Anyway, I've been busy and I've been watching a lot of movies. I've also been hanging around the Hard Rock Hotel in Vegas a bit lately; they're closing down soon for renovations now that Virgin has bought it out and I don't think it's gonna go back to being the Hard Rock as it is now. If you get a chance, you should go and visit it, it's one of the few cool places in Vegas that tourists and locals like and it's also like Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame museum. The history there is absolutely worth the visit.
Anyway, let's get to the reviews, we got a lot!
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (2019) Director: F. Gary Gray
STYX (2019) Director: Wolfgang Fischler
Famously, Samuel Mudd was hung for treason for splinting up a leg of an injured man. That injured man was John Wilkes Booth and he had just killed President Abraham Lincoln, but Mudd was a doctor. In this country, at least it used to be before HMOs and everything else that completely fucked up our health care system, doctors saw someone injured, it was their duty to help them, no matter what. “Styx”, essentially has the same parable at the center of it’s core; what if you’re required to help those who are injured, but things could be worst if they do.
I recalled liking the original “Deadpool” quite a bit when it first came out. It was different and refreshing, especially from a Marvel movie, it clearly stood out. Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) the cancer-ridden mutant vigilante who can’t die, a mutant who was a mutant by force instead of by nature, a rarity in the X-Men universe, was funny, sharp, strange and did better than most when it comes to satirizing and circumventing the conventions of the superhero genre. It was the same kind of blast of pop culture euphoria I felt when the first “Shrek” movie hit. Some might argue that “Shrek”, especially after a few sequels, lost that insouciant touch. I can’t necessarily disagree with that regarding “Shrek” and I fear the same thing will happen if “Deadpool” continues on any longer then this film, but that said, I still enjoyed it.
He does try to befriend a trouble young mutant named Firefist (Julian Dennison) who’s life is under threat by a time traveling missionary named Cable (Josh Brolin does his best John Cena, wait-, or is it John Cena doing his best Josh Brolin? I really couldn’t tell for most of the film.). Deadpool decides to form a makeshift family he calls the X-Force, because he doesn’t like how sexist “X-Men” is, out of some rejected or otherwise untrained mutants. The only big one that comes out of this group surviving is Domino (Zazie Beets) who’s mutant power, and I’m not making this up, is that she’s, well, lucky.
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (2018) Director: Peyton Reed
Okay, first things first, I’m sticking with my, “Knock half-a-star off for a stupid post-credits scene thing here, although if I’m being completely honest, I’m not sure I could assess “Ant-Man and the Wasp” accurately if I wanted to now that I’ve gotten to “Avengers: Endgame” and yes, I will be talking about that movie more in the future, but yeah, whatever interest or passion I used to once have in the MCU, which was minimal to start with, it’s basically gone. Just to recap, I did like the first “Ant-Man” fine, not thinking much of it as anything special, and I think I kinda just feel the same way with this one. If “Deadpool” is the raunchy R-rated comedy of the Marvel Universe, this is the TGIF sitcom of the universe. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that something that, at times is funny, but, disposable, forgettable.
In this one, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is still Ant-Man, working for Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) when needed for his studies on quantum molecules, or something like that, but is also still on house arrest and is constantly quarreling with agent Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). However, Pym and his daughter, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who has her own suit and costume, have decided to seek out some old plans and try to find their long last mother, the original Wasp, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), who got lost in the depths of the quantum realm years earlier. I think,-, I got lost in the quantum mechanics lingo in these movies. Basically, years ago, she got shrunk to such a small level in order to penetrate a runaway rocket and block the explosion device from the inside that they thought it wasn’t possible to go and find her afterwards, but now that Lang has pulled it off, they’re determined to try and find her. I’m amazed they think she survived thirty years in that, but Ant-Man in particular likes to handcuff science to a wall clobber it repeatedly with a billy club.
