a unique Beale Street than most, but I get his point. The movie's subtext is nothing new, how unfair the Justice System is, especially to minorities, especially to the poor, especially if the police are corrupt. There's two things that really takes the movie and really pull from good to great, first is the instinctual poetic directing and storytelling of Jenkins. The movie's not linear and often bounces from before or after the time Fonny was imprisoned. It also spreads across different perspective, like a scene where Fonny works on an art piece in prison; he finds out he's an artisan. He's looking forward to a career if/when he gets out.

The other part is the power of love. I know, cliche, but I think it works here. It's not shown with either a level of cynicism or even romanticism; it's just the idea that strength comes from those you love and those who love you back, that everything and anything can be overcome, even the greatest of obstacles. It also, kinda implies the opposite that it's the lack of love that perhaps leads to hardships and the causing of pain from others. The last scene in a movie shows a happy loving family, coming together to share a small meal. Of course, everything that's happened to them is still omnipresent, the pain, the injustices, societal and personal, but they still get together, out of love, and they even then join hands to say "Grace". In other movies, this would be corny, in "If Beale Street Could Talk", it means hope, strength and resolve. It may be a tale told too often be streets like Beale Street in America, but as long as it keeps happening, it needs to be told.


FIRST MAN (2018) Director: Damien Chazelle


★★★★1/2


Image result for First Man


There's a couple main thought that continued to cross my mine after watching "First Man". One is the unusual position that Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling)  must've been in his whole life, knowing that he was the first of his species to have ever done something. There aren't too many people who can honestly say that. The other, is that, perhaps it's recentness bias, or maybe it's just because we're able to document the space race so much more thoroughly, but it's strange how generally, exploration, is often viewed as a solitary pursuit, when that's not remotely true. Hell, the race to the Moon is back is one of the greatest examples of how it's not. Personally I never think much about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) or even Mike Collins (Lukas Haas) when I think of the moonlanding, or most of the other famous astronauts, mostly through other films and documentaries, I tend to think of them in terms of, how NASA as a team or we as a country were able to devote our time and knowledge, over decades in order to achieve the moonlanding. I mean, we all know Christopher Columbus, but who were the Captains of the Nina and Pinta, much less any of the others that sailed with Columbus to the New World? How many of you have even wondered, bothered or occurred to you to even ask such a question, much less look it up? Or, who took over as Captain of Magellan's journey to circumnavigate the Globe, after he died in the Philippines? Why don't we know his name; he's the one that circumnavigated the globe technically? Or perhaps it's whoever built the ship that got them to do it?

That's really kind of a trivial argument though, since of course, Armstrong did more than just walk onto the Lunar surface that one time, and besides, some lives are more interesting and their journeys more full than simply what the history books would say. I guess that's part of why "First Man" worked so well on me, me getting caught offguard by seeing the trip from the Earth to the Moon through Neil's eyes. Well, Neil's and his long-suffering wife Janet's (Claire Foy) eyes. It's probably a partial rule that all astronaut narratives have to focus on the wife as much as they focus on the astronaut. I don't want to dissuade that aspect, it was interesting in of itself, particularly the scenes with Oliva Hamilton who played Pat White, the wife of Ed White (Jason Clarke) one of Neal's closest friends in the program, and one of the astronauts killed during the Apollo 1 fire disaster. Neil is portrayed as very straight-laced and prudent. Highly respected and more than willing to be his body on the line to test out the equipment, there's a great surreal scene where he barely survives a lunar landing module test in the desert. It's amazing how many things had to go right in order for them to actually achieve landing on the moon. The one thing the movie does great is show just how jagged and bare the normally romanticized image of NASA can be. It's full of hard-edged, full of exposed wires and everything seems and in some cases was more cobbled together from spare and discarded parts from a junkyard.

I feel it's an obligatory joke to make, and I can't be the first one to have made it, but after Chazelle's jazz trilogy of "Guy & Madeline on a Park Bench", "Whiplash" and "La La Land", I suspect "First Man" must've come about after thinking he was doing a biopic on Louis Armstrong instead of Neil.
That's not far though, Chazelle has shown that in his writings he's worked on several scripts that aren't music prioritized as well and even those who most despised "La La Land" would be hard-pressed to claim that he's not a talented filmmaker with an incredible vision. The moonlanding and the journey are shown to be as chaotic and dangerous as any other legendary mights between man and nature. If nothing else, "First Man" is an amazingly cinematic journey. I do wonder if the movie will play as well for those not familiar with the history of NASA to begin with; I would certainly not recommend this be anybody's first introduction to the history of space flight, as the movie tracks the path from the Mercury program all the way to Armstrong & Aldrin's return home, where they, like many before them who arrive from another world, are kept in seclusion and isolation for a while, just to make sure any illness and diseases they might've picked up in space doesn't spread. The movie ends on an amazing two shot with Gosling and Foy staring at each other through double-sided glass that's shadowed in such a way that we see Foy's reflection in the back of Armstrong's head as well, symbolizing how they've both been on this long and arduous journey that didn't seem like they'd know where they were going or if they could even make it there and somehow they find a way to make it back home as well.

It's conventional but it's conventnal done well and i can't imagine a better telling of Neil Armstrong's story. The movie also reveals Chazelle really a visual firebomb behind the camera. It's really unfair that somebody so young can be so talented and have so much wide range as a cinematic artist. I can literally expect anything from him at this point and I have no fears about it being amazing to watch visually if nothing else.


FREE SOLO (2018) Directors: Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

★★★1/2


Image result for Free Solo film


 I'm probably gonna be one of the few people who's fairly, eh, ambivalent about "Free Solo". Frankly, this is probably just me, but I feel like every other documentary I see is a mountain climbing documentary. In reality, I've only really seen a few of them, I'd probably say "Touching the Void" being the best of the bunch, but for somebody who doesn't have that much interest in this activity, this can be mine-numbing. That said, I do get why we're getting more and more of them than ever before. Basically, it comes down to technology, we have the ability now. The only real mountain climbing documentary of note I can think of from before the '90s was "The Man Who Skied Down Everest", but ever since decent motion picture were cameras stopped weighing more than average OlymPic-level gymnast, it's become easier and more visually stimulating than ever before to document some of the highest points on Earth than ever before, and from more angles than before, even if, yeah, I seriously question those who wish to go up and climb the tops of the mountains, although I certainly can't quite the startling images that we get from documenting it.

I still question the guy at the center of "Free Solo", Alex Connold, who partakes in a more dangerous- than-normal form of the activity than most would partake in. For those who don't know, Free Soloing is the act of mountain/cliff climbing, without a rope, or any protecting equipment. Just, hanging on the edge of the mountain, like Tom Cruise at the beginning of "Mission: Impossible 2" That's Free Soloing. He's one of the most prolific and well known people in the sport, and he's sets his sights on El Capitan, at Yosemite. A beauty but treacherous 3,000 ft. tall vertical cliff that many free soloers would even begin to consider climbing. Connold has climbed the mountain before, but never a free solo attempt, so the movie dives into Connold what it can. Naturally, he's a bit of a rogue vagabond personality. He's had one or two major relationship, but he struggles with communication with the outside world, and at the beginning of the movie at least, lives in a van. His only real love is climbing. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that somebody who does this sort of activity is a bit awkward, but actually, come to think of it, most of those mountain climbers in other documentaries I've seen, they're usually a little more socialable; they're adventurers sure, and partake in some often daunting and lonely treks where if you're one or two inches off with your hand or foot placements, that basically means death, but yeah,... at one point, Connold gets an MRI and it's revealed that Alex has very low activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that usually works as our fear impulse.

Actually, despite a broken ankle from an injury during an earlier climb, the biggest thing he's concerned about with the upcoming climb, is where the cameras are gonna be positioned and whether or not that could distract him. The husband & wife directing team of Chin & Vaserhelyi have focused on mountain climbing before, and are probably one of the reasons I feel like I've seen way too many of these movies lately, most notably, "Meru" about climbing one of the most difficult mountains in the Himalayas, most known for the sharkfin-shaped apex at the top. Connold's climb took almost four hours and if nothing else, yes, the amazing shots that this movie gets of him, alone as he gets higher and higher up the peak are just startling and worth the watch alone. Amazingly no drones were used to get these shots, but a lot of incredibly physical speciments of cameramen were positioned everywhere. Don't ever let anybody tell a cameraperson that they're just holding the camera and occasionally turning it on or off.

I can see the movie won the Best Documentary Oscar, those shots alone must have just left the documentary branch breathless. I don't I've outright panned any of these mountain climbing docs, but I do find the subject matter tiring. Except for those shots. If they could've somehow edited the actual climb footage to 74 minutes or so, I might've appreciated the film better though. As it is, it's still a beautiful sight to see. I can understand the thrill of an act like climbing the side of a mountain, how much life one must feel doing that; but I'm still definitely interested in participating though, and I don't think I will be, no matter how many documentaries about it I see.


RBG (2018) Director: Julie Cohen and Betsy West

★★★★1/2


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 I don't actually know how to feel about Ruth Bader Ginsberg's sudden explosion of pop culture relevance. I mean, I'm glad, in a world where young women and men, and especially on the far left side of the political aisle that I frequent are constantly searching and hoping for heroes to idolize and considering some of the options out there, I'm glad that a Supremem Court Justice, is being put there by more and more people. And why the hell not, as the Notorious "RBG" is certainly worthy of it. Yet, part of me wonders if it goes a little far. When asked about the #NotoriousRBG moniker that Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhak's biography framed her as, she casually mentions about how her Biggie Smalls were both fighters and both came from the same section of Brooklyn. She also was a trailblazer, the first woman ever on the Harvard Law Review, one of the first woman to try and win several cases in front of the Supreme Court, all of them Equal Rights cases that-, you know, there's this weird way that history works sometimes, where people think that because it happened so long ago that people don't actually need some of the things we have today, not realizing that it's because people like Bader Ginsberg fought like hell to get them for us. She was basically the one doing all that

So, I'll say this, if we have to build somebody up as iconic, I'm glad it's her. She might not need it, but it damn sure feels like she does. She was actually pretty old when she was named to the bench by President Clinton, something that wasn't expected to begin with, but her husband, a renowned tax attorney himself. used every connection he could to make sure he got her in the room with President Clinton. That was over 25 years ago, and she was a tiny frail-looking woman then. She and her husband had several health issues all through their lives, but she's never missed a day on the bench. She's shown keeping a rigorous exercise routine, and working case laws to the bone until around four ni the morning before she goes to sleep for a few hours. She's determined, but she's also quite soft-spoken. In my lifetime she always seemed grandmotherly, but then you look through her writings. Her speeches.

I think everybody has their favorite Justice to read, my personal favorite of all-time is John Paul Stevens, but Ginsberg's up there. "The Great Dissenter", another of her nicknames in recent times all sound like future Constitutional Amendments that future generations will wonder what took us so long to ratify. One of the best things the movie does is show us her words with recordings of her saying them out loud. The Supreme Court, despite seeming like it speaks volume, you rarely get a voice connected to it. (Perhaps this is because they're still, for some reason, never allows cameras in the court...)

She never raises her voice, no matter how much she's disagreeing with the consensus though, and she was famously close with Justice Scalia, with the two famously traveling and going, and appearing in operas together. They disagree vehemently of course, on pretty much everything, but one of her strengths has always been to see the best in those who were willing to overlook the personal. I don't know how she does that now, as the court grows more Conservative and the great fear that the great fear of liberal court-watchers that she's gonna keel over and pass suddenly, never seems to leave us, this vision of her as a powerhouse justice as she's gone on to represent the most liberal side of the court and finally get recognized as the Equal Rights idol that, even despite the recognition she received all her life, finally really has gotten within the last few years.

There's a word I've seen pop up in other reviews in other reviews of "RBG", both positively and negatively, "Hagiography". I must confess, it had been awhile since I heard the root term "Hagio" and frankly it just looks like a biography about a "Hag" in my eyes, so, but i l refreshed my memory and  actually, the Greek root means "saintly" or "saint-like", and that's not an incorrect reading of "RBG". I've certainly panned some documentaries that have portrayed their subjects, rightly or wrongly as such idealized perfect humans that we could compare them to saints. (In fact, I'm reviewing another movie that's even more hagiography later, and I like that one even more than "RBG".) I mean, people could do an opposing documentary smashing this one, a "Fahrenhype 9/11" version for others, the one that decloaks Justice Bader Ginsberg, if they really wanted to. I mean, I didn't with every decision she ever made, and she was far more moderate in her early years on the bench, until some of her colleagues, left, including Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, which meant that until Obama named Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, that she was the only female on the bench for a good few years there.

That's the position she had for a long while though, most of her life. From college 'til now; I don't think it phases her anymore. Frustrate and annoy, sure, that's why she does this, though. And frankly, I don't think it'd make much sense to make such a rebuttal. There's neither wrong with somebody just being so saintly and idolized, especially when they deserve it.

I read in an interview that Felicity Jones, who played Ginsberg in a recent other movie about her early lawyering career, that the movie got constant notes about including a scene where her husband would confront her, at least once, just ever-so-slightly about how it might not be good to fight for equal rights or to take a case, that perhaps the struggle of the movie will be greater and stronger if the battle of the sexes was also fought at home. I understand the impulse as a writer to come up with such a scene or sequence, but her and her husband never had such a scene. To many, the most shocking part of the movie is how symbiotic she and Martin Ginsburg's relationship was. They not only struggled through their own health scares and took care of each other, but that he was so overly-supportive of everything she did, willing to take a backseat, relocating for her work, or just staying at home and do the cooking and cleaning, things that apparently she was never particularly fond of or skilled at.

I think the point is that it shouldn't be shocking at all. That's the way a marriage is supposed to be.


FIRST REFORMED (2018) Director: Paul Schrader

★★★★★




You know, I don't really know what to make of Paul Schrader as a director. (Probably in general too.)  It's not that he's a bad director at all, in fact he's made some great movies, but he's not exactly a name that pops up when you think of the modern-day great auteurs. Part of that is that most people think of him firstly as a screenwriter, and perhaps film scholar comes second before you hit director. He's of course most well-known for being Scorsese's right-hand man as a screenwriter; "Taxi Driver", which "First Reformed" is very naturally gonna get compared to by most critics, including me, being both of there's breakout masterpiece, and he's continued to write films for him off-an-on ever since, although they've made fewer than people think. Actually, that's also something strange about Schrader as well; he's written about as many movies as he's directed, but he's rarely both writer and director on a movie. Maybe, half the time he's both, but that's pretty unusual for somebody so famous and so continually prolific as a writer, to not be as compelled to direct more of his own work and just as often directs somebody else's script. I genuinely can't think of too many people who fit that descriptor. 

The last few movies of his I've gotten around to weren't written by him, the Bret Easton Ellis-penned indy, "The Canyons", which among other things marks the last time Lindsay Lohan had a particularly noteworthy role, and before that, and I've missed quite a bit and have a lot to catch up to, but I remember the Bob Crane biopic "Auto Focus" quite a bit.

Actually, the only movie of his that I've seen until now that he wrote and directed is "Mishima: A Life if Four Chapters", about the famed Japanese artist Yukio Mishima, a movie that's partly still somewhat banned in Japan, ironically enough.

The movie that definitely most helps me with "First Reformed" though is "Taxi Driver". To some degree, these movies are sorta two sides of the same coin, instead of a cab driver who stands up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, and the shit, we have Reverend Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) who's perhaps finally fed up with the hypocrisy of the Church and our wasteful destruction of God's gift of Planet Earth. Toller is the pastor at a small upstate New York church that's more tourist trap than congregation anymore. It's celebrating it's 250th Anniversary and Toller has to get ready for the Re-Consecration. Yet, he's having a crisis of faith. Not necessarily religious faith, interestingly enough.

After plenty of false starts in how to begin this review; I've had several others in trying to describe the plot of "First Reformed". I certainly want to, 'cause that's where most of the film theory stuff comes in. The opening twenty-five minutes for instance, feels like a scene from Ingmar Bergman's "Winter Light". It begins with a pregnant parishoner, Mary (Amanda Seyfried) who requests that Toller talk to her husband Michael (Philip Ettinger) a fierce environmental activist who believes the world is quickly coming to an end, and doesn't want to bring another life into it. This sequence alone is fascinating, this back-and-forth debate about life and death and facts vs. belief. It's actually philosophical in substance and fascinating to watch. Especially with Hawke's narration, explained through a device of a hand-written journal that he explains, he's keeping for a year.

After the conversation however, events make Toller begin to question a few things. He starts consulting with Mary more as she becomes more worried about her pregnancy. He struggles to keep up with church activities as he begins to feel pains in his stomach. He's odd behavior takes notice of two higher-ups, one his boss Jeffers (Cedric the Entertainer, for some reason credited under his real name Cedric Antonio Kyles) the spiritual leader and popular local evangelist that has oversight over the church with which Toller's the titular First Reformed church now falls under, and a petroleum executive, who's funding the reconsecretion and holds vast political sway and clout, in and out of the church. Occasionally, Toller's had a false start romance with the choir director, Esther (Victoria Hill), but we learn that he's haunted from his divorce that occurred after his son Joseph was killed in Iraq. As a former Army chaplain who fought in wars himself, he feels responsible for pushing his son into the military.

Toller's change throughout the movie is incredibly complex. At times, it's subtle, occasionally it's cerebreal, at one particular time, in an incredible montage sequence, it's incredibly surreal and beautiful. "First Reformed" doesn't give Toller an easy answer or decision and it doesn't give us one in terms of what to make of him. It's a challenging film gives us a moral, religious and spiritual challenge that we'd expect from a Bergman movie, shot with the paceful and intense eye that you'd expect from a Bresson or Dreyer film, I've seen a lot of comparison to "Diary of a Country Priest", which, yeah, that's a good comparison in terms of content, but in terms of approach, it plays more like a dark American thriller that you'd somewhat expect from one of the guys who invented that genre.

Schrader does have a religious backgroun, one that's arguably even more ingrained in him than in Scorsese. His parents were strict Calvinists who wouldn't even let him see a movie until he was 18. (It always amazes how many people, especially artists turn into careers that they essentially weren't allowed to participate in as kids.) There's a lot of themes that we can use this information to go through Schrader's work, but I think the big one here is actually the feeling of alienation that interest Schrader the most, the sense that the world is not allowing or preventing you from participating in it the way you want. The desperate evergrowing need to do whatever it takes to force change upon everyone else, while everybody else seems to continue on with their lives as though they're either apart of this other world one's struggling to make better, or worst that they're just ambivalent towards it all. I can't think of too many professions that would be more alienating to the outside world these days than being a reverend or some other member of the church. Constantly trying to take lessons and stories from thousands of years ago and trying to force them into a modern world where even when it's most apt that those lessons must be taken in, they're often not, or ignored or outright blasphamously used as tools for perverse manipulation on the public from what they mean. It can make anybody understand why this might world that God gave us, might not want to infest it with more of us, or perhaps it's why we must, to make sure there's more of us out there who will eventually help make it the better place that it should be?

"First Reformed" is one of those movies that's too complex to ignore and too intense to dismiss. I can see how people might be turned off by the movie but it's way too thought-provoking to me. It's a bit too classic at times, there were times where I was calling out the symbolic names in advance, but still, the structure of the plot all left me on my toes, and there's too many great and different kinds of scenes in the movie. Few movies can embrace such dialogue-heavy discussion and the deathly quiet so well. Everybody gives an amazing performance, but Ethan Hawke is in nearly every scene and gives us one of his most complete performances ever. This movie shows, pretty much his whole range and embraces all his greatest strengths as an actor, something that rarely even his very best films and performances haven't allowed him to do.

There's not left to say, there's not much left to say, "First Reformed" is a great movie, more than that though, it's a movie that I'm gonna be thinking about for much longer afterwards.


INCREDIBLES 2 (2018) Director: Brad Bird

★★★★


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It's not that there wasn't a dark undertone to the original "The Incredibles", I mean, the whole premise of that film was based around the idea that too many people sued the superheroes because they were saving toomany people's lives who were trying to end their own, along with other parts of superherodom that along some other negative side effects that harmed the public in the Supers attempts to save them, well, the Public, from several disasters. However, the original still had a firm base in it's comic-based conceit. Not only is it one of the best superhero movies of all-time, but it also played with the ideas and motifs of the genre better than most superhero dramas actually do. It reveled in the cliches that villains fall into; it wasn't simply a comedy about a family of superheroes and all the difficulties that entails, it was a wonderful sendup of superhero movies, and they did it long before anybody, with the possible exception of me, was long-awaiting their inevitable quick death.

"Incredibles 2", well, it took a different approach. Not a bad approach, I like the movie a lot, and I have no interest in comparing it with the original film and grading it on that kind of curve, "The Incredibles" is easily one of the best movies the previous decade and solidifies Director Brad Bird as one of the great auteurs of the animated medium, but that sense that the movie was in it's own little parody bubble is gone. Perhaps understandably so, these films were made in vastly different time periods and while the idea of an entire race of people were forced to blend into society by the world's public may have had some awkward indications in the past, I can see why Bird thought with the sequel that it might be a better idea to showcase it now, through a more modern prism of the injustice and disenfranchisement that the Supers suffer through.

The movie begins shortly after the first film ended, and the Parrs are living in a motel while Dicker (Jonathan Banks) announces that the Super Protective Program is getting closed in two weeks. Which, seems like weird timing; I guess despite the last couple needs for superheroes, the world decided to get rid of even hiding them. There's also this big new reveal that Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile) has powers, even though, we knew that at the end of the first movie, and logically, I think they'd have known that then. I'm letting that pass because they're still understanding and learning his powers, and Edna (Bird) explains that he's a polymorph and they have to adjust his costume and clothing appropriately, especially for when he turns into fire. Anyway, Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson), Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) and Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) get an invite from DevTech, a Communications Corporate led by a brother & sister pairing of Winston and Evelyn Deavor (Bob Odenkirk and Catherine Keener) who wanted to prove their prototype of a camera built into the superhero's suits that will change the public's perception of superheroes by showing all the work they do in saving them from destruction from their perspective. (INSERT YOUR OWN COMMENTARY)

Elastigirl steps in and begins illegally running around saving people again, mostly from a mysterious new villain called "Screenslaver" that hypnotizes people through all the media screens that Screenslaver can hack into. This leaves Bob at home to deal with raising the kids on his own for awhile, which includes dealing with Jack-Jack's ever-growing and increasing powers, as well as trying to deal with Dash (Huckleberry Milner) who wants to explore being a superhero more, and Violet (Sarah Vowell) who's frustrated with how being a Super is getting in the way of what little potential high school and dating life she has.

Meanwhile, it's after the remaining Supers of the world, many of which they weren't familiar with beforehand and many of them, most notably Void (Sophia Bush) who seems similar in age and demeanor to Violet, almost as though I was expecting a reveal to be that she might've been one of the Parr's distant relatives.

I guess this is about as much as I would want from a sequel to "The Incredibles"; everything's good, some of it really strong; I particularly thought some of the voice work was really strong. I like that they focus more on Elastigirl's character than Mr. Incredible, who frankly is more interesting and complex to begin with. The movie's plot is a bit predictable, it's not a particular shock when the villain is revealed for instance, and part of me wants to toss this movie into the pile of the other Disney remakes with how they try to smooth over or reimagine or reinterpret some of the more troubling implications of some of the older movies. I think I'm gonna give Brad Bird a little more credit than that, although it is interesting that this is his first animated feature film in over a decade, having been doing live-action for his last couple projects. I suspect he probably finally had the first interesting idea for a sequel and just went with it, since he's been so absent in the animation medium for awhile. Still though, I can't help but finding these characters appealling. How great Dash & Violet are working together; I always thought they should've had their own separate animated series as a superhero team together. This is still a action-comedy movie above everything else and it's got moments that are just hilarious above everything else, and the action sequences are both creative and really well-done. The animation is interesting, it's got this allusion to this more 2-D graphic comic book-like pop imagery, you'd expect from earlier times, that folds well into the CG of today. "The Incredibles" was a pretty daunting film originally; it had been Pixar's first real attempt at trying to animate human characters primarily, something that most believed was too difficult for CGI at the time. Now, it's more common and easier, now it feels like old hat, but the hat still fits at least.

I still think the movie is more fascination as a reflection of our time and our everchanging culture than as a movie in of itself, but that's a good thing as well. There are some nods to the parody of classic suburban Americana as well that it had in the first film, for instance how Mr. Incredible's old car looks like an old classic Camaro from the early sixties or something along those lines. (Car guys, pardon me if I'm off somewhat there, but you know what I'm trying to say) Maybe that's why the change in approach is so jarring, everything in "The Incredibles" had a deep level of self-aware humor and comedy behind it, "Incredibles 2" goes in a different direction, a different level of self-awareness at some of these levels. That's good, but it was just a little different. Perhaps once it's settled I'll appreciate it even more than I do.


CAPERNAUM (2018) Director: Nadine Labaki


★★★★★





Watching "Capernaum" in this age where abortion and Roe v. Wade in particular is being re-debated because, stupid, I can't help but watch "Capernaum" and think about that one weird chapter in "Freakonomics". I don't how much credence I give that book or the documentary movie that was spawned from it, one of their theories is that the continued rise of crime in America that permeated through the '70s and particularly te '80s, and yes, despite some of the BS that was involved in fighting that so-called "War on Crime", crime numbers were all up across the board during that era, but then slowly began and continued to decline in the 1990s and has slowly down regularly in most parts of the country ever since, that much of the decrease in crime was a side effect of Roe v. Wade getting passed and making abortion legal. It meant that once kids turned eighteen, and were from a loving family and were raised knowing that they were loved by them, that the desire for young adults to break the law and commit acts of violence drastically reduced. I'm sure there's people who made it out of a hell of a home and came out fine, but it's possible that the math is accurate here, and more than that, as much as I'd rather be a proof or statistics kind of guy, deep down, I do think people know when they're loved and when they're wanted. 


"Capernaum", Lebanon's submission for the Foreign Language Picture, tells the story of Zain (Syrain refugee Zain Al Rafeaa) a kid who, according to the doctor that the local juvenile hall provides, is about 12 or 13 years old. He doesn't know for certain 'cause he doesn't have any papers, including a birth certificate. He's currently in court however, telling his story on why he intends to sue his parents, for the crime of having given birth to him. Spoilers: He has a pretty good case. His parents, Salim and Saoud (Fade Kamel Yousef and Kawsaw Al Haddad) have, several kids and don't particularly hide their affections well from them. They're fairly poor off, Zain works as an in-between man for their landlord Assaad (Nour El Husseini) and helps her mother pass off forged perscriptions so that she can crush the pills and soak them in clothes, which she sells to the local prison. (I'm not entirely certain how the prisoner gets the drugs from the clothes, but I'm not certain I want to know.) He's particularly caring of his younger sister Sahar (Haita "Cedra" Izam) and he's right to be; her parents are in the process of, basically selling her to their landlord to marry off. This is the last straw for Zain and he decides to leave. 


After a while on the streets, he eventually befrien Rahil (Yordanos Shiferaw), an older Ethiopian migrant who's an illegal and struggles to forged documents from Aspro (Alaa Chouchinieh), however, he's interested in getting updated ones for her, if she'll give him her newborn Yonas (Boluwatife Treasure Bankole). She refuses and Zain helps raise him as he hustles around to survive. Everything's okay until Rahil is caught with expired immigration papers and now the two are on their own. 


"Capernaum" was directed by Nadine Labaki, who's mostly worked as an actress, but when she does go behind the camera, she makes it count; it's her third feature after "Caramel" and "Where Do We Go Now?", she's one of the biggest and most popular directors in Lebanon. That said, her movies are neorealist in nature. Often using non-actors in the majority of the major roles, this film in particular and defintely aims for Truffautian pathos. I haven't seen her other films, although I sure as Hell want to now, 'cause she nails it here. The title is a bit peculiar, "Capernaum" is a historic Israeli city on the Sea of Gaililee; it's noted for being the location of some of Jesus's more famous miracles, but the title also means, "Chaos". not in Arabic I don't believe; but in Amharic, I had to look this one up myself, which is a seminite language that originated in northern Ethiopia, which makes sense considering one of the main characters is an Ethiopian migrant, who speaks Arabic quite well, which is noted by the Judge in the film, Elias Khoury, who I'm told is also a real-life judge. I could presume, but I wouldn't be able to tell that all these actors were relatively non-actors, particularly  Yordanos Shiferaw; I thought for sure she must've been a ringer brought in, but her and Al Rafeaa give amazing performances; these are memorable performers and performances. Al Rafeaa is a Syrian refugee, I hope he gets well-compensated and in turn has royalties put aside for him. I also see foreign actors like him in movies like these and I can't help but to worry about them after the fate of "Pixote..." star Fernando Ramos da Silva. 


While young Zain puts the blame strictly on his parents, and I can't particularly blame him, the movie asks and challenges us on several questions about the expectations and rights of parenthood, and of the children of parents who frankly shouldn't have them to begin, but also question the society and governments that promote parenthood as a objective future goal of all men and women. Speaking of "Pixote...", there's a scene in that movie that always amazed pro-lifers never bring up in their arguments, 'cause despite it not being particularly graphic or anything, and despite otherwise being in a movie about orphaned and runaway violent gangs living on the street, the scene show an older woman, yelling at kids from her bathroom, waving a metal rod at some kids, while her aborted fetus is in a bucket next to her; it's fairly daunting, and really shows the horror that some people do to themselves. That said, "Capernaum" in a similar vein feels like the rebuttal to that scene. (The rest of "Pixote..." is a rebuttal of that scene as well, I might add; maybe that's why the pro-lifers haven't clinged onto it.) Irreconcilable Differences, indeed, Zain believes that he shouldn't have been brought to this world when his parents weren't prepared, weren't willing to get prepared and ultimately never wanted to have him, and the parents' or the society at large don't make a great case for them. 


I don't think the intention of the movie is pro-abortion; that's simply an unintended reading and consequence of the time on my part, but no matter what's happening at the moment, "Capernaum" is one of the more powerful films of the year, and makes us consider such tough questions, like this somewhat blind notion that a child being born is always in the best interest of the child; when sometimes, frankly, it downright isn't. The pro-choice people should really challenge that stance, much more often and more directly than we do. This movie could be inspiration for us to do so if we are willing to do so. 



WON'T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (2018) Director: Morgan Neville


★★★★★




As much as I was looking forward to "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" part of me was thinking about how I pretty much knew everything about Fred Rogers. I have very fond and very powerful memories of watching "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" as I've still occasionally watched the show even today, and I knew a lot about him and the show. I'd even seen other wonderful documentaries about him, and I'd seen them recently; there's a wonderful TV documentary called "Mister Rogers & Me" that was about directed by, Mister Rogers's actual real-life neighbor, who he got to know after he had retired. I thought I was pretty set in my Mister Rogers knowledge and appreciation. And then, there's a part in "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" where the cast and crew of the series started talking about the first week of programs and the story that was going on in the Land of Make-Believe that week. Apparently King Friday the 13th, was adamently against change, and he decided that in order to prevent changes from happening, he built, a giant wall with barbed wire on top of it, around the castle.

(Hands imitate mind being blown)

I guess I shouldn't be totally surprised, although I doubt Fred thought for a second that such a simple idea would remotely be relevant fifty years later, and to his credit, it shouldn't be, but those were the kinds of stories and ideas that he would teach kids in very simple but direct terms. Mostly, I remember just loving how Mr. McFeely would always bring this tapes about how things were made, Speedy Delivery, and we'd watch on picture-picture. I could just keep going through writing about my memories of Mr. Rogers, if I don't stop myself. The most amazing things about him, especially these days when everybody wants to find out everybody else's dirtiest darkest secret is that Mr. Rogers, was really genuine. It seems people have to make up bad things about him, and that's touched upon slightly in the documentary. How he supposedly was a WWII sniper or whatever the chic internet rumors are now.

So who was Fred Rogers? The story goes that he was an ordained Presbyterian minister who had gotten his degree in music composition when he decided to get into television, almost on a whim. He saw somebody get hit with a pie on a TV show and thought there had to be a better way to entertained or talk to kids. You can say that he used techniques that were common with some of the major childhood developing experts on the time; hell, Mr. Rogers was actually one of these experts; he was a student of Margaret McFarland at one point too, but geerally I think the key to his greatest is that no matter what he was talking about, he was just talking to us. My mother, one of the few people I know who doesn't like Mister Rogers, always says that he was talking down to kids, but I don't know what she's talking about. He talked to us, like adults should talk to kids. Being honest, but thoughtful, and about being good and about understanding your emotions. Although, that was often just him. There's a wonderful interview segment with Yo-Yo Ma talking about how terrified he was of him when he would scary to a young man at first, seeing somebody just come right up to your face and say hello.

The movie does sorta explain that, while "Mister Rogers Neighborhood", was never an outwardly religious show, that he focused on shaping the emotional growth of children. He, also just, talked to them, more than anything else. Mister Rogers definitely stayed true to the intent of the teachings he had learned in the church.  He was  registered Republican, although I doubt he'd be today, but he never approach anything through a political lens as far as I can tell, which is probably why the infamous Senate deposition he gave that led Senator Pastore to concede givin $20million to keep PBS going is so amazing today. I remember seeing it, long before it was a viral video on Facebook, and was amazed even then, but now the incident seems almost mythical.

Looking closer, the connections between Mr. Rogers youth and his show and life become more clear. Like how all his puppet characters are people from his life and often represented certain emotional feelings I found it interesting to learn that when Mr. Rogers was at home and wanted to say something coarse or off-color that he would do it in Lady Elaine's voice. I think I'm gonna start doing something like that. Actually, I kinda do already; not everybody picks up on this, but when I write this blog, especially the commentary pieces, I'm often writing as different voices and tones, depending on how I want to express what I want to say. I don't name these voices the way, say actors do, but, if you what to look and how to look for them, but there's definitely some things that I say here, that I wouldn't be able to say if I just said wrote them the same perspective or tone-of-voice that I write everything else. Interestingly, Mister Rogers also learned to talk emotionally like that, originally through music asa kid before he did it with his words.He was a sickly child who also suffered a weight problem in his early youth, something that made him the subject of bullying and being made fun of. He wrote all those wonderful songs that he sung on the show, many of which often still permeate my mind periodically on those times I may have such a good feeling, to know I'm alive. It's amazing how strongly those feelings and emotions stuck with him though over all the years. That's the great key to Mr. Rogers and just how great and powerful his show was for so many.

It doesn't reveal Mister Rogers to be absolutely perfect. He knew Francois Clemmons was gay before he was out, and pressed for him to keep that a secret, even after Mr. Rogers had to have it grow on him, and the way Francois describes it, he still considers him a father figure, as many others that worked for him. They also discuss the curious "Old Friends..., New Friends" interview series he did after taking a prolonged break from making new "Mister Rogers Neighborhood''s that was a strange Primetime series of special attempt of his to capture an adult audience. I've seen some of those, they're interesting in their own right, but yeah, that's kind of a weird choice in hindsight. Also, one person conspicuous by her absense is Betty Aberlin, one of the few regulars there wasn't an interview of in the film. Reportedly director Morgan Neville said she was a bit shy to be interviewed, something that she hadn't done in years, which is a little bit curious since she's kept up acting since the series ended, most notably appearing in several Kevin Smith movies, (Yes, that Kevin Smith) and she seems quite active on Twitter. Actually, she's really interesting in of herself. That said, there's enough footage of her through some of the archive scenes, partiucularly some powerful ones she has with Mister Rogers's favorite and oldest puppet creation, Daniel Striped Tiger, who lives in the clock with no hands on it. There's some wonderful scenes too where we see Rogers talking with kids through his Daniel puppet, especially when some of those kids have some difficult things to discuss. He even came back from retirement briefly for some PSAs after 9/11 that helped heal the country, something he did quite a few times over the years with his show and other major national tragedies that captured the media attention in the news, that helped to reassure the kids, who are so young and new to the world that everything is ultimately okay and that there are indeed good people, special people around.

I once talked to a FB friend of mine from Australia about him. It was a discussion about his influence over America's children television. I was mentioning how important "Sesame Street" was and still is here, but I think overseas, as much as "Sesame Street" has crossed over and there are now several versions of that show all over the world, I think foreigners have a greater fascination with Mister Rogers, and usually presume he's the big number one here. When I pondered about they might've thought that, his answer surprised me, and yet made absolutely perfect sense. He said to the effect of,, "Well, we'd see his show and how he taught kids by just to them rather politely and nicely, and we've never had anyone over here like that."

I guess I never thought of that, but yeah, there really isn't another Mr. Rogers is there. I sure hope parents show their kids "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" whenever they can, if the kids don't seek him out and find him themselves.


THE HATE U GIVE (2018) Director: George Tillman, Jr.

★★★★★




I suspect, I'll have to ask for some forgiveness from many of you, and the exact meaning of the title of "The Hate U Give" eluded me before going into the film as I am quite the late-comer to Tupac. I'm still not entirely certain what to make of it, but for those like me who were unfamiliar, the title comes from Tupac Shakur's acronym for "THUG LIFE", "The Hate U Give Little Infants, Fucks Everybody". (Shrugs) Seems like he was stretching to take a fairly negative statement to turn it into a positive to me, but, what do I know; I can't say he's entirely inaccurate.


Based on the popular YA novel, and as much as I hate that term, this movie and story represents all the great qualities of what that genre should be. Complex stories about troubling young people as they struggle through growing up. Starr (Amandla Stenberg) lives in two different worlds, her home and African-American neighborhood called Garden Heights, but she attends a private middle class school across town with a majority white population. She even has an on-again/off-again white boyfriend, Chris (K.J. Apa) who she doesn't let enter her family world, although she doesn't let anybody from one world enter the other if possible, including all her close friends, including her friends on the basketball team Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and Maya (Megan Lawless). I always think about Dave Chappelle's routine about how all Black people are bilingual, in that there's a person they present to the white world and another language they speak amongst themselves, as a white male, even though I make attempts to keep attempts to make sure my home and worklife are separate, I'm not gonna pretend that I understand the need and fear involved in having separate ways of speaking and relating to people based on where one's at, or that one has to wear/hide different clothes or like and appreciate different things in order to fit into their surroundings.

At home, she's a middle child of Maverick (Russell Hornsby), two of three sibling, her two brothers being the older Seven (Lamar Johnson). Maverick's a former drug dealer who worked for the Kinglords, the local gang headed by King (Anthony Mackie) who basically runs the neighborhood and keeps them in fear. He's been out since, and him and his wife Lisa (Regina Hall) have managed to keep their head above and water and Maverick now runs a little corner store that the neighborhood goes to. Then, she attends a party in the neighborhood where she runs into an old childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith), who is driving her back home after the party gets out of hand. Then, he's pulled over by the police and is killed by the policeman. She's now a witness to a cop killing in the age of Black Lives Matter and she's getting pulled in every direction.

Her Uncle Carlos (Common) is a cop who tries to protect her at times, and tries to help her come forward. However, Khalil was dealing and now the Kinglords are threatening her and her family in order to make sure she doesn't testify. Ironically, she doesn't want to implicate them, and frankly she shouldn't have to. Khalil wasn't exactly behaving with the recommended proper behavior that Maverick explained to his kids on what to do when being pulled over. That scene opens the movie, and is powerful, foreboding and framed in such a way through Starr's narration that it's understood that this conversation takes place in every African-American home.

She's also pressured to make her story as high-profile as possible, this is represented by activist/media strategist April Ofrah (Issa Rae) who desperately tries to get her to come forward, 'cause of how-, well, basically everything is slanted against the cop from being convicted. "Why are they even having a grand jury?" she exclains at one point; "I saw him! He killed Khalil!" I didn't think about it at the time, but yeah, why the hell is there a grand jury come to think of it? Anyway, she's talked into a television interview with her image darkened off, but that only intensifies the threats from the Kinglords, who actually, would probably do better off if they just stayed out of everything, and let her testify in peace. I mean, if knew how little she knew and she only wanted to make sure the cop was in in jail,... at least, logically that what I would suspect.

At school, things start to go downhill as well as both Starr's lives start bleeding together and the news reports begin to reveal things about her classmates and friends that she probably suspected but tried to ignore and not confront until now.

I mentioned my disdain for the term, YA Novels in the past, mostly 'cause it's a really grotesque promotional catch-all for...-, well normally the way I describe it is that, the second you're old enough for young adult, is the same second you've outgrown it and should be moving on less childish things. Basically, I just think the term is backhandedly derorgatory, saying that a particular piece of literature is only for certain people because it's supposedly good enough for others, as though it's okay to promote the crap to kids...- Anyway,  "The Hate U Give" if the novel is half as good as the film, and I can't imagine a scenario where it isn't, then this a must-read for everybody, not just the demographic that it's promoted to. It's probably a must-watch film as well. It's not perfect, it's got a bunch of climaxes that end colliding and crashing into each other. Some of them are more obviously symbolic than others, some of it just seems overly coincidental and climatic, but I don't care; it's too good. It does what this genre should do at it's best, get use to explore the pains of growing up, feel like what it is to be a kid in this case, under difficult and trying modern circumstances. I'm not even talking about being a witness to a murder, about being Black, about being a girl, about being a black girl in a white world, and in a Black one, and struggling to survive surroundings that aren't above losing close dear friends suddenly, about just trying to figure out who to trust and what to do in this world when you have to decide whether or not to step up and make your voice heard, and whether that has any real effect on anybody, and if not, what does?

Under the radar, there's been a great run lately of movies about teenagers in the last few years, Hollywood movies too, probably the best run of them since the height of John Hughes in the eighties. "The Hate U Give" is easily up there among them. Director George Tillman, Jr. has been making good movies since the '90s, most memorably for me, the Biggy Smalls biopic "Notorious", but I think he's finally found a critical niche here. This along with his overlooked "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete" tell me that he might be better than most at giving us these wonderful personal stories of African-American youth as they seek out ways to survive and grow up in this world. I hope he keeps seeking these kinds of stories out in the future. It might be hard for him to find another as "The Hate U Give", but I hope he tries either way.


SHIRKERS (2018) Director: Sandi Tan

★★★★1/2


Image result for Shirkers


Thank God for IMDB.com.

Seriously, some of the youngsters today who might read this have no idea how often you find some fraud trying to screw over young up-and-coming filmmakers or performers. It happens today too; I've run into a couple over the years still, but generally, with the internet, and especially IMDB.com now existed, which, yes, once upon a time just started as a site for one person to chronolog the movies they'd seen, evolving into the who's who index of everybody who's ever worked in the industry, we can more easily eliminate and filter through some of the Georges Cordonas of the world.

It's not the be-all and end-all mind you, I mean, hell, I have an IMDB page, so it ain't perfect.

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm9506329/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

Don't ask! Still though, what a much better and more convenient world we live in now. I bet if Sandi Tan knew something like that existed, she would've looked into this weird older friend of hers who supposedly. "Shirkers" is about a movie that never got properly completed called, well, "Shirkers" that the director, Sandi Tan made with several of her friends when she was just barely nineteen, maybe early twenties. I already know this is gonna be trouble based on the few experiences and knowledges I've heard about people who tried to direct their own feature-length movies that young, there's bound to be things that happen and go wrong, unless you're Xavier Dolan, and the fact that Ms. Tan mentions that her and Georges were inspired by Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo", as inspiration in their filmmaking pursuit to make "Shirkers,"-, um, well, I knew something bad was going to happen.

I was expecting the worst, and yeah, this was a rushed film set with a crew of friends and family, and was a film that was highly publicized by Tan and her close crew of rebellious punk filmmakers, including future "Medium Rare" director Jasmine Ng and future documentary producer Sophia Siddique. You see, Singapore, is a small country and the filmmaking community is smaller still. The most notable Singaporean film I've seen is Anthony Chen's "Ilo Ilo", which is actually a really great movie, but the small island nation doesn't have the filmmaking history or tradition that say, Hong Kong has, and a lot of that has to do with the country's dictatorial past and it's relevative self-segregation from the Western world and culture. At the time, they were making "Shirkers", gum chewing, among other things, was against the law, much less things like rock'n'roll music and modern movies, so there was a huge underground culture scene and market that Tan was apart of.

One of the people she met in these endeavors was Georges Cordonas. He was much older and had apparently made several claims about working in the film industry and with several people. He seems to have had a strange and ecclectic life, but of course it strikes anybody weird that somebody who claims to know the Production assistant on "Apocalypse Now" or or that he was the inspiration for James Spader's character in "sex, lies & videotape" (Which,- come to think of it, why would he brag about that even if that was true?) who is then working with a bunch of teenagers in Singapore of all places, yeah, he seems like a con artist in hindsight. Apparently Sandy and Georges had a road trip in America before shooting the film, where he revealed some graphic history about himself. He's apparently from outside New Orleans, (Why do the weird people with no past that somehow end up in this industry always claim they were from New Orleans?!) and may have watched his brother die in his mother's arm. Turns out, his mother's address is an abandoned lot, so who knows if she even exists. He told some that he was French, others that he was a son of a German immigrant. Apparently, he's from Columbia...-

Anyway, somehow, Sandi rambles up a film shoot and manages to actually to get this film shot. It went over budget, including one reshoot at a bowling alley 'cause Georges didn't mention that the camera film blew up on the first take. There was another weird shot that Georges was orchestrating that involved a surreal flying scene that wasn't in Sandi's script, and that he apparently shot without film. Afterwards, when the school year started and the gang literally split up around the world, they waited for Georges to finish the editing. He never did. There were cryptic two cassette recordings he sent Sandi and until his sudden passing he never heard from him or saw her film get finished.

He did apparently keep the cans of film in fairly pristine condition, for some reason, although he lost the sound recordings and stole her soundtrack recordings that her musician friend was working on. He did this to others too. He turned Grace Dane Mazur, a noted novelist into, as she puts it, an intern for four of her life as she helped him work on his supposed dreams. He also founded something called the Lighthouse Media Center in New Orleans, which was so an upstart local filmmaking collective that he headed. He actually worked as the cinematographer on "The Last Slumber Party" one of the only films that the group actually made, although the filmmakers did get other works sporadically, and apparently he was weird then, and now, Cordonas's widow couldn't even find the actual location where the place was. It's almost like it didn't exist to begin with. He got them equipment and the tools for success, but apparently didn't or wouldn't follow through.

He's almost a serial killer who collects the dreams of his victims instead of their lives. Like, I guess he was stealing money from them, I mean, I know he was, but I wonder if he ever realized that, he probably could've made more money if he just finished editing the damn film? He clearly loved movies, he probably thought he wanted to be an artist of some kind and tried to fake it. I wouldn't be surprised if all his stories are just scenes that he stole from some obscure movie that the filmmakers and others he scammed over the years just haven't figured out where he got them from yet, and now we'll never know. He's clearly to surreal and eccentric a character to ignore and forget about, this is why some twenty years later, Tan, who's afterwards became a successful film critic, film student and novelist, in that order, after being a failed filmmaker, did she go back and make this movie about a movie that never got made. (Which itself has become something of an interesting subgenre in documentaries lately, "Jodorowsky's Dune" comes to mind for instance)

For Tan especially, this movie seems like a therapeutic cleansing. She doesn't come off particularly great here either; she was clearly in the thrusts of the headstrong film-or-die filmmaker during the filming, so much so, that in interviews with her friend Jasmine, she's almost oblivious to the words she's saying, about how Hell the production was and how Georges wasn't her biggest problem. Even when Jasmine, years later, records her wedding ceremony, it almost feels like they're back on set as Sandi's instructing Jasmine on how to film her wedding, in the middle of it. There is a talented filmmaker in Tan, she even notes it that as time went on, the parallel thinking of other filmmakers like Terry Zwigoff and Wes Anderson seemed to haunt her as she saw shots and ideas that she was trying in "Shirkers". While she's had other success, she says that most of the time she's spent afterwards has been spent writing screenplays that will never get filmed. (Join the club, next year, we're getting jackets) Seriously though, I hope that's not the case with her. As fascinating and unusual as "Shirkers" is,- I hope she starts going through those screenplays and pick up her camera anew, and start getting those things made. So, they won't have the Singapore of the past in them, which is sad, somewhat, but it's time to move forward. Good luck, Ms. Tan; you're off to a great albeit, delayed start.


BATTLE OF THE SEXES (2017) Directors: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris

★★★★


Image result for Battle of the Sexes


This was such a weird thing, and time. Like, it’s more important, then-, well frankly, it really should be, but it’s kinda just surreal in hindsight. Like, it you take a brief glimpse at this moment, from the history of the Women’s Lib movement, without looking particularly closely at the details, this seems like one of the era’s more cartoonish moments. Part of that is intentional, because of the way the event was built up by Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell) but a lot of that is also that-, yes there was actually a prominent backlash to the movement where men embrace their dominance and the phrase “Male Chauvinist Pig” was taken on as a positive moniker as much as say, “Trump Supporter” or “MAGA” is taken on by his followers. (So, yeah, the movement probably still exists to some extent, but I'm gonna pretend were over this, just for sanity's sake.)


So, I guess I'm happy that "Battle of the Sexes" exists, and a lot of that is because one of the best things the movie does, is contextual the events that led up to it, mostly from the side of Billie Jean King (Emma Stone). So, sports history lesson, the all-women Virginia Slims tour came about after their USLTA, the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association, outright refused to pay women equal the amount of men. Okay, right off the bat this sounds like something that’s still going on, today, and it is, especially in sports, in fact, like, really recently, it was announced that the U.S. Women's Soccer Team is suing the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination because of how little they're being paid compared to their male counterparts; links below: 


https://www.npr.org/2019/03/08/701522635/u-s-womens-soccer-team-sues-u-s-soccer-for-gender-discrimination

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2019/03/why-the-us-national-womens-soccer-team-is-suing/585202/

and this is a particularly apt case that I suggest everybody play close attention to as it continues on, 'cause in America at least, the Women's National Team is a far more successful and bigger moneymaker than the men's team, so unlike say, the WNBA at this point in time, the arguments one could make to explain the pay difference outside of gender, that just doesn't exist in this case. And back in the '70s, women's tennis had much of the same claims and leverage and some high-profile backing. Tennis was one of the rare sports at that time, and still pretty much is now even, where the women actually sold just as many tickets as the men did, and their stars were as big if not bigger. (Also keep in mind, tennis itself was a much bigger sport at that time as well. Tennis is still big now, but I think most observers would agree that in the '70s and '80s in particular it was a far bigger deal ) 


So with the #1 in the world, Bille Jean King leading the way, along with several other of the world’s top tennis players and Gladys Heldman (Sarah Silverman) the head of World Tennis Weekly, they actually broke from the USLTA and formed the WTA, the Women's Tennis Association,  Virginia Slims Tour, which-, yes, they actually were the sponsors, that’s how ‘70s this was. Billie Jean’s husband Larry (Larry Stowell) was a lawyer also and throught these connections they actually got this all setup pretty quickly and this did undermine USLTA’s shows, including Wimbledon. It’s hard to imagine this now, but think if Serena Williams got 1/8 of the money that say, Rafael Nadal was getting right now? Yes, it's because of these women that that isn’t happening and Billie Jean King in particular, and more specifically this match.


(Deep breath) 


Now, I have to explain Bobby Riggs. It seems so bizarre and weird that tennis is the sport that I’m having to explain this with, but tennis,- Riggs, first of all, was an incredibly talented athlete. He actually won the Wimbledon Triple Crown in ’39, winning the Men’s, Doubles, and Mixed Doubles tournaments all in the same year at that tourney. I think he also never played Wimbledon again after that, which was weird 'cause he did play professionally for like another decade or so. He also was a notorious hustler and gambler who was infamous for promoting and betting on himself. He was already in the Tennis Hall of Fame for years at this point and was still participating on the Senior Tennis Tour at the time, which, yeah, that’s a thing. Like, nobody would confuse Riggs at this time for being the best Male Tennis player in the world, but he was a bit of a showman, and a chronic gambler, and for whatever reason he decided to embrace the Women’s Lib backlash as a way to set up these Man vs. Woman tennis events. Like, tennis has really always been the cool country club sports, the one with the real athletes and the real personalities, as oppose to say, golf or croquet or-, well, polo’s pretty tough I guess, but Riggs was kind of a progenerate to like Andy Kaufman at this point, particularly the pro wrestling Andy Kaufman gimmick, which, I’m sure Kaufman stole from Riggs at the time too. This gimmick wasn’t new at the time even in pro wrestling either, Riggs is probably stealing from that, the point being is that for some reason he kept himself in the public eye with this persona. 


It worked for him, I guess. First. he won a match against “The Arm” Margaret Court (Jessica McNamee), and that led to the match Primetime television exhibition with Billie Jean. He had a gambling habit to uphold and was mostly just an eccentric hustler at this point, and seemed to love playing the showman, which Billie Jean was, despite her activism, definitely was not comfortable doing, which worked towards her advantage ‘cause she could definitely combat it.


I haven't talked that much about the movie itself until now, but the movie actually is two-sided. There's this historical narrative that's it's own kind of world, but then there's this love-triangle story between Billie Jean and a hairdresser she meets during this time named Marilyn (Andrea Riseborough in the perfect Judy Greer role) I don't think this is necessarily based on a real relationship, it's probably an amalgram of women that Marilyn represents, if anything; years afterwards Billie Jean came out as gay and it wasn't certainly public knowledge at the time, and it isn't to her here. That's something that I like about this though, how it's about Billie Jean's realization about her true self, separate, yet in the middle of the most important stretch of her career. It's also a nice, tender and loving romance story. 

It’s a bit odd, ‘cause these could be two different movies frankly and I’m a little undecided on how well these narratives mash together. I guess it’s a good thing that they are, that is apart of Billie Jean King’s history, and especially with lesbian romances, I don’t think we’ve tapped that well much with sports stories. Other than this film, um, the other examples I can think of are subplots in other TV shows where that’s come up, “The L Word” most memorably comes to mind, even if that ended fairly stupidly. (I swear, one of these days, I’ll talk about all the things “The L Word” totally fucked up, plotwise) You’d think there’d be more, I did find a Top Ten List of Lesbian Sports Romance Books, so there's material out there. I hope somebody’s working on a Sheryl Swoops movie about her coming out at some point; I remember being particularly surprised by that one since I had become used to calling her Sheryl Swoops-Jackson and remembered her taking maternity leaves from the WNBA a lot in it’s early years.

I guess I’m easily recommending the movie, ‘cause I like both the history aspects of the Battle of the Sexes match, and I like the complex love quadrangle story between Billie Jean, Marilyn, Larry and Billie Jean’s career that’s told as well. I’m not sure how well they go-together but, there’s nothing bad here to dispel a recommendation. I can’t really imagine a better film for this story, so there’s that at least. The only thing  I really can’t forgive Bobby Riggs for in how this men vs. women thing perpetuated is that, this wasn’t limited to this match, in the sports world, or even to just tennis. If you ever want to shed a tear for how truly stupid this thing was and where it went to, look up a racehorse named Ruffian one day. I doubt that would’ve happened if people like Riggs weren’t profiting off this movement. And, let’s on top of that remember that there’s still several reminders of inequality in pay and treatment, everywhere in society and sports in one battleground. “Battle of the Sexes” is the story of one good victory, but it’s a battle that unfortunately continues to fight on, and one that should’ve ended a long time ago.



THE BEGUILED (2017) Director: Sofia Coppola


★★1/2


Image result for The Beguiled


You'll have to forgive me a bit; I haven't seen the original "The Beguiled" that Don Seigel directed in 1971. I've heard about it, I'm told it kinda plays like "Misery". (Shrugs) I promise, the original is on my Netflix queue somewhere and I'll get to it eventually, although I'm not entirely certain what to make of Sofia Coppola's version. I hesistate to use the word remake, 'cause Coppola's clearly trying to do something different than in the original version here. For instant, she's been accused of whitewashing some of the characters, including all the African-American and mixed race aspects that were somewhat vital to the original. The story does still take place in the Civil war, and the Virginia Girls School, and the story doesn't change, there's a injured Northern soldier found, and the school takes him in, only for, things to happen, more or less. However, the original seems to be comparable to a horror movie for most, and it revelled in the most gruesome and horrific aspects of such an event. Coppola's interested in something else instead.


I'm reluctant to say that it's a bad choice for the material, 'cause it's focus and shift to the girls and how they're effected by the presence of the soldier is kinda more accurate to the book, which actually shifted perspectives constantly, with nearly each chapter being shown from one of the other girls, but there's still a few things off. I get the sense that she's trying to achieve something that probably works better metaphorically or as a what's-the-word, parable, as oppose to it actually working as a story, and I think that's to the film's detriment.


Corporal McBurney (Colin Farrell) is found by Amy (Oona Lawrence), one of the girls at a girls school in Virginia. He's an injured Union soldier in the Civil War, which has been going on for a few years.  They take him into the school to heal, at the behest of the headmistress Martha (Nicole Kidman) figuring that they'll figure out what to do with him afterwards, although after a few voices growing original concern that he should be turned in as a prisoner-of-war. They lock him into a separate room, and take care of him. After some time, they start having.

Also, I hate to be the guy with this criticism, but this movie is way too fucking dark. I know, I hate being that guy, but I watched it online and off a DVD copy, and there are just way too way scenes where I just felt like I was looking at a black screen. I know it's realistic for a story that takes place pre-electricity, but I don't know, I would've probably allowed for some creative license if she decided to go all "Barry Lyndon" with the candles, just so I can see who's talking and to whom. Each of the girls interact with him, and have their own reactions towards him, and vice-versa; it's basically a new element that changes everything narrative, in this case, a man showing up in a world where a bunch of young women, who haven't lived with a single, available man for years, if ever, including many hormonal teenage girls, now live with a man, and he's confined to a room. Well, for awhile, he eventually starts to help the girls garden for a bit, and even asks to stay on as a gardener for them. I mean, he was already a deserter when they found him.

He also falls in love with Edwina (Kirsten Dunst) the school's teacher. There's several who have feeling for him as well, but there's also some disturbing behaviors from him. He's also been a soldier in a war for a few years away from women for several years predominatly as well.

Again, I'm prefacing this with the fact that I only have secondhand knowledge of the story and the original movie, but the movie that I was reminded of, for like the first half of the movie was this film was "Girl, Interrupted". Yeah, this would sorta make Ferrell the Angelina Jolie character, but mostly, I thought that film works best if you don't think of it as a real place, but as an metaphoric tale. An alleghory almost, moreso than as a believable narrative. At least, that's what I was trying to do.

I'll admit that much of the nuance of the movie, probably went a little over my head, but I often had some struggles seeing Coppola's vision here. For instance, the movie that a lot of critics are comparing this too is "The Virgin Suicides", Coppola's debut feature which is also about a bunch of girls who are cut off from most of the rest of the world, especially boys, by their ultra-restrictive parents, but interestingly, that movie was shown more from ironically, the boys side of things. It also benefitted from having a more distinct visual style than much of her other films. The style of "The Beguiled" seems to be, dark, quiet, almost a more horror-movie vibe than something some of her previous dwellings on isolation and loneliness. There's little-to-no musical score, which creates an eerie tone, uncomfortable tone to everything.  Also, I hate to be the guy with this criticism, but this movie is way too fucking dark. I know, I hate being that guy, but I watched it online and off a DVD copy, and there are just way too way scenes where I just felt like I was looking at a black screen. I know it's realistic for a story that takes place pre-electricity, but I don't know, I would've probably allowed for some creative license if she decided to go all "Barry Lyndon" with the candles, just so I can see who's talking and to whom. I also had trouble buying Colin Ferrell as a Union soldier. I normally don't have a huge issue struggling with his accent in most of the movie.

