I don't know; perhaps I'm just more interested inward and creating my own stories lately too. I don't feel the need honestly, especially in the midst of this pandemic to go after whatever part of the entertainment world that's annoying me today, while I keep waiting for my first unemployment check to come in the mail? (Do they still come in the mail? I don't know, I've never worked at a "real job" long enough to collect before now, and right now, I'm still waiting to get through on the phone.) I'm not gonna say that something won't come up, where I feel like it's worth talking about and I can think of a different angle to take on it, but with regards to the entertainment world, but I'm not looking for anything right now.
Mostly, I'm hoping for light entertainment to get me through and I hope you guys are too, 'cause that's what i'm thinking about writing on soon. (Now watch, tomorrow something ridiculously obnoxious and stupid will happen, and I'll have to write about how Arsenio Hall thinks COVID-19 came from racist liberal martians who are upset that Amazon's secretly plans drone strikes on Uranus in order to find enough unobtainium in order to build a miniature golf course in heaven, and I'll to explain how he got that idiotic theory from secret messages he found by watching too much "Forensics Files". Actually, I probably wouldn't care enough to do that article, but I'm sure something will happen. I mean, every time I feel like this in the past, something happens that shifts me out of doing fun stuff on here, and it's not out luck's changing any time soon.
So, let's get to some long-delayed MOVIE REVIEWS and I hope you all are having a Happy Pandemic Everyone! (Shrugs)
1917 (2019) Director: Sam Mendes
The ending of "1917" pays tribute to Lance Corporal Alfred Mendes, who is noted by the filmmaker, his grandson Sam Mendes, for being a storyteller. Alfred Mendes was more then just a storyteller, he was a famous novelist and short story author and was one of the leaders of The Beacon Group; a group of famous writers from Trinidad & Tobago who wrote about that nation's emigration movement in the West Indies in the'20s & '30s, this, despite a lack of publishing housing in the Caribbean at the time. Even he though, much like most I suspect, didn't talk about their war exploits for a long time, if many of the soldiers ever did at all when/if they made it back home back in those days. Sam Mendes, has been a great storyteller, long before he finally maneuvered his way into film, after getting a degree in English, and then making it big in England's theater scene, including some West End productions.
So, I was kinda surprised when people started referring to "1917" as a comeback of his; I never really thought of him as being out of favor. In fact, he's been one of the best and most consistently great filmmakers of the last 20+ years. I think it was because his first feature, "American Beauty" was the only one he ever really got the award accomplishments for and since that was his debut directing effort that he kinda got defined by that film in particular, and especially in recent years, that film has been heavily parodied and mocked, and some have questioned it's greatness and depth for some reason. Honestly, I don't get the recent criticisms of that film, or for that matter, most of the lack of respect for his other features. I guess, some of the knock on him is that, he had a habit of working with some of the best cinematographers of all-time, and they don't think he's done a lot of the true auteur work of being a director perhaps, and yes, from Conrad L. Hall to Roger Deakins, he's known for his work with the best cinematographers. Even with this film, "1917", which yes an unbelievable cinematography accomplishment, but this is an amazing storytelling accomplishment as well. Cinematic storytelling at that.
It's the first time Mendes has had a writing credit on any of his films, and sure, it's fairly simple on the page, but brilliant in it's execution. Yes, we've all heard or known about the singular take gimmick, but I don't care. First of all, it's not a single take, there's a lot of long takes and some very well-done and well-placed editing to make it seems mostly like the movie was shot in one long take in real enough time, but you know what, that's the right approach here, and for a war movie too, a World War I movie at that? I mean, there's bumping the difficulty up and then there's bumping the difficulty up. I mean, it's one thing to shoot long takes of two soldiers fighting their way through the rest of their own and other regiments in the trench, in order to find the General that's calling for them, but you have to still build the trenches. You still have to figure out how to move the camera through those trenches, and that's just the first take, after that, we got a warzone to get through and build and create and still somehow manage to do all this, and figure out how to light and move the camera in the right places and get the timing absolutely perfect on every little detail. (Holy God, I just realized, how'd they gets the rats to move correctly?)
Corporal Schofield (George Mackay) and Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) are called in by General Erinmore (Colin Firth) to go on a dangerous yet important mission. The Germans have curiously retreated from the front and Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) has taken the bait and begun plans for an all-out attack, believing that they've gotten the Germans to retreat. What they don't know, is that the Germans have set the trap for their air raid and soldiers to land on them. He's brought his regiment, the Devons, all 1600 of them to run right into a suicide mission, including Blake's older brother Lt. Joseph Blake (Richard Madden) and there's no way to get ahold of them by phone, and they can't bring reinforcements to close from the air, for fear they'll tip off the Germans more of their position.
They have to cross the Dead Man's Zone, through the front, into the German's abandoned front line, and if they somehow survive that without tripping over the landscape of barb-wire, dead bodies and dead horses, or fall into literal ditches full of enough water to drown in, or in any of another dozens or so ways, not including the possibility that the General's info was wrong and that there were still troops at the line and ready to take out anybody crossing at that moments, they got less then a day to get past Ecouste and find the Colonel to deliver the message to call off the attack.
I always hear about war stories like these, and I gotta admit, I have wondered in the past about how many soldiers have been sent on these, in some ways trivial missions; nowadays, that's a message done on a cell phone. They had phones back then, but the Germans cut the lines as they retreated. You'd also think, why only send out one crew, or even just two soldiers on this mission, in order to save well over a thousand lives, would be too little, but it does make sense, if you send too many, the more likely you get noticed and tip the Germans off that way.
Also, I'm glad that were still doing World War I stories. Literally, I don't think anybody's left on this planet that witnessed that war anymore, I'd certainly be shocked if there's anybody left around that's apart of it. I will say though that that does concern me about the movie, normally the farther away we get from these battles, the more revisionist histories that filmmakers come up with, that's why such great care is taken for World War II films to get them to be as accurate as possible. I don't know how accurate this was in regard to replicating a WWI experience, it felt accurate enough to me; more importantly though, it felt like I lived through these characters specific war experience. George Mackay, is not an actor I'm familiar with, in fact, most of the cast are mostly unknowns to me, only the higher ranks have major-named actors, and even then, they're cameos at best, and that's correct and appropriate, but he's onscreen, literally every minute of this film, and he gives an amazing performance; one of the best of the year. It's not the showiest, by any means, but for what he has to do, it's a stunning, epic, all-encompassing role, that, if it misses a single beat, the whole movie falls flat. This is a stunning performance, and it's just a stunning cinematic accomplishment altogether.
I hope others appreciate just how difficult this was, and I hope appreciate how great this storytelling is. Every aspect of the filmmaking process is on point, to make this film as great as it is. To me, this is the best mainstream example of visual filmmaking since "Mad Max: Fury Road", this is one of the quintessential example of telling the story through the visuals. It doesn't lay out more then you need, doesn't lay out too little, it gives us exactly what we need to know, when we learn it, and how we learn it, better then 99% of movies could ever do.
BOMBSHELL (2019) Director: Jay Roach
At one point during "Bombshell" character make note about the Fox News anchors during a Republican President debate being given, backhanded compliments for their performance by the New York Times, and other members of what I'm sure they would consider the left-wing media. I must confess that this whole review could hypothetically be a backhanded compliment to the women of Fox News who are indeed heroes for their part in taking down a leacherous blowhard of a media mogul, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Of course, the irony-, well, there's several ironies and we'll get to a lot of them, but of course, the fact is that Ailes should've never been put in charge or have the ability to rise up and created the juggernaut that is Fox News to begin with. For those who haven't seen the documentary "Divide & Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes" will know that once Gretchen Carlsen (Nicole Kidman) we eventually hear about Roger's distant past and that he wasn't some unfortunate marketing genius who let the power and paranoia overtake him, but that he had been using whatever little power and influence he had to sexually harass, assault and rape women, at least since he was a casting director on "The Mike Douglas Show"!!!! I mean, that was like a decade before he was Nixon's media advisor.
Still though, while there's always been a section of the rich and powerful have used their influence to get sexual quid-pro-quo favors from others, and the media industry is, certainly, by no means an exception, and this is not a Democratic or Republican, right wing or left wing issue, it- the bizarre cringeworthy form of poetic justice that finally fell on Ailes and others at Newscorp, is a little more difficult to swallow. Around this time, which we would now consider the beginnings of the #MeToo movement, we found out that several people across the industry had been basically cohersing women and others into, as he would have probably put it, giving head in order to get ahead. However, Charlie Rose was just an anchor with a PBS series and a CBS morning show job, and Matt Lauer, as powerful as he was, was just one voice, the latest in a long line of voices that their respected networks had come and go over the decades. Fox News, was Roger Ailes, everybody about it's presentation, it's formats, it's content, how it was delivered, and in particular, who was delivering it. I'm sure you've seen the memes and the jokes about Fox News female anchors and reporters, I remember them years before any of this. Conservatives definitely prefer blondes. Tall, white, thin blonde women who wear short tight dresses and skirts, despite their translucent desks. There's so many of them that you could easily confuse them for each other, making them like interchangeable barbie dolls, which, of course was the idea, to make them seem relatively easily replaceable.
It also made them easy to dismiss, which was why they were so caught offguard by Gretchen Carlsen suing Ailes. The words "She did her homework," are used in this movie to describe her actions after she was suddenly and unceremoniously fired. She filed in New Jersey, not in New York, where she got a slim advantage with the law. She also taped conversations with her and Ailes, so she had an unusual amount of evidence for a sexual harassment case. Fox tried to cover their ass, and the women in particular were lining up to back Ailes, and his imminent insistence on loyalty above everything, to sometimes some cartoonish degrees. They even had t-shirts made, that every woman at Fox News was forced to wear. They still didn't have pants yet....
The two main stories are obviously Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), who was still coming off getting lambasted by Trump for some of those questions she asked during that aforementioned debate, where she asked Trump about his problems with women, and...- well, I'm not going into it, but after the backlash, most of it underserved that she got from that, we see her during the aftermath of Gretchen's lawsuit making the waves, trying to figure out exactly what to do. She's getting bombarded by anyone and everyone at Fox News who they believe have some influence over her, and meanwhile, she seems to be doing her own investigation into the claims privately. There is an independent council hired to dive into the claims, which was a bit unusual, and there's a scene of Rudy Guilani (Richard Kind, there's an inspired bit of casting) frustrated that he's told that his conflict-of-interests would make his involvement a bad idea, but it's Kelly's sudden quietness to everything that's catching everyone offguard, especially since she is the biggest female name at the network.
The other story involves two composite Fox News workers, Kayla (Margot Robbie) a young Republican associate producer who dreamed of working for Fox News all her life and wants to be on-air talent soon, while she's bouncing around from different shows on the network, currently she switched from Carlsen to O'Reilly's show. She ends up in a friendship and relationship with Jess Carr (Kate McKinnon) a lesbian reporter/worker who's a Hillary Independent who can't get a job at any other network because Fox News was the first to hire her and now she's labeled with it. (Shrugs) Yeah, that sounds right. Generally, anybody who even had even a remote amount of mainstream respectability before joining Fox News is basically stigmatized from there on out. And that was before this scandal, which, yeah, that's-eh,... Anyway, I really enjoyed the story between these two, and yeah, while based on events that probably happened, is a composite added storyline, but I thought there were two interesting and well-performed roles.
The acting overall is incredible, both Robbie and Theron earned Oscar nominations for their work, and I can see why, especially for Theron who, you know, despite everything she's accomplished is still one of the most underrated actresses around and she, like Daniel Day-Lewis, tends to get more recognition when they're makeup is covering up their naturals looks, and there's not a moment in this movie where I see Charlize Theron at all. The makeup did win a well-deserved Oscar this year, but this is when makeup is done well, it enhances the actors performance. This is really tricky role, one that's a lot of listening, observing, there's a lot of scenes where you're just watching her think and react and just trying to consider several ideas in one thought, and it seems like Megyn Kelly doing all this herself.
The film was directed by Jay Roach, who's had a curious career switching behind a director-for-hire for several comedy films, and then doing these more political pieces that give us a look into modern politics and media. This is his best of that ilk to take the theatrical release route. Charles Randolph helps a lot too; he co-wrote "The Big Short" with Adam McKay and doesn't have the comedic sensabilities that McKay has, but he's found a short way to tell a difficult story filled with unlikely and in many ways, unlikable characters and make it as compelling a story that it needs to be, and it does need to be told. "Bombshell" found the human story in a tale of sex, debauchery, corruption, power and the right-wing media machine. For that it certainly needs to be commended and appreciated.
It stills feels like a waste, not that Ailes got outsmarted and outmanuevered by the pair of legs he made famous, but what other institutions that have seeped their way into out culture were also built up and created and designed with the same ill-thinking intentions as someone like Ailes? It's the kind of history that we normally don't see being told until long after these old white men die off, and we learn later. Strange that Fox News of all places, is the place where, for the first of probably many times, that it'll be told as it's happening today.So yeah..., good job Fox News. (Shrugs)
HONEYLAND (2019) Director: Tamara Kotevski & Ljubomir Stefanov
"Honeyland" pulled off a rare feat when it became the first feature film to both be and Oscar Nominee for Best Documentary and Best
In that respects, I can see why directors Kovetski and Stefanov would find Hatizde Muralova fascinating enough to spend about three years to observe and document her. That, and the visuals. Mulova lives in-, well, the name of the country is now, North Macedonia or the Republic of North Macedonia, which.- I'm not getting into all that, there's a Geography Now piece on Youtube, if you want to why I'm hesistant towards the country's name. Anyway, the mountainous areas of the country, and in particular, the area where Muralova live are still pretty removed from modern society. it's possible that many of these shots might've been the first time these areas might've been photographed, if not filmed. It's certainly physically impressive to see some of the shots they get, especially when climbing on the mountain. It's a gorgeous glimpse into a world that is rarely seen and nearly impossible to get to if you tried. If nothing else, "Honeyland" is a cinematic accomplishment.
That said, I didn't find the film as fascinating as others might. The movie is very cinema verite, which, I guess works, but I felt it could've used some breaking up.
There is another beekeeper in the movie, I guess a competitor, but the big deal is that this guy isn't as careful with his bees in general, and that can cause an aftereffect of the bees attacking others and effecting not only Hatizde's bees, but the economy of area and the industry. Because one bad hive that can cause the others to go bad, or the bee could attack others. Either way, knowing how few bees we have and how they need to be protected, and that conflict is, somewhat compelling.
"Honeyland" isn't about the conflict. Despite the painfully stringent fly, or bee-on-the-wall approach to this film, it's really ever gonna move you or not. This is a movie that requires the audience to just get swept away and caught up in the tones and pace; to be able to feel as though you're completely overtaken by the this new world around you. And-eh..., well, I respected it, but I didn't feel that. I think it hurts that I did feel that way for "More than Honey", which gave us a more global appreciation and respect for bees. That movie, despite, mostly being a talking heads and informative documentary about the plight of bees and how it's effecting and their place in the world, it felt more like a meditation on the act of beekeeping; it treated it like a spiritual, almost priest-life existence of both the bees, who polenate and make the honey and those keepers who job is, basically the same thing.
It's not an entirely fair comparison, 'cause "Honeyland" is more about the world these people live in, and that's...- well, that can either go one of two ways, either you become enthralled, mesmerized and enchanted by the world or you don't. Eh, I was, mostly not enthralled to be honest, although there were moments. For me though< I can see why some people like it, and I can see why the movie is important by documenting these people, but I tend to really need to want to be apart of the world I'm watching to really get that engulfed in it most of the time, especially for documentaries. Sometimes, I think some filmmakers can pull this off and make it appealling enough for me, Werner Herzog has pulled this off at times for some of his docs, but not always even him. And this one, just didn't for me. I'm still gonna recommend it, but when it comes to bees, I think I want a little more then this lovely village.
KNIVES OUT (2019) Director: Rian Johnson
I know there's a certain subsect who have watched Rian Johnson's latest film, "Knives Out" and were mostly, kinda befuddled by it. I mean I don't think they hated it or anything, but it's definitely a movie that, for those who mostly know Johnson from his previous feature-length directorial effort, which was "Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi" probably are confused by this film in particular. They might also know "Looper" as well, which was his previous science-fiction feature that probably got him the "Star Wars" gig, but yeah, they probably might be wondering what he's up to. As for me though, my reaction after seeing "Knives Out" was, YES! RIAN JOHNSON IS BACK, BABY!!!! Whoooo!
I can't help but to smile when I think about "Knives Out", his lovely, twist-of-a-knife spin of the classic over-the-top whodunit. Even one of the characters remark about how it seems like the character live in a live-action Clue game. This is the kind of movie I've been waiting for from him for a long time. The big thing with Rian Johnson, is that he was always a student of the classics of genres and that's why with movies like "Looper", he was able to find a mass audience with a clever new approach to some very classic sci-fi genre tropes, like time travelling and futuristic hitmen out for one last kill. It's why it made sense for him to direct a "Star Wars" movie I presume, but if you really dig into his filmography, you'd realize that it wasn't what he truly loved. He likes new takes on the classics.
For instance, before "Looper" he directed "The Brothers Bloom", an outlandish comedy about two conmen brothers who both get caught up in one last major con, and they may or may not be conning each other while also conning their mark. There's a lot of double-turns and twists in that film, and it's an enjoyable little romp, but the movie that I've always associated him with was his debut feature, "Brick". "Brick" is an underrated little indy that's a classic film noir, some really James M. Cain-hard boiled stuff, but it takes place in a modern-day high school. It's an over-the-top version, but I always thought it held up pretty well as a classic labyrinthian detective story. It's clever in how it takes the trapping of a high school as a replacement for the usual cold, seedy motifs of a fog-laden big city's underbelly, and he uses it for both comedic and dramatic effect. I can see how some might not love it and think it's mostly just a gimmick, but I thought it worked in kind of the same way that Joel Schumacher's "Phone Booth" works as a filmmaking exercise then as a realistic, plausible film. And film noir was rarely plausible or realistic to begin with, so I always thought it fit pretty well.
But now, with "Knives Out", I think he's finally reached full potential. His love of embracing and toying with genres, especially mystery genres, have finally found it's most extravagant and delectable form. We meet the characters after the murder of the rich family patriarch Marian Thrombley (Christopher Plummer) a famous murder-mystery writer who's suddenly dead after his 85th Birthday. All signs originally point to suicide, but of course, his family is a classic all-star collection of suspects, each of whom lie to the police officers, Lieutenant Elliott (LaKeith Stanfield) and Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) for one reason or another, each of them have a their motives for possibly wanting Marian dead. And then there's a famous private investigator, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, shockingly doing a wonderfully bizarre southern accent for a role that, especially with a name like Benoit Blanc, you'd think he could've gotten away with a more European one if he wanted.) who was hired shortly after the murder to run his own independent investigation into the death by someone who clearly suspects murder, although he isn't sure of who exactly hired him.
Look, I'm not gonna go through all the side-characters here. Trying to explain how and why they all could've done the murder would just take too long and ultimately is pointless, but you get people like Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don frickin' Johnson of all people, and Chris Evans, playing up these absurd over-the-top caricature types that feel straight out of everything Agatha Christie ever wrote, and they are just all superb in this. My favorite of the bunch is actually Toni Collette's performance, as the wispy widowed daughter-in-law who scrapes by with the typical cons of being an online social media influencer in the lifestyle coaching side of that medium; her name doesn't get mentioned enough among the great actresses working today, but look through her career and filmography and you realize just how much she had done and is capable of, it's ridiculously that we haven't placed her firmly on the Meryl Streep podium yet.
There's some other beautiful weirdos playing other beautiful weirdos in this thing, like M. Emmett Walsh and Frank Oz and Katherine Langford, Riki Lindhome has like ten lines maybe, and I don't remember what her character even is, but throwing her into this little world with the likes of K Callan for some reason makes perfect sense. All that said, the only character who actually matters narrative wise is Marta (Ana de Armas) Marian's nurse and housekeeper who the Thrombeys seem to like and often treat her, "Like family", which, even if that were true, would not necessarily be a good thing. She's the last one to see Marian alive and unlike the rest of the family has a physical, let's call it an obvious tell when she lies, so she's the perfect person to help with the investigation Benoit figures.