Oh boy. I was already a bit iffy going into “Creed II”, well, for a few reasons. One being that Ryan Coogler is no longer writing and directing, and even more suspect is that Sylvester Stallone has gone back into his screenwriter cap for this one, and knowing already that we were going into, admittedly interesting, obvious and bizarrely timely-once-again, territory with him going back into the Ivan Drago (Drago Lundgren) being one of the villains in this film, and already a few minutes, it’s mentioned that Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) is fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world. Which, is a bit weird considering that I swore he was a middleweight last movie. Well, he might’ve been a Light Heavyweight,- (Okay, confirmed, light heavyweight) but he wasn’t a heavyweight. I mean, it’s not unprecedented for a great fighter to go up in weight class for the heavyweight title, (Heavyweight means no weight requirements btw.) but light heavyweight to heavyweight in this day and age, maybe? I believe that last happened when Roy Jones, Jr. beat Chris Byrd, but even that was like twenty years ago now, and Chris Byrd was light for a heavyweight champ at that point who often threatened to go back down to cruiserweight.
Adonis also apparently has youth on his side in winning the Heavyweight Title, which sounds weird ‘cause I’m pretty sure he was thirty in the last movie, which is pretty old for a young boxer, and it’s seven fights later. I mean, granted the Klitschko Brothers shared those heavyweight titles until well into their forties, but-um,- I’m starting to wonder if these filmmakers even watched “Creed” to be honest. I was hoping that this wouldn’t be “Creed II: Rocky IV Part II," but-eh….
Actually, why don’t we talk about “Rocky IV” for a second. Now, having had most of my family from the South Philly/South Jersey area, “Rocky” has an important place in my heart and mind. The whole franchise I’ve seen several times, and the first one in particular is one of my all-time favorite films. It’s not, “favorite” necessarily, it’s almost ingrained in my DNA; the story of Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is just there with me. It’s beyond just a personal preference. I get the same feeling when I hear “Born to Run” on the radio, or I eat a good Philly Cheesesteak, it’s just something that apart of me. That said, “Rocky IV” is the worst of the films. I know, some people think “Rocky V” is worst, um…- yeah, I gotta disagree there; I liked “Rocky V” fine, but “Rocky IV” is just goofy. I’ve seen all the movies, including “Creed” dozens of times now, but “Rocky IV”, is the one where I genuinely just stop believing he can actually win those fights. Also no fight can ever be that ridiculously violent and have both men survive. The thing is, it’s still a beloved cult classic and people still watch it in the franchise and mostly enjoyably watch it, and that’s because that while it’s not a good movie, it isn’t a bad story. You take out the dopey bits and the “America, Fuck Yeah!” ‘80sness of the narrative, the idea that a foreign, roided up monster would kill Apollo Creed, Rocky’s former rival-turned-best friend, enticing Rocky to come out of a long retirement, for no money, to defend his friend’s honor on his own soil; that’s actually quite a good narrative. “Rocky IV”’s failure has always been mainly in it’s execution; that’s why even the lesser of these movies have hung around as long as they have, the stories are good; it’s the storytelling that’s sometimes been iffy, and boy was it iffy with that one.
At least in this one, Ivan Drago has a little more dialogue and he talks a little more like a human these days, when he’s allowed to, which still takes like 20+ minutes into the movie, after he’d already been in four of five scenes. (Oh yeah, um, the reason that Drago was so mute in “Rocky IV” wasn’t to make him more menacing, it was because Stallone was dating Bridgette Nielsen at the time, so she got the dialogue instead of him. Not that Dolph Lundgren is the greatest linguist or anything, but you know, neither is Stallone, so….) His son Viktor (Florian “Big Nasty” Montanieu) has a little more dialogue, but most of the movie was just as quiet. I prefer this movie’s Ivan Drago. He seems like the aged old muscular but knowledgeable retired Russian athlete that I’d expect from him, perhaps even moreso, plus he seems to have gotten more emotional levels than he had before. His son however is Ukrainian which was confusing the hell out of me for a bit; in fact the movie’s geopolitical standing in the movie’s universe is actually a wee bit bizarre to be honest. Let’s just say that I don’t think Ivan is as political as those Khlitchkos are.
BLOCKERS (2018) Director: Kay Cannon
I think I’ve mentioned before that I, and most of my high school graduation class, really didn’t do the Prom thing. And I do specifically mean my graduating class, ‘cause I don’t think it spread to the year before or two or the year after or two; I don’t know what it was exactly but my class in particular had, and still has to some degree, has a real rebellious streak in it when it comes to participating in certain obligatory rituals. Hell, our ten year reunion event actually had a rebellion that included somebody setting up an alternative ten-year reunion gathering, for those who didn’t want to go to the supposed main reunion that was set up but still wanted to catch up. I’ve never regretted missing the Prom the way some in my family have said that they regretted missing their own, perhaps if it was as elaborately put together an event like the ones set up in most of the movies I see about it, including “Blockers”, and if I went to a high school that was more culturally rich, so much so that it would make going to an event like a prom seem more rewarding, I might feel differently about that.
BEN IS BACK (2018) Director: Peter Hedges
There’s a lot of movies about addicts. About being an addict, about being on whatever they’re addicted to, about trying to get sober from their addictions, about being in the throes of their addictions, etc. etc., and there’s also quite a few movies out there about addicts coming back home after “recovering” from their addictions, usually after rehab. “Ben is Back” is one of the latter, and those I feel are fairly difficult to make. Conceptually, they’re a challenge, the main conflict in most of them, is character vs. self, it’s a battle of their inner demons, the external enemies to that conflict however, the society and world at large, or their personal familiar world, act not as antagonist, but as stimuli that the main character must overcome or survive. Of course, being an addict, especially after being so severely addicted that you were sent away because of it, to get clean, means that you probably hurt a lot of people, particularly those closest to you. So that stimuli that might’ve seemed innocuous before, it’s all become more and more potent ever since; there’s a reason it’s called, “triggering.”
WHITNEY (2018) Director: Kevin MacDonald
I’m sure there’s been several Whitney Houston biodocs made in the years prior to and following her passing. It’s noted that “Whitney”, Kevin McDonald’s latest music biodocumuentary, he had previously made “Marley”, which I absolutely loved among other great documentaries in recent years, was made in association of her estate. Says so right on the cover of the DVD, and I could’ve figured that just based on how he got so many of Houston’s family members and rights to her music, including her mother, legendary backup and gospel singer Cissy Houston to be interviewed for the film. That said, I’m not entirely certain that’s the greatest perspective I want, naturally they’re going to be more protective of her than not, but at least we’re told right away from a bias perspective.
One of the interviewees explained that she believed Whitney was ultimately “Trying to find herself”, and that seems distressingly accurate. Somebody who gets pushed and trained into these idyllic images so much, especially when even at it’s earliest, it really was a false image,…- well, let’s put it this way. At one point it’s said that she would often go to see Michael Jackson, or he would go see her in her hotel room, and they wouldn’t say anything to each other, they would just hang out together quietly with each other. They didn’t say much to each other, they just knew what the other went through. Well, that’s a little disturbing considering some of Michael’s transgressions that I betcha Whitney wouldn’t have approved of, but I do understand their kinship however.
COLETTE (2018) Director: Wash Westmoreland
Hmm. So, as someone who’s been a ghost on occasion, “Colette” offers an intriguing question of what it actually means to be a writer.
AMERICAN ANIMALS (2018) Director: Bart Layton
“American Animals” has a somewhat interesting conceit where the movie tells it’s story both through actors and through testimony from people purported to be the “Actual” guys from the story they’re telling. I can think of a few movies that did something similar to this, most of those were documentaries of some kind and even then most of them, the focus was on the testimony of the real people and the sequences with the actors were more-or-less re-enaction sequences based around their testimony of events. The one that jumps to my mind most with that approach, at least in terms of similarity to “American Animals” are “The Road to Guantanamo” and “Touching the Void”. Director Bart Layton is also mostly familiar from the documentary genre, most notably, “The Imposter”, and yet, I don’t think either those are the right jumping off point for this film. They were all clearly documentaries. To me, the example that this film most reminds me of is “American Splendor”. Now, that was a biopic and a surreal dark comedy based on a famous collection of graphic novels and was even more unique and surreal is how it approached it’s subject, often with the real life people the movie was based on entering their own story a few different times, and interacting with the actors playing themselves. They don’t go that far, it’s mostly a typical movie involving the real life people, as well as a few others, many I presume are actors, being the talking heads for what is clearly a regular movie. It’s basically just a heist movie.
BORG VS. MCENROE (2018) Director: Janus Metz
I’m smiling ‘cause I’ve been looking forward a bit to this one. And I dwelled upon this briefly recently when I reviewed “Battle of the Sexes”, but tennis used to be about a big a sport, especially worldwide as any of them. ’70s, ’80s, and I’d say even into the ‘90s, tennis was huge. The biggest names, the great personalities, epic athletic matches and struggles. I’d always mention that. It’s seems so long ago since on the women’s side, we’re only now starting to see some people upend Serena Williams once in a while,- but like her two decades run, and the men’s side has basically had the same three men owning the sport for about the same time, while that does lead to some really great, epic matches at times, (I’ve seen some five set matches last for five or six hours, men’s tennis especially at like the Grand Slams can just be as grueling and brutal, as they are awe-inspiring.) but it’s clearly not the same. I’m not entirely why Federer vs. Nadal doesn’t have even half the appeal to me as Sampras vs. Agassi would in my younger days, despite both Roger and Rafael being twice as great as Pete and Andre and lasted twice as long as both of them, but it does. (And it doesn’t help that on the women’s side, Venus vs. Serena usually led to an underwhelming blowout whenever they faced each other, and Serena seems to dominate which second or third name manages to peak up too. At least so far, I guess we’ll see if Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka pan out soon enough.) So, a movie about Bjorn Borg (Sverrir Gednason) and John McEnroe (Shia Labeouf) in this day and age, two of the greatest, most contrasting of rivals, personalities and talents, back in the days when tennis was must see TV all over the world, especially the Grand Slams? Call me at least curious and interested to see how this movie gets done, and even if it sucks, at least it’ll be a nice look back onto a bygone era of sports that I only caught the tail end of and can’t wait to look back and revisit.
A SIMPLE FAVOR (2018) Director: Paul Feig
Simply put, Anna Kendrick is one of our country’s greatest actors. I am always amazed and startled at just how wide her range is. She seems to effortlessly slip into any otherwise innocuous role and suddenly, with a look or a flutter or her eyes, she becomes whoever that character is, whether it’s drama, comedy, musical, action, period piece, big budget blockbuster, the tiniest of mumblecore indy,… I am convinced that there is no role that she couldn’t pull off. At this rate, if I were casting a movie, I’d just hand her a script, tell her to read through and pick the role she wants.
Paul Feig’s latest comedy “A Simple Favor” is another such example of Kendrick’s extremely underrated talents. Feig’s an interesting director; his comedies are continuous moneymakers and he’s clearly talented and adept as a filmmaker. Compared to say, someone like Adam McKay who clearly has a vision and intent with his films, I think it’s a little trickier to determine Feig’s perspective; he’s a studio director and not always a distinctive but I’m starting to see a small pattern of his work. “Spy” was a spy comedy, and that one he did with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy that I can’t remember the name of, that was a buddy cop comedy, and several other films of his are simply comedic twists on Hollywood film genres and conventions. Kinda like the Zucker, Abrams Zucker team used to be. So what’s “A Simple Favor” parodying? Well, it’s based on a novel, so it’s not entirely an original idea of his, but it definitely fits with this vision of his as it’s, essentially, a comedic twist on “Gone Girl”. Gotta admit, I never really thought about that, but I’m open to it. Well, one of those erotic missing girl thrillers, “The Girl On the Train” perhaps. Hell, characters even regularly mention some of the progenerate films of the genre, like “Gaslight” and “Les Diabolique”.
