Anyway, I've got plans for some blogs coming up and I am finally catching up on some things I'm behind on currently, and if planned well, those will be posted soon enough and on a somewhat regular schedule as well. Let's get through the reviews this week though!
THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD (2019) Director: Peter Jackson
I hate to speak ill of those who have since passed and many of my friends and classmates have a much different perspective on him, but I hated Mr. Maestas's 10th Grade World History Class. He was a great guy and I love World History btw, I won my Graduating Class Award for Outstanding Achievement in Social Studies, but without going into too many details, I hated how he taught the class; by the end of the year, we had a month of school left and we were still in like, Ancient Rome or The Renaissance or something we should’ve finished months earlier than we did, and I even complained about it to him at one point. (Yes, I’m the kid in class who literally complained to the teacher that we weren’t learning enough. I’m sure this piece of information explains a lot about me.) However, eventually he did skip ahead and in the last weeks of the school year, he showed this wonderful History Channel documentary series about World War II. The big thing with this particular one, and I have to look up the name of it, was that, the footage was all original color footage of the Nazis and the War, which was pretty unique actually. (It's called "World War II in Colour" for those curious.) Color film was generally still a rarity at that point in history, and seeing Hitler and, well-, the graphic depictions and the frankly surprisingly vibrant looks of Germany and Europe around that time was really striking. In fact, I think secretly it’s one of the reasons I consider Wim Wenders’s “Wings of Desire” to be one of my all-time favorite movies; the way that film depicts a pre-Wall going down Berlin in black and white and then slides into color to really show just how beautiful and colorful the city was/is; a reminder of what the real Germany actually looks like, and not simply the black and white depictions of the footage that we mostly recall that war looking like.
The director of “They Shall Not Go Home” interestingly enough was Peter Jackson, a man who I’m made no bones about not particularly liking most of his movies over the years, and yes, I consider this by far his best film, but he does actually make a strange bit of sense as a director. He’s somebody who’s always been on the cutting edge and experimental with his use of testing the boundaries of cinema traditions and acceptances. He got a lot of criticism from his “Hobbit” movies for some of these ideas, shooting in a different frame format and digital characters that looked somewhat noticeably unreal, even to me as someone who genuinely doesn’t find much to hit my so-called uncanny valley point, but at least he trying and being different and experimental and with a major blockbuster series as well, and to be fair, it was the second time he did that. This is him testing those boundaries on footage, not to create new ideas but to bring the old back to life in a new way; an attempt to document what happened in a way that the time period couldn’t before. Much credit to the editing team of “They Shall Not Grow Old”, this had to be a very time-consuming and complex passion project, and it was for Peter Jackson. While, yes, New Zealand actually was apart of World War I, some might be surprised to find that out, (Myself included) but Jackson’s grandfather was apart of one of the Welsh infantries as well.
APOLLO 11 (2019) Director: Todd Douglas Miller
This past January was the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. It is undoubtably the greatest achievement of humans in the 20th Century, and I will hear no bullshit about it being staged or some other nutjob conspiracy claim some idiots want to make. I hate that I feel I have to bring that up every time something like this documentary comes out but, it’s amazing what crap seeps peoples’ minds and stays there sometimes. Besides “Apollo 11”, should be enough convincing evidence for any so-called skeptic. The movie documents the entire from the perspective of NASA, edited together from newly-found 65mm footage and audio recording, the movie takes us from Cape Canaveral to the launch, to the Mission Control in Houston, and even inside the spaceship as the astronauts themselves record and document the journey, at times recording some of the most spectacular views of our Moon, or Solar System, of them and of us on Earth ever imagined, and eventually, all the way back to Earth.
MARY POPPINS RETURNS (2018) Director: Rob Marshall
(Sigh) Well, I never thought this particular one would come up, but here we go: Welcome to another episode of “David Explains Why He Didn’t Like Something Wildly Popular and Beloved That Now Has a Sequel, Remake or Re-Imagining”. I know, the title needs work, and yes, I seem to be writing a lot of reviews like this lately, and I hate that this is another one, but, I never really got the appeal “Mary Poppins” that much. Like, even as a kid; I knew I felt like I was supposed to like it and appreciate it, and how important it is. It was the only feature film that earned Walt Disney a Best Picture nomination; it infamously won the Best Actress Oscar for Julie Andrews after she had been rejected for Eliza Dolittle in “My Fair Lady”, the role she originated on Broadway and was replaced by Audrey Hepburn who didn’t even get nominated for her performance. And it was a legendary film, an accomplishment for mixed media as it combined animation with live-action as seamlessly as had ever been done before, and as a musical I always loved the songs and dance numbers from the film. “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in particularly held a great part of my childhood, a part that’s often stuck with me in my subconscious over the years.