Unbeknownst to her though, it turns out that she also had a motive and as suspicion continues to grow on her, the family also begins to try to go after her. The movie is a wonderful game of cat-and-mouse in which, only one side knows their playing. It's all the delightfulness of a great episode of "Murder, She Wrote", pumped up on steroids and camp. A scenery-licking delight for all involved, and the scenery by the way, is over-the-top and charming as well. Who's job in production design was it to gather all those knives, I wonder? We need more of this genre in modern times; I think most people watch serial detective mysteries and/or Poirot or even Sherlock Holmes stories, and think they all take place in the past, even attempts to modernize them are mostly attempts to slick it up and batter it down to make the genre seem cool and hip or something, but frankly, a good mystery is a good mystery, and "Knives Out" shows that the classic structure and format is just as entertaining and relevant now as it was when those locked-in murder-mysteries were locked-in. I don't know if this'll end up being the best film of the year, but it's definitely ranking among my favorites; it's one of the most fun filmwatching experiences I've had in a long time and sometimes you need to have a little fun.
Oh, and it does actually have some other pieces of meta-commentary on the times too, so you know, yes, you could probably make an interesting comparison of it to "Parasite" if you wanted, but I still just enjoy the laugh I get out of a suspect throwing away a piece of crucial evidence, only for the dog to go fetch it and keep bringing it back.
FOR SAMA (2019) Directors: Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts
I doubt you will ever read this, but having seen this wonderful movie that your mother Waad Al-Kateab made for you, I have some thoughts about you and I want to tell them to you.
Number one, you are a cute little baby. Every time I saw you onscreen, you made me smile. Second, and most importantly, your mother made you a beautiful gift in making this movie. For years, she filmed her surroundings and the events that shaped her young life, and eventually your brand new life, and well, they were gruesome and disturbing, and hopefully by the time you're an adult, your hometown of Aleppo, Syria will in no way resemble the horrors of the crumbled buildings and bodies, or the constant bombings and airstrikes that interrupted and impeded on what should've been the happiest moments of your life. More importantly though, the fact that your mother, was able to stare into the depth of this, excuse-my-language, Hell, and that she was able to live her life is simply amazing. She was able to make her way through the streets of bodies and slide across the bloodied hospital floors, when those hospitals were still able to stand, and manage to find love. Your father and mother, in the midst of this chaos caused by a genocidal dictator, were able to have a lovely little wedding.
Actually, I shouldn't have said, those words, "genocidal dictator", that could confuse you, let's just call him a "Bad Man" for now. You can look up the things he did and why when you get older after the Bad Man and his family have been disposed of and sent to the dustbins of history.
There's a lot of people, like your mother who are documenting what the Bad Man does, and has been doing. Much of it, has informed the greater world, some of it has perhaps even helped, but your mother decided that it wasn't enough to just let the camera roll on what happens to other people, and she told her story as well, and therefore also, your story. That was really brave of her. I can imagine it being very difficult to stare into abysses as constantly as she does, and still realize that such emotional, personal feelings, like love, and everyday feelings can be so pivotal and critical to how we appreciate what she and many others was going through. And, your mother, and father, went through a lot.
They put their lives at risk, perhaps even yours, for a greater cause. They were there to make sure that others voices would be heard, and they did all that, in an effort to make sure you would have a wonderful loving home to live in. To come home to. Obviously, you're not currently in Aleppo right now, and even that is a mini-miracle you owe to your amazing parents, but they were trying, perhaps stubbornly as long as they could. I hope you like it currently in the UK though.
Be nice to your new younger sister too. She perhaps wouldn't be here either if your parents didn't do everything they could to protect you and make sure you're still here. There were a lot of people who didn't make it. There were times when your parents feared for your life and there own, and yet they persisted on showing us the brutal reality of lives interrupted, all the while, made sure that their lives would not be. To do that in a modern warzone, well, it's inspiring to say the least and downright amazing. There are many people who have no idea what their parents were like and what they were doing before they were born, and many of them, well, it's always a miracle when a new person is born, but very few have as amazing a story about their birth as you do. I hope, if nothing else, you cherish that fact, and all the little coincidences and facts that brought your two loving parents together to have a little miracle like you.
Here's to you little Sama, you have a wonderful life upcoming, and wonderful parents who've made sure of that. Make the most of it while you can.
An admirer of your mother's work.
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019) Director: Craig Brewer
So, the best show on TV right now is "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel". Yes, it's the best show, and it has been for awhile now, don't @ me. Anyway, the show is a sitcom that takes place in the late '50s and early '60s and centers around a housewife who's transitioning into her career as a stand-up comic. There's a character on that show named Sophie Lenon a famous female comic who's known for playing a very broad, over-the-top female comedienne who was funny and talented, but mostly was a gross caricature of a self-ebasing housewife, this is despite the fact that she is overly-talented actress and dramatist with an Ivy League artistic background, but she mostly remains in character and jokes about herself. Now, like the titular character of Mrs. Maisel, Sophie Lennon is not directly based on any particular comedienne as far as I can tell, but even with just a slight passing knowledge of female stand-up comics of that late '50s and early '60s, then, you kinda immediately the kind of acts that she's riffing off of here. These very over-the-top self-deprecating acts of that era, that really bit into some of the worst stereotypes of females back then, especially female stand-ups.
Nowadays, it's almost like, an insult for a comic, any stand-up comic to not, in some ways seem "real" or believable; generally you don't see too many stand-up comics come onstage and perform as a character. They do perform acts of course, and that act is often is not the comic, of course, but it's understood that they're exaggerating their own persona. However back '50s-'60s, it was more acceptable to approach comedy like this, especially for those who were multi-talented and had to do a little bit of everything, until they find something that works, and true of some post-vaudeville female comics like Totie Fields and Phyllis Diller to an extent, but it was probably more true of African-American comics of both sexes. And it's through those lens where I think the story of Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) really begins.
Rudy Ray Moore was apart of that era of that Chitlin Circuit of entertainment necessarily, but he made several attempts at becoming famous. He was a singer and dancer at one point with a minor record deal that didn't take off, he ran through basically position you can have at a nightclub, and eventually stumbled into a comedy career which floundered for awhile. "Dolemite is My Name" is the story of his most successful mainstream venture, when he created a character based on some old-time tales that the drunken homeless old black men in the neighborhood would rant on legends about named Dolemite.
Now, I know the name "Dolemite" mostly through films. I haven't seen any of the Dolemite movies yet, but they're pretty noteworthy and infamous amongst blaxploitation circles. That said, most of what I've heard about them, is that they're usually ribbed on for being some of the goofiest of those films and for having some of most inept filmmaking of the time, even within the blaxploitation genre, which, the more you dig into that genre,- just, trust me, there's no shortage of questionable filmmaking ideas in those films.
That said, his films which were on a showstring budget and mostly by amateurs who only barely understood the intricate details of filmmaking, and the Dolemite character, became pretty popular and legendary. I'm glad I actually did see "Dolemite is My Name" first, before I dived into the "Dolemite" films, because, I really didn't know about the context of "Dolemite" before this movie. Moore's idea of creating this foul-mouthed old-time legendary pimp character from these rhymes was quite popular among the African-American community through the '70s. If I had known better and been more in the know, I probably would've had a couple of his albums next to my old Redd Foxx's on my comedy shelf. In fact, his rhyming patterns of slamming over some classical jazz notes on his albums is nowadays considered a progenator to rap music. If he's the reason why half of all rap music is just the rappers bragging about how much better they are then everybody else; I can certainly see that, although I think ultimately he should take more blame for that, but I'm gonna let it slide, 'cause that was the character.
The movie details the birth of Dolemite, as well as the making of his first movie. It's kind of an intriging contrast, especially from director Craig Brewer, who's most known for his breakout film "Hustle & Flow", essentially he's making a similar movie through the second part of "Dolemite is My Name", only instead of creating an album of rap music, here's a crew of seemingly random filmmakers that have been cobbled together, in order to make this movie. Moore hires a fairly famous actor, D'Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) to direct the film, after finding him at a strip club. He gets a playwright, Jerry jones (Keegan-Michael Key) to write the script who's not really a fan of Moore's work, but knows how to work around Moore's natural talents and instincts to shape a Dolemite story out of it. He even gets a fellow comic and performer, Lady Reed (Da'Vine Joy Randolph) among other friends of his for small parts. It's a real DIY project, reminiscent of some of the best scenes from Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" and his similar issues with circumventing the traditional conventions of filmmaking.
Actually the other movie that the film kinda resembles is Mario Van Peebles's "Baadassss!", which was also a story of a landmark blaxploitation film, but this is much more on the "The Disaster Artist" side of that film, only, well, good. [Yeah, I was the one.] What I get with this film is the appreciation the filmmakers have for the artist, which like Tim Burton's film, seems to have a reverance for it's subject matter, and that's true. Murphy was noted for years to have had whole "Dolemite" parties for many of his friends and family, and considers Rudy Ray Moore a hero and icon, so does Snoop Dogg and Chris Rock both of whom have small roles as DJs here. This movie was clearly a labor of love for those making it. Murphy in particular strikes an unique note. Often one of the drawbacks of some of his more outlandish performances is that his character is sometimes just a little bit off-center from the surrounding world around him, especially in his comedies, and to be honest, it just doesn't always work within the framework of his comedies. However, Moore's Dolemite was also a character like that in his films, and in real life by many accounts. Moore was pretty enigmatic, himself and often didn't quite fit in with the world around him. They make allusions to the fact that he was mostly likely gay in the movie, especially his nervousness during a sex scene he has to shoot that he decided to turn outlandishly comic over some objections. So, that kind of aloofness that Murphy can have actually helps work with this film.
This is one of Murphy's best performances by the way. You can tell this is role he cares about and is doing it as much justice as he can. There's a lot of good performances in the film, Ron Cephas Jones has a strong supporting role, so does Omar Epps as his best friend, I didn't even recognize Tituss Burgess in the film, and he was right in front of me the whole time. Credit the costumes and makeup as well, the movie is a technical gem on top of everything else. Mostly, it's a solid tribute to a man who, I can easily imagine in another time period of entertainment getting easily forgotten, like an old vaudevillian. Rudy Ray Moore had to hustle for most of his career, but he had one luxury of timing, he came around right at the time where his unique talents can be both documented and celebrated, and this is one of the best celebrations yet.
BOOKSMART (2019) Director: Olivia Wilde
Ironically there was a questionaire going around on FB that I participating a couple days before watching "Booksmart" about things that, you liked back during your Senior year in high school. I hate to feel like a character from a Springsteen song, but I do reflect on those days a lot, but I don't know if my generation of high school grads would relate to these young kids. Then again, I don't know if anybody ever fully related to ourselves either. Perhaps it's the writer in me who strives to empathize more, but nowadays, whenever I happen to run into an old classmate, I'm more-or-less curious wondering stuff like, "What the heck was that all about?" with them. Try to dig deeper, try to figure out what else was going, 'cause honestly, I think a lot of the time, we mostly kept to ourselves, especially while we were in school. Outside of that, you got to get a better sense of people, but then again, I usually only did that with a select group of friends. Now, it's kinda cool to relearn and learn about everybody. That might also be a lot of social media too; we were online, but we didn't really connect the way we do with each other now. Honestly, I can't believe I used to stay in contact with my friends by e-mailing them, and I did that, because I never liked giving out my phone number; my god, my phone number would've been so much better, at least before Facebook. (In my defense, I did have a bad experience giving out my phone number in elementary school to the wrong, and I don't want to get into that but-eh, thank god that girl moved away.)
At least that's how my generation seems to be. I can't speak for others, I know my mother's high school class seems to, in many ways, still be in angry mean girl mode. I don't know how others would describe me in high school, but if somebody were to call me, "Booksmart", I probably wouldn't disagree with them. Although in all honestly, I don't read as many books I probably should, either now, or back then for that matter, but I did have a way of obtaining a lot of information. I will say this though, I didn't care as much about doing great in school as Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Bernie Feldstein) though. Oh, I did good, don't get me wrong, but at a certain point, doing everything to get into the college I wanted to plan out my future aspirations and goals to the nth degree, um..., I genuinely don't know anybody in high school who did that, certainly not with the grandiose ambitions of stuff like going to Ivy League schools and hoping to become a Supreme Court Justice or something like Molly does. And I certainly was going on a peace mission to, well, anywhere, but certainly not Africa like Amy is for the summer before college.
Amy and Molly, well, like I said, by the time of my Senior year, there wasn't too many people left who cared much about being the best at school, at least not to this degree, and strangely this movie knows that. Molly is Student Body President but can't get the Principal or her VP Nick (Mason Gooding) but he's busy planning a graduation party at his Aunt's house. Now, interestingly I can think of some famous high school girl characters like these two in film. The two female best friends who are always together, always kinda presumed or assumed that they were better then everyone else for one reason or another. Intelligence and scholarly accomplishments could be one reason, absolutely. I guess the most obvious example is "Ghost World", which I wrote about not too long ago in my Canon of Film Series:
They're not the only characters though. Actually, the movie I felt reminiscent of most while watching "Booksmart" was "Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion", believe it or not. That was also a film about a couple outsiders trying to make one final lasting impression to their high school classmates. They have a random dance break scene like that movie. In this case, after Molly realizes that most of her obsession with becoming at, well, school, isn't all cracked up to be, especially after realizing that a lot of her classmates who she felt that she was so much better then, turned out to be, just as acclaimed and successful as her. Others going to Ivy League colleges, others with SAT scores in the-, wait, 1560? Is that still a high score; I thought they changed the scoring system since I went? Did they go back to the 1600 perfect score? Oh well.
Also, because it's Los Angeles, the dumbest of the stoners who's been held back a few years is also getting a six-figure job at Google out of high school.... (Sigh) I really wish they taught coding when I was in high school. Also, how did she not know that these students were at their equivalent until now; I'm assuming she took a lot of AP and Honors courses; she must've sene them in the same classes, by high school, you tend to get grouped together based on your learning capabilities and intelligence eventually. That's how I knew the most annoying and frustrating idiot junkie in my class was on my level accomplishment-wise?
Anyway, Molly convinces Amy, her closest confidant to take the last night and head out to that big party at Nick's aunt's house, and...- (Sigh)
Okay, there's been something that's bothering me about this structure of movie, the party films. They-eh, they're not compelling. At all. Any of them. I don't even think "The Hangover" works that well because of it. Like, the problem with these gigantic party night narratives is that, it makes the possibilities of what happens become too wide open. Basically, anything could happen, and that makes anything that does in fact, happen, well, it gives the movie less appealling. Your mind is open to every possibility and when you see what does happen, you go, "Oh, so they went that route."
"Booksmart" kinda has the same problem. Basically, there's one goal, and that's for Amy and Molly to get to the party, and they begin to have several issues on the way. They get sent to the wrong parties, they get sidetracked by other classmates...- I mean, as a storytelling device, it's not too terrible how it's used. They keep running into their classmates and occasionally their teachers and principals as they head out on a night of sex, drugs and stupidity, and learning somewhat more about them and their personal lives, which, I like, actually, but it's still the same structure of your typical anything can happen scenarios. So as an audience member, you're not engaged, 'cause since you're expecting anything to happen, you're just waiting for it to happen.
After that, you can kinda fill in the rest, 'cause most of the conventions of the typical high school story about people,- well, most of these films are about losing your virginity before high school ends, which, yeah, does happen to one character, and they do frame that well, and smarter then most other films would, but the rest of the conventions are there. There's a liar revealed, there's a fight that nearly derails the night, there's a bad guy wanted by the police, which, yes, is a stupid typical convention of this genre for some reason.
This one's a tricky one for me. I thought the performances were top notch, but I was kinda hoping for more. This was Olivia Wilde's debut feature as director, who I don't think I'll ever stop confusing for Olivia Munn. and she's okay. The script was written by four different female writers, and yeah, I'm glad both females are writing and directing this, especially the high school comedy genres, they're heavily underrepresented, but in hindsight you do get the sense that this script just kept getting passed around for awhile. That said, I do like the script in general. I think the idea is smart, and the characters are well-written, although I did noticed that I have no idea who Molly's parents are, or what her home situation is, like, at all. I mean, I guess ultimately that's not necessary; this film basically is "Valedictorian Bitches' Day Off", well, okay, "Valedictorian Bitches' Night Out" I guess, and for that I think it's as good as we could've hoped for.
Still, I feel like this was a missed opportunity, as somebody who is much more booksmart then- what's the opposite of that, streetsmart? Ugh. (Shrugs) For somebody who is much more booksmart then I am an, outgoing, extroverted, emotional, partier, type, I feel like more could've been done.
THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART (2019) Director: Mike Mitchell
Revisiting my review of "The LEGO Movie" I'm a little surprised at how much I really did enjoy the film. I guess I remembered that I admired the film and found it's carefree and insucient approach to storytelling inspiring, but I seemed to recall being the one who wasn't as amazed at the film as others were at the time. I guess a lot of that might've been me being surrounded by a lot of people who took "The LEGO Movie" under their wing moreso then I probably thought it deserved; I know I thought it should've gotten into Best Animated Feature category as well that year, (Didn't think it should've won though) but even with my admittance that the writing was especially powerful and fascinating, especially for something that's essentially just a giant toy advertisement, I did admit that I had some issues with some of the reveals of the greater universe of the movie. Although I also strangely compared the movie's main villain to Pol Pot, which, might've been a little too much for a kids' movie.
Well, actually, are these kids' movies? I'm not anti-self referential comedy in movies, but it does date these films, and sometimes, they just devolve into freestyling improv comedy it seems. Like the weird joke where Gary Payton and Sheryl Swoopes play LEGO versions of themselves and Payton has to explain who Sheryl Swoopes is? Like, okay, but why? I mean, I get that these movies are essentially just cameofests, but did they think we'd all automatically know who Gary Payton is because he was in an old NBA jersey that's so outdated the team doesn't exist anymore, and not know who Sheryl Swoopes is when she's wearing an old WNBA jersey that's so outdated the team doesn't exist anymore? I mean, just because I get all the past Batman (Will Arnett) movie references doesn't mean everybody will or should. I don't know, even before watching "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part" I was starting to feel some strong "Shrek"-like vibes from the first one, like how the dated references in that one age it a little more then it should, but yeah, I was getting less and less impressed with them with this movie.
Also, how come this movie takes place in the human world, at least the same human world as the first movie? Cause the side movies involving Batman and-eh, Ninjago? (I didn't see "The LEGO Ninjago Movie" yet; I don't really know who/what that is.) that weren't focused on the survival of the entire world these LEGOs exist in, they're separate? Well, I guess so. It makes me concerned that this movie was just a direct sequel to "The LEGO Movie" with a more literal and obvious focus on the kids playing with the LEGOs.
I guess in one way, that's kinda expected, but I don't know, while I wasn't crazy that the first movie went with that reveal, the fact that they just laid it out there to begin with here, I guess it's the logical advancement of that idea, but did they need to advance that idea? Basically, the main story involves an alien invasion on the people and buildings of the LEGO world by these cutesy aliens that eventually kidnap several of the superheroes and have forced the remaining members of the Lego world to form a Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic world, although Emmett (Chris Pratt) remains his special, blissful, joyous self. Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) on the surface seems more at home here, but she begins to get concerned at how little Emmett has evolved, even though he has become much more technologically creative then her master builder girlfriend. He even builds a house for them, which gets attacked by the aliens. The leader of this group, Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) kidnaps most of the Lego Universe and appears to brainwash them and plans to marry Batman at 5:15pm according to the Dolphin, sparking the Amamageddon. Emmett seeks help in saving Lucy and the others, and finds help with Rex Dangervest (Pratt, also) a rogue master blaster who's got a time-traveling spaceship run by dinosaurs, and seems to be have a convenient exposition device for any situation.
This one's tricky; I think I'm leaning towards recommending "The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part", 'cause it does have enough laughs and quirks for me to appreciate it, even if some of it feels too much like a retread. It also doesn't heltp that while the Lord & Miller team didn't direct this one, they did write this screenplay, and I think they did a lot of their better self-referential sequel material for "22 Jump Street", which is a far better sequel film then this is. I don't know, part of me feels like they phoned this one in, while "22 Jump Street" seemed like they were going out of their way to play with the ideas of contractually-obligated sequels. As much as I didn't love "Toy Story 4"'s ending, it didn't make me just wish I was watching an earlier "Toy Story" film, and this one made me wish I could revisit "The LEGO Movie" for the first time and truly appreciate it for the first time. Here's hoping they don't add on any other siblings to this franchise.
HER SMELL (2019) Director: Alex Ross Perry
Hmm, okay, three-piece female punk bands, from the '90s... (Thinking pause) Hmm, um, Sleater-Kinney comes to mind. You know, I used to think that I was somewhat inspired by the '90s, Riot Grrrl movements, but I kinda got into that late, as I was generally more into adult alternative Lilith Fair scene growing up, so I'm not exactly sure who the inspiration is for Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss), or if she even is supposed to be a surrogate for, like a Kathleen Hanna's-like obsessiveness-meets-Courtney Love's destructiveness type; especially these days, it's almost unrealistic to actually see modern-day rock stars in movies and imagine them in this world actually having the success they usually have in these movies. I mean, when was the last time a guitar god was even on the charts? Carlos Santana and the turn of the century? Nobody wants to listen to that anymore (except for me) and they're certainly not gonna listen to a Liz Phair-type punk rock guitar sound (again, except for me.)
Actually, I think I'm going down the wrong path here. I think I'm trying to get a hold of "Her Smell", because I've had difficulty trying to get a grasp of the film's director. Alex Ross Perry has been one of those filmmakers that's been popular among some of the hardcore indy film sects for a few years now. I'm not entirely caught up on his entire filmography, but of what I've seen, I've-, well, I've been conflicted about him. He's fiercely independent and yet also, very full-of-himself. And based on this piece on Indiewire about his utter disdain for the modern-day Hollywood machine, I don't think he's going to be invited to the mainstream anyime soon:
That said, despite his films' low budget and independent streaks, I'm kinda confused about him. I barely liked the two movies of his I have seen "Queen of Earth", which was something I was a little too nice too, and "Listen Up Phillip", which was more annoying, but maybe I undervalued a little bit? "Queen of Earth" I compared to people like Ingmar Bergman and Lars Von Trier, but apparently he was mostly inspired by R.W. Fassbinder's work mainly. I can kinda see that, I guess. "Listen Up Phillip" was more clearly inspired by Woody Allen, but it took some weird strange turns, and based on it's main character, I can probably see a little Wes Anderson, a la, "Rushmore", but even then, I feel like I'm giving it too much credit. Apparently, while he was in the editing room for 'Her Smell" he figured the movie compared highly to the likes of..., P.T. Anderson's "Boogie Nights"?
(Puzzled look, stares at DVD, reads back covers silently to self.)
"Becky Something is a '90s punk rock superstar who once filled arenas with her grungy all female trio, "Something She", Now she plays smaller venues while grappling with motherhood, exhausted band mates, nervous record company executives, and a new generation of rising talent eager to usurp her stardom. When Becky's chaos and excesses derail a recording session and national tour, she finds herself shunned, isolated and alone. Forced to get sober, temper her demons and reckon with the past, she retreats from the spotlight and tries to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success"
(Scratches head, sighs)
Okay, I'm just gonna be blunt here, I don't see any P.T. Anderson in this. Like, like nothing. Nothing "Boogie Nights" related, no camera angles or shots, or- I mean, I guess there's some themes of stardom and excesses derailing that, but like, not enough for me to compare the two. Okay, it does kinda end on an Anderson-like note, but "Boogie Nights" was about the rise and fall of a whole era of the porn industry, and while there's some flashback sequences that seem like they were shot on an early '90s home movie camera, um, this movie is directly just, about a single character and her-eh,- her-eh,...- her, behavior?
He also mentioned that he figured this film to be Shakespearean epic?
(Scratches head again)
Okay, I guess digging deep into Shakespeare, I can think of some characters that remind me of Becky Something, but eh, if were talking what playwrights I would've thought inspired her, um, I would've came up with a few different names instead. Eh, Tennessee Williams, jumps to my mind first. Eh, August Strindberg, there's a bit of his heroines in there. She seems to act like she's some kind of all-powerful witch half-the-time, maybe throw in Arthur Miller too....? Ooh, David Mamet, a bit, like "Cryptogram"-David Mamet, I can see her being born out of that kind of inspiration. Okay, we have a crazed and eccentric and obsessive female main character who's the middle of everyone's world, in a film where everything takes place in a few scenes and locations like a stageplay and made by a rebellious filmmaker who's clearly a control freak of a director who would rather make his own project his way, despite some ridiculous limitations then compromise with the Hollywood machine, possibly only getting involved with them to finance his own productions.... Okay, I think I got it; the best comparison for Perry is John Cassavettes.
Cassavettes was strictly outside the mainstream, at least as a filmmaker. Like Perry, he supplemented his films by taking other roles sporadically, but years before the normal idea of Independent Cinema was around, Cassavettes was re-writing the ideas of American films even were. I think that's probably the inspiration that emulates Perry the most, but I still feel like I'm not getting the idea here.
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking, like, if you can't figure out exactly who someone is inspired by, then isn't that a good thing? Doesn't that mean that Perry is some kind of exhuberant rare talent with a unique independent voice? Uhhh, maybe? But, it's also clear that he does have influences and is using them to create his own storytelling worlds and unique visions, and, okay perhaps if I don't know who they are, or I might not see the influences I do know or see them the way he sees them.... I'll say, he's obviously talented and interesting enough to give him the benefit of the doubt.
He also seems a bit like an obnoxious prick. Apparently, that article also talks about his films as representatives of Perry's greatest fears. To quote the David Ehrlich's Indiewire article directly,
"...His characters are more like toxic projections of the people Perry is afraid to become -- cautionary tales of what happens when someone's head gets full of their own hype, and they grow convince that they don't need anyone's else to support them."
I guess that's, an explanation of why his characters seem too frustrating for me to truly enjoy them. Now, what's the explanation for why Becky Something is so insane?!
Okay, I've been dancing around this issue, but here's the thing, Becky Something is just,- well, she's the kind of character who I keep waiting for someone to say what her actual problem is, and it just never comes. I mean, she does get better, the assumption is that she's stop drinking and doing drugs so now, she's more, um, sane, I guess, but I just don't buy it. Even in the flashback scenes, she seems just as erratic and manic as she does when she's out-of-control, dropping her kid and falling off stage while being followed by some scam shaman fortune tellers and-, like, I'm not judging the performance by the way, this is a really strong performance, and I can see why, on the page, Elisabeth Moss would be interested in this work. I can see an actor pouring over this dialogue and being incredibly inspired by trying to dissect exactly how to play this character; that's a fascinating and incredibly difficult process for any actor.
That said, is this realistic? And more then that, does this character work? She's one of those characters who is so damaging to herself and others that basically she's the inciting incident to everything that happens and it's her behavior, whether it's, how she acts normally, or before she decides to faceplant on stage after burning every bridge she has time and time again. Yes, there are creative geniuses I can think of who might be like this, but as a reading of the movie; I basically was waiting for the film to explain that she was bipolar or something.
That's actually something I've often wondered about with some older works, especially some Tennessee Williams characters, (And John Cassavettes characters, now that I think about it) sometimes they can so often be the driving and center force of action, it's easy to see how somebody can return to that kind of archetypical muse character. "Betty Blue" that terrible cinema du look film also kinda applies to this; we get introduced to these characters during their manic and somewhat sane period and then, when manic because insane or depressive, it just slams everything to a halt. Before that was diagnosed I bet there's a lot of female characters throughout literature who probably were bipolar and weren't diagnose as such or treated as such so, we just kinda let them off the hook or explain their behavior in some other way. Hysteria maybe?
Becky Something feels like one of these kinds of characters, and she's in a story that, might be set in a more modern time, but it feels like it should be in the same category as those stories, and it's that sense of unawareness of that fact, that trips me up about Alex Ross Perry. Sure, this movie is quite impressive in many regards, there's a lot going on for essentially something that, might only have a few scenes in a similar location, with the same actors in most every scene. And sure, people like Cara Delavigne, Dan Stevens, Virginia Madsen, Ashley Benson, Eric Stoltz, Amber Heard, and Jessie Pinnick among several others are quite good here, but this movie for all-intensive purposes is all about Elisabeth Moss; it's a showcase for her talents and she's been one of our best actresses for a few decades now. I think her work is impressive. Arguably her best film performance, but I also think the role might've been too complex and over-the-top and even vague considering the real lack of info about her background for me to believe she was reaching this character on an empathetic level, but I also don't think Perry wrote her for us to consider finding sympathetically.
Ultimately, I'm gonna knock this film. Not because I don't like what he's doing. Or, whatever he's trying to do, I just don't think he's close to doing it as well as he could. I've yet to be blown away by Perry's film yet, because there's a way to do this and do this character and story right. One that allows us, if not the film's other characters to understand where she's coming from, and still see her throwing herself into self-destruction. Why is everybody so blind or just accepting of these actions of hers; I'd have been questioning her even in the earliest scenes we see of her, and again, it's not just drugs and alcohol that cause this behavior. Even if these are depictions of his worst selves, does Perry just not have enough self-awareness to realize that, you still do have to explain these behaviors and why she's acting this way, right?
Also, what the hell's with all the "visions" talk she has? Like, was that supposed to go somewhere, all these talks of other lives and demons and witchery and...- like I feel like that didn't have anything to do with anything. Does she just visions in her mind and that has nothing to do with anything?
Like, normally, something like that gets brought up and constantly, it has a point or a payoff, there's several ways of doing that, but this one didn't have shit? Was that stuff just, a sign she was out-of-her-mind? We could tell that already? I don't-, I don't get it.
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (2019) Director: Joe Talbot
Well, that's a provocative title.
I guess I'll get the obvious stupid racist joke out of the way first. "The Last Black Man in San Francisco": Ehhhh, something, something, something, something, Oakland.
Actually, I think that might be part of my issue with this film, I don't really know a lot about African-American history in San Francisco. Looking into it, well, there is some history and culture, from the area that are worth noting, the famous Fillmore District is often regarded similarly to the Harlem district of New York. Other then that area, San Francisco, for the majority of it's history has one of the smallest populations of African-Americans among the nation's largest cities. It does have prominent minorities, only 45% of the city is caucasian, but the majority of that demographic is usually from other minorities, usually Asian or South Pacific Islanders.
That said, looking into this, doesn't make me feel like I'm expanding my thoughts on "The Last Black Man in San Francisco".
Honestly, I don't bave much thoughts. I've spends weeks staring at a blank screen trying to figure out how to tackle this film, but I just- I just don't. I don't hate this film, it's weirdly too interesting to hate, 'cause it's first-time feature filmmaker Joe Talbot, is too interesting, and the movie is very personal. Talbot is a 5th-generation San Franciscan, the movie is about multi-generational African-Americans, it's about a house in San Francisco that has great meaning to him and his co-writer Jimmie Fails IV, who also stars in the movie as the lead character named, JImmie Fails IV. That's-eh, that makes this movie seem pretty autobiographical. Also, Jimmie's best friend, Montgomery (Jonathan Majors) is an artist, often writing plays in between shifts at the fish mongers on Fisherman's Wharf. Jimmie is sleeping on Montgomery's couch having just returned to town and getting work as a nurse at a Seniors Care home.
Mostly though...-, okay I'm sure most of you have heard the term "Checkov's Gun", right? Well, I'd like to introduce a new term into the literary lexicon; I call it, "Checkov's Home".
This isn't all Checkov's work, but and I'm not sure he originated this trope, but I see this narrative a lot, especially with stage plays, but it pops in film too. The big detail is that, there's a home that several people care about, and then, the home is sold or something and it's usually so sacriligeous and controversial to the characters that this happened, that usually somebody will try take it out on somebody. Or not, sometimes just everything's fuck. I often see this where, say a character invests money in something that turns out to be a scam and not they can't pay the rent kind of thing, "A Raisin in the Sun" is a good example for this one. Basically any single location that represents to a majority of the main characters, that's for reasons, usually outside their control. The hotel closing in "Hot L Baltimore" for instance, or even the loft in "Rent", can even kinda count here, even though most of the drama regarding the ownership of that takes place in the first and second act at most, and they're not getting kicked out or anything. Okay, that might not be a good example, but trust me, you watch enough theater, this theme will show up a lot.
And it shows up here in a big way, 'cause the big thing with Fails, is the house. The story that's gone through his generational line is that, there's a house that's in his family for years and that his grandfather built it. He's now, trying to buy it back, but now it's worth a lot more then he could ever afford. The occupants move out and he begins squatting there, and figures that he can prove his case if anybody complains, or throws him out or tries to sell.
Meanwhile, much of the rest of the movie is, a bit part-meditation on the city and the history and how Jimmie feels so much of it, is changing before his eyes, while it also stumbles it's way through other characters. Occasionally some of them are interesting, like the scene where Jimmie runs into his mother, Wanda (Tichina Arnold) on the bus, unaware that she was even in town, or not in jail. Those scenes were cool, 'cause of how they helped gave the character some dimension, and I think there was a bit of "Do the Right Thing" neighborhood stuff here, done okay. I liked Omar Epps as his friend Bobby, and Danny Glover has a good small role here.
The movie's last act is also quite strong, and does involve theater, as I suspect this work probably would've been better on the stage. The ending is quite powerful, but I just don't quite know what to make of this film. I don't think it's that it's too personal either, there's a way to tell these personal autobiographical films like this; a film I've been thinking about a lot lately, Dito Montiel's "A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" pulled this off incredibly well; that's an underrated modern classic, and it's not terribly far off from many of the subjects and themes talked about in this film. That movie though, does focus on a more compelling actual incident, one that had major consequences for it's characters, and it showed those consequences over time. I think that's the problem; the big reveal of "The Last Black Man in San Francisco", basically comes down, "Things are changing too much, and I don't like it." or "I want to go back to my home." Honestly, I feel like this message is just hollow. I get what they're trying to make the message, but I just don't think it's succeeding as well as it could. It's trying to be a personal, it's trying to be a story of a town, a story of the people of the town, it's trying to connect a lot of threads, but there's nothing that's really compelling enough to truly connect them. Maybe that's also part of the point, that the locals are becoming more and more disconnected from the roots of the town, which, is something that I think could be a theme for a good movie, but I just don't know if this is it.
Maybe this would be better material for a TV show, like "Treme" was for that titular New Orleans neighborhood, but it's so focused on the one character going through his quarterlife crisis, that I just can't connect with him on the levels that I want to. Or maybe if it had a different central protagonist? Yeah, that might be it, if Talbot and Fails could see this story through one of the other characters eyes, or make it more obviously an ensemble piece of the neighborhood, and still have this house as the center of it. This one side character, Jimmie, he comes back to town and decides to squat and live in his old childhood home..., that would make this movie more enriching.
Well, maybe we'll get something better from these two next; I do think Talbot and Fails have some bright futures in film, but for right now, I gotta consider this an interesting failure. There's a lot of good pieces, but it doesn't all work together.
HOTEL BY THE RIVER (2019) Director: Sang-soo HONG
Based on the few films of his I've seen, HONG Sang-soo seems to be South Korea's equivalent to Jim Jarmusch. His films are as poetic as they are spare, with the tonal outshining the narratives, if there even is one. It's almost like he's just abandoned narratives, in favor of reflection, but I'm not sure he ever had traditional narratives to begin with. I've several of his movies still stuck on my Netflix queue, but one I actually got around to before "Hotel By the River" was "Right Now, Wrong Then", a movie I greatly admired. It was about a director and a young painter having a "Before Sunrise" night out experience, and then, they had it again, but from the young painter's point of view, which was quite different then his memories of it. In hindsight, I'm not entirely sure what the point of that gimmick was, but it actually worked pretty well.
"Hotel By the River" is going for something else. It's shot in black-and-white and on handheld camera, you could almost confuse the film for some kind of artsy documentary. Instead, we get, this, elegaic quite hotel, by a river, where there's two main guests. an aging poet, Young Hwan (Joo-Bong KI) who's for some reason, decided to spend time at this hotel and invite his two sons, Kyung-Soo (Hae-Hyo KWON) and Byung-Soo (Joon-Sang YOO), who he hasn't kept in much contact with over the years, and neither of them have kept up much with him. In fact, they often have a hard time even finding each other despite this hotel seeming to mostly be empty except for them.
Them and the two young women, A-Reum (Min-Hee KIM) and Yeon-Joo (Seon-Mi SONG), two friends who's relationship is never totally explained, but A-Reum, has just broken up with someone. She has a bandage on her arm from a burn we're told, something that Young Hwan notices when he sees her standing out in the middle of the snow. It's hard to say just how much these worlds collide, or how, I mean, it's again, more like two different stories. Essentially both A-Reum's and Young Hwan's journeys are about acceptance and grief. She's grieving over her relationship dying, Young Hwan, is grieving and accepting that he himself is about to die.
How is he dying? He doesn't know, but he just feels that he's about to die. I think there is something to that, where you might not be sick or something, but that you are about to pass and soon, and like how a dog might go find a spot in the backyard under a tree or something, and Young Hwan, has found this hotel, and that's why he's invited his sons, for one last, goodbye? The sons do suspect that, even if they don't entirely know for sure.
There's a essay by Kristin Yoonsoo Kim about the movie and mostly she ends up talking about an old relationship she had. That's kinda weird, but I get it; the movie is reflective; it's meant to conjur up old memories and emotions, in this case, the way you feel around death, whether that be a literal death that's upcoming, or merely a symbolic one that still takes you forever to get over. I can think of other movies that give you these feelings as well, but I also suspect I was right with the Jarmusch comparison to HONG. Jarmusch, was always a poet first then a filmmaker, which is part of why so many of his movies seem to either be about poetry or are clearly invoking the language of poetry, and that covers everything from Frost to Shakespeare to Wu-Tang Clan in his milieu; I don't think SONG is infatuated with poetry to that extent, but he definitely relatest to poets, and all artists in that respect. It's not that his characters are tortured artists, in fact, part of their problem is that they're too successful to be tortured, which in turn makes them even more frustrated, but once that comes back around, you end with looking at the everyday mundanity of life as poetic. Things like the beauty of a sudden snowfall, or a pretty girl standing in the middle of it with pain in her eyes, or even just walking down the street to a restaurant to have a nice dinner and hang out with the other people around you who become makeshift friends as they pour over their own problems while having some tofu.
That a cool feeling and emotion and it's a difficult one to convey through film. I think he pulls it off enough. I still kinda feel like there's so little narrative thread that I can't entirely embrace "Hotel by the River", but maybe I just haven't had my more memorable evenings with strangers on a whim then I've had my relationships go bad...? I'll still recommend "Hotel by the River", but I suspect that there's better work in Song's filmography that i need to discover.
AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (2019) Director: Qian HU
I've been struggling with what to make of "An Elephant Sitting Still", this nearly-four hour solemn meditation on the poverty-stricken lives of those living in the gray, disdain-filled industrial towns of China. Although, "towns" is maybe an understatement considering the population. There's been several movies lately from the East that seem to be striking rebukes of the modern capitalist world that's infiltrated East Asia, and China in particular seems to have been flooded with them, at least the ones that seem to make their way here. That's partially surprising considering the nation's infamous blocking of much of their more controversial media, but Bo HU's singular multi-narrative epic seems to have found it's place on the top of the latest pile, along with of course, the Korean movies of recent years, including the Oscar-winning "Parasite", although from China, I usually think of the works of the great Zhangke JIA including "A Touch of Sin" and "Mountains May Depart" and a little his recent gangster film "Ash is Purest White" seem to have a reluctant and distrusting view of the western economic influences that have taken over the country.
There's another filmmaker though who works hangs large over "An Elephant Sitting Still", and that's the Hungarian filmmaker BELA Tarr, most notably his ennui-laced extremely long, singular takes. BELA's most famous movie, "Werckmeister Harmonies" is infamous for having only 39 cuts in an over-two hour movie as he stays on his takes for a very long time. Sometimes they're closeup, sometimes they're dwelling on something, forcing us to dwell on them as well, but mostly his movies, seem to just be, observing the action. Almost like a ghostlike presence that watches over the sequences. I have to believe BELA was an influence of HU, especially "Werckmeister Harmonies", which curiously enough involves a lot of the same subject matter. Violence in a town that effects several others, personal epiffanies and struggles shared with characters over a short period of time...; it's been a while since I've seen it, but I don't immediate recall an elephant, although I do remember a whale sitting pretty still, but I do remember a circus that was purportedly coming to a nearby town.
The movie, based on a book that HU wrote under a pen name, involves four characters whose lives interconnected in the first part of the story, and then they seem to join together, as they seek out a mysterious elephant in Monzhouli, a town of about 250,000 in Inner Mongolia that's apparently a bus-rise away from wherever in Northern China we are. (I don't think in America, we totally get just how big China and populated China actually is. For instance, the in-the-news at-the-moment Wuhan Province, is the 10th-largest city in the country, and conservatively estimated, it's got about the same population as Chicago., America's 3rd largest city.)
Among the group off to the Elephant, Yu Cheng (YU Zheng) is a gangster who's having an affair with his best friend's wife, a student name Wei Bu (Yuchang PENG) is fighting with a bully, who happens to be the gangster's brother, there's another student at the same school Huang Ling (WANG Yuwen) who, frustrated with her homelife, (as with everybody) is sleeping with the Vice-Dean of her high school, and Wang Jin, (LI Chongxi) an elderly man who's fighting off his family's attempts to place him in a nursing home, and is trying to get at the owner of a dog who killed his own little puppy.
There's a lot of overlapping and several other actors involved, but these are the main four, and they at times seem to be the only ones who seems to have any empathy for anything other then themselves. The selfish egotistical nature of capitalism seems to be the part that we're starting to begin to find repugnant and critical. In American it's coming out in bold statement like Boots Riley's "Sorry to Bother You" but in China, it's coming in several form. Sharp observant criticisms of how the country's changed, or in this case, a fighting and rebellious spirit that's resigned from the overwhelming power of the new economic system that's overtaken all. I should mention that after finished this feature-length debut Director HU Bo committed suicide at the young age of 27. I'm not entirely surprised by what he created. This is a societal critique that doesn't end happy, it basically ends with it's characters determining that the best cause of actions for themselves is to simply escape and get away from the world around him, but it's sometimes a bit harder to do then we'd like to remember or think it could be. It's a tragedy not of the actions of the characters, but of their cursed geography and economic status. There's few options other then to accept their fate, and when they don't bad things happened and whether or not any of the action are their fault, the poor and the street criminals and the elderly are the ones to blame. Nobody who needs to look inward to solve their own problems, ever do. Those who do seek a greater, higher anything,- well, I wouldn't say their rewarded with what they're looking for or any meaning behind what they're seeking out, but I do think it's a good sign overall that they do in fact, seek out something behind themselves, even if it is just, a elephant that's not doing anybody but sitting and watching over the world around him.
I can definitely see why these characters would relate to such an existence, and perhaps why they ultimately ended up in situations that lead to them seeking something else in life.... In this life, or elsewhere....
MAIDEN (2019) Director: Alex Holmes
Okay, I like to think that on top of my knowledge in film, television and other forms of media and subjects, that I'm also fairly well-versed and knowledgable in most sports, however, eh, yachting is one sports where I'm fairly weak on. I know about the America's Cup, which, I know that America has sucked at for awhile now, and that's mostly match-race yachting. So, I had never heard of, well, it's generally referred to as "The Ocean Race" now, because the sponsors have changed so much over-the-years that nobody calls it the Whitbread Round-the-World Race anymore, but yeah, this is new to me. It's a race, usually starting and ending in Europe where teams of yachtsmen travel around the world and back. It's held every-eh, three-or-four years and is considered one of the biggest endurance yachting races out there.
I don't know much more about yachting, other then what I learn in "Maiden", but I do a little about geography, and during one leg of this particular race, the Captain of the titular boat, Tracy Edwards mentions that the next leg invoved traveling from Punta Del Este, Uruguay to Fremantle, Australia. My thought was, well there's two potential routes to go there, the obvious one is the Straight of Magellan, which is a calmer trip usually, or you take your chances around Cape Horn, which is much treacherous especially in that direction, but if you can maneuver it, it would probably give you a speed advantage.
Well, they were behind at that point, so, she went with option three. I did a spit take when I realized what path she took. She went, straight due South, and went around Antarctica. She and her crew won the leg, was ahead by several hours taking that insane shortcut around the edge of the globe, but it was quite genius to be honest.
"Maiden" is Tracy Edwards story first and foremost as it tells the story of the Maiden, the first all-female-crew team to enter the competition. Just to give you an idea how weird that was, previously, Tracy was one of only four women to ever be on a crew, period, and she was only allowed on that crew, as a cook. I guess I never thought much about it, but yeah, I can imagine there being a lost of discouragement towards women in the sailing world. There's a long history of women never even being allowed on most sea-faring boats, and boats, are generally referred to anthropomorphically as female. "Girls aren't for boats, they're for when you're on shore," she's told. However, Edwards, who was a British runaway who found herself bouncing around Europe was determined and dammit, she's a good captain and found a crew. And a boat, somehow. She even got King Hussein of Jordan to sponser her.
Nobody thought her crew would make it to the end of the first stage, she ended up winning a couple stages and did pretty strong in her division. Nowadays, there's people like Laura Dekker, who as a teenager manages to circumnavigate the world on her own while a teenager. (You can see her story in an interesting documentary called "Maidentrip"), that said, i'm not sure about Edwards' impact on the boating world as a whole, mostly 'cause there's not as much of a competitive boating world out there. Back in '89, there were 23 boats entering this race, but only since then has there been, half as many boats that have entered, usually it's less then a third. Yachting is an expensive sports, so I get why the vast decline, and there are other around the world races, so how important is this race anymore? I don't really know, but I am amazed at the story.
"Maiden" is a good sea-tale a rare modern one that wasn't about the adventures of sailing the high seas, but the fact that the sailors were able to do it at all. It's a good emotional sports documentary, with a classic underdog story and narrative.
SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (2018) Director: Boots Riley
I've spent a couple days trying to let "Sorry to Bother You", soak in a bit. Also, I think, everybody's just sunken in a bit these days. I had original plans to talk about telemarketing at first, 'cause that's the job that the main character Cassius "Cash" Green (LaKeith Stanfield) breaks in at and there's a lot to be said about telemarketing too; I've applied for a lot of telemarketing or surveying jobs over the years, and it's probably for the best that I never got hired 'cause I don't think I'd last a week doing that. It seems like Hell, calling people and getting hung up on over and over again, and then trying to coherse people into buying things that they probably don't want or even need.
And what does it even mean to be good at it? I mean, there's all kinds of scuzzy salespeople in film and television, but I can't imagine being a good telemarketer; the levels of double talk and mind somersaults that must take to convince yourself to be genuinely good at ripping people rip, selling them stuff by cold-calling houses when everybody's having dinner or sex or watching over their kids or just wanting to be alone with their grief.... And that's before you even get into having to talk in a White Person's voice. Yeah, I know it's an old Dave Chappelle joke that I'm sure dates back even earlier, but in this case, the African-American telemarketers working at this firm, all have an white person's voice, when they make their calls. In Cash's case, his white voice is David Cross. Other characters have Patton Oswalt's white voice, Lily James's white voice, and-eh...- well, I swore Danny Glover's character's white voice was Steve Buscemi's, so-eh, I'm just gonna believe that Danny Glover can do an unbelievable Steve Buscemi on a moment's notice.
To get back to telemarketing though, I'm gonna quote Melanie McFarland's review on Salon.com, where she notes that the film's director, Boots Riley calls this film, "an absurdist dark comedy with magical realism and science fiction, inspired by the world of telemarketing.” She also notes that "Even the simplest description... doesn't adequatley sum up it's themes, and that's fine. The less virgin viewers know about the film, the better."
Both of those are true statements. It also makes this movie, surprisingly difficult to write a review on. Oh, I have thoughts, many thoughts on the film, but how much do I reveal about this film? How much can I reveal? Do I even, as a white guy with a-eh, (Long pause) well, according to the film's definition I'm not sure I have a quote-unquote, "white voice", but I definitely come at differing angles to this material then others I know. In fact, I wonder what somebody like Steven Lift (Armie Hammer) would think of this film? Would they see it's distressing observant and thoughtful anti-capitalist parable as a representative of the times, or would they see this as just one of those fucked up movies they play in the background of their cocaine-fueled orgies?
Lift is the head of a popular-, oh what's the coy word we can use here? Well, he's a "Job Creator", let's say. He's quite popular too; he's figured out a way to give his employees with many of their own expenses that they'd normally pay out-of-pockets, including giving them all a place to live and food to eat, while still being able to provide them with a regular salary..., sort of. His company, WorryFree, which provides these workers to other companies, uses the telemarketing company that Cash soon becomes a "Power Caller" at, and begins to quickly climb up the ranks of success. This is much to the chagrin of his performance artist girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson) who is apart of a militant anti-capitalist movement called the Left-Eye Collective. She also a sign-spinner between graffiting the WorryFree signs and holding some pretty avant-garde expositions that, god bless Tessa Thompson, she's quickly becoming one of the best and most interesting young actresses around.
There's actually a lot going on here that I'm skimming over, a co-worker played by Omari Hardwick that's not given a proper name who's mastered climbing the telemarketing ladder, there's a hilarious scene in the beginning where it's slowly revealed that Cash rents out a garage from his Uncle Sergio (Terry Crews), there's a Union organizer co-worker named Squeeze (Steven Yeun) who starts heading up a protest; there's also a huge running narrative on the television, which is a criticism of our modern media on several levels. I should mention that this movie is both horrifying and hilarious. For instance, there's a weird red herring character that's kind of an absurd caricature of the token girl motivational speaker for a company, played by Kate Berlant whose character's name is Diana DeBauchery, which-, I can't phonetically spell how she pronounces it, but it's a brilliant little sidejoke where a character is clearly pronouncing her name in a way in order to hide how it sounds; it's like a modern R-rated "Bouquet Residence" joke for those who've seen "Keeping Up Appearances" enough times will catch.
Really though, to really dissect the movie, you gotta look into it's creator. Now, I'm gonna confess, other then seeing his name brought up with regards to this film, I never heard of Boots Riley until now. Of course, I immediately did research after seeing this, because, well, I had to figure what the hell insane mind came up with this, and he is one of the most fascinating artists and activists I've ever read about. His father was an attorney, the son of a Jewish mother who escaped Nazi Germany, his mother an African-American social justice organizer who was already a progressive Party radical by the time he was a teenager. I also find it interesting that he named an artistic character Detroit, and decided to have the film take place in Oakland, 'cause he's from Detroit originally and his family moved to Oakland when he was a teenager. Basically you could consider him the Ralph Nader of rap music. When he's not fronting his own legendary groups, he often tours with members of Rage Against the Machine, along with some other major names in the protest rock scene like Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and Jill Sobule among others.
I'm a little surprised I didn't know about his work as a musician, that's probably my fault though since I am probably still the holdout that thinks this rap music trend is just a fad that'll go away soon, but I'm more ashamed I didn't know about his work as an activist. This guy teaches, literally as a high school teacher where he taught something called, Culture and Resistance: Persuavise Lyric Writing, and has been a major voice of the socialist left for decades now.
DESTROYER (2018) Director: Karyn Kusama
Hmmm.... I gotta admit, um, "Destroyer" is a bit of a perplexing film for me. It's not a bad movie, it's not a good movie necessarily..., it's just kind of a strange one. This is a weird question, but you ever watch a movie and think that this story would've been better as a book? And I don't mean that, it's a movie based on a book and the book is better argument, I mean the way movie plays out and is structure that it would've been better if it wasn't a movie at all, and instead was a book? Cause "Destroyer" is a movie that I can imagine enjoying a lot more if I had read it instead of seen it. There's several reasons for that, but I think the structure is the big reason. I know Quentin Tarantino is famous for saying that movies should have the same narrative freedoms as books, how books can pretty easily start in the middle, then go forward and backward in time with ease, or change perspectives from one chapter or another, or have different writing styles for each chapter of the book, and on the one hand, I usually agree with him, but in this case, I feel like this is a movie that, despite not being particularly convuluted in it's structure, it definitely can use the freedom of a book; not because of the flashback-ladened structure, but because of how it approaches it. This is one of those movies where first person perspective would be a great benefit to the storytelling, but voiceover narration would've totally been a completely wrong choice.
Actually, I was shocked that when looking this film up, the movie wasn't based on a book. It was original screenplay by the writing pair of Phil Hay & Matt Madfredi. Now, normally I wouldn't necessarily mention the writers first, but I think they're somewhat critical to this because this isn't the first film they've worked on that's directed Karyn Kusama. Kusama's been around for awhile, so I think it's worth evaluating her work now. She bursts onto the scene at the turn of the century with a sleeper indy hit called "Girlfight". I haven't gotten to that one yet, but I remember it being big at the time. That's also the movie that broke Michelle Rodriguez through to the mainstream playing an up-and-coming female boxer.
That's actually kinda funny, 'cause I was thinking about "Million Dollar Baby" the other day, and I was like, "Man, not only did MMA blindside us with it's burst in popularity, but women's MMA really blindsided us," 'cause there was a good long while where we thought women's boxing was gonna take off, right when it was supposed to, MMA came in, and not only took out the thin female boxing talent pool, but added all the martial artists and now Ronda Rousey is 50x the name Mia St. John ever was.
Anyway sports history lesson aside, "Girlfight" was noteworthy because Kusama also wrote the script for that film. The next film project she got was the notorious action flop, "Aeon Flux" based off of a popular anime, and was written by the aforementioned Hays & Manfredi. I haven't seen "Aeon Flux" either, admittedly, but three-person team of Kusama directing and Hays & Manfredi writing has continued on. Kusama's mostly worked in television ever since, but her last two films were also penned by Hays & Manfredi. This one, "Destroyer" and her previous film, a bizarre horror movie called "The Invitation" that made my worst films list a couple years ago. She hasn't written anything since, and the only other feature-length movie she's directed was the Diablo Cody-penned horror-comedy "Jennifer's Body", which is the only movie of hers I actually love.
That said, "Destroyer" and "The Invitation" do have a lot in common. My big issue with "The Invitation", other then the general stupidity of it, was that it's main protagonist, who's apart of a dinner party that's quickly going more and more wrong, keeps leaving the room, where all the guests are usually at, to go and, do or think of something that's supposed to get him out of this predicament, but nothing ever he does ever works or happens, so he basically he just enters and leaves one room half a dozen times in 80 minutes and he comes back in and somebody new is dead. "The Invitation" is a really stupid movie; I stand by my hatred of it, but in a way, "Destroyer" kinda does something similar, but it sorta works here.
"Destroyer" is centered around Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) an LAPD detective who, seems to be a bit of a trainwreck personally, although professionally, she's efficent and gets shit done, although it does seem like she's bending the law a bit anyway. She arrives uninvited on a murder scene that includes a few messages and clues that only she can read. The big one being an ink-stained hundred-dollar bill or two. To her, this means that someone named Silas (Toby Kebbell) is telling her that she's in town. Who's Silas? Well, we don't learn it right away, but we certainly know that whoever he is, is trouble, and is out for Erin. In flashback sequence, we see Erin was an undercover cop in the beginning of her career working for Silas's gang, mostly a group of thieves. She and her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) get pretty caught up in Silas's activities during this time, and with each other. The flashback sequences are scattered and don't always add up at first, but she's in modern times, she's going one by one through the surviving members of Silas's gang, trying to seek him out, before she lures her out.
So, there's a couple issues I have with this movie that, well, normally they're the kind of things I don't complain about much, but-eh...- okay, first off, what the hell was with Nicole Kidman's makeup in this thing? It's not that it's bad necessarily, it's just...- well, basically, in the flashback sequences, she looks, like herself. A little younger then she probably is but, soft lighting is helping obviously, but she's recognizably nicole Kidman, there's even a couple scenes where we see that famous look of hers, you know the one. But in the modern-day scenes though, like, I guess they age her up, but it looks...- I just don't know what they're going for. She is a brutal and violent woman in a brutal and violent profession, so I wouldn't be surprised if a lifetime of occasionally getting her face beaten in had caused her to look like that, but it just looks unnerving, especially as we keep going back and forth with the past her. My mind keeps trying to come up with stories about how she went from that, to that, and I can't quite conceive of it as just, that's how she aged? Like, how much did she age? I've been staring at Nicole Kidman for like thirty years now, we know how she's aged, and it's not like that....
That's the other thing, Kidman is actually one of our more adventerous acting risk-takers, at least among our actresses who are also among our biggest movie stars. Running through her filmography in the last twenty years; she knew to jump headfirst into the independent film scene before most actresses of her acclaim, almost right at the peak of her celebrity, and it's paid off for her as she's one of the few actresses out there who can transition pretty seemlessly from big budget blockbusters to indy darling from film-to-film. That said, this is a weird part for her to take. I mean, she's good in the role, but it's not a role that fits her.
That's the other thing with the facial makeup, it doesn't work with the rest of her appearance...- look there's no other way to say this, she's got Richard Belzer syndrome.
If you ever watch "Law & Order: SVU" or "Homicide: Life on the Streets" and see Richard Belzer playing Det. Munch, you'll notice you rarely see him have any big action scenes. And also, that he's always wearing the heaviest overcoats on top of overcoats. Well, Belzer is just too skinny in real life, so you don't shoot him running down a bad guy, or, with any angle that emphasizes his build since it just looks weird. The more layers hides his frailness and makes him seem more of a presence and less of a distraction. Kidman's kinda got a similar getup. Tight skinny jeans, a leather jacket over a couple top layers, feathered hair over the aged makeup.... she just doesn't look like a cop. Or the way a cop should look, especially a violent one like this character, one who may have a history of being too deep undercover in her life. I think she ultimately does pull it off, but it's because of her talent as an actress. I'm happy she's showing this side of herself, but I do get the feeling this wasn't a part written for her.
Then again, this movie is just odd. Those flashback scenes do work in the way that going to another room scenes in "The Invitation" don't, but there's stuff that doesn't quite work here also. For instance, she has a sixteen-year-old daughter, Shelby (Jade Pettyjohn) that seem like they came from a different movie, almost, and we only kinda half-glimpse the depths of their dynamic. That's only because we barely scrape much of the surface of Erin. When Shelby tells us about the kind of childhood her mother had, she's surprised that she knew, much less us, we don't know much at all about her; she is an enigma.
There is some other good work here from a strong supporting cast, including Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, and Bradley Whitford among others. I get what they're trying to do, they're trying to get into the emotional headspace of their protagonists and then put them in the destructive situations where they have to make a difficult decision or two. That's why these flashbacks work, they depict the emotional recall and memories that haunt the character today, they actually add to the story and give us background on the character as she dives headfirst into that past once again. That's compelling enough to recommend "Destroyer"; it's not the greatest cop movie or anything, but it's an effective enigmatic thriller. Again, one that I think is in the wrong medium, but it works enough in this one to give it a pass.
AMAZING GRACE (2018) Director: Alan Elliott
So-eh, how do I grade this movie? Well, I guess, most of it is just Aretha Franklin singing gospel music, so, sure, recommend. I'm not stupid. I'm not gonna tell people to not seek that out! The movie actually documents her performances at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Watts in 1972, the performances that are recorded became her live album, "Amazing Grace", which is still regarded as her most successful album, and among it's many, many accolades, is considered and important and seminal album in the history of gospel music. So what we're watching is a huge part of music history with these performances and recordings, as well as the great voice in American music history, giving one of her strongest and most remembered performances.
That said so, is this a good film? Well, it's definitely not good filmmaking. If you're wondering you're only hearing about a legendary and important performance like this, now, well, originally, the performances were shot by a young Sydney Pollack, who of course is regarded as a great director now, but-eh, on this project he kinda screwed up the footage.
So, Film Production 101 here, um, everybody knows what a slate is, right? Sometimes called a clapper, it's that black & white board that you see on daily that's shot with the scene number and take number written on it, and then the top part is then slapped (Claps hands loudly) really loudly, before the director goes, "Action"? Okay, you might think that clapping part, is the unnecessary part of this classic process that every filmmaker goes through to some degree, but there is actually is a reason for it. In post-production, that clap (claps hands hard) is for the sound recordings. So, when you hear that slap sound, (Claps hands loudly) on the track, it makes it easier in post-production to sync up the sounds of the scene, with the actual footage. Now, this isn't as important today with digital and an easier ability to record sound and film at the same time, but that said, even if you don't have a slate, (Claps hands LOUDLY! Claps hands loudly a second time.) you do need that clap sound. Now, imagine, not doing that back then, with a normal film and how tangled in the sound editing, that's going to be, and on top of that, you're recording a live two-night musical performance!!!!!!!!
Yeah, I'll bet money that Sydney Pollack never forgot his slate clap again. Anyway, the original planned film eventually got canned after they couldn't recover this from the editing room, but Pollack did continue to sporadically work on it and try to salvage the film between his several other projects, but it just never came together. Before his passing, Pollack gave the footage and the project to Alan Elliott, who's got an interesting background himself, and most of it was in the musical side of film, so Pollack thought he'd be the guy who could sort this together. Even that took awhile, but this finally is the finished product.
So, judging this film, as a movie, is kind of a difficult assessment. This isn't so much a film as it is a restoration piece. A piece of history that's finally been unlocked and rediscovered. Or, not even that really, it's just the rest of the history that we already have, just the final piece of the puzzle. I think who are really into Aretha and to gospel music, this movie is a goldmine. Now, for me, I'm more intrigued by Franklin's more R&B and pop work, so this movie, has limited appeal for me. Personally, I would just prefer to listen to the album. However as a long lost piece of documentary film on some famous subjects, it's invaluable.