KUSAMA: INFINITY (2018) Director: Heather Lenz
I must confess that I’m going a bit blind into this one as I am not particularly familiar with Yayoi Kusama, the great Japanese artist. I’ve had that issue a lot lately with documentaries regarding important historical female figures, I’ve noticed; probably not so much coincidence as it is, just the fact that so rarely are the major female figures given as much press and notoriety and recognition as their male counterparts. It doesn’t help that Kusama is also Japanese either in that regard, but that I’m still kinda surprised that I’m not more familiar with her. She began as a painter who eventually expanded into sculpture and then stretched herself to more avant-garde and surrealist work. It’s rare to see somebody who was directly inspired by both Georgia O’Keefe and Claus Olderburg to begin with, much less one that was often on the same equal contemporary pedestal with Andy Warhol.
MONSTERS AND MEN (2018) Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
I run into a movie like “Monsters and Men” on occasion. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s caught up in itself by trying to say one-two many things at once. It’s more essay that film, and that’s necessarily a bad thing. I could argue for instance that most of Michael Moore’s movies are basically just long essays, but that’s somewhat expected out of documentaries, when you’re doing it with a feature film, it can be done, but it’s a lot more complicated. “Monsters and Men”’s most noted film inspiration did it well, Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing”, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Director Reinaldo Marcus Green’s more direct inspiration might be, say one of David Simon’s TV shows, like “The Wire.. Instead of Red Hook, or inner-city Baltimore, this film takes place in Bedstuy, New York, but like “Do the Right Thing” involves the death of a popular face of the local African-American neighborhood by the police. Big D or Darius (Samel Edwards) worked a local corner for years and yes, he sold drugs, but he also gave everybody a dollar if asked, and was nice to nearly everyone around, and it wasn’t just drugs they hooked them up with. He’s a staple of a neighborhood, and after an apparent complaint, he’s killed by a dirty cop named Scala (Steve Cirbus). He claims that Darius went to grab his gun, which would not be a reason to shoot him, but it also wasn’t what happened, and the first protagonist of the film, Manny (Anthony Ramos) filmed the incident. Interestingly, he was told mainly by another cop to back up, not to stop filming, either way, despite recently getting a good job as a lobby receptionist at a building, he is soon arrested, purportedly for giving a gun to a teenager.
You ever watch one of those movies where you know something’s just a little bit off, but you can’t completely tell what it is? “Outside In” feels like one of these movies to me. It’s got great, talented people involved, it’s not a terrible narrative, it’s told pretty well; it has some good back-and-forth levels of conflicts, etc. etc., but somehow, Lynn Shelton’s latest just doesn’t seem as powerful as it probably should.
BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) (2017) Director: Robin Campillo
The first fifteen minutes of “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” takes place in a meeting of ACT UP Paris. ACT UP was an AIDS-advocacy group founded in New York during the late ‘80s as it attempted to struggle to get awareness and knowledge out for the AIDS-epidemic; if you want to learn more about that movement, as well as the entire history of the fight for AIDS, I’d recommend seeking out the documentary “How to Survive a Plague”, that documentary chronicled the political fight and struggle that activist groups like ACT UP took in America, especially the New York City area, but I don’t really know much about similar struggles and histories therein of those struggles in Europe. I assume they’re similar enough to those that occurred in the U.S., and if that’s the case, the movie is believable. The group does things like protest at politicians and others who are against funding treatment and publicizing their plight, or the pharmaceutical companies who may or may not be hiding results for their trials to find a possible treatment or cure, or sometimes they bombard high school randomly and give the class a lesson on AIDS awareness complete with pamphlets and condoms among other things.