I'm pretty conflicted about this film honestly. Normally with Ms. Coppola's films I'm usually far more absorbed and engaged in whatever story she was telling. Her characters were always intriguing and even if they weren't she got my intrigued by how she portrayed them; she was fascinated by her portrayal or perspective; she was able to invite us into the worlds she showed us, but I really can't make the claim that she did that well here. Or as well as she normally does. I think it's because the journeys of the characters are more in the characters mind as oppose to a literally physical journey the character's go through, even "The Virgin Suicides" did feel so constrained by the prison-like surroundings Apparently the movie helped with this by using a voiceover device where we'd hear several of the girls' thoughts; I'm not sure that would work either; I suspect film might not be the best medium for this story; perhaps a miniseries where we can get several characters differening perspectives and have efficient time devoted to each of them would be best. I'm just speculating on that front however, but I do know that I wasn't as enthralled with Coppola's version as I think she ultimately wanted me to be. Part of that might be the mysteriousness that she left by making everything so nuanced, it might be that everything was so nuanced in a film where I had trouble seeing anything and felt like major big dramatic confrontations were happening in total blackness. I'm struggling with this one, but I think I gotta pan; there were choices that Coppola could've made that could've made this work for me, and I just don't think she did them as well as I know she's capable of.


CROWN HEIGHTS (2017) Director: Matt Ruskin

★★★★


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One of these days I'm gonna sit down and learn all the neighborhoods in New York City. I suppose it's the kind of thing that happens naturally there in such a populated area, that sections and neighborhoods separate themselves from others, and it becomes an identifier; out west we just carve out an unused piece of land, build some homes and a few PO boxes and suddenly and call it "Census Designated Area".I prefer the NYC model, but I do need to learn the geography. "Crown Heights" is an area of Central Brooklyn, a pretty large area at that north of Flatbush and west of Prospect Heights, areas I'm fairly certain I know about mostly from a few Spike Lee movies. Demographically, it's just varied as anything else, mostly African-American with some scattered others, notably some Hasidic Jews, but the most distinctive aspective is it's West Indian population, as in the West Indies; it's where immigrants from the Caribbean have mostly ended up.

Anyway, "Crown Heights" tells the real-life story of two young men, one is Colin Warner (LaKeith Stanfield, although listed as Keith Stanfield), a young kid who's got a bit of a criminal past, mostly as a car thief, but who's started to turn his life around, the other is his friend Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha-, wait, I know that name! The "shutdown" cornerback the Eagles gave $60million to, to have everybody catch the ball on him for two years!!!!! [Sigh] Alright, I won't let them hinder my opinion on him; at least he's producing decent movies with the money we overpaid him...!) his childhood friend who upholds his life to eventually help get Colin out of jail, after he's arrested and convicted for a murder he didn't commit. He was picked up for the murder of another teenager, someone he didn't know and was nowhere near the crime scene when it occurred. There's an eyewitness, who changed his story from court, and even though he changed his story from the Grand Jury, plus he's clearly being coerced by the cops. Also, they arrested and arraigned him, they arrested the man who actually killed the guy and tried them together, claiming that Colin must've ran the getaway car. There was no car, it wasn't even a drive-by shooting, and there were several legitimate witness but none spoke up, or were at least brought up. Still though, he was convicted and spent 21 years in prison, before finally his friend's Carl's work in getting him out paid off.

Carl raised any/all funds he could for several appeals, but none of them ever seem to work and half-the-time the lawyers or the system just didn't care. Eventually he got a job as a process server and eventually found a lawyer who knew to re-investigate the case itself and get the story to the public. Meanwhile, Colin spends decades in prison. He's denied parole because he doesn't feel remorse for the crime he didn't commit.

One thing that's underlined throughout the film is the "Tough on Crime" era, that was, and still is, just an excuse to convict more minorities. Not only that, but the movie argues that it actually pressured both the police and the district attorneys into getting more convictions and quicker; for all we know, there were and probably are way more cases of innocent people convicted who didn't have the means or the good friends who fought enough for them to actually help them get out.

"Crown Heights" does it's best to be even about the telling of this story, showing both sides equally, and I think they do an okay job. It's Writer/Director Matt Ruskin's fourth feature, only his second that not a documentary though after "Booster", which also dealt with people trying to get someone out of jail who shouldn't be there. The documentary background is clear upon reflection actually. As to the film itself; it does run a little predictable, naturally as a movie. I can't complain much about that though. It's an important story that needs to be told, and it's told, particularly LaKeith Stanfield's wonderful performance. A lot of stuff happens around him, or to him, so a lot of it's minimal and in the eyes, but he's slowly turning in great performance after great performance on the indy scene and this is another special. one.


PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN (2017) Director: Angela Robinson

★★★1/2


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Among other things, 2017 filmwise is the year of "Wonder". Not just the movie called "Wonder", which was pretty good itself, but that Wonder, kept popping up in the titles of movies this year. "Wonder", of course, "Wonder Woman", not counting "Justice League" after a ridiculously noticeable absence in the superhero movie scene since forever; seriously it was strange and bewildering long before the modern age of them, (Oh God, there's a modern age of them...) Wonder Woman had two movies about her, ironically both origin stories, although this one is actually about her origins..., and I still haven't even gotten to Todd Haynes's "Wonderstruck" or Woody Allen's "Wonder Wheel" yet. Considering all this wondering around that we were apparently doing, I couldn't help but wonder,  what was all this wondering about?


As to "Professor Marston and the Wonder Women",- well, actually I'll be honest, as much as I've generally never been into comic books and I still haven't been, I can't say that there aren't some superheroes that fascinate me, even as a kid. "Wonder Woman" was definitely one of the most interesting, in good and bad ways. Obviously, as a female, and the alpha female in the superhero world at that, she sticks out. And I loved a lot of the aspects of her ther others found positive. She is a feminist icon. She's not a character hiding behind a man, she's a strong independent woman, long before that term lost all meaning. She was a symbol of female positivity and strength and justice, and not simply because she would often overpower and defeat men all the time. And yet, she's always been kinda too goofy to completely take seriously. Lasso of Truth? Bulletproof bracelets? Invisible plane, which doesn't get explained in the movie btw; that's just a weird outlier that's just weird, and yeah, she does get kidnapped and tied up a lot, and in precarious positions as well. It just always seemed like a bizarre contrast. It's like she's part Margaret Sanger meets Gloria Steinem, but then there's the part that seems more like, Bettie Page. (Well, not Bettie Page necessarily, she was relatively tame sexually even within the kinkier material, one of the undergrounds bondage pinups that was much more risque like-eh, um, ehhhh-ummmm-ummm, huh? I legitimately can't think of any other model name and can't find a name when searching for one on Google? Huh? Okay, this is ridiculous, there had to be a another famous bondage model in the '50s; they cannot have only remembered the photographers names; John Willie and Irving Klaw had several models?!?! [NOTE TO SELF: Remember to contact the Erotic Heritage Museum and ask about Bettie Page contemporaries.])

Okay, that was a weird sidetrack of research that bizarrely went nowhere. Anyway, William Marston (Luke Evans) was a professor at Harvard in the early days of psychology. Outside of Wonder Woman, he's famous for inventing the the first blood pressure test, and in turn, the polygraph, something that, is shown here when him and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall) a successful lawyer and psychologist herself, although she was denied a degree from Harvard, because they didn't allow to women to graduate back then. (I don't know how important the Seven Sisters are now, but basically, she claimed, correctly so, that if she can be allowed a degree at Radcliffe, from the same classes and professors as those attending Harvard, then her degree should be from Harvard, and-um, yeah, pretty much; Radcliffe isn't even a separate college anymore.) They end up hiring one of their students, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) as an assistant, and her first instruction to her is to not fuck her husband. (Shrugs) I mean, I can't say an unreasonable request, but-eh, a bit weird to request it out loud. Elizabeth apologizes, of course, and they bring her on. Olive turns out to be the daughter of Ethel Byrne and the niece of Margaret Sanger, as quite the analytical observationist of her own.


For those who aren't familiar more with the story, William, Elizabeth and Olive, eventually entered into a polyamorous relationship with each other, and they stayed that way. After the Marstons left Harvard and despite authoring some books and papers and all three of them taking some intriguing odd jobs, both Elizabeth and Olive would have kids that were raised by the three of them, and they would live together. It was probably secret at the time to most outside of the home, apparently the kids weren't entirely aware until years afterwards.

Oh, and if you couldn't figure this out, they were also a BDSM coup-, hmm... (Google search), huh, okay.  Oh, and if you couldn't figure this out, they were also a BDSM, triad. (It was either that or "Thruple"; I'm going with triad.) It's pretty obvious when you go through the early Wonder Woman comics, but they were introduced to it through Charles Guyette (JJ Field) who's is one of those other erotic photographers whose name and pictures I can find easily, but somehow not the names of any of his models! (Seriously, I can't even find an alias for any of the girls, what the hell?!) Anyway, in the '30s and '40s, he was known as the King of the G-Strings who photographed, practiced and taught proper bondage techniques; he also designed and produced burlesque-inspired bondagewear; I'm presuming long before that was a term.

All these details inevitably ended up in the comic creation of Wonder Woman which he successfully pitches to M.C. Gaines (Oliver Platt), who was at the head of what would eventually be called DC Comics. Now this might all seem a little strange, especially for stuff like unconventional family structures and sexual practices to inevitably be evolved into a children's comic, well, it's actually much more thoughtful than you'd realize. Marston also contributed heavily to a psychological personality assessment that he believed would help even out the personal and societal conflicts of the world, and among the sexes; it's called DISC assessment. My memories of 11th Grade Psychology are a little foggy, but in Marston's version, he observed that there are four ways in which people display their emotional behavior, Dominance, Inducement, Submission and Compliance, DISC. Obviously for those who are familiar with proper BDSM practices, it's a natural fit for the fantasy and role-playing involved in that form of sexual expression and desire, but he also these behaviors in, what he literally called "Normal People" in one of his more noteworthy books. You have a conflict with somebody, how do you solve it? Well, you can dominated the other person, or you can give in to them, or your environment, which is one of the determining factors of which behavior use, you can induce, or seduce out of them the behavior you wish, or you can comply with them. And, I don't think this is a particularly absurd perspective perspective on gender roles, but through much of history, men often prefer to use the dominance over the others. Not always, but I think we can all think of examples....

Anyway, that was part of "Wonder Woman", not only the traits of his wife and lover combined, as well as his work and influence, but much of it was psychological propaganda as a way to teach kids the best and even adults the best ways to treat people, especially women, in a society where they were often just basically dismissed as maids and mares. It was psychological propaganca, with the message being, be truthful and treat women well, among other similar things.

The movie itself is contrived, it's one of those movies where essential you see all the ways in which an artist gets the inspiration for their work, but it's done in a style of a very sexy romance. The film's writer/director is Angela Robinson, who last directed fourteen years ago with "Herbie: Fully Loaded", but before that, she made a movie that some of my friends are gonna be a bit angry that I still haven't watched called "D.E.B.S."; it's a popular cult movie is certain parts of the LBGT community, and my best lesbian friend Melissa absolutely loves it. It's on my Netflix somewhere and it's apparently a teenage parody/satire of like a "Charlie's Angels" meets James Bond type camp film, that's main conflict is based around how the main hero and villain, both women, used to be lovers, I think. I don't recall the movie getting much acclaim originally, but maybe I should move it up on my Netflix. I can understand why somebody who would create an female-led action romance revenge film, I think, would be interested in telling the story of the origins of "Wonder Woman". And I liked most of Robinson's television work in the past as well; there's clearly talent behind this film, which is good, 'cause in the complete wrong hangs, this movie could've been reduced to kink or camp or simple eroticism and have the actual inspirations behind Wonder Woman lost behind exemplifying some of the other lazy criticisms that have been spurned against "Wonder Woman" over the years, (Many of them in this movie through the framing device of Connie Britton playing Josette Frank, who's cast in a fairly negative light unless you know about her and the context of the testimony Marston gave to her, and her place in the history of Comics. The movie is admittedly a bit all over the place plotwise; the performances especially by Hall and Heathcote are really strong here. Each are pretty brave roles in their own rights, I do wonder about some of the liberties of storytelling, but overall, "Professor Marston..." is a cool romanticized look back at the origins of a pop culture icon through the perspective of the icons creators and influences and it's a sexy, cute romance between three people who were madly in love with each other and found a way to make it work. That's inspirational alone; there's only a few movies I can think of that even tried depicting a relationship like this, especially from Hollywood essentially, and most of them, even the good ones don't end happily ever after. (Rebecca Hall was in a really good one memorably, Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" that didn't end happily) Here's hoping Hollywood remains as progressive in this aspect as Wonder Woman and their creators were.


THE DEATH OF LOUIS XIV (2017) Director: Albert Serra


★1/2


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What the hell am I watching?! Okay, I'm not an expert in the history of French royalty, but I have to believe that there is something more interesting about more interesting about Louis XIV than the way he fucking died! In fact, let me look it up. (Wikipedia search)

He was King for longer than any monarch, ever recorded, 72 years, 110 days, since he was four years old. He was "The Sun King" because of his young age. Queen Elizabeth II would need another 11 years to top him. He lead France through five war during the time that it was Europe's biggest superpower. He implemented several reforms, reorganizations, he had a lot of issuess with the Dutch and Spanish, he had a lot of dealings with Queen Anne, she's so interesting in herself that Olivia Colman just won an Oscar for playing her; he had several intriguing advisors over the years. Not even counting anything involving "The Three Musketeers", there's been a few movies made about him. Roberto Rossellini made one about his battle for power with Cardinal Mazarin, Roland Jaffe and Gerard Corbiau made ones about his relation with music, Alan Rickman directed a film about him building the Garden of Versailles! But, here, Director Albert Serra decided, "Let's watch this King die slowly and painfully for two fucking hours!!!!!

I'm not even against a movie about a character slowly dying either, Michel Haneke's "Amour" is sad and tragic and lovely to watch, to see somebody who's slowly slipping away from you, I can think of other examples but they all know it's not just about the person dying. There's more going on. It's about the impact and the other characters reactions. I'm not gonna say it's not here in "The Death of Louis XIV", but it's not particularly interesting or compelling. The focus isn't on the loved ones, or even what's left behind, it's on the gangrene-infested foot.

So, what about Louis XIV (In one of those, "Wait, he's still acting?!" castings, Jean-Pierre Leaud; yes Antoine from all though Truffaut movies) Well, Old King Louis was a dying old soul, and a dying old soul was he. He called for Priest and he called for his kids, and he called for Doctors three. Or four, or- actually they list 5 credited in the credits. The most interesting sorta sequence in when a charlatan comes in with an elixir that he claims can cure the kind made of bull semen and bloods along with frog's fat. There actually are three musicians there. There are several others who come in and out to the King's bedside. Some he invites, some he doesn't, the Medical characters are the ones I guess I find the most intriguing, especially in those days when there was so little known about treating the sick. I mean, he's a 76-year-old King who's sick, even if they did everything right and as soon as they could with the best treatment the time had, there's no telling whether they would've worked, but of course they don't know that and might never find out.

I don't want to knock the movie entirely; I can kinda see some of the appeal of seeing the anguish and struggles with knowing that one's life is ending and ending fast. Going over the thoughts of what happens afterwards, especially if you're supposed to be running a Kingdom from your bed. And also, this is the first from Serra that I've seen, so I'm not particularly familiar with his work, some of it seems intriguing, so perhaps the movie works better in context of his filmography, and I'm just being a brat about watching somebody slowly die. That said, I still content that it's not just the subject matter, it's how it's presented, and the way this movie presented, well, it helped me finish the crossword puzzle in the Las Vegas Weekly. I honestly can't imagine that even if I liked this movie more that I've have much use for it beyond a single viewing. I also can't imagine even similar films about, say George Washington dying from too much bloodletting when he was sick, or any other similar comparable people's tragic, slow deaths, ehh, I just-, yeah, I feel like there's better uses of my time and better things of those historical figures that's worth telling their story.


BRIGHT LIGHTS: STARRING CARRIE FISHER AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS (2017) Director: Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens


★★★★



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"Bright Lights" was a documentary that was made and intended to air on HBO after a brief theatrical run that followed the lives of two of two of Hollywood's longest-lasting and most eccentric figures, Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds. Shortly before that happened, Carrie Fisher died suddenly, shortly after Reynolds had suffered a severe stroke that hospitalized her, and after her daughter's passing, Reynolds, one of the last stalwarts left of a bygone era of Hollywood of classic Hollywood passed away herself. Honestly, after watching the film I'm fairly convinced that their deaths, would forever destined to be linked together, whichever one passed first the other was guaranteed to follow immediately. This brief glimpse into their personal and private lives at the end, both of whom still regularly performing, Reynolds with a touring nightclub act, Fisher, well, I could've listened to Carrie Fisher talk for days. I joke about this on Twitter after her passing, but I am 100% truly convinced that nobody had better drug stories than Carrie Fisher. If you find old episodes of "Dinner for Five" that she was a guest on, you'd probably agree with me, or just rather bits of her talking about her life. Both of these women had such unusual Hollywood careers, and such diverse different paths and both of them, were basically in the spotlight, almost instantly when you think about it. Debbie was an up-and-comer when she got lucky and broke out really early in her career; she was barely in her twenties when she was singing "Good Morning," with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor in "Singin' in the Rain", and with her consent or not, Carrie was under the spotlight the second she was born.

We get to see some of the rest of the family, a few early scenes of Eddie Fisher's last days, who  Carrie was angry at for most of her life, for obvious reasons. Well, some might not know the story, I guess; he left Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor. We watch both of them both apart and together, although they're mostly together. They live next to each other in a compound and are constantly in each other's business. Carrie is often out on the town, or of course, signing autographs at a "Star Wars" convention, a practice she compares to being a lap dancer. Reynolds is already preparing for her next performance. Reynolds is more of the fitness fanatic, which makes sense after starting by singing and dancing in musicals. Fisher is openly undermining her physical training which cans of soda everywhere. Yeah, that kind of fact frightens me a bit, but I have no doubt that Carrie's long0figured that if she survived everything she has already than soda ain't gonna kill her. There's a wonderful conversation she has with Griffin Dunne when he comes over to visit, who lovingly refers to Carrie as "Fuckface"! They both had interesting Hollywood pasts and of course knew enough for years.

The movie culminates in Debbie and Carrie getting ready to go to the SAG Awards, where Debbie got the Lifetime Achievement Award.  You can tell that Debbie's tired, she had just finished a brief tour, and was tired and beginning to slip. Carrie's tongue was as sharply in cheek as ever, The movie was rushed to air after their passing; it was expected to be completed about six months later. I wasn't refer to this as a eulogy of them, it's more a document of them, both as they were and their relationship, which had a long history of tenuousness, hell Carrie famously wrote "Postcards from the Edge" based on their relationship, but of a mother and daughter who cared and worried about each other, both of whom had lived extraordinary unique lives that they could connect and appreciate with each other. "Bright Lights" is a fantastic document to these two amazing women, both of whom we lost way too suddenly, and perhaps even way too soon.


MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL SINKING INTO THE SEA (2017) Director: Dash Shaw

★★★


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I know a few people who for one reason or another don't particularly like "The Breakfast Club". I'm not sure why, but if any of those friends of mine ever wanted to see what would happen if an eclectric group of high school archetype students who are forced together for a day go through a harrowing troubling, tragic experience like suddenly having to save themselves from drowning after the entire school they're in falls into the Ocean after an earthquake, eh, well, I have a movie for you, I guess. The debut feature from animator and graphic novelist Dash Shaw, "My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea", is a surreal little animated film. One that starts with a warning about the stroboscopic effects that can be dangerous for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Apparently the movie was made through Photoshop gifs that ran through a scanner. It gives an interesting psychadelic-like effects. Reminds me a bit of the squigglevision that some might remember from "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist" or "Science Court" but somewhat more acid-like, the colors feel both like they're floating over us like a lava and sorta like they're bouncing around, like they were colored from a large felt-tip marker. 


The main character is Dash (Jason Schwartzman) who's one of those self-involved teenagers that thinks he's much better than everyone else around him. Think if Zach Morris thought he was a writer. (And the Zach Morris from "Zach Morris is Trash", which btw is btw is funny as hell and accurate.) He works on the school newspaper that nobody reads with his best/only friend Assaf (Reggie Watts) are the only writers. Verti (Maya Rudolph) the paper's editor decided to split them up however and this leads to Dash writing a pretty pitiful insult piece towards Assaf. It lands him in trouble with Principal Grimm (Thomas Jay Ryan) and on his permanent record and fired from the paper. Shortly after this, an earthquake occurs and the high school falls into the Ocean. It's one of those high schools where the grade is determined by the floor of the building you're on; which is ridiculous and stupid and was that ever a real thing; 'cause there's a lot of classes that have people from several grades in them, and where do those classes go....?- Anyway, them being sophmores, and with kids and adults dying and drowning around them, these three, along with a couple others, most notably a popular athlete girl, Mary (Lena Dunham) and Lunch Lady Lorraine (Susan Sarandon) have to figure out their way out of the school, which is also coincidentally turning into the stoner's "Lord of the Flies" while it's turning into "The Poseidon Adventure". 


It's a weird mash up of insane genre-mixing meets strobing animation. I guess it's too weird to ignore, so I'm gonna recommend it, despite some reservations. It's a harmless animated film with some strong voice work, all around, Watts in particular plays several roles and I like Lena Dunham's casting against type here, pretty well. Alex Karpovsky and John Cameron Mitchell have some strong cameos as well; Mitchell actually used Shaw's comic work in his film "Rabbit Hole" a few years back. I guess I'm reluctant because it does make it's main character seem like such a jerk that I'm not entirely certain that the movie necessarily swings enough on him to be likable. I mean, tonally, the movie reminded me a bit of "Daria", which is definitely not a bad thing, at least the high school dynamics between the characters. It might be outdated, but I can appreciate I guess. It's also short, any longer than it's 80 minute runtime, I probably would've panned it, but it's unique and original, and I gotta give some credit for that. I'm interested in seeing what else he'll come up with. Actually this might be a cool approach to ever do an adaptation of Louis Sachar's "Wayside School" series of books. (I know, Nickelodeon aired a cartoon series once upon a time, um, yeah, that's got it's moments but, but-eh, I think there might be room for more than one adaptation still, one that gets the sense of the books better.)



THE LIGHT OF THE MOON (2017) Director: Jessica M. Thompson


★★★★


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"The Light of the Moon" I suspect is one of those movies that was so much written as it was exploded out of the writer/director's mind. That's not always a negative thing, although with this film's subject matter, one could on first glance mistake this as a therapy script, and lord knows nobody would, and I'm not suggesting anything happened to Ms. Jessica Thompson; this could be a therapy script in the same way that much of these blogposts are often therapy, just ideas stuck in your head that you have to do everything in your power to get out. Still though, the movie has a real sense of knowledge.

Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) is an up-can-coming successful architect that lives with her boyfriend Matt (Michael Stahl-David). However, this night, she goes out partying with her co-workers and on her way home, she is raped and assaulted. Her boyfriend see her in the beaten up and disheveled state and convinces her to go to the police. She goes through several interviews and questioning about the event, as well a rape kit exam. She was drinking and did a line of coke. She doesn't know who the guy was that attacked her. Her boyfriend is struggling to be supportive, but to every little new detail, we can sense the thoughts going through his mind, and we can feel Bonnie feeling every little judgmental thought going through Matt's mind. Afterwards, she's recovering and wants to get back to work only to find that they took her off the latest project, figuring she might need the time. (Even though, they only know that she was mugged.) At home, she's annoyed and frustrated as her boyfriend, well, starts being extra-protective. Worst than that, he starts making her dinner and coffee. I get it, somebody goes through something, and you immediately want to help them go through it, but, when it comes to something like rape, and it's somebody like your boyfriend treating you so differently, like you've never been treated by them before, it can be jarring. Of course, she's treated differently by everybody to some extent now and it's something she can't deal with.

She tries to meet them half-way, at one point going to a support group for rape survivors, but doesn't want to feel like a victim. Things often cumulated in things that should be normal, but of course, end up not being so. Particularly some sex scenes that come out awkward as Matt isn't sure how to continue to have sex with Bonnie the way they used to. Part of it is that he's feeling for her, but he also feels responsible for letting it happen. Much of this movie feels like great ten-minute two-hander plays. Domestic scenes playing out like they might in real life, and each one, can work on it's own, without the knowledge we have before, but still making it come off as powerful afterwards.

The strength of the movie, other than the screenplay, which deals well with the topic of the aftermath of sexual assault better than most, are the great performances. Stephanie Beatriz to me is basically known for this scowling intense persona, often played most notably for laughs on the underrated "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" from those performances, you wouldn't think she'd have such a powerful performance from her. In the beginning of the film, she's so witty and natural, that you almost don't recognize her, and she doesn't turn into some version of her more sardonic self either, she's playing this independent, carefree-but-caring careerwoman who's struggling with an event that she couldn't stop from happening and can't figure out how to continue for awhile without it controlling everything else around her. It's a complete performance that reveals a truly talented actress who should be in line for way more interesting and wide-ranging roles soon, and I hope she does get those. I hear she's cast in the lead for "In the Heights", so, here's hoping this won't be her only breakout film role. Michael Stahl-David hits those perfect notes as well, but without the performance by Beatriz, this movie could've been a tragic misstep.

Sheila O'Malley's review on rogerebert.com makes a reference to the Paul Verhoeven film "Elle", in how one of the good scenes in that movie was about the Isabelle Huppert character revealing that she had been raped to her office staff and how everybody started reacting differently to her. I think I was one of the few people who actually panned that movie, for several reasons, particularly how poorly the main character was written, as well as how it turned into a stalking pseudo rape revenge, "Death Wish" kind of movie, only more European and erotic thriller-like, but that movie doesn't deal with the aftereffects of rape that well either come to think of it. O'Malley's pinpoints one of the few parts of it it does, but perhaps a better movie would've been to just focus on that recovery of her character from the assault. Essentially, "The Light of the Moon", is kinda just correcting that, perhaps that's an extra note of criticism, one was a thriller, this was more, of a kitchen sink drama, but I think it's noteworthy; rape is a topic that is often discussed as having been handle poorly as a trivial plotline. "The Light of the Moon", could be held up as an example of, "This is what it's really like," to all those movies. I think it's poorly more the opposite though, more, "This is what it's really like, and this needs to be shown, period."


BILL NYE: SCIENCE GUY (2017) Directors: David Alvarado & Jason Sussberg

★★★★



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I miss the old way that the PBS lineup used to be scheduled. I like the kids show they got now "Arthur" in particular, and I'm still annoyed that "WordGirl" got canceled, but,- at least our local station, suddenly stopped showcasing them after school, which would be around 3:00am-6:00pm, which is when they really should air. There was also this classroom aspect to them. Because each show seemed to be based around a subject. Not all of them, obviously “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” stood out, although they always did try and successful teach me stuff, but I loved the shows before that seem to exclusively focus on one subject and then entertainingly teach that subject. I’ve often gone on Youtube once in a while to find old episode “Square One” sketches, which was a show that used to teach us math, most famous for it’s comedy spoof segment, “Mathnet” which sometimes aired as it’s own series in some markets, and was about two detectives who solved crimes using math. (Yes, “Numb3rs” totally stole from this; I don’t know why I’m the only one that calls it out, and “Mathnet” was better!!!!) Of course, my favorite will always be “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” for teaching me geography, but of course “Reading Rainbow” is sorely missed as well, as it taught us about reading. I’m old enough to remember that even before “Bill Nye: The Science Guy”, there was “3-2-1 Contact” which is kinda basic and cheesy now, but was a pretty decent science series too, but yeah, Bill Nye blew it out of the water.

I too, had fond memories of my 6th Grade Life Science class on the days when Mrs. White would show a Bill Nye episode of two, and I hated that Life Science class. Truth be told, I’m not a science person either, but I thoroughly enjoyed quality educational shows and “Bill Nye…” was really great. A fun, smart, and witty series that really took some chances with the medium. I’ve gone back to watch a few old “Bill Nye…” as well in the past, his episode on pseudoscience seems particularly foreboding about his future endeavors.

“Bill Nye: Science Guy”, the loving PBS documentary on one of their most high-profile and memorable stars, is surprisingly striking. It’s not simply a celebration of him, which would’ve been fine by me if it was. Nye, for some reason unbeknownst to me, and probably to some extent him, has been one of the most high-profile media pundits in recent years because of his willingness to go on TV shows and talk about things like climate change, and even debate Ken Ham, the delusional Creationist who built the Creationist Museum as well as a “replica” of Noah’s Ark in Kentucky, but monstrosities that Nye looks through and points out the obvious inaccuracies. The debate with Ham, brought Ham so much publicity, despite anybody with sensible thought understanding that Nye won the thing pretty easily, that he got the donations to build that arc from the event. It’s a dumb but understandable mistake from a guy who’s always straddling that line between science and celebrity.

I got into one debate about him online, not too terribly longago with some idiot who made that tired old contention that because he was on a regular on a short-lived Seattle-based sketch comedy series, that Bill Nye wasn’t a real scientist. It’s true that his PH.D. is in Engineering, something he’s never hid, but trying to explain how legit Nye was to that idiot was frustrating, particularly how “scientist” isn’t something like “Doctor”, where you have to have a degree to be one. I have a film degree, but if I wanted to, I could do some scientific experiments myself and as long as I'm using the Scientific Method, I'd be a scientist. He has followed his hero, and former professor at Cornell Carl Sagan’s path in developing and actually putting solar satellites into space, that can hypothetical rotate around the Earth collecting data forever, including on climate change.

One of the more bizarre sequences in the movie, involves Joe Bastardi the Accuweather Meteorologist who’s known as a climate-change denier. (He’s also a famed bodybuilder, and a distressing grotesque one at that; it's fair to say that as a Penn State fan, he's the-, well,, 2nd most embarassing mistake that the school's produced. [sigh]) Actually, his sequences are fascinating in of themselves and actually, in theory, I do sympathize and somewhat understand his positions that rising CO2 emissions and increased temperature are simply another meteorological change that we're going through, and that the manmade aspect has only a minimal effect on it. Of course, it's bullshit, and Bill Nye takes us to Greenland, where the glaciers are literally melting into a river that wasn't there before, as he's speaking into the camera. We also see into the ice where we can get the most accurate accounts and glimpses of how the climate was thousands of years ago

In the end, Bastardi doesn’t accept his own challenge to Nye who speaks at a speaking series alone on the issue, and in some other segments, seems to be having his own crisis of confidence over his own positions. If he were more tolerable, a documentary about him might be interesting to watch as well.

Nye himself is a strange character though. Tall and lanky, he’s quiet and lonely. He never married, has no kids, and yet wanted to be a star. He’s even shown participating as a subject in a study that involves changes in one’s brainwaves activity after becoming famous. He does have a fame complex, but it is interesting how he took quite a while off after his show ended, only to sporadically reemerge onto the pop culture scene. His family suffers from a genetic disorder called apexia, that means that they often have trouble keeping their balance; he’s the one relative that’s unaffected by it, which gives him a little bit of Survivor’s Guilt on top of everything else. There’s also some interesting behind-the-scenes stories about the show’s beginning that are touched upon, and how close it was to never even getting made at one point. I’m actually surprised his producers inevitably stayed on to be honest after the ordeals they had, but it’s a good thing they did.

I’m actually surprised by “Bill Nye: Science Guy”. It’s not in-depth per se, and I don’t think Nye’s the kind of celebrity or person who were ever gonna fully know, there’s clearly a mystique to him, especially as his fame and status continue to grow, but he’s definitely fit himself with a strange and unusual position in the modern pop culture scene, one that I don’t know if he’s comfortable with, and one that I don’t think he’d be fully happy if he didn’t have it. Nye will always be a beloved idol of my youth and my adulthood today, but this movie really gives us a brief glimpse into what a fascinating man he truly is as well.


78/52: HITCHCOCK'S SHOWER SCENE (2017) Director: Alexandre O. Phillippe

★★★



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I'm sure I've talked about a movie's length of time discussion a particular shot or sequence of a movie before, but I never did think to make an entire movie about that. But then again, every 1st year Introduction to Film book I’ve seen in college devoted at least a handful of pages just to a storyboard of a Hitchcock scene. Not, this one, it’s always been the cropduster scene in “North By Northwest” but in some respects it probably should be the shower scene from “Psycho” instead.

Nowadays, I seem to be in the minority of people who still ranks “Psycho” as Hitchcock’s very best film. That used to be the accepted wisdom, at least in America, while Europe eventually got its way and the last BFI poll listed “Vertigo” as the best film ever. So, naturally a movie that’s just a bunch of cinephiles talking and discussing the movie’s most famous sequence is-, well, it’s basically just offering to give me a handjob while I’m already masturbating, but I’m not gonna complain about the help. Besides it does insight us to death about the scene. It’s got interviews with the usually suspects you would expect, my favorite though is definite with the woman who was Janet Leigh’s body double, Marli Renfro. Of course, I should've presumed she had a body double.

It also contextualizes the film and the sequence. Sometimes too much, but it deserves to be intectualized. I think one of the reasons it’s greatness has been overlooked in recent years is because the film and sequence have become so iconic in pop culture that it’s original influence and power has been muted over time. When I wrote my Canon of Film review of it, I specifically wrote down a message for people to STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT halfway through, so as not to give anything away. That's absurd, especially for a popular movie that's over fifty years old, but actually Hitchcock thought the same way, insisting that nobody be let into the movie after the film began. That seems like a ridiculous thought now, but movie theaters were often a place where people came-and-went as the film continued on before then; it actually was a big game changer for theater to promote and stick to screening times like that. One of Hitchcock’s and “Psycho”’s many innovations.

"78/52..." won't teach anything new necessarily for those familiar. It gives us some behind the scenes ideas, and we also hear about, say the famous shots that were cut from the censorship although were later essentially added back on by Gus Van Sant's shot-by-shot remake. His is often the most derided remake, and probably for good reason, but he's far from the only person to parody and recontextualize and reimagine the famous the famous scene. It basically started way too many of the modern tropes that we think of as the modern thriller/horror genre. Hitchcock had long dealt with that genre of course, but never in such shocking and graphic terms. The main character getting killed off, and in such a shocking way, in a scene that's both private and intimate as a bathroom, and during an event as titlating as a beautiful movie star taking a shower. "78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene" biggest strength is how it contextualized the scene for those who perhaps have just become immune to the scene's/movie's power in it's original context. Even Jamie Lee Curtis of all people has done an homage parody on "Scream Queens", something that she generally avoided over most of her career, fearing any comparison to her mother's most famous scene.

Other than that though, it's fair to wonder what the hell some of the talking heads in this documentary are even doing here, other than just expanding the runtime. This movie's probably a little too long, and might be better as a instructual short that might be aired after a screening of "Psycho" an Intro to Film class somewhere. Other than that though, the movie's basically cinematic cotton candy, it's airy, it's light, it's full of sweet sugary sweetness and we want more of it. Of course, it's a recommendation, it's a movie about Hitchcock's most famous scenes and people talking, analyzing and discussing it. Like I said, I wish ever thought ahead enough to film conversations I had like this.