COLD WAR (2018) Director: Pawel Pawlikowska
I seem to be the last holdover who has chosen not to jump onto the Pawel Pawlikowski bandwagon. It’s not the first time, and certainly not the last I suspect I'll be against the crowd, but-eh, I just-, I just don’t get this guy. Even this movie, “Cold War” which is easily my favorite of his films, it leaves me cold at times as it tells a tale of star-crossed musicians who are irrevocably cursed by circumstance and geography. This makes sense, Pawlikowski is Polish by way of France and England, and well-, of all Poland has been cursed by it’s location. This time, he looks not just at Poland, but of Europe in general from the late ‘40s to the mid ‘60s. In her positive review of the movie, Manohla Dargis makes an observation that I think spells out my issue with him. She writes: “Pawlikowska has idea he wants you to chew over but at times, his narrative brevity can make the story feel as it’s stopping before it’s begun.”
NEVER LOOK AWAY (2018) Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
I guess it was inevitable that Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck would inevitably make a World War II movie, and that it was also inevitable that his, would be a little bit different from others. Henckel von Donnersmarck is the great director behind “The Lives of Others”, the movie that won the Foreign Language Oscar about the horrors of living in East Germany during the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s been twelve years between German films for the native of the country, with only a minor forgettable American film entry, “The Tourist” to his credit since. He’s actually quite a Western-style filmmaker in approach, and a classic one at that; I was actually surprised he didn’t pan out in America. He was educated in England and he easily could’ve fit in here if he wanted to. That said, I think the secret to his work might be not in what his influences are, but in what he studied at Oxford. While it’s easy to make jokes about philosophy majors, it’s the one major Liberal Arts people like me have a slight edge on, credibility-wise, but I do think he finds interesting stories to tell because of this slant. “The Lives of Others” was all about a man whose philosophy and morals were being challenged as he was listening in on conversations of people who he was told were subversives to the regime, but found much more inspiration in their lives than his.
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018) Director: Marc Forster
MIRAI (2018) Director: Momoru Hosoda
So, for a while as I was watching “Mirai” I didn’t know how to react to it.
THE OLD MAN & THE GUN (2018) Director: David Lowery
I guess I should confess something here that perhaps might be a little controversial to say, but I’ve actually been thinking about it lately, so here it goes…- I- I have never really understood why people considered Robert Redford attractive. That’s been his thing for so long that it’s basically written into the mythology about him; that he’s always been this young, extremely handsome young man and that’s in turn made certain it sometimes dismissive about his acting ability. I guess it’s not a particularly unusual thing for a straight man to not care or consider another straight man attractive, but I’ve seen a good deal of his early work, and…- he’s good-looking I guess. (Shrugs) I don’t know, I just don’t get the image that I’ve seen and heard about him being this great heartthrob. I tend to see him as an actor, and honestly there are times where I wonder if that’s not overrated too. I know, this is ridiculous naval-gazing of an unburdened mind, but in recent years it’s been somewhat notable that he often got cast in leading roles for actors that he was probably too old for, still living off his “incredible” good looks. Hell, I’ve been hearing that since he did “The Natural”, where famously they really had to adjust the lighting severely to make him look as young as he was in that movie’s early scenes where he played a teenager, and that movie was thirty years ago. I’m sure it’s just me, I just-, I don’t know, whenever I think of the great handsome actors of Hollywood’s bygone eras, Redford’s name never really pops up in my mind; yet, his looks overtake everything else about him, image-wise. Perhaps he was and still is this good-looking and I’m just looking backwards with younger eyes and I see the movies and roles instead. He has spent the majority of his career fighting this image of him, and I guess since there are people like me who only buys the great looks thing as necessary conjecture, then it must’ve worked; I guess.
Actually, I’ve always compared him to some of the more Malick-esque southern gothic filmmakers like early David Gordon Green or Jeff Nichols, but now that I think about it, Lowery actually has a lot of Robert Redford, the director in him. Not that I want one, but if somebody wanted a remake of “A River Runs Through It”, I’d probably think of Lowery. He likes long nostalgic, elegiac takes on people, places and land. But, like Redford who’s inconsistent as a director, he proves he’s capable of something more streamlined and quick-paced narratively. (I always thought Redford’s best directorial work was “Quiz Show”.)
DIVIDE AND CONQUER: THE STORY OF ROGER AILES (2018) Director: Alexis Bloom
Well, here’s one film I’d been avoiding. My thought going into “Divide and Conquer…”, were mostly of dread. I mean, did I need a movie about Roger Ailes, absolutely not. There is literally nothing I can learn about him that I really don’t know already, and I, and I assume most of you, know quite a bit more about Ailes than we frankly ever should’ve. I was thinking about any other television network pioneer I could watch a movie about their life. Pat Weaver? Dick Ebersol? Hell, I’d watching a glowing tribute to Les Moonves than watch anything good or bad, about Ailes, and as the creator of Fox News, it’s all bad. But, I got startled by the first talking head I saw. “It’s easy to make somebody into a monster; it’s hard to see, that you’re on that path too,” one of the last people in the world I’d expect to make such a statement says as he leans intently into the camera.
A PRIVATE WAR (2018) Director: Matthew Heineman
Director Matthew Heineman is a war documentary filmmaker and a damn good one at that.. He’s made some important and amazing films over the years, most recently “City of Ghosts”. I guess that means it’s no surprise that his first non-documentary feature film would be about someone who’s in pretty much the same field, the famous war journalist the late Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), but boy do I wish it wasn’t. Not that it’s bad or anything, but man, for somebody who makes serious films, I really wish he would’ve taken the time to, when making his feature with actors, make something that was, I don’t know, a little lighter; something that’s not so heavy. I mean, it could still be about documenting war,- okay, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” kinda already took that comedy mantle for the subject matter, but (Sigh), I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.
MANDY (2018) Director: Panos Cosmatos
Well, it’s a Friday night; I gotta a busy day tomorrow. I think I’m just gonna watch the next movie, write a quick review and then get some rest for the morning.
SAY HER NAME: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SANDRA BLAND (2018) Directors: Kate Davis & David Hellbroner
A few weeks ago, video taken from Sandra Bland's cell phone of her arrest in Hempstead, Texas on July 10th, 2015, was finally released publicly. The timing of that being released and me watching the HBO documentary on her, “Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland” is purely coincidental; it happened to be next on my watchlist, but I couldn’t help but to think about it. For those who aren’t aware of the story, Bland was a vibrant African-American 28-year-old young woman who was traveling down to visit her family in Texas from Chicago, when she was arrested. Three days later, she was found dead of an apparent suicide in her jailcell. The death was immediately perceived as questionable and that was before bystander footage of her arrest, where she is heard screaming from underneath a male cop on the side of the road, complaining that her arm is hurt, she can’t move, and that he had slammed her head into the ground.
WE THE ANIMALS (2018) Director: Jeremiah Zagar
I think I’m officially tired of these movies. This very particular kind of,- well, I presume Children’s Lit, since “We the Animals” is based on a novel, but maybe it’s not, but this form of narrative where the trouble young kids escape their real world troubles by seeping into their alternative or fantasy lives inside their own head. I mean, there’s versions of this that definitely work, but at this point, I’m starting to think that these personal fantasy worlds the kids escape into are just excuses to tell a really depressing and tragic story, but about/for kids. I mean, there’s a place for that, but- like look at “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”, first of all her fictional world is a comic book she’s creating, she also talks into a recorder, and her real world is definitely full of people she shouldn’t have in her life and all-in-all she’s got a pretty lousy upbringing and coming-of-age. Yet, somehow you never feel it. She’s active, maybe active doing stupid shit, but she’s trying to get out and escape in both her worlds and trying to manipulate them both to her advantage. It’s inspiring, despite everything that happens to her, and both worlds are intriguing to explore.
At first, Jonah gets along well with his two older brothers, Joel and Manny (Josiah Gabriel and Isiaih Kristian) but as they grow older, they begin to leave Jonah behind emotionally, or at least it seems that way. The way I understand that I supposed to read this, is that, and forgive me, I’m not familiar with the book it’s based on, but the thing we’re support to get through the insinuation, is that while Jonah is still, emotionally nine, as his mother declared, and also more emotional and maternal, the two brothers begin developing the unpredictable and often volatile nature of their father.
THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017) Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
My first thought is the “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” could be an alternative title for “Princess Mononoke”. (Shrugs) Alright, obscure joke aside, for some reason, I’m only now getting to Yorgos Lanthimos’s second English-language film, which he made after “The Lobster” and before his most recent masterpiece, “The Favourite”. His films are uniquely distinctive in their wry look inside their own very particular world, and his strange yet subversive approach to the little locked-in secret corners of those worlds that they encompass. His breakthough film “Dogtooth” saw a family that went to such extremes to block their children from the outside world, they created a disturbing little world of their own, with different rules, conventions, ideas, even attempts at creating their own language from the conventional outside world they were forbidden to see and lied to about what’s beyond their house. “The Lobster” took place in a sci-fi future where humans had to mate at a certain point, or they would be forced to turn into an animal of their choosing. Those two films said a great deal about their subliminal subjects, the horrors of extreme and forced introverted behavior, and there’s probably about dozens of other things in “Dogtooth” that I can barely follow, and “The Lobster” actually has a great deal to say about love, particular out most hidden and latent fears of it in our modern world; how it comes about, why, and what happens when it comes unexpectedly, how it’s often forced upon us in society and what happens when society interferes with it. Oddly, I think “The Favourite” as wonderful as it is, probably has the least amount to say, even though like those movies, it’s world is firmly set in the universe of the Royal Family, and talk about a forced, insular world where those in power can make, break and change the rules whenever the need or feeling arises. As much as I love, it’s almost so perfect as a historical satire of the Royals, that I almost feel like it’s too obvious for Lanthimos; a rare perfect combination of subject matter and filmmaker we hadn’t seen since Tim Burton directed “Sweeney Todd…”.
Despite all this though, I think it’s his lesser known movie, “Alps” that works as sort of a key here. Unlike the other movies, this one does take place, presumably, in a normal enough universe and follows a rhythmic gymnast who takes a secondary job, inside it’s own strange world, in this case, she is a death surrogate, who acts as a recently deceased loved one for those who are still struggling getting through the grieving process after the death of their loved ones. Oddly enough, it’s probably his most conventional film, because we don’t jump into a world we don’t know and have to catch up, we’re following a character, who herself jumps into a strange universe and has to maneuver herself through it.
T2: TRAINSPOTTING (2017) Director; Danny Boyle
It’s been 20 years since Danny Boyle broke onto the world scene with his ambitious debut “Trainspotting”. The film has become a cult classic in the waning years and Boyle has evolved into one of the biggest directors on both sides of the pond, inevitably winning an Oscar for his masterpiece, “Slumdog Millionaire” among other great and eclectic films that have fixed his resume. He’s one of the few great directors who seems willing to jump into nearly any genre and make it his own. He’s not immune to sequels, but this is still a weird choice for him, despite the film’s popularity and prestige, “Trainspotting” was very much of it’s time. Granted, there’ve been filmmakers ever since who’ve been struggling to copy it’s style and spirit but it’s characters of eccentric junkies and associates that form a makeshift family as they meander through their gangster circles around the underbelly of Edinburgh, Scotland, is still really of it’s time. That late ‘90s period of irony and rejection of the traditional, expected and of the authoritative society that was represented through their characters, is really a distinctive nineties era trait and frankly, while looking in on these characters twenty years later might be interesting in of it’s own right, I do worry about returning to rebellious frame of mind. Would that even be something that these characters could do now that they’re no longer teens and barely 20somethings, and are now a bunch of forty-year olds?
THE INCREDIBLE JESSICA JAMES (2017) Director: James C. Strouse
Trying to dissect “The Incredible Jessica James” is actually much more difficult than I ever expected. For one thing, I’m trying to even figure out if I’m even allowed to, or should dissect it. I’ve been a little touch-and-go and loose on the rules about streaming movies, movies that are released not in theaters but online an internet platform, are they actually feature films...? Like, this movie debuted at Sundance but then got picked up by Netflix, so I don’t know how to rank this one exactly. Last Movie Reviews blogpost, I wrote a review of “My Happy Family” a Georgian film that was a big hit overseas but it didn’t get an American theatrical release, but I thought that was too major to ignore. I also saw a movie that debuted on Netflix in the same year that I didn’t write a review on, “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore”. Now, I didn’t hate that movie or anything, in fact I would’ve given it a nice 3 STARS review, but I had a hard time determining that it was a movie worth writing about, that I had to write about but that movie also had the same resume as "The Incredible Jessica James"; debuted at Sundance, got picked up by Netflix; it actually did better with awards than “...Jessica James”, picking up wins and acclaim from several film festivals while this movie basically only got attention from the Black Reel Awards. It is getting really difficult to determine whether or not a movie is a movie anymore.
DAVE MADE A MAZE (2017) Director: Bill Watterson
So, this guy with the same first name as me, Dave (Nick Thune) builds an elaborate maze made out of cardboard and whatever else he finds around the house, in the middle of his living room. His girlfriend, Annie (Meera Rohit Kombani) comes home from to find him, lost inside the maze. Already, I have questions, beginning with, how in the fuck did this guy get a girlfriend? This adult who builds, well-, it says fort on the Netflix jacket, but it’s more like a labyrinth in the “Willy Wonka..” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Doctor Who” sense where things are bigger than they seem on the inside than they should be...- Honestly, I never understood building a fort even as a kid? Who the hell wants a fort? And why? I understand building a separate little space for yourself but, a fort? Forts are like-, they’re like stops along a trail where come to trade items and buy food and ammo, and usually the army runs them-, it’s not even the right word. I get building a maze a little bit more, you can sell tickets for people to go through it, and it’s a good place to hide a dead Jack Nicholson if you have to, but still…. In his living room, he got trapped in a maze that he built out of cardboard, and he had a girlfriend!!!! And he’s an adult!!!!