In those respects, it’s not that different and why would it be? I suspect many lovers and loved one met at rallies and meetings like ACT UP, especially since, where else where HIV Positive gay men find others. “BPM…” , tackles both these narrative, it shows the work and struggle and protest that these groups took to fight, literally for their lives at that point as population were dying fast at the time, and it’s also a love story set in this world. We get to know several of the activists actually as the many of them aren’t just arguing and debating themselves over the minutes of the weekly meetings about how to proceed with the next protest, but are mostly following Sean (Manuel Biscayne Perez), one of the founders of ACT UP and Nathan (Arnaud Valois) one of the few members who’s not HIV Positive, or Poz, as it’s said there.
In this alternate universe, Wayne Szalinski's Shrinking Machine actually works well and is accepted by a portion of the general public, after of course some minor mishaps involving their family including a giant baby destroying the iconic guitar outside the original Hard Rock Café.
So, in this world, a Norwegian scientist, Dr. Jacobsen (Soren Pilmark) has created these experimental UHCs and in the coming years, they’ve been spreading all over the world; there seems to be on in and around several major cities. This intrigues Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) and after much deliberation and a convincing timeshare-like presentation, they decide to collect their earnings and sell what they’re not taking and move into one of these UHCs, this one is called Leisureland, and is purportedly one of the best ones in the lot. Right at the time that they’re accepted however, Audrey chickens out and her and Paul end up divorced because of it. This force Paul to get a cheaper apartment in Leisureland and a part-time job to make some extra funds. He tries starting to date again, but it’s difficult out there finding companionship in the UHC, and it’s especially difficult considering his globe-traveling eccentric upstairs neighbor Dusan (Christoph Waltz) keeps the volume at his parties particularly loud.
However this movie, feels more like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” to me. There’s several problems with that movie, most of it I blame on Kathleen Kennedy, ‘cause she kept that disaster of a project alive for over a decade when she shouldn’t have, (And why the internet doesn't hate her for that instead of the who cares behind-the-scenes stuff with "Star Wars"; I will never understand) but the big problem is how they basically told a very traditional and simple story, but in a slightly unique and different world. Let’s face it, it was basically a remake of “Forrest Gump”, which (Shrugs) I guess that’s one way to adapt that story, although that short story should’ve never been adapted to begin with so, maybe do something they’re familiar with makes sense there, but again,- that movie’s a total disaster they shouldn't have made to begin with. “Downsizing”, isn’t that bad, but it easily could’ve been. In this case, it is a traditional narrative, although Payne & Taylor are creative enough to come up with a few interesting wrinkles. Yet, where exactly does it ultimately lead to? A guy goes from one life and one group of friends to another. I guess you can argue that, being small,- I mean, joining a UHC and almost joining an apocalypse cult, helped him see the error of his ways, or fall in love?
I’m stretching here. Like I said, there’s a traditional narrative where there shouldn’t be, because this wasn’t a story; it’s a thought experiment that they shaped into a story. What would happen if…, da-da-da, da-da-da, happened? In a world where Richard Linklater wrote “Betrayal” and Harold Pinter created The Before Trilogy, would the blue men in “Avatar” actually be green? Discuss. It’s one of those nonsensical questions, that’s fun to think about on lazy Saturday night over coffee, marijuana, a Philip K. Dick novel book on CD and a lava lamp, but does it actually have a purpose? It feels like whatever point “Downsizing” was supposed to make about, the environment, society, climate change, etc., all of it got lost in this narrative idea and the struggle to kick out of it was just too much. I guess on some level, I can admire the attempt, but this really is a disappointing failure, especially considering who’s involved.
TWENTY TWO (2017) Director: Ke Guo
Every time I think that we’re eventually gonna run out of stories to tell about World War II, something like “Twenty Two” comes along and violently shakes that diluted thought out of me. But, holy hell, how did I never hear about this? In fact, normally, in most history books, China is curiously absent from World War II in general; I guess I just presumed they weren’t involved, but that’s just not true. In fact, they were heavily involved. Like fourteen million dead, involved! A major ally to the U.S. and U.K. and fought alongside the U.S.S.R. on occasion to combat Japan. They actually first joined the war after Pearl Harbor, after the U.S., and while they weren’t capable of winning the war in the East over Japan at that time, alone, they held off a Japanese insurgence long enough for the West to eventually come in and overwhelm Japan from both sides of their island.
“Mean Dreams” marks one of the final film appearances of the late great Bill Paxton. By all accounts, he was one of the most beloved and nicest guys to ever work in Hollywood, and he wasn’t just an actor either. He clawed his way up working on several positions before getting regular roles, and he even directed a great thriller in “Frailty”, a film that still holds up. Oddly, while most think of “Aliens” in regard to him, my initial instinct is to think of “Big Love” the HBO series that he starred in as a devout Mormon who practiced polygamy and had escaped from one of the major polygamist cult sects of the LDS church. I’m not gonna pretend that series is perfect, season four is a big, “What-the-hell-were-they-thinking there?” moment, but I think it’s an underrated show and he was amazing in the role.
There is no good scenario that involves finding a lot of money. Finding a little money, randomly lying around somewhere, on the street or in a parking lot, floating away or something like that, that’s usually fine. Lucky even. Not too much harm will come from finding a few dollars here or there. Finding, a lot of money though, stacks of money, a considerable amount, there’s nothing good that happens there. Frankly, and this will sound, counter-intuitive, but the truly best scenario is to turn the money in, and even that option, obviously sucks. It’d be nice to keep it of course, but that kind of money, somebody will look for it, and therefore, looking for you, and if that’s the case, which is almost always will be, then, you won’t be able to spend the money anyway. Even putting it in a bank of some kind, would leave a trail, and would frankly raise several suspicions.
ALPHAGO (2017) Director; Greg Kohs
I tend to consider myself somewhat knowledgeable, even dare-I-say an expert on games. Not necessarily game theory, but as someone who's always had a fascination with games ranging from sports to casino to board games over the decades, I tend to play nearly everything short of role-playing D&D-type games, at least enough to learn about the general rules and some tendencies and strategies involved in potentially winning. Hell, just a few days ago, I pulled out a deck of cards,- (Yes, I often have a deck of cards on me...) and gave a curious friend of mine a quick two-minute lesson on how to play baccarat. The point I'm making is that, even as someone who prides himself on knowing the basic of the traditional and most beloved of basic games, even I stay away from playing Go.
Go is actually one of the oldest and most continuously played board games in the world. It's not a terribly difficult game, I would compared it to something like "Dots" or "Othello"; it's just two players putting white and black stones on a square board, the object is to obtain the most territory, and yet I don't even try to play it. Maybe I will later, but if anybody remember that scene from "A Beautiful Mind" where John Nash loses that game to his Princeton rival, and he declared that he played perfectly and that the game must be flawed, that game was "Go". The movie doesn't even show the part where Nash became so obsessed with how he lost that game that he tried to prove that he was right and essentially created the game Hex as a response to the somewhat randomness of Go.
You'd think that even with that kind of reputation, a computer playing "Go" at the level of a top professional or expert wouldn't be that difficult, right? I mean, how long has it been since Big Blue defeated Garry Kasparov, over twenty years? Or how about WATSON winning at "Jeopardy!" against Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings? That should be enough of an accomplishment, right?
