Sunday, May 3, 2020


It's day number I-lost-count-weeks-ago of the Great Shut-In of 2020. There's a lot of nothing going on at the moment as Network television is slowly turning into Youtube, only with higher production value and more well-known celebrities. Well, Youtube's basically that too, but they grew into that, and television is falling into it, and we're arguing about opening movie theaters that frankly, I don't know what the hell's even playing at the theaters anymore, and even the Oscars have given up on that standard, at least for this year, and good riddance for that frankly. Yeah, I came out on the wrong side of that debate, but at least that debate's over.

You'd think I'd be watching more and more film and television lately 'cause of this, and to an extent, I have, but I've also been going into other things lately. Mostly Spotify, I have been in a music kick lately, and I think this'll stick, 'cause I'm gonna run out of shit to talk about soon, and I'm gonna have to start working on scripts again. I'm reminded of Mary Shelley, who purportedly came up with the idea of "Frankenstein" while stuck indoors with her other artistic friends and they ended up resulting to come up with creating their own ghost stories to tell each other. Honestly, I'm been in a ghostwriting, no pun intended, mood lately, so perhaps it's a good idea for all of us to do this. Maybe we should all come up with our own Frankenstein stories to tell during this pandemic, perhaps the experiment will bear fruit, but more importantly it'll keep our minds reassured and help trigger some previously-left forgotten thoughts and ideas.

If that last paragraph feels/sounds like I was writing a weekly horoscope predictions for Geminis or something, I-eh,- yeah, sorry that wasn't intentional, just trying to build up myself as we all are.

On top of these movies I've been watching, I also want to point out that I finally got around to watching "Foxtrot" the Samuel Maoz film about a family who grieves the lost of thier son, a soldier, who may or may not have died during an accidental attack on Palestinean soldiers. I'm not reviewing it, 'cause the copy I had had questionable subtitles and I frankly couldn't find a better version, and I'd been for looking to knock it out for a couple years now, but it's a good film and I thought I should mention it. Other then that, I'm quickly catching on last year's top films, I expect this to continue in the near future.

Anyway, let's get to those reviews so I can figure out what to write about next time.

ONCE UPON A TIME... IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) Director: Quentin Tarantino


"Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" isn't just a love letter to the Hollywood of the Late '60s, the era of lunches at Russo & Frank's, parties at the Playboy Mansion with The Mamas and the Papas, and the glory days of the old-school TV cop and western procedurals, it's a perfect rebuttal to 'Ready Player One" and how being a fan and consumer and obsessor of pop culture can actually be used to tranform and mold and inspiring to turn into a new compelling and unique story. Although essentially that's always been Tarantino modus operandi, but you know, still, that's how you do. He was a fan, he was the video store clerk, hell, he clearly loves L.A. and he loves Hollywood and he loves all aspects of filmmaking and he used that love positively to inspire and create, and not simply consume and commotitize like baseball cards that people collect. (Yes, I'm still annoyed that "Ready Player One" exists, and that ain't ending soon; that piece of garbage needs to be bashed whenever possible.) Hell, there's even a character in this, that basically all she really does is, go see a movie and actually enjoy it. And there's no extra meaning or symbolism behind it either, it's just a character watching a movie.

Actually, there's a lot of people in the movie who are just, hanging around and enjoying watching movies,  movies or TV shows, or listening to music, when they're not making movies, music or TV shows.

Famously, this is the Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) film that QT has been rumored to be making for a couple years now, and yes, the movie takes place around the residents of Cielo Drive around that time, but Manson isn't actually in the movie much. I mean, yeah, we're counting down to the inevitable, but this is a Tarantino movie so I won't spoil it, but yeah, he's beaten history over the head with a brick before, and it happens again here, and yes it is awesome! We do see some of the major players in that though, most notably Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) who was still an up-and-coming actress, even as she married Roman Polanski (Rafel Zawierucha), so new to the industry that she was still excited at the novelty of seeing her name in the marquee and on the posters, and yes, on the big screen.

The main characters involve her neighbor though, Rick Dalton (Oscar-nominee Leonardo DiCaprio) an old TV cowboy star who's had some success in movies, but is currently struggling to even get guest character work on other shows, and we even watch him struggle through a hungover one-day job on the show "Lancer", which, was a real show by the way, although Dalton's character is not based on a real person, but based on his own now-canceled show "Bounty Law", you can clearly tell that he's inspired by the James Arness or a Chuck Connors type series, or even a young Steve McQueen. Tarantino even did some creative editing and filmmaking to both insert Dalton into some classic films, or create/recreate new films and TV shows clips that instantly brought me back to my lone Film Editing class where I had to edit that same "Gunsmoke" episode that every editing class ever used to do. (Probably still do, somebody let me know if we're still using  those "Gunsmoke" dailies in Editing classes?)

Jack's best friend and driver is Cliff Booth (Oscar-winner Brad Pitt) who was his stuntman on "Bounty Law" and they've continued to work together in some capacity ever since, even though as Dalton's career has sputtered, Booth's has lingered even moreso, and while Dalton is a drunk who's ego's gotten in the way so much that outside of the TV one-shots, the only other offer he gets these days are to make westerns in Italy. ([Slight chuckle] Okay that's a reference to a few people, most notably Clint Eastwood or Lee Van Cleef) Cliff also has a bit of a blackball on him around town, partially involving a fight he got into with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) on the set of 'The Green Hornet" and with a persistent rumor that he somehow got away with murdering his wife. It's implied an incident similar to Natalie Wood's death; I hope it isn't frankly, but nonetheless it costs him work and perception.

Cliff's also the one who gets an up close look at the Manson Family, after he picks up a hitchhiker he's been flirting with as he drives Dalton around town. The hitchhiker, Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) takes him up to Spahn Ranch where the Family is, and while there, Cliff insists on seeinge George Spahn (Bruce Dern) the now aged and blind owner of the ranch who Cliff used to work with when the ranch was a western TV set. The relics of the old abandoned sets and building have since been adopted into their home. This involves a touching meeting between the too, but also him having to deal with some of the Family, most notably, Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning).

BTW, huge kudos for QT for only slightly mentioning and showing Manson, and spending more time on the Family members. He uses both composite and real-life members depicted here, and they really don't get enough attention in pop culture, 'cause they're often far more compelling and interesting character in my view. I mean, mostly what this sequence actually does is set up the introduction to the characters who actually committed the Tate murders, Tex Watson (Austin Butler) Sadie Atkins (Mikey Madison) and Katey Krenwinkel (Madison Beaty) who are the three we end up following as they pull up Cielo, but yeah, all the focus on Charles, and sure he's definitely compelling but his followers definitely need more of the focus at times, 'cause many of them are just as fucked up if not moreso.

Mostly though Tarantino just used the Tate Murders as an appropriate zeitgeist moment to showcase this era of Hollywood and fame and stardom. There's a lot I'm leaving out, but what Tarantino succeeds here at that arguably he hasn't in his other films yet, is to lovingly recreate a beloved time period and tonal mood. Yes, he's always had Hollywood throughout his films, and he's recreated stars and genres before; I mean, think about the wildness of that Jack Rabbit Slim's restaurant in "Pulp Fiction"; it's always been there at the edges, but he's created a mood piece here. It's clearly his, but the great appeal "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" isn't just that he's creating a post-modern fairy tale romantic look at the past, but that that is essentially all he's trying to do. He's creating a tonal work, a movie that doesn't feel like other movies so much as it feels like were in the middle of the greatest time of movies and moviemaking!

Take the sequence with Dalton and Trudy (Julia Butters) the eight-year-old method actress who becomes his inspiration to do his best acting on the set. This could be just a normal throwaway scene of Tarantino dialogue for Tarantino dialogue's sake, and that's fine as that, but it's a tale of the aged veteran and the young up-and-comer, and not only as performers, but it's also reminiscent of the changing of the guard in Hollywood. The American New Wave is about ready to burst right now, and the foreign influences are already storming in, and they're literally next door to him, and his traditional style of acting of stardom is quickly running out. Hell, in a few years, he won't even be allowed to do the Red Apple cigarette commercials.

Juse like how when Hugh Hefner would invite us into the party on "Playboy After Dark", Quentin Tarantino is inviting us in to this little slice of the past. Yeah, it's all the best and most idealized parts, well except for the Manson Family, but he's giving us a classic Hollywood story, set in classic Hollywood. A rememberance of things past, that's about a hopeful look into the future as we know it. We might not have our cowboy heroes hosting "Hullabaloo" and singing- (Holding back laughter) oh goddammit QT, singing Jim Lowe's "The Green Door", (God, QT's so delightfully evil with music choices) alongside Toni Basil-choreographered sockhop dancers anymore, but we'll definitely invite them into our homes for a nice drink, and some lovely conversation, talking about the work, the craft and maybe a little about the old days of Hollywood and the ways it used to be.

JOKER (2019) Director: Todd Phillips

Joker (2019) - IMDb


Just why?!

That's the one word I kept coming to as I struggled to power my way through Todd Phillips's "Joker". Did we need this? Did we need a Joker origin story? If so, why this story? I mean, it's somewhat impressive in its utter pointlessness, but why?

The last I remember a movie that got this much commercial appeal and critical acclaim where I kept wondering, "Why" at the movie the whole time, was Bradley Cooper's remake of "A Star is Born", but that was, well, better, first of all, and second, based on several movies that we all already knew were pretty good, and third, even more then that, the question of "Why," with that movie, was an intriguing one. To me, it made little sense why Cooper was so deeply effected by the story of "A Star is Born", at least on the surface, but clearly he took such care and conceitness with his debut feature film project that is clearly meant a lot to him, and mystery of why it appealed to him and effected him so, was captivating. I know I was spectaculating as I sorted through the mental rolodex of celebrity gossip and rumors I'd heard about him for years and even if that wasn't the inspiration, it was still mysterious in a good way.

"Joker", however.... (Sigh)-, okay let's try to piece this together, 'cause clearly, this mattered and meant a lot to somebody; so let's start with that somebody. Todd Phillips is/was a comedic director, mostly know for "The Hangover" films, but one who's been recently trying to transition to projects with much more fulfilling narratives and commentaries on the events of the day, much in the same way that Adam McKay had done this with "The Big Short" and "Vice" or Jay Roach has done with "Bombshell" or his many HBO TV movies projects like "Recount" or "Game Change".  Now Phillips started his transition with a film called "War Dogs", which I thought was okay. It was about two gun smugglers who sold weapons to the U.S. Government while they were engaging with Afghanistan and Iraq. Some people liked it more then me, but I thought it was decent, but forgettable. Still, it was an transition piece though and that it worked; it was still a movie with a comedic tone and through line but with a serious story and situation in the middle of it.

Here's the thing though, unlike McKay, or to some degree Jay Roach, Phillips was never great at the comedies he made. Ever. I thought there was one funny thing about "Old School" and that was Will Ferrell, and everything else in that movie, which I know a lot of people loved at the time, I couldn't really understand the appeal. "Road Trip" involved at least what should've been Tom Green at his most disgusting so I skipped that one as a teenager, 'cause yes, even at the time, I never got Tom Green's humor. "Starsky & Hutch" was okay, but who the hell has ever thought about that movie since? And, I'll just be blunt here, I thought "The Hangover" was overrated. Even the first one at the time; I thought the joke wore thin. I thought the premise was strong, and strong enough for several movies if they had the inventiveness to go more and more over-the-top as they went along, but then they mostly just cut-and-pasted the first movie. I didn't love how the original "The Hangover" was structured in such a way where literally anything could happen, which, to me, meant that it was always gonna undersell any expectations or ideas I could've come up with, that's the problem with a narrative where so much and anything is possible, you start to fill in the anythings and they'll always be more then what's there on the screen, but the fact that the sequel failed so badly on those expectations was to me even more of a red flag that Phillips's comedic greatness was skeptical at best. I mean, if there was ever a movie comedy sequel, no-, movie comedy, period, where you could go all out, do anything, and have as little connection as possible to the previous film and be funny, it should've been "The Hangover Part II"! (I haven't seen the third one yet, or some of the movies of his that I haven't listed, but I can't say I hear too many people telling me that "Due Date" and "School for Scoundrels" are must-see comedic gems.) And that movie's complete and utter failure is a very underrated disaster and just outright sin to the movie industry, an homage to a lack of ambition and creativity that's so bad, I feel like throwing up every time I look down and think about how low that movie is.

He's always been a hack; I hate to be blunt, but he has, and when I started reading about him wanting to make "Joker" and stray away from comedy not because he wants to take those comedic narratives and storytelling techniques and tranfer them to drama, but because of "woke culture" which he claims means that he can't do comedy anymore, 'cause all his jokes were ruined, and I just roll my eyes more then I normally would at him, 'cause, as I suspect, most of the time, I think the true secret behind the [finger quotes] "comics" who complain about the culture ruining what's funny, is that, they were just never funny to begin with, and yeah, he was never funny to begin with in my view. (Also, more to the point, McKay and Roach, wanted to expand their range and tell deeper stories that they felt were important and meant something for them to be told, not just because of the PC/Woke culture that was spreading around.)

However, as the Joker, Arthur Fleck, (Oscar-winner Joaquin Phoenix) remarks, that "Comedy is subjective," says the guy who laughs so much, he's got to hand people a card to ensure them that his constant laughter is a medical condition....  but still, he's not wrong there. I've also heard some comics who I do think are funny complain about the new condition of  PC or Woke culture being a hinderance on their comedy, especially stand-ups who complain about this problem on college campuses more and more often, and I think there in this debate is a real actual conflict, in that perhaps colleges, in an effort to be too protective of the students and the campus, which they are legally allowed to do by law in many cases, 'cause they have too much leeway to protect the safety of the student body, go over-the-line in censoring performances and stand-up, and that's actually one of the few complex sides of this debate that's worth analyzing....  And there's several other points in this debate as well that aren't clear cut and shows that both sides have a legitimate complaint, but instead of maybe coming up with a narrative that explores that, we get, this supervillian origin story. One that, I didn't ask for and am not sure why we have it.

Well, I know why we have it. The Joker is the most famous and best comic book villain of all-time, I won't dispute that. He's had several beloved interpretations on the big and small screen, and he is by far the most fascinating of comic book villains, and arguably one of the greatest villain characters in all of literature. So, an origin movie on him, is not necessarily the most out-there idea, but I do feel like Phillips is coming at this from a strange place.

Phillips and Phoenix as well, I might add. Fleck is, well, his own origins are a bit of a mystery to him, but he's a struggling clown who suffers from several mental disorders, including the aforementioned uncontrollable laughing one. (That's a real condition btw, although it's vague in the film whether Fleck actually suffers from it.) He's had several issues at work, most of which are, legitimately not necessarily his fault and are portrayed as a system that doesn't understand him, including a-, no pun intended, two-faced employee named Randall (Glenn Fleshler) who gives Arthur a gun for protection after he was mugged while performing on the street; a gun that inevitably leads to Arthur getting fired.

I should also point out that this movie, for some reason takes place in 1981, which, to me makes no sense; I think it's supposed to be because Phillips is inspired by movies from that time, most notably Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" and especially "The King of Comedy", he even uses an older Warner Brother logo in the opening, although I suspect that this is mostly Phillips hoping for a time period that he believes was more conducive and accepting of his kind of humor, one that's pre-PC and "woke culture." (Jack off hand signal) However, wouldn't this make more sense if it took place today? Why make a movie that challenges our current culture on comedic censorship and have it take place in the past? There's no reason to; Joker is a character with tons of adaptability to the time period he's in, in both dramatic and comedic contexts; this film could've easily been set today.

Anyway, Arthur's mother Penny (Francis Conroy) is his only real relative, and after the state shuts down the medical program that helps him provide his medications, something that is a genuine issue with the country today so I'll give him that, he starts heading down a downward spiral as he struggles to push his way into standup comedy, as well as, basically, society in general and his own world comes crashing down and the ones he tries to infiltrate on his own, seems to have the most closed doors for him to walk right into. He does try to have a relationship with Sophie (Zazie Beets) a single mother in his apartment complex, but that stumbles after he invites her to a standup performance that's so bad, it gets mocked by the movie's bizarre choice for an antagonist, Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, speaking of "The King of Comedy" and "Taxi Driver"), a Johnny Carson-esque television host who both Arthur and his mother are fans of. It's bizarre, I wouldn't think of Joker enemy and go, TV host. I mean, it's a better choice then the Wayne family, who do play a part in this movie, including a fairly cynical depiction of Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) as a billionaire autocrat who's very dismissive of the lower class and after a triple homicide on the subway, he announces a run for Mayor under what's essentially a Law & Order platform. (At least, I'm assuming that's his platform considering the time period) I mean, that's not an out-of-nowhere depiction of the Waynes; especially in our political climate right now where any idiot with a billion dollars can just push his way into office, but I'm not entirely sure it works here. Nor, do I like the ways in which they manipulate Arthur and the Waynes's pasts to where they're interconnected in a way that...- ehhhh.... I won't get into it, but no matter how I parse which side I believe and which is lying, or if there's shades of gray between both of them, there's still too many stupid elements to it. Like, why not just tell Arthur nicely what happened, or just show him the evidence instead of him having to steal it, or instead, why hide this from him?

Can we go back to Scorsese's antiheroes for a second? The thing with Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin is not that they were batted down by society at large, it's that they were totally isolated in their own worlds. That's different then being rejected by society, overall in both "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy" Bickle and Pupkin, are relatively accepted by the societal world they exist in, and even encourage to participate in them, they just don't quite fit in, and to some extent, it was they who rejected the norms in which those societies runs in, or at least wanted to, or in Pupkin's case, find a shortcut to skirt those aspects of; in his case society was the equivalent to fame. Still, that's a big difference than society itself going against you.  They didn't really have much more to them, then simply whatever distressing or disturbing ideas came across their mind. They lived in their rooms not out of rejection from the world, but they're own rejection to the world. In fact, a big theme in "The King of Comedy" is how Pupkin succeeds, despite constant rejection, even though, he's trying desperately to simply find a shortcut to fame.

There's a little bit of the isolation from the world in Phoenix's performance and character, sure, but mostly, his problem is that the world is actively rejecting him, which honestly doesn't work, both in concept, and the fact that the world in the movie isn't rejecting him. Not even in just the celebration of whatever the Gothamites stand for, as they take the clown image as a symbol for the angry and disenfranchised anti-capitalist movements like he's the new Mohamed Bouazizi. 

Like, he's got friends, literal friends that come on and check on him. Sure, at least one of them is clearly a bit of a prick, but they're trying to portray "Joker" as a movie about a character who's having the world that he knows combat against everything he knows and is being ostracized and disenfranchised because of things that are out of his control, and are because of these greatest political and entertainment powers that he wants to go against....- It's like the movie thinks he's "Umberto D", forced out of his house because of his age, but because of this, he turns into, "V for Vendetta", which, A. doesn't work, 'cause it's not simply the world around him, and he's just a psychopath who believes this, which, fine I'll let that slide, but B, it doesn't work because he's not built up to even Pupkin's half-ass attempts at quick fame. He's more like Charles Manson being annoyed that the music industry didn't accept him, which, you know, on the surface, I could see, but has anybody ever actually listened to Manson's music? I have, and actually I have recently ironically enough, and it's pretty mediocre-at-best, lousy-at-worst. I mean, it's not the worst thing ever and sure, better artists have, for decades from The Beach Boys to Marilyn Manson has taken his music and expanded upon it, but most of it, is pretty unremarkable, even and especially for the time.

I guess you could argue that this is, part of Phillips's story that, yes, Joker is an unremarkably bad clown who turns into an evil clown, but then, if that's the case, then why this backstory of him, possibly literally being mentally ill?! I mean, not only does it take away the Joker's power, who's greatest appeal is that, yes, he's a sociopath who will go to extreme lengths to reveal the true ills of society, and laugh at our feeblish attempts to try to propagate it, but he was also smart and manipulative about it; he wasn't just simply a guy who starts killing whoever's around him with the nearest weapon, or flukes his way onto taking over the local TV station; every other version of the Joker I can think of has always been calculative in his insanity, which is precisely what made him such a great contrast to Batman. And going back to Phillips's inspiration of the movie being a response to woke culture killing standup, why is he such a bad comic? Can he at least be a good hack of a comic? (Although I did laugh at the one knock-knock joke nobody else thought was funny.)

That's kinda how this works though, in order to present/reveal Joker to be a true misunderstood and overlooked genius to the world, one has to actually be an overlooked, misunderstood genius to the world. And he's just not. Is that the joke, that he's trying to tell, that relates so much to this Joker, because Phillips is likewise, not particularly great or special as a comic, so "Joker" isn't either??

And even if I didn't know that was the inspiration, I would've guessed it because it's interwoven into the narrative; "why is this guy who's successful allowed to simply make fun of me, but I'm not allowed to make fun of him?"

That's the basic mantra of every bad comic who complains about PC culture ruining their act, and I can think of dozens of rebuttals to it but all I basically hear when I see that complaint is , "Why does is have to be harder to write jokes now?"

Look, it's not that this is all bad, there's is some good here. The cinematography, the production design, the score, there's clearly some talented people here. Joaquin Phoenix won an Academy Award for this performance, and, I'll concede that it's a difficult character to play, but I also think it was a badly-written and conceived character in a movie that comes from a place of bad faith. It's Phillips trying to force a narrative into a superhero world that frankly doesn't need it, and he does it mainly because he knows that superheroes would be popular. I don't even honestly know what to make of Phoenix's performance to be honest; I find that I'm usually the last one to admire Phoenix's more eccentric performances, but I certainly can't say he's not trying and not going all out; he's going all out and as far as he can. Still, I couldn't help but to think of others, perhaps Nicholas Cage, would've made this character so much more compelling and perhaps make us really dive into the confusion and frustration that truly would let us sympathize, if not, empathize with Arthur Fleck..., but maybe we're not supposed to empathize or admire this guy? 

The framing of this movie is so contradictory that-, well, no wonder this is the single most conflictedly-reviewed film of the Best Picture nominees from last year, despite the awards acclaim and I get the confusion. There should be something here, but I don't think there is.

The key to good antihero narratives is that while they are truly evil, their motives still have to be justifiable. To use the morbid lingo of stand-up comedy, if we can get on board with what the comedian is talking about, he can get us laughing, and in turn, he's killing out there with us, the audience. If he can't get us to laugh, get us to care, to empathize with his troubles and situation, well, then, that "Joker" is just standing up there, dying.

FORD V FERRARI (2019) Director: James Mangold


Ford v Ferrari' Team in 'Behind the Screen' | Hollywood Reporter

Okay, couple things, one, I know the title of the movie in Europe and most of the rest of the world, know the movie as "Le Mans '66", which, yeah, okay, I'll grant you, many Americans would probably not know what you're talking about with that title, but it's not, "v" it's "vs" or "vs.". It looks like "Ford 5 Ferrari"! (And yes, it's stupid with "Batman v Superman" too. If you're insisted on only doing a v, then at least add a period next to it!) 

Second, okay, that scene in movies where the spouse of a main character first enters and then both spouse flirt with each other by acting like strange, just to make us think for a moment that they're not a couple already, you know that scene? Yeah, I'm officially sick of that cliche scene now and I'm calling for a moratorium on it. Yes, it was romantic and cute for awhile, but now it's just, weird and awkward, and more importantly, it's just lazy. 

Now that I've got that out of the way, "Ford v Ferrari" is, quite a fascinating look at a legendary moment in motor sports. So legendary, that this is actually the second movie I've seen on it recently. I only saw it a few months ago, but the documentary "The 24 Hour War" was still in my mind as I watched this film, so I was able to fill in some of the gaps of the story that aren't quite told here, which is fine. I shouldn't be comparing two films on the same subject anyway. It also helps that I do have a fascination with auto racing to an extent, and if you look really deep into auto racing history, well, it's pretty violent and disturbing. If you ever happen to watch any average NASCAR race these days, or even a not-so-average one like this year's Daytona 500 where Ryan Newman survived an incredibly violent car crash at the finish line this year, you realize just how much the emphasis on driver safety has become paramount across the majority of motor sports. You see, you would normally think that, "Yeah, they're guys driving killing machines at hundreds of miles per hour and whatnot, I mean, even under the best of circumstances, they're putting their lives on the line no matter what," and that definitely was part of the thinking back then, but there's something else curious about motor sports that the laymen might not realize, and that's how for much of motor sports, the drivers weren't as important as the teams, owners and builders, and in this case with builders, the brands as well.

As an American, while there is a lot of this in American auto racing, especially with regard to teams that put up multiple cars and drivers in most races, this is something that's especially more showcased, everywhere else in the auto racing world, and especially in Europe where even today, with Formula-1 racing for instance, being more focused on how the car is built then whether or not the car has the better driver in it. Watch Ron Howard's "Rush" to look at the golden days of that sport, which, probably had the most egregious of driver fatality rates and disregard for drivers' safety for decades..., well, second worst, 'cause now were getting into endurance racing, and that's where "Ford v Ferrari" comes in. 

For instance, there's a moment in the movie where Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) a legendary racecar driver who, due to a heart condition transferred over to car building with his company Shelby-American, convinces Henry Ford II, (Tracy Letts) over letting his top driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale) race in the car at Le Mans, where Ford is out to get revenge on Enzo Ferrari (Remo Girone) after he backed out of a deal to sell Ferrari to Ford after he had gone bankrupt funding his legendary racing teams, and Shelby makes a deal where, if Miles wins at Daytona, then he should lead a car team at Le Mans. 

I bring this up, 'cause somebody from today might hear that, and think that they're talking about the more cultural famous NASCAR race, the Daytona 500, but no, they're talking about the Daytona 24, Or the 24 Hours at Daytona race. There's a lot of races at Daytona during speed week, and that's the 24 hour team endurance race that including racing on the streets and at the track at Daytona. It's the biggest of these races that I think they still have in America, but it's a manufacturers races and each team has a set of drivers that rotate driving for twenty-four hours, and the team's car that survives and crosses the finish line after 24 hours wins. That's the biggest form of this race in America, but Ferrari competes, and during the '60s dominated at Le Mans, which is the toughest, most infamous, most deadly of these races, even to today. 

While the movie is called "Ford v Ferrari", it's really the story of Ford, and how they took over Le Mans from Ferrari, and why they did it. Especially today, if you check some of these international racing leagues, you rarely see either even participating in races like Le Mans anymore; Formula-1 for instance, basically has no North American presents, and in recents decades, the modern battle is Porsche vs. Toyota and both Ford & Ferrari don't compete in it anymore, but the reputation of Ferrari is based on their performances in races like these. And Ford is, well, even today, I don't think we immediately associate Ford with speed and racing, even if they do still have a long history of racing, but Ford was and still is about, selling cars to as many people as possible. So, on a symbolic level, they're journey to winning over Ferrari at Le Mans, especially after they screwed over Ford, is a big achievement. 

And it's also a great story full of interesting characters in particular, the enigmatic Ken Miles, who is a hotheaded veteran driver who needs to be kept in line and is usually too erratic for most sponsors and owners despite his talents. Him and Shelby are the characters I think most will appreciate and James Mangold correctly focuses the majority of the story on them, although yeah, the Ford and Ferrari business war of atricion does get some recognitions. Personally for me, I don't really relate that much to that aspect of the racing world, but if you substitute Ferrari and Ford with say, the Yankees and the Red Sox or something, then it's a little more palatable. It's also a great racing movie.

The film won two Oscars, including a win for editing, and even though it's a well-over two hour epic, the racing sequences and scenes are incredibly intense, and I don't quite know how they were able to so thoroughly recreate something like Le Mans, but it's an impressive technical feat on many levels.

With this and "Logan", James Mangold suddenly becoming a far better and more interesting Hollywood director then I ever thought he would be. He's always been a goto chameleon director lately, who's made good movies here and there, but very little that I would regard as special until now. Suddenly, I'm actually interested in what he'll do next.

LITTLE WOMEN (2019) Director: Greta Gerwig


5 Things to Know About the New Little Women Movie 2019

So, last year I wrote a review of Bradley Cooper's "A Star is Born" where I lamented that I was a bad cinephile and film buff for having not seen any previous version all the way though. I have a bigger confession to make now, 'cause this goes beyond cinema. I have not seen any version of "Little Women" until now, and neither have I read the novel. This is a little bad, especially for me since there's at minimum three previous major "Little Women" film adaptations on top of several others of all media that I haven't gotten too yet, and unlike "A Star is Born", which I knew the story of fairly well; I'm actually coming into "Little Women" a little blinder then normal for me. My experience with this work is shockingly limited. My knowledge of "Little Women" is basically, that one episode of "Friends" which gives away spoilers, and that "Little Women"'s author, Louisa May Alcott, was ambidextrous. And I learned that weirdly enough, from the taking the SATs. I don't remember much else from that day, 'cause I was pretty tired/hungover and forgot my calculator, and fell asleep in the middle of testing (I mean, I still got 1130 on a 1600, but I really should've done better), but I do remember part of the English side of the exam, involve reading an article on Alcott and how she wrote different stories, using different hands. She would write her more, lightweight and nicer works with her right hand, but when it came to her more darker material, she actually wrote a lot of siliceous pulp material under several pen names over the years, she would write it with her left hand. That amazed the fuck out of me; especially if anybody's seen my handwriting, it's pretty debatable that I even have a dominant hand, although I am right-handed if you're curious, but especially as a professional writer, let's just say that thank god I can type, so anyone who can write well with both hands is impressive to me, and to add a weird quirk like that to it, well, for that I'm always gonna be impressed with Alcott.

And I think Director Greta Gerwig has a deep respect for that fact too, as well as other real-life aspects of Louisa May Alcott, 'cause she put that ambidextrousness and other real-life aspects of Alcottt into Jo (Saoirse Ronan), although since the story was inspired by her own life, I guess that was inherently natural.

What isn't normal is that she's purposefully decided to use a non-linear story narrative to tell this story, jumping pretty liberally from different time periods, locations, narrative threads, and characters. So, from the fact that I'm already coming in a bit blind, I'm coming into a story that I don't know and I'm basically getting the story told in a way that's not how it's traditionally told, and...- well, I guess I might have a skewered perception here, but it feels like, assorted scraps of a whole.... Like when you've got one of those like, 30-course dinners where every course is two bites or so, and you like everything, but you don't really know how they go into each other, or how they're originally pieces together, or whether you felt like eating this or that at that particular moment or not, but the bites themselves, well, honestly I rather enjoyed them. A lot.

I thought for a minute to look up what differences and alterations that Director Greta Gerwig made to the story, but maybe it's for the best that I just simply don't know and only judge this on it's own. (Post-script Note: I of course did look it up after I wrote this, but I still haven't seen the movies; I viewed Be Kind Rewind's Youtube video on the subjects.) So what's she doing with the otherwise well-wourn text? Well, basically the original novel was mostly a profile, of four eclectic and ambitious young-but-not-affluent women, during the U.S. Civil War, and that's essentially how I appreciated it. And yes, a modern-day reading of this story will take a look at these lives and tales, through a modern-day lens, and honestly, I think they're shockingly relevant. Even without the flourishes that Gerwig takes, especially with Jo's story.

We still have battles with our better angels about love and independence and it is a struggle, no matter which direction you decide with your life. Art vs family is still a struggle. Leaving your home and seeing the world is still something that pops; I mean, at one point it's mentioned that Jo wants to build a women's school and that, women's colleges were only recently being built. That's true, and an opportunity for someone like Amy (Florenche Pugh) to go with Aunt March (Meryl Streep) the family's aged spinster matriarch to go travel along with her through Europe, basically was the equivalent of going off to college back then for women. Yes, she was an artist as well like Jo, Jo being the writer who went off to New York and sold stories, and Amy the painter, and artists do go out for inspiration. Meg was also an actress who decided to marry young and marry a poor tutor, John Brooks (James Norton) and honestly even her little blip of a story with the goddamn fabric, I found it sadly relatable to today. Seriously, it's an expense for me to buy even a decent new t-shirt, and people don't realize just how much more affluent they are then those who are genuinely struggling to live day-to-day. (It's especially annoying to have to buy nice clothes for job interviews when you don't have money, which is why you're trying to get hired for a job, in order to buy decent clothes.... [Sigh]) And I have relatives, particularly younger ones who traveled across the world to go to school. And relatives who stayed at home and got married, and relatives like me, who both cared for their sick younger sibling as Jo does for Beth (Eliza Scanlen), the touching young pianist who is a favorite of Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper) and becomes ill from scarlet fever, forcing Jo to put both romance and career on hold, even giving up one, the love of Laurie (Timothee Chalamet), Mr. Laurence's son, who ends up with Amy, who had a crush on him all along while Jo relents in the true loneliness of the independent woman.

I also think scattered timelines of the narrative work well, 'cause memories themselves can seem scattered, and especially given the conceit at the end, which is a very unique interpretation that both literally embraces and strays vehemently from the original text, but it shows that events in recall and flashbacks, and when re-written into a cohesive narrative arc, can be altered, changed and adapted as certain memories and events will more naturally stick out more then for others.

I do know some critics of this movie, and, I can see some of their criticisms, obviously others I can't cause I am learning this text as I review it, but as an introduction to it; I found it fascinating and emotionally fulfilling. I can see why Gerwig wanted to tell this story anew, and I think she found a modern telling on it that actually works. I also think the cast is great, not just the main four, the supporting cast at the edges of the screen are delightful. Laura Dern and Bob Odenkirk as the March parents are delightful for the few scenes they're in, and I love Chris Cooper's small performance here; you can barely recognize him as Mr. Laurence, but you can see so much in his eyes and nods a man who may indeed be well-off, but definitely has an emotional life and has grown into enjoying the smallest of moments that he can find. I wonder if I actually do read the book in the future, assuming I can find a copy somewhere; I probably have a paperback in the garage if I look hard enough...- or I guess find it online that I will enjoy it as much, since I suspect a more straightforward narrative might now bore me, and I fear that way as well for any of the other film adaptations, but for this one at this moment, in a world where even with more opportunities for all, especially the impoverish and women that we're still constantly at odds with the best choices to make with our lives and what sacrifices that entails, yeah, it felts painfully relatable to me, and yet inspiring and hopeful.

I guess the only real other standard I can come up with is, would Louisa May Alcott like this version of her story? And, of course I don't know for certain, but I have a sneaky suspicion that she would've approved, even of the changes. I'm sure she'd still want payment for her work though.

Hmm, if I'm going to dive into her work, I wonder if on top of "Little Women" I should dive into her more pulp material too; see just how two-handed she really was?

I LOST MY BODY (2019) Director: Jeremy Clapin


I Lost My Body movie review & film summary (2019) | Roger Ebert

So, I gotta get this out of the way. Um...- so, during a very brief period of time, let's say, at the most, three years apart, including at least twice within a six month period, I broke a window using my hand. Each time, I did it, I was trying desperately in vain, to kill a fly. I got pretty badly cut, at least once doing this.

So-eh, fuck this movie.

I would normally just, leave this review there, but for those who want more, I'm gonna warn everybody that I'm not sure I can talk about "I Lost My Body" without giving away SPOILERS, so you've been warned.

So, "I Lost My Body", is about a hand that's searching for it's, well, body. I'm not joking, this is literal, and it is as creepy as it sounds, and very much disturbing cause this hand goes through a lot of shit. So much that for my own sanity I'm gonna refer to the hand as "Thing" from now on. I know, it's the easy joke, but I don't care. Anyway, in flashback, we meet Thing's body Naoufel (Hakim Faris) a pizza delivery boy who never seems to get the pizzas delivered on time. He also has dreams of being an astronaut, and a pianist like his Mother (Myriam Loucif). We learn that he lost his parents young, and he soon takes a job as an apprentice in order to get close to a library worker named Gabrielle (Victorie Du Bois) a young woman he met during a pizza run that went badly.

Most of the rest of his story is him reflecting on his youth and past, often through cassette recordings he made of his parents. That and, Thing's Bogus Journey.

I don't want to sound mean to this film, there's a lot to like. It's unique, I'll say that. And the animation is quite a thing to watch. And I get the metaphorical intent of the story, about how, losing a part of oneself and what that means, and searching for that with which one once loss...- there's power to this tale here. That said, it's been told better. Off the top of my head, "Enter the Void" Gaspar Noe's stylized visualization of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Even something not as literal though. I was never big on any version of Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie", but yeah, a hand coming back to life, a dog coming back to life, both to look for their beloved owner, I wouldn't say they're better, but I would say it's a little less creepy, somehow, then "I Lost My Body". Speaking of other movies I hated, "A Ghost Story" also did something similar to this, that movie pissed me off more then this one, but at least it was a ghost/sheet I was following, instead of a body part. Basically, it's all just anthropomorphizing a soul or a presence, something that's inherently ethereal, an apparition and giving it, matter in some form, this is always a little tricky. This is why "Enter the Void" sticks out so much, 'cause it actually approaches the spirit world, from the perspective of the Spirit. "I Lost My Body" is trying to tell two stories, one a shy romance and the other, "Homeward Bound 3: Thing's Incredible Journey". They just don't connect; part of is the storytelling, I don't know why he choose this strange dual-narrative, it makes both of these ideas much weaker then if you told this story in a more straightforward context, and it would've made the film far more compelling. I would've had more of an interest in Thing trying to find his owner, if I had enough care about the owner to begin with instead of trying to care about him in flashback sequences, and often flashbacks within flashbacks. (Another movie that did this somewhat decently well was "Bird People" also, which was itself otherwise a little too weird for me.)

I get why some might be inspired by this, but frankly I'm seeing a very shallow idea that only barely cuts deeper then the surface flesh.

Also, little advice, always keep multiple flyswatters around if you can. I do.

MISSING LINK (2019) Director: Chris Butler


Deborah Cook: Missing Link – Selvedge Magazine

Oh yeah, I saw this one. It's okay.

(Sigh) Tsk.

Do I have to talk about this one for awhile? Oh, goddammit, I forgot it got an Oscar nomination. Yeah, alright, um, "Missing Link"; it's the latest from Chris Butler, he's the British born animator, and you can tell since his animated features, in particular this one, have a very Aardman Animation look, even if this is actually a Laika Animation film and Butler's second feature after "ParaNorman" which I admired greatly. "Missing Link", however, (Sigh) like, let me put it this way, it's not bad, but I've gotten into the habit of trying to write as many notes as I can while watching most movies and even writing most of these reviews almost directly after I see them. It's not a habit I actually like, it really gets in the way or me getting anything else done, and I've fallen way behing on all my other projects, like I've had a short story idea I've wanted to write for awhile and for two months all I've got wriiten for it is, "Once Upon a,", but-eh, with "Missing Link", I-eh, I just didn't take notes. Didn't feel like it. Didn't write the review right after either; I just kinda went into the next movie.

That's probably as damning a statement I could make, especially for an animated film, which, yeah probably should be held to a higher standard. I do hold Butler to a higher standard, he's worked on a lot of movies I greatly admire, and so has Laika as well. (Although I won't hold "The Boxtrolls" entirely against them, although yeah, I still contend that was fucking stupid.) The thing is, despite the fact that I really didn't get why a lot of people apparently thought highly of this one, I mean, it got an Oscar nomination for Animated Feature and it won several prizes as it headed towards them, which I'm kinda confused by, but this isn't bad, it's just, not that interesting.

Well, no I take it back, this could be interesting I guess. It feels like somebody was very interested in telling this story; but perhaps they were too interested, the movie seems to believe that the audience, aka us, or me, were really gonna get swept up and caught up into the story. I felt like I was missing something while I was watching "Missing Link", ironically enough, like, this was an adaptation of a text that I was supposed to know about going in but was completely unfamiliar with it, so nothing that was supposed to be powerful for me, meant anything. Like, if you had never scene an episode of "Absolutely Fabulous", but then watched the movie adaptation they made of it a couple years ago? Like that kind of feeling; I feel like there was like a long-running series about Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) and his several failed attempts at becoming this great adventurer and explorer, despite him already seemingly like a big adventurer and explorer, albeit and absent-minded one, through his cryptozoological pursuits and this is like, the one big successful endeavor and I'm supposed to already be invested enough to get that, like he's Alan Partridge or something. (I don't know why I'm listing British series, although they're the only ones that seem to be making movie adaptations of their series lately, or at least, watchable ones.)

I guess there's a little more to this. I mean, Lionel is a bit of a joke to the "Society of Great Men" he's trying to impress, although I frankly wouldn't care aboutit  if I was him, nor would I care if I was Lord Piggot Dunceby (Stephen Fry), the head of the group who's determined to sabotage Lionel latest's endeavor to America to seek out Sasquatch, but he cares for some dumb reasons. (Also, Piggot Dunceby? You know, you can be too cute with name symbolism. especially when you're trying to force it.) And I guess there is this classic, serial arc a la a Buck Rogers or in modern times, an Indiana Jones kind of world-traveling adventure narrative. He even has to get help from the ex-girlfriend who doesn't want anything to do with you, this one is Adelina (Zoe Saldana). That's pretty Indy.

And I guess there is one kinda creative idea here, and it's the idea that Sasquatch, well, in this film he's evenutally named Mr. Link (Zach Galifianakis) is bored being the only one of his kind around and he decides that he wants Lionel to take him to the Himalayas so he can reunite with his the Yetis, who he believes are his distant cousins. And I actually real like this idea, and yes, the movie heads towards the Himalayas as Lionel tries to get Mr. Link to his cousins, while also Lionel's trying to feed his own single-minded obsession with his adventuring being able to propel him into fame, especially with the Society, who are still trying to steamroll over those plans.

And that's where I think the problem is, the story is mostly based around Lionel, when the interesting narrative is actually Mr. Link's. Their both good characters on paper, sure, but we're clearly supposed to find Lionel the more compelling character, but he mostly just seems like Buzz Lightyear if he never found out he was a toy. This is a classic example of a movie where the perspective is entirely wrong; the best recent example of this, in animation especially is "WALL-E", which, admittedly not a perfect example  but it does begin with the lone character and then expands to the new world he discovers. I mean, he is the titular character, you'd think he's be the one we'd be following?! (Shrugs)

Anyway, I think that's why this doesn't work for me. I mean, it works for who it's audience is, so I'm recommending it, but I gotta imagine as a parent, if a kid kept playing this thing over and over again, I would just be bored out of my mind. The character who we should be focusing on, is basically just, the tag-along side character, the Olaf, of the movie is you will permit me a comparison to the one not-so-great part of "Frozen", and the main characters and plots, they're interesting but mostly they're types and narratives that have been done before and for me, done a lot better. Especially from these guys who made this, I'm giving them a pass here, but I expect more out of Butler and Laika animation in the future.

HUSTLERS (2019) Director: Chris Butler


Hustlers Trailer: Wall Street Douchebags Get Their Comeuppance /Film

So, one of the best scenes in "The Big Short" is when Steve Carell's character realizes that there's a housing bubble because of how well off the strippers are. This is, distressingly accurate. Especially these days where, frankly the need and appeal for strip clubs, is kinda,...- well,- honestly, the only real appeal I kinda get from strippers and strip clubs is as a status symbol for the rich and uncreative. Partying with strippers sounds a lot more fun then it actually is, trust me. This is one of those, "I've lived in Vegas too long and knows things" kinda advice, although strangely, I've actually never been to a strip club. I mean, I have friends who are strippers, but everything's too expensive, including the women, which definitely hurts since, no matter how well they are at making you feel like you're falling for them, they are not falling for you. Jennifer Lopez's character at the end of "Hustlers" is totally right, the country is just a strip club, the rich dudes have all the money and we're all just up there dancing for them. Honestly, I think it's a better idea to go gamble in the casinos then to go to the stripclubs, at least at the casinos, there's hope you'll get a return on your investment.

That said, I don't begrudge anybody who manages to work the pole and make money off of it. Especially yes, when the people who capable of affording their services are often the worst of the worst, especially in New York where it's mostly the most overpaid and corrupt young Gordon Gekko-wannabes-in-training who think there's power and appeal to wanting to flaunt their excess, those fools and their money should be parted as soon as possible, and if all it really takes are g-strings and champagne rooms to take it from them, then sure, let the girls have it. (Although, sometimes it's a little more then just champagnes and more then just dancing in g-strings....)

So, "Hustlers" is mostly told through the perspective of Destiny (Constance Wu) a young stripper who finds veteran stripper Ramona (Lopez) appealling, especially in the way that she seems to easily be able to get customers to literally throw money at her. This is in 2007, and fresh from getting her GED, and right before the Great Recession, Ramona takes Destiny under her wing as they learn all the ropes about how to get the most out of the customers and how. At first, she does really great, even manages to payback her Grandmother (Wai Ching Ho) and begin to get her some things. She was raised by her grandmother after her single mother left her, so she's the closest family, except for the girls. Ramona, who's become a pseudo-mother character and the assorted other girls that work at the club.

Soon after, the money starts to run out after the crash and then she ends up a single mother and takes times off from stripping, but she tries to rejoin the world a few years later, only now, the scene is, not as plentiful. The customers are cheaper and expect more for less, and most of the girls have been replaced with cheaper foreign labor. No, seriously. That's when Ramona begins forming a hustlers gang that looks out for customers to bring into the club from the street and then get them to charge and overcharge themselves to death, often through slipping them a drug cocktail and stealing and using their credit cards to max out. I guess I heard about stuff like this, where there's business reports or the like about people who end up spending sometimes hundreds of thousands on strippers or something like that, but I guess I never really thought about that as a con. but essentially stripping is a hustle to begin with, so I guess it's a natural progression to just, outright steal from customers under the pretense of paying for a good time.

It's honestly kind of a foolproof plan, and yeah, it's rich fucks, most of whom are married who decided to coke up and party with half-naked girls ten-to-twenty years younger then them. Or in this case, probably closer to the girls' age then the men would like to believe. I mean, I know J.Lo is a dancer-first, who seems stunningly keen lately to remind people that at age 50 as she shows in her introduction scene where she,- well, I won't say ruins Fiona Apple's "Criminal" for me; I mean I'm not surprised that's a stripper song, I mean, it is a grind afterall, but there's still something weird about that for me? Maybe I just love Fiona Apple too much, although I guess the song is accurate to the fate of her and the rest of the girls as they spend the rest of the movies breaking boys just because they can.... That said though, how old is Constance Wu btw?

(IMDB search)

She's, born in '82, so 38, and in the last couple years, she's been a houswife with three kids on "Fresh Off the Boat", she'a romantic lead, who's about what, 28, 29, in "Crazy Rich Asians" and here, she's still playing five or six years younger at the most. Julia Stiles, who plays the interviewer and reporter who wrote the magazine article this film is based on is only a year older then her! I'm not complaining or criticizing, I'm just fascinated; you just don't see actresses with that wide a range of roles in such a short period of time, and at that age too. That's nothing for J.Lo, who gives a good performance here. It's a role that plays to her strengths obviously, probably a little too much to her strengths for my tastes; I usually find her more interesting in dramas when she's challenging herself, but you do see why remains so compelling and appealing a performer here and has been for three goddamn decades!!!!

The film is the third feature by Lorene Scafaria after "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" and "The Meddler," I liked both those films, particularly, "Seeking a Friend...", which was a wonderful little comedy. I don't quite know what to make of "Hustlers" within this limited filmography, but she's a talented filmmaker, and somebody who's always intrigued me as a screenwriter, even back when she penned "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist" a movie that I actually don't even like, but was still fascinated by. Like that movie though, one of her signature seems to be, soundtracks. The movie doesn't have a score, and it has a particularly intriguing soundtrack of songs that seems to mostly represent the exact passing of times and years. Even Usher makes a cameo playing himself at a time when every stripper in the club finding out he's there, would come out, not just for possible tips, but for fan reasons.

The supporting cast is interesting too, Mercedes Ruehl plays the Strippers Mom character, even though she's a bit of a druggie, she knows how to recruit and teach. (Yeah, that's a weird profession; the stripper manager position at a strip club. I don't quite know how people like Renae Lemmens of the world do that job, and I'm not sure I want how to manipulate people who's job it is to manipulate others like that, but if you ever look deeper into it, there's something really morbidly fascinating to that) Cardi B has a small role, which is interesting, 'cause she actually was a stripper and admitted to drugging customers in the past like these characters do, so, that's scary. Other big musical artists have some roles here too like G-Eazy and Lizzo have small roles, and some other good actresses too like Keke Palmer and  Lili Reinhardt. To me though, this is a tale of Destiny and Ramona mostly and the side-hijinks are more just episodic filler. I guess the appeal of the film is that this is a female-made film about sisters doing it for themselves, and getting back at the world. I find more interesting as a darker look inside the world of the high-class strip club party scene, and probably as a look at the really messed-up economics and societal problems that lead to girls being able to do this and mostly get away with it. I mean, if the sexes were reversed, we'd be talking about date rape!

Oddly, the movie that this film most reminds me of is Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience" which was also a sex worker, in that case a high-class prostitute who also is giving upper-class customers a good time and snaking them out of their money, often for, very little in return, even sexually. That movie also dealt with the '08 economic recession ironically, and how the sex workers were sometimes the best off in those troubled times. Also like that movie, I think it's better not as a narrative piece but more as an analytical look at a subsect of society. That tends to be how I look at "Hustlers", and for that, I enjoyed it. Perhaps if I had more interest in strip clubs I might enjoy it more, as camp or something, ehh.... I think you can chalk my somewhat subdued reaction to this as me just being a little too jaded living in Vegas. This expose might be a shocking reveal of a con to others, but for me, it's basically just old hat.

KNOCK DOWN THE HOUSE (2019) Director: Rachel Lears


Knock Down the House — Chicago Cinema Circuit

So, Nevada's fourth Congressional District is a bit weird. It's a new district, and it's carved to be mostly North Las Vegas, and northern Clark County but unlike other Clark County Congressional districts, it also includes several other counties in Nevada, basically nearly everything south of Carson City all the way up to White Pine County, which is basically just Ely. So, it's a bit of a swing district, because of the Northern Nevada voters, (Northern Nevada is anything North of Clark County and East of Reno in our vernacular) but mostly it's northern Clark County, so I was a little taken aback to see little-known Congressional Candidate Amy Vilela so prominently featured in "Knock Down the House" a Netflix documentary that focused on several first-time Congressional and Senate candidates in the 2018 midterm elections. Vilela finished 3rd in the Democratic Primary, as then-former Congressman Steven Horsford would win and regain that seat inevitably in a tight contest against Crescent Hardy, a rare battle between two former Congressman vying for the same seat they both once owned. Now, I live in the third District which is itself a swing district that has mostly trended Blue recently, despite trump barely eeking out a win here, but I do know a bit about Horsford, and he ain't the greatest candidate. I like the guy, but the guy's got problems; including several DUIs. but he has the support of the Culinary Union and you just don't battle them here. Yeah, he had other support too though, the big casinos sure, they're more Democrat then you'd think here, but I was surprised to learn that Joe Crowley was a major contributor to Horsford's campaign. That admittedly didn't make much sense to me.

I guess I don't think of Nevada as having a political machine but it's definitely here; we've certianly grown into one, I'll say that, and it's becoming a greater one too thanks to the state becoming more and more Blue in the last several elections. The main story showcased in "Knock Down the House" isn't that the candidates are Progressives on the Democrat left, but those who don't have political backgrounds before and also refuse ot accept PAC money, especially from Big Pharma. This is, admittedly something as a Progressive Democrat myself, that I struggle with. I like the idea in practice, but as for the Justice Democrats goals of not being bought out, we need to campaign and they're the ones with the money. I also don't think money is equal to power, just because you take money doesn't mean one shouldn't be critical. Politicians, shouldn't be bought so easily, but of course they are. We know they are, and making PACs illegal would simply create some idiotic loophole for something new the rich and elite would exploit, but I also don't think PACs are inherently evil. There are PACs that I agree with and am in favor of.

I get the symbolism, they're not bought out, they're true representatives of the people, and they call out the bullshit the political establishment, the machine as they're used to calling it in New York. Which is true, they've had a famous machine longer then my state has practically been a state, they've been used to the Boss Gettys and Robert Moses of the world owning their city. In that respect, I mostly appreciate that the Culinary Union overall has the most pull, I'd rather a labor union be the machine then, you know, the real powers that be.

The movie also focuses on the campaigns of West Virginia Senator candidate Paula Jean Swearengin, who put up a decent campaign against Joe Manchin, Cori Bush who challenged the multi-generational Clay dynasty that's control Missouri's 1st Congressional District since the '60s, (That's St.Louis/Ferguson, Missouri area btw) and most notably, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Democratic Primary against in New York's 14th District, which includes parts of The Bronx and Queens, held by Joe Crowley, a Democrat that's 4th in line for Minority Leader, Chair of the Democratic Caucus  and hasn't had a Primary challenger in 14 years, and that was for a seat that he never actually ran for in the first place. Seriously, and I had to look this up myself to see how this was pulled off, 'cause I've honestly never heard of this kind of scenario like this out here, but basically, his predecessor retired after he had gathered enough signatures for his re-election campaign, and literally retiring at the very last second he could, he was allowed to choose Crowley as his predecessor. (Crowley wasn't even aware he was running until he was told afterwards.) Honestly, that's kind of fucked up, and it doesn't help that everytime the movie does get a few glimpses of Crowley, either campaigning or occasionally showing up to the Democratic debates or Town Halls that he's invited too, (he previously would only send a surrogate early in the campaign), he does seem like a guy who couldn't get elected unless he was running unopposed. That's not to say that he's not capable or intelligent, he clearly is, although it is curious that his own mailers don't mention the date of the Primary, but do mention defeating Donald Trump three times.

To be fair, any Democratic should be able to just simply say they're not Donald Trump, and be able to win by 80 points, but in this unjust world, yeah, I get that you need more then that, and to some extent, just simple community outreach can go a long way. Obviously AOC as she's now regularly called pulled off her major upset, and it's easy to see why. No, she wasn't the establishment and sure, Crowley had done a good job rising in the ranks of the House, but there hadn't been much gain. He always seemed above it all; he didn't even technically live in the district and treated it like it had been given to him, which it kinda was, seriously. AOC, who was still working a bartending/waitressing job up until she actually was sworn into office, and we see her working, often taking shifts after campaign events and debates, mixing in a shaker better then I could, and you can see her determination and savvy make her compelling. I can see why she was underestimated, and still seems to be by many, she's a Progressive Grassroