I guess there's a couple movies of interest that I'm not reviewing yet, one of them is the "Mindhorn" a popular comedy film in the UK about a former huge actor from like a really bad cheesy '80s, action-mystery series, like-a, think like "Magnum P.I." meets "The Six-Million-Dollar Man" but it takes place in one of those old broad British comedy country series like "Keeping Up Appearances" or "Last of the Summer Wine" world. Anyway, it's like thirty years later, his attempts to make it big in Hollywood failed gloriously and now a real crime spree is occurring and the mentally unstable suspect is insisting to talk to the fictional character he used to play. That's not a bad concept, and there's some funny jokes, but I can see why it didn't catch on with American audiences, even cult American audiences like say Steve Coogan's Alan Partridge seems to do, or "Absolutely Fabulous" seems to keep on doing despite that show's sell-by date being like, eh, fifteen years too late over here. I guess the American version of this would be "MacGruber", and I enjoyed that film fine when I watched it, but I've never given it another thought since, and I kinda have the same reaction to "Mindhorn". Also, the secret best version of this plot is the obscure TV pilot, "Lookwell" that starred Adam West as a former Jack Webb-type TV detective who decides to become an actual cop. It's hard to find, but seek that out; it was written by Robert Smigel and Conan O'Brien btw, worth the search.
I guess I saw one or two other things of note; I liked the documentary, "When Two Worlds Collide" about the fight in Peru to protect indiginuous parts of the rainforest being used for oil drilling. "A Family Affair" is a pretty interesting doc about the filmmaker looking into a distant, obscure relative that he has only known about at the fringes of family lore that he hasn't been talked about; it kinda has a Doug Block feeling about it. That said, this has been a bit of a mostly slow week of movies for me, which sounds like it's good for me but it means, I often don't have much to say positively or negatively much of the time, which is actually harder to write.
Anyway, let's get to the reviews!
US (2019) Director: Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele's, "Us" the most annoying movie for search engines since "It", is his follow-up to "Get Out" which I was utterly fascinated by. "Us", is another rare horror movie that I'm fascinated by. Mostly I'm fascinated by Jordan Peele, who's comedy background has proven to not only give a new, much-needed edge new storytelling dimension to horror, but also his own background as he does what the greatest of writer/directors do, they introduce us to themselves. "Get Out" was great in part because only Jordan Peele could've come up with it. "Us" is great in pretty much the same way, for the same reasons; it's a story that only he I feel was uniquely qualified to come up with.
Although in this case, it doesn't entirely feel that way at first. I mean, the idea of the bad guy being, well, "Us", our ourselves, is not exactly new. In fact, it's probably one of the most overused conceits in horror and sci-fi and a lot of others genres. Then again, many of the threats in "Get Out" were well-worn cliches too, but they weren't in that movie and they aren't here. There's always something else going on in Peele's films, more than that, he always, always, has something to say, something that too many movies in this genre generally don't.
The movie takes place mostly around the Santa Cruz boardwalk. At first, in the '1986 around the time of the "Hands Across America" thing, There, we meet young Adelaide (Madison Curry) who gets lost at the local amusement part for the briefest of moments and wanders into the Hall of Mirrors, where, apparently, she finds a dobbleganger of herself. I know, it's the Hall of Mirrors, but yes, a dobbleganger.
Years later, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) has a family of her own, and her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) decides to take the the family to their beach house residence near the same area, along with their friends Josh and Kitty (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss). She's got kids of her own now, an athletic track star daughter, Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and a young son, named Jason (Evan Alex), who's about the same age his mother was when she had the strange encounter. Now that they're back at the same boardwalk and amusement area and beach, strange coincidences begin occurring. Jason, for instance, gets lost for a brief moment just like his mother did, but doesn't seem to be too traumatized, despite an unusual piece of art that he drew. It's around this time when their home, and apparently everybody's home begins to get invaded by mysterious groups of people. All wearing red jumpsuits, almost all of them seeming superstrong and superhuman, all usuing a pair of scissors as a weapon of choice. And, apparently, they all seem to not like rabbits.
The rabbit motif is just as surreal as anything. One of the early shots on the movie is a long take of a brown bunny, that's surrounded by white bunnies. Not the only time the movie reminds me of a Charlie Chaplin reference either, (There's a famous shot in "Modern Times", I believe of a single black sheep amongst a stampede of white ones.) as it seems like one of the, eh, "Us", I guess these dopplegangers are called, seems to have tried ballet at one point, somehow, and is able to use those skills to help fight off attacks, that reminded me of how W.C. Fields used to call Charlie "That goddamn ballet dancer." I don't think Chaplin is the real inspiration though, although it's fascinating to look around and see all of the strange items and signs and unique references in "Us". I haven't investigated it, but I'm sure the internet is full of dozens of theories about "Us", and what everything means. I'm say this, I'm not normally one for decoding movies, even David Lynch movies I think are often better left unanalyzed, but I did seek out stuff for "Get Out", and I'm excited to look up stuff for "Us" as well. The production design of the film, the specific outfits, the signs, even fleeting Bible references are fascinating to me. Why a putter and a crystal as weapons at one point? I think "Get Out" will inevitably have more of a long-lasting impact as it really introduced us to a kind of horror that we hadn't seen before and one that had such a distinctive thing to say about ourselves and the relationship between people in America from and of different classes and race and how they interact with each other. There are some fascinating details here about that, particularly during one frightening and hilarious sequence where the songs "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys and "Fuck Tha Police" by N.W.A. are used as direct contrasts depending on whether a white family or a black family is protecting a house from these invaders.
That's the greatest appeal I can give a current filmmaker, that after their films, I can't wait to look deeper into their work and find out more about it. I felt that with "Get Out" and I feel that with "Us" and well, and I give that credit to Jordan Peele.
GLASS (2019) Director: M. Night Shaymalan
WHAT IN THE FUCK!?!?!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!...-
However, he spent much of the next decade turning into a punchline. Basically, he loved using the twist ending plot device in his films, and eventually it kinda stopped being good when he used it, and by eventually, I mean, “The Village”, and pretty much most everything else he did afterwards. Now, I never thought that diminished his original three's, eh,
Now, during that same time period, was the rise of our modern, big-budget Hollywood superhero genre that we all have been suffering through ever since, and in that light, “Unbreakable” had periodically become more and more popular among certain kinda of film nerd. If you’re somebody who may have listed “Unbreakable” on a Top Ten List of Best Superhero movies, possibly just to be snarky, you might be apart of this crowd. Admittedly, I probably would’ve been, although I’m not certain I would’ve always thought about “Unbreakable” as a superhero movie, so, maybe I did, and maybe I didn’t; that would’ve depended on the time period and how much time and focus I would’ve decided to give that question, which most of the time would’ve been, not much.
So, now we get, “Glass”, the third in this series, and now the first movie that we know is absolutely apart of this, franchise. Let’s review, the titular Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) was arrested and under psychiatric care for a home for the criminally insane by David Dunn (Bruce Willis). Dunn, now known as either, The Green Ghost or The Overseer, has become something of a vigilante as it’s now become clear that while Glass will continue to experience a lifetime of pain from his condition that makes his bones extremely fragile, Dunn, is damn-near invincible as a Philadelphia security expert who protects the city from the scum of the street, using his extra-sensory skillset. We find out here, that he used this most recently to capture, The Horde (McAvoy) a zoo worker who suffers from Disassociative Identity Disorder and has used those several identities to injure, capture and kill, mostly young high school women. Although one girl, Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) who was able to ward him off through her power, um, extreme love and empathy…- I’m not exactly sure what her power-, like it’s somewhere between being a teenage Wonder Woman and Fay Wray; I think? Whatever she is, she the diametric opposite of Horde and all his personalities; I’m not going into all of them.
Anyway, all these characters end up at the criminally insane hospital under the care of a Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulsen) who is convinced that believing one is a superhero, is a particular kind of delusion and psychosis and decides to study it using these subjects, all of whom, to one degree believe are superhero, or supervillains, respectively, although that term is never used. Humans with superpowers, I should say, although she strives to convince them that their strengths are just a manifestation of their own desires as well as an accentuated frontal-lobe activity.
“Glass” isn’t a movie that takes the motifs and storytelling devices of comic books to reimagine or reinterpret them in a new or different way like “Unbreakable” did, it’s just a comic book superhero movie, and another one where there’s a bunch of superheroes and supervillains in the same world again. I didn’t like that with any of the “Avengers” movies, and I don’t like it here, but worst than that, I’m disappointed in “Glass”. At least I expected it to some degree that those real comic book movies; they follow comic book logic and rules and that includes their natural storytelling weaknesses as well as their strengths; “Glass” had much more promise to circumvent those weaknesses. Say whatever else you want, there’s a reason why “Unbreakable” as a favorite comic book movie answer was a snarky answer, it was different from everything else in the genre and that’s why it’s held up and remains fondly recalled. Parts of this movie seem to even be going in that direction as you wonder exactly where all this is going, but when you find that you’re just reading another comic book, limited edition or origin story, that disappointment is far worst.
Superheroes are indeed gods in a world full of humans, that’s why they’re so fascinating, but when it’s just superheroes in a superheroes world, then it’s just gods fighting other gods, and there’s nothing good storytelling-wise in that; that’s just watching those who can’t be destroyed, trying to destroy each other.
Dammit, Shaymalan! Why be like those other movies when you can be so good not being those?!
FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY (2019) Director: Stephen Merchant
So, I am a pro wrestling fan; I haven't exactly watched it on a regular basis in years, certainly not on the level that I used to watch it growing up during the Monday Night Wars, but I do still keep up with it, through other means though. So, when I heard that Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has bought the rights of Saraya "Paige" Knight's (Florence Pugh) life and was going to turn it into a movie, it-, well it didn't exactly surprise me, but it certainly caught my attention. I mean, despite all the megasuccess he's had in Hollywood, The Rock is still pretty synonymous with pro wrestling. He's known for surprise appearances on a somewhat regular basis and has even occasionally wrestled a few times over the recent years, but I would say that, up until now, he hasn't exactly done this. He hasn't tried to bring professional wrestling into the more traditional entertainment world of scripted film and television. He's basically been a wrestler who successfully transitioned into acting, and by any standard, way, way, way more successfully than anybody else who's even tried. But yeah, I can think of a couple sports films he's made, but he's kinda avoided the pro wrestling subject until now.
And while the WWE's name is on this movie, because it's too integral into Paige's story to not include their involvement, I don't think they'd ever be able to get someone like Stephen Merchant, the "Hello Ladies," guy, and the co-creator of "The Office", as well as most other Ricky Gervais's projects to come onboard as the writer/director without The Rock putting his name on it. That's a big name in comedy; I can't imagine the production company most famous for "The Marine" movies would've gotten that kind of name alone.
Still, I'm a little surprised that Paige's story is what inspired him to bring a wrestling story to the big screen, but it does make sense, when you consider his background. Like, a lot of professions, especially athletic professions, pro wrestling is known for having a lot of famous pro wrestling families. It makes perfect sense if you think about it; it's a really taxing profession that requires it's performers to be in excellent physical shape to be able to perform on a regular basis the way they do, all year round. Genetics helps, and especially if you're around that world, which historically was pretty hard for outsiders to get into to begin with, you have a tendency to get into it. So, there quite a few family or pro wrestlers out there. Actually, here's a little known fact about Dwayne Johnson, the reason he's called "The Rock" is because he's a 3rd Generation pro wrestler. His father Rocky Johnson, was an elite tag team wrestler in the '70s and '80s, and his grandfather, on his mother's side is Peter Maivia, who was a major wrestling star in America and Oceania during the '60s and early '70s, so when Dwayne Johnson went into wrestling, he went by the name, Rocky Maivia, which eventually got shortened to The Rock. (Also, That's only the beginning of how much wrestling is in his family; he's actually apart of the extended Anoa'i Family of wrestlers which has a long lineage of wrestlers with origins from American Samoa that goes back from even longer and contines all the way to today-, just trust, The Rock is the weird one in his family because he's the one who became the actor.)
So, Paige's story, definitely must strike a nerve to him. I doubt he followed her early career as closely as he claims in this movie, but her story is interesting in of itself for a few reasons. She's the daughter of two wrestlers and promoters, Ricky Knight and Julie "Sweet Saraya" Knight (Nick Frost and Lena Headey) as they promote their own independent promotion based in Norwich, England. Saraya along with her brothers Zak and Roy (Jack Lowden and James Burrows), all of whom are also wrestlers and dream of being in the WWE. Zak and Saraya eventually get a rare tryout when the WWE is in London and Saraya gets invited to go to NXT Developmental in Florida. (Yes, there's minor leagues in pro wrestling too.)
This is interesting narratively for a couple reason. One, the huge switch in environment for young Saraya, who despite being a veteran for like five or six years, was still a teenager, but geographic the shift is severe. Also, however is the contrast with her and the fellow female trainees she's with. So, the WWE at this time, when it came to women's wrestling, Paige was actually a bit of an outlier at the time, because she was a trained wrestler beforehand, which is common now, but previously, for reasons too complicated to even try explaining, it was actually more common for the WWE to hire, former college athletes, cheerleaders, models even, especially fitness models and then train them from scratch to be wrestlers. Now, there's nothing necessarily wrong with this by the way, people start wrestling in all different ways and at different times of their life, but it did mean that, for a while, women's wrestling, at least at the WWE, wasn't necessarily considered of the highest quality for around this time. Paige is actually credited for being one of the big reasons for this shift into a more serious approach to women's wrestling. (I mean, they were called "Divas" at the time, for no real reason.) That said, they do show them all working hard training under Hutch (Vince Vaughn) the main NXT Trainee.
I'm admittedly a little too knowledgable on the subject, for me to fully enjoy this film, I believe. So, I might be a little harsher on this movie than others are. I mean, most of the time, the WWE is under intense scrutiny for legitimate reasons, but the movie shows two things that I haven't seen done well before. One, it shows just how difficult it is to be a pro wrestler. The pain and times it takes, the willingness to accept certain amounts of severe pain, the energy and toll it takes on the body, not to mention on the WWE level, being away from your family and loved ones for most of your time while you're getting thrown onto thumbtacks or taking a bowling ball to your nether-regions every so often. It also shows just why people would put themselves through so much, all for even just a shot at making it to the big time.
Ironically, Paige is actually a pretty good example of what someone's willing and able to put themselves through to be a pro wrestler in both the movie and in real life. She's actually had a bit of a weird career in general in wrestling and personally, but two years ago, she actually had to retire at age 25, due to a severe neck injury. She's still involved in wrestling heavily in other capacities, and might return in the distant future, although the last notable name who came back from her kind of neck injury, took three years to return to action, and from what I've heard, her neck issues are far worse than his. (She also has scoliolis on top of that, which means it's ridiculously weird and amazing that she could wrestle with that kind of condition to begin with.)
That said, I don't think she regrets any of that; it's her dream, the same way any top athlete has to really put the work in to be talented enough to play their sports at the top level, and possibly be somewhat lucky with the genetic makeup to do it. For showing that as well as any other piece of film, I think "Fighting With My Family" is worth watching, on top of it being fairly entertaining to begin with. It's a cool movie about some interesting characters and it's pretty funny overall. I might be a little more bias against it, but I suspect the less you know about Paige and wrestling going in, the more you'd appreciate this story about her.
ANNIHILATION (2018) Director: Alex Garland
Looking through Alex Garland’s filmography, including his second feature film as a director, “Annihilation”, there seems to be an interesting pattern with work. He obviously is a sci-fi specialist, but more than that, he likes the narrative device of characters leaving one world in order to enter another where they discover something that is, for lack-of-a-better-word, otherworldly. “Ex Machina” saw a character go off to a hard-to-find house in the mountains where an uber-rich internet billionaire had developed the most human robot that ever existed. “Ex Machina” was a helluva movie that had a lot to say about what it was that made us human and while yes, it used the ever-worn example of artificial intelligence for it’s parable, it was still incredibly well-done, especially for a sci-fi film on a budget.
GAME NIGHT (2018) Directors: John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein
You know, there's a lot of comedies out there that I think many people end up liking way more than they really should. You know, those kind of films where there's just enough scenes that are actually good, funny and memorable and therefore you like the movie for those few jokes, often ignoring many of the issues with the rest of the movie. Like, I wouldn't call these films cult favorites or anything, or even necessarily bad, but because they make you laugh really hard for a brief moment or two, you kinda just jump in all the way on them. I can honestly think of several broad comedies like this. "Caddyshack" for instance is a movie that has some of the funniest scenes ever put on film, but if you actually follow that movie through, the comedy's sporadic and so varied that the tone is too inconsistent to care, and the narrative thread flings wildly and little-to-nothing gets resolved. Also, "Zoolander", I think is like this. I finally got around to watching that one recently, 'cause I skipped it at the time thinking I'd never have to bother with it, but naturally, over a decade and a half later, the few funny sequences of the movie caught on and now it's got a sequel, and yes, it's got a few jokes that are funny and quotable, and one really funny sequence when there's the model walkoff and the David Bowie cameo. That said, actually sitting through the whole movie now, I basically wonder how this whole thing turned into a movie. (Not to pick on Ben Stiller too much either, but I also kinda always thought "Meet the Parents" fit this as well....)
THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (2018)
I’m honestly sorta shocked that I haven’t seen a film about this subject before, told in the way that “The Mideducation of Cameron Post” is trying to tell it. I don’t know exactly when these, “de-gay-ification” centers first started popping up, I’m sure it’s longer than whatever time period I would imagine it started, but they’re genuinely evil. To paraphrase the movie “Saved!”, they exist, not to actually help people from being gay, (obviously, since, news flash, that’s not possible) but for extreme right-wing religious parents to send their kids to, because they’re gay. “Saved!” is a very underrated teen comedy that was a satire on the teen comedy genre and on private religious high school and the students, faculty and teachers that go, work and send their kids to such a school, and it’s one of the few movies that I can even think of that even talks about this subject. The only movie that I can think of that takes place at one of these places at all was Jamie Babbit’s camp classic, “But, I’m a Cheerleader”, that’s a sharp comedy satire as well and one that keeps making me seek out Babbit’s later work hoping it would be half as interesting, thoughtful and funny as that film was, which is definitely a habit I really need to break btw. (I still get nightmares about, “Itty Bitty Titty Committee”. I swear, that’s not a porno title, and I don’t care how tempting that movie title is, trust me, it’s bad, just stay away.) Now, I’m all in favor of just straight up making fun of places like these; they should be mocked as much as they are admonished and as much as they should be shut down, but that’s the thing, they do exist; they are real people and real people, real kids, have been forced to go there simply because they’re attracted to their own gender and for some reason, their family thinks that because it was declared a sin in a book written well over a 1000 years before anybody know there were two continents on the other side of the world.
THE CAKEMAKER (2018) Director: Ofir Raul Graizer
"The Cakemaker" isa slow, methodical feature that honestly took me a couple days to get through. Partly because the Netflix disc jacket I had made it unfortunately more predictable then it probably should've. But it's also really meticulously paced storytelling, that ultimately, I gotta recommend. It's the debut feature film from Israeli director Ofir Raul Graizer and the movie begins in a bakery in Berlin. Ital (Tamir Ben Yehuda) comes into the place which he always visits when he's in town on business. There, we meet Thomas (Tim Kalkhof) the titular cakemaker who bakes and recommends which desserts for him to enjoy here and to bring home to Jerusalem for his family to enjoy.
Tom and Ital begin having a secret affairwh whenever he's in town, however Ital is soon killed in a car accident in back home. Tom, decides to head to Jerusalem himself and seek out his wife Anat (Sarah Adler). Anat owns a kosher cafe as she struggles raising her young son Oren (Roy Miller) as she now deals with being a single mom. She soon ends up hiring Tom at the cafe, where he, at first struggles a bit understand the kosher bylaws. You need to have and keep up a certificate in Israel to be labeled as kosher, and follow very strict procedures, that's not just for restaurants either as he gets a kosher apartment to live in as well. Over time, he begins to get close to both Sarah and Oren, and Sarah in particular begins to have feelings for him, as she embraces him as apart of her inner circle. Of course, he hasn't told her about his relationship with her late husband, although she does begin to suspect something as Sarah investigates her husband a bit.
There's a couple reasons I'm recommending this, despite some of the inevitability of the film. The directing for one; Glazier reminds me of someone like Bergman or Ozu who knows the power of the quiet and intense close-up shots. This movie is about two people with secrets to tell each other, who are unable to tell them. The restraint is of course, the great skill of the film, and in turn, the movie's best feature is the acting. Sarah Adler is quickly becoming one of the biggest actresses in Europe and the Middle East, and she gives one of the most fascinating and natural performances I've seen in a while and there's an incredible long closeup of Tim Kalkouf of him going from his typical stoicness to just devastating, uncontrollable emotions and sadness. "The Cakemaker" is all between the lines and made by a striking, daring, quiet director. I'm looking forward to Glazier's next films and for these actors to get even more work then they have so far, especially Kalkouf who's mostly been a TV actor until now; this should be a breakthrough minimalist role on the same level as Richard Jenkins in "The Visitor". "The Cakemaker" is an inevitable and tough watch watch, but that doesn't make it bad one.
OH, LUCY! (2018) Director: Atsuko Hirayanagi
I watched "Oh, Lucy!" a few days ago and I've been struggling to figure out exactly what to say about it. It's a comedy based on a short film by the film's writer/director Atsuko Hirayangi and for a Japanese movie, it's got a lot of American names on it, including producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell. That's a little peculiar, but it makes a certain amount of sense. Hirayangi is from Japan but did attend NYU, and actually just on the basis of her short films, which have received tons of acclaim over the years, she actually got asked to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, a fact that seems to be one of her big achievements because I find it in most of the recognitions I find about her. Her wikipedia, her IMDB page, etc. (Shrugs) I mean, there's nothing inherently bad about that, but it does indicate that she is in certain inner circles of Hollywood, which, again not a bad thing, but...- eh....
Okay, "Oh, Lucy!" is an absurdist fish-out-of-water comedy, and it begins in Japan where Setsuko (Shinobu Tarajima) is a lowly office worker. She's a bit quirky, but on her way to work she was an unwilling witness in a suicide as a man jumped in front of her train. I like how this sequence is shot, it's kinda treated almost as though it's a commonplace inconvenience more than anything else.
She then, on the request of her niece, Ayako (Kaho Minami) for some contrived reasons that only kinda make sense later, asks Setsuko to take this weird, personal English language class. The class is taught by an America, John (Josh Hartnett) and it's a bit of a peculiar class. Although I say "Class" loosely as it's basically Setsuko and one other classmate, Takeshi (Koji Yakusho) another older she Japanese guy who wants to learn American English so that he can understand American movies without subtitles. (Honestly, I think that's part of why I took so much French in high school and college, so I can understand that.) Here, John gives his students a wig, and an Americanized named, Setsuko drew Lucy, which-, I think this is supposed to be played sorta as a joke, but I actually do remember doing the name thing in my French classes. The wigs were optional, but still, John is an ecclectic teacher and his presence in Lucy's life helps to begin inspiring her.
Then, suddenly, he leaves mysteriously and Lucy and her niece, who we find out Josh was dating, fly off to California to find him and his apparent new girlfriend. That's when the comedy moves to her n America and seeing Josh's real life and the pitifulness of it, although that doesn't prevent her from sleeping with him since she's as much in love with him as her niece, which-, yeah, that's totally fucked up. Although, based on the modern Japanese culture, and how much emotions are repressed, I kinda buy into how they can suddenly come out bursting at the wrong times like these.
There's also a couple other interesting American cameos in the film, most notably a funny scene with Megan Mullally on an airplane. I guess this is a clever movie; I normally like films like these where we get the stranger going into a strange land and either coming out of it, better or worst or something, but in this case, I can't help but think about the weird and wonderful David Zellner movie "Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter" where a Japanese girl mistakes the movie "Fargo" as a factual documented account and travels to North Dakota to find the suitcase with the missing money. This isn't as strange and surreal as that, but I do feel like this isn't different or unique enough some how. The strength of the film is in the quirkiness of the characters, and I wonder if adding this extra layer to them or the culture clash between countries, language and behaviors might be too much for the film. I mean, the movie is weird enough before they make the jump to America; this area of Tokyo that offers these weird classes and how exactly did John get this job...? How did they find a replacement so fast when he left? I guess these questions don't have to be answered, but I feel like this movie is somewhat unexplored. I'm not surprised it started as a short and that they didn't quite stretch it enough for a full feature; it feels like an idea more than a finished product.
I guess I'm recommending it anyway, 'cause I do like the draft I got and the movie shows promise. It's unusual, it's different. I'm curious what else Hirayanagi can come up with, so I guess that's a good sign. And I like that it's a more straight-forward comedy; in different hands this could've turned into, something like "Strozsek" or something,- although I love that movie, yeah, we don't get a lot of cross-culture comedies, and this one's different and cute enough. I can easily see this movie working better for me if they switched the direction and we had, like a Sally Field-type trying to learn Japanese from- oh crap, who's Japan's version of Josh Hartnett, umm..., Tomohisa Yamashita? (Shrugs) I don't know, but that would be my bias and my preference, and therefore I can't knock the film because it went East to West instead of West to East; that's apparently how she came here.
So, um, I was never a big science fair guy, or even a science project guy. I'm fairly intelligent I believe; I do have a MENSA I.Q.; I was in G.A.T.E. for several years. (Do they still have G.A.T.E. in schools?; Gifted and Talented Education? Is that still a thing?) but my intelligence has certain limits and areas of expertise. Like, I'm really good at studying and acquiring knowledge and having really strong recall about subject, and I do have a creative mind, I often take different angles and approaches to certain ideas and see things differently than others do, but I don't really have an inventive or an constructive mind. Science was almost always my weakest subject in school, especially biology. Like, I can memorize where bones are, or the Periodic table, and do some of the math required in chemistry, but yeah, the actual performing of science, as a means to an end.... I can appreciate it and those who do it are really special, but it was never for me. Mostly, I hated "Science Fair" which I forced to participate in twice, and I hated doing science projects; which the class would always vote to do instead of just taking a test, and it always pissed me off? Like,-, c'mon I know this isn't my subject, but I can study for a test; I can't pull a science project out of my ass! I don't even own a display board, I don't even know to do it on! I'm not gonna sit down one day and invent something that makes it easier to diagnose pancreatic cancer; what teenager does that? What kind of teenager thinks of that!?
Actually, somebody did do that. One of the first people we meet in "Science Fair" is Jack Andraka, a then-15-year-old who invented a device that makes it easier to help detect certain cancers, including pancreatic and ovarian. He's just old enough to drink now-, well, he's from Maryland, so old enough to drink anywhere in the country now, but yeah, that's intimidating. In fact, a lot of these kids are intimidating, they are smarter than me and most of us, and more importantly from my perspective, they're smarter than me in a way that I know I'm inherently not smart in. So, yeah, while I was basically at just figuring out why it's important to study the mass of the objects I was testing, or which dish detergent was better at taking out stains, these kids had way better and way more advanced ideas than me.
Also in most cases, the resources to be able to actually pull off some of these ideas and experiments. And I do say, "Most cases". The movie profiles participants from several parts of the country and the world in fact as they work and prepare to go to ISEF, the International Science and Engineering Fair, this year being held in Hollywood. There's one girl who's working on ways to help attack the Zika Virus which has ravaged her part of Brazil. There's a guy who's not a great student, but loves building and reconstructing computers and calculators, he's a fun guy. There's one school that has nine different participants/teams in ISEF this year 'cause of one science professor's motivation and work. One Muslim girl from Brookside, South Dakota who constantly wins for her study of brain condition to continuous negative stimuli however, is so overlooked that her school and schoolmate seem, at best unaware of her accomplishments and they certainly don't promote or advertise them when she wins. They are instead, infatuated with their football team, which is a losing football team I might add, but the team's coach is also her adult overseer for her participation because none of the science teachers in the school were interested in helping her out.
We get all sorts of characters and backgrounds and divides in this movie, and after they're introduced, they all arrive for the competition where they begin the strenuous and tense week with a dance/mixer for everyone. And it is,-, um...-, um...- (Sigh) Okay, I know the Press, especially the DC Press likes to tongue-in-cheekly call the annual White House Correspondents' Dinner, the "Nerd Prom", and I'm not big on using that term either, but, yeah, they really should stop using that phrase, this is the Nerd Prom.
Anyway, the movie a documentary is familiar. Basically, it's trying to be Jeffrey Blitz's "Spellbound" the Oscar-nominated documentary that basically did the same thing with competitors in the Scipps National Spelling Bee. Now that's a great movie in of itself, but the structure of that film has been copied ever since for several different movies, most notably, movies like "Wordplay" about the championships at crossword puzzles. That said, this might be the best and most interesting of the bunch,- at least the best one since "Spellbound". Mainly because of the subjects; all this talk about millennials and how they're "lazy" or except thing to be given to them, or whatever stupid cliche that's not remotely true people want to shove onto them, is basically shredded in this movie. That's not to say that there aren't people in this world who fit the stereotype, but I mean, if even I knew and believed I could do some of the stuff these kids are putting out into the world, I'm not sure at their age I would even attempt them. I honestly don't know how much success in the science fair world lead's to success in real life, although I bet it's much more than success at a spelling bee. (I mean, honestly, that's not as important and vital as skill as it seems; trust me, I'm a pretty good speller and I'm telling you, it's not that important.) but yeah, I'm vastly more impressed by the student who figures how to a make a plan be more aerodynamic and mobile while using less fuel.
WHAT THEY HAD (2018) Director: Elizabeth Chomko
Okay, she’s obviously been in several movies and roles and even randomly catching one of those older roles, her beauty remains startling. As far as I can tell she rarely had many memorable or breakout roles during that time though. I feel like nowadays, I’ve seen more of her in movies than ever now that she’s basically cornered the market on the old woman parts that are out there. It seems that these days, if I see Blythe Danner in a movie, it’s either in a supporting role as the aging-but-still-beautiful older relative who is sick, dying, or in this case, suffering from Alzheimer’s or Dementia. Either that, or she’s this aged but youthful inside older woman indy role but she still can find romance or companionship. She has that look where she always appears to be hiding some secret about her, like a real-life Mona Lisa. Nobody this old still looks and seems this youthful in Hollywood, and maybe only Isabelle Huppert in the world can pull this off, and even she usually has a limit on her in that Blythe can be her age and still seems like she can play a very young girl. “Her father ran the Berwyn line, she thought that she was a little girl and that she was going home,” expressed at the behest of her son, Nick (Michael Shannon) after she got lost on Christmas night when she left her home in the middle of the latest episode. It’s not that she’s bad at this role, quite the contrary, but it also feels like she’s cornered this archetype now. Perhaps it’s her rare skillset, but I think it has to do with how she’s still the prettiest one in the room and now she’s at an age where that’s not the norm in Hollywood.
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017) Director: Taika Waititi
Of all the Marvel movie series, “Thor” has been the most curious and fascinating to me. The first movie was a wonderful Shakespearean-like Greek epic mixed with a fascinating fish out of water narrative; it easily ranks as one of the very best Marvel movies, only possibly dwarfed by “Black Panther”. The second movie, “Thor: The Lost World”, was one Marvel’s worst films. A forgettable slog of a movie where it turned out, “Really, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the God of Mischief and Death was the traitor?! No shit!” in the least surprising thing ever. The fact that Loki was still around, and the way he was still around has confused me greatly over the years, but apparently he’s a well-liked and beloved character, and ever since he was the main villain in both “Thor” where it made sense and the “The Avengers”, where it didn’t. ([Eye rolls] Fine, for the most part, it didn’t!) I mean, I don’t mind him hanging around in some capacity, but mostly he’s just there because he can’t seem to ever be killed, being a God and all.
So where was I? Right, The Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum, who I actually consider way underrated as an actor despite him trying to accentuate the more his ham-like tendencies lately.) runs a “Contest of Champions” where monsters are kidnapped from across the lands and forced to fight for everyone’s enjoyment on this planet that he seems to own. It’s kinda like that weird episode of “Star Trek: Voyager” where Seven of Nine had to fight The Rock? (Yeah, that happened, go look it up one day, it’s amazing!) Anyway, Thor agrees to take on his great, undefeated champion in order to be granted a way out back to save Asgard. The Champion, turns out to be…-
MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER (2017) Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Hiromasa Yonebayashi is probably the director who is the most likely to take over Hayao Miyazaki’s throne. He was a longtime animator of his and his first two movies, “The Secret World of Arrietty”, and “When Marnie Was There” are amazing stories of young people dealing with the complex relationship of the supernatural, growing up and their relationship with literal and society nature. And they’re all just amazingly beautiful to look at. They’re all also quite deeper and more observant and thoughtful then on first notice.
THE DEATH AND LIFE OF MARSHA P. JOHNSON (2017) Director: David France
"The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson" is the first feature from David France since he made the dcumentary "How to Survive a Plague," which documents the AIDS epidemic, crisis, the ACT UP movement, and basically can act as the premiere historical records on those subjects. It's one of the great movies of this century so far, and I suspect that it might've been too much to hope that his next film would equal that level of accomplishment, few films could.
That said, this film has garnered quite a bit of acclaim, and controversy as well, as he's been accused of appropriating the works of others, including Reina Gossett's filmmaking historians work without crediting her. I'm not entirely surprised at such a revelation since France's main skill seems to be accumulating and editing footage together, but that's not my big issue with the film. Marsha P. Johnson's work and importance needs to be known and the movie does a good job of both going over the importance of her life. It then also does the job of trying to get answers into her mysterious death.
In 1992, Marsha P. Johnson, originally born Malcolm Michele, Jr., who found dead after having apparently drowned floating in the Hudson. Her death was rules a suicide, but many/most of her friends and acquaintances found the death suspicious, and one witness claimed that there was a hole in her head when she found.
Johnson was a trans rights activist who was literally there at the beginning of the gay rights movement, having been a critical leader of the Stonewall Riots. She then joined the Gay Liberation Front and along with her best friend Sylvia Rivera, founded STAR, the Street Transvestive Action Revolutionaries, where they worked to get Trans who, like Marsha, worked periodically in the sex industry, off the streets. Basically the groups or houses that the show "Pose" has, are basically at-that-time modern versions of what "STAR" was.
The movie actually focuses a lot on Rivera, several old interviews and footage of her, who arguably actually had more to do with the rise of Trans rights; she was at the forefront of Trans rights, just fighting for recognition from others in the gay community. (LGBT, didn't become LGBT overnight.) These aspects are good and then there's the narrative of the film, where we see our protagonist Victoria Cruz of the anti-violence act as she looks into investigating Marsha's death. There's alwas suspicion of foul play as she was always under threat working as a sex worker; she was known as the Mayor of Christopher Street, which was the West Village bureau known for being the LGBT center of the town, and where the gay clubs were operated by the Mafia at that time.
This story is paralleled by another modern crime story, the death Islan Nettles, who was beaten to death by James Dixon, who beat him up after he had began hitting on him, before he realized that she was trans. The movie occasionally cuts to the progress on Dixon's trial and the political and social outrages that that entails. It's an interesting parallel to Marsha's life and death, at least that's what is supposed to be gotten from me. I think the movie was trying to do too much in this instance, and that's kind of my issue.
It's got enough threads to make a few movies, and while I get the poetic nature of putting these stories together, I think you lose some of the focus, and I start waiting around to learn more about one thread or another. There were a lot of threads in "How to Survive a Plague", but that about documenting several differing historical actions and placing them in their place in the history books, storytelling through the historical documentation, not documenting to tell the story. Again, I might be more frustrated because I had such high expectations from France, but I didn't need this film to equal "How to Survive a Plague", and more importantly, the movie does it's job. It investigates and documents an important figure in the LGBT movement puts her and Sylvia Rivera in their proper historical context, and also helps look into Johnson's mysterious death and try to get to the bottom of what happened to her. That last part, she gets a little closer, but there is a lot of mysterious doors slammed for Victoria, and the Police refusing to talk seems particularly suspicious.
I think it's more important movie than a great one, but I can't knock it too much for that. Marsha P. Johnson started at Stonewall and was involved in the beginning of ACT UP, she stretches the major figures of the movement in her time, and also she posed for Andy Warhol among being friends with several other major New York figures. It's actually quite a shame that her death might overshadow her work.
APOSTASY (2017) Director: Daniel Kokotajlo
Every once in a while, usually at a bus stop around town, I see a copy of The Watchtower stuck in the advertising board behind me or lying on the ground having been stomped on wet shoes previously. There’s a lot about Jehovah’s Witnesses that I’ll frankly admit that I don’t understand. It’s not my religion, it never will be, and frankly most of what I have heard about it, is not good. From what I can tell, they’re essentially a mostly Catholic cult or subcult that has some very strange and conflicting views on God and the afterlife, as well as several other beliefs that alone would seem petty or arbitrary but together seem more like a cult than a belief system, and from what I can tell, actually has quite a similar governing structure and abuse system as Scientology does.
EARTH: ONE AMAZING DAY (2017) Directors: Richard Dale, Lixin Fan and Pete Webber
So, I borrowed that "Planet Earth" docuseries on DVD awhile ago; it had all that acclaim and all those Emmy awards, that series still gets those in whatever their current form is now. I get it; I get why it's acclaimed and why they're popular and why people watch it, and the photography is amazing. That said,- I think I'm beginning to come to terms with the idea that I just don't like nature documentaries. I just-, I just don't. In the right context, I guess I do, and-, and actually that's not entirely true, "Sweetgrass" is a nature doc I like. I've always been a fan of "The Living Desert", arguably the best of Disney's old time docs. I like National Geographic stuff, but there's definitely a certain type of nature doc that just gets under my skin. "Earth: One Amazing Day", eh, well, it's not the worst by any means, neither is "Planet Earth" for that matter, but at a certain point, when you've seen these docs done a certain way so often, you kinda just get immune to a lot of them.
I would've like something like this a lot more when I was a kid and was still learning about the world and really desired to learn more about it. I watched a lot of Discovery and TLC before it just became another shitty reality channel. The nature stuff, I guess was never my favorite of their programming; I think I'm the one person who has never understood the appeal of "Shark Week" for instance,- like, I get watching one good documentary about sharks every so often, like maybe in a real IMAX theater or a planetarium screening where it can truly be enjoyable and enthralling, but a week of that?!
I guess that's kinda what I think of "Earth: One Amazing Day," it's like a really good IMAX documentary. It actually has a bit of a good conceit though, the idea that the movie follows the life of the species on Earth over an entire day, following the sun as the daylight spreads across the globs. That's an interesting thread, and to be fair, the movie does get a lot of great shots. I like the hummingbird footage in particular; I know just had powerful a camera you need to had to actually record footage of a hummingbird, 'cause they move way too fast and they're so small you can confuse them for a dragonfly. That and the bees. There are some other shots I love, like some of the canyon shots as well. It's all pretty normal, but done well. Like I said, if I had seen this in a more proper context, on a giant screen, where I can be engulf by the scenes, I think I would've gotten a little more enjoyment out of it. I think seeing so much of these shows also destroys me a bit. Although, sometimes, even when I've seen it a bunch of times before, it can be inspiring.
I'll say this, the movie was narrated by Robert Redford, and he was good. (I'm also told that Jackie Chan was a narrator to this; I didn't recognize him; I'm assuming he might've been a narrator for some of the foreign releases, possibly.) And, I enjoyed enough of it to recommend it. If you like these movies, then you'll like this one. I just wish there was something more special about it.