Um, yeah, there's a reason I stay away from Go; Go is a hundred times more complicated and difficult than chess, with literally millions of possible and likely move scenarios that can be made. It can take years of just programming the computer to consider and teach a very high-tech computer to play this game and play it like a human might, and better. That computer, creative by a British-led team of Google DeepMind engineers based in Seoul, South Korea is is "AlphaGo," and they've got several challenges up ahead, with they hope will be the defining moment of their creation. They've got a five-game battle against Lee Sedol, the multiple-time World Champion at Go. "He's the Roger Federer of Go," it's explained to us. He shows up to play the masters and he wins, and this is his toughest challenge yet.
The documentary takes a look at the behind the scenes of the AlphaGo team as they prepare and during the much ballyhooed best of five match with Sedol they have upcoming. This is stuff I absolutely live for. I remember being captivated by WATSON winning on "Jeopardy!", and I love seeing this struggle between man and machine. "AlphaGo" actually goes farther by not simply looking into the process of how the mechanics that went into creating AlphaGo, but into this fascinating almost spiritual struggle that Lee Sedol goes through. Go was original a Chinese game and there is an eloquentness to it that may be described as zen-like, all the way down to the fact that it's just black and white stones. Lee is the best, but he's never played anybody this strong. When computers mastered chess, it changed the game forever, taking a cerebral game and turning it into a mathematical, analytical one. Ironically, something almost the opposite happens here, as "Go" turns into a game of human strategy, but the computer can analyze the game differently and make the more cerebral moves that a human player wouldn't normally make. This actually shocks and distresses Lee, but eventually, he adjusts and begins seeing the game differently as well.
Something similar happened on "Jeopardy!" recently with James Holzhauer, as he completely altered the way we think about how to play that game, and here, you see the greatest human in the game, getting his mind altered and his game improved by having to play a machine. And then seeing the human actually out-think and outwork the machine in response, 'causing it to start playing differently than it's supposed to as well. This stuff is fascinating and the documentary shows all this in real time. It's intellectually stimulating and fascinating and it's one of the most fun documentaries I've seen in a while. I can watch this again and again, and frankly it makes me want to actually try to learn and actually play Go. Well, maybe not that.
SPETTACOLO (2017) Director: Jeff Maimberg and Chris Shellen
In Tuscany, Italy, for the last fifty or so years, the town has put on a theatrical performance. Each year, the townsfolk get together, to write, act and perform in plays, where they play themselves and depict their lives. It’s become a long-standing tradition and “Spettacolo” is a documentary about the latest and potentially the last edition of this annual tradition. It’s become a famous tradition that’s received attention, praise and even tourists over the years to come and see the unique production. It didn’t start as a theatrical production for outsiders, it was a post-war local thing that eventually evolved over the years and it does look like a fun little tradition despite much of the modern day turmoil the production takes.
In fact, these days, it’s hard to even get many of the townspeople to participate. Getting together and putting on a show for your friends and family about your friends and family isn’t a purely Tuscan tradition, stuff like that happens anywhere and everywhere of course, but stuff like this also happened more often when there wasn’t much else to do in towns like Tuscany, so it was more common and easy to get people excited. Nowadays, it doesn’t have the same appeal, especially to the younger generations, so the event is essentially run by and celebrated by the older fogies in the town. It’s still a nice thing to observe, but I can also see why it’s a dying tradition.
The documentary, was for me, more informative than entertaining however. It’s a nice little local narrative but eh, it didn’t entirely appeal to me to be honest. It’s got a few nice moments between the townsfolk preparing for the show and building the set, and rebuilding the set, and some of the other trivial aspects of putting on a show,…. I can see how some would find it fascination, so I’m recommending the documentary, but I’ve seen some better and more interesting docs like that. The history and the idea of the townspeople starring and portraying themselves is a neat twist, and maybe another day, I’d find it more interesting, but admittedly I wasn’t entirely in the right mood for it. There’s nothing wrong with it thought. “Spettacolo” is a pleasant, nice little informative but light documentary and I think that’s all it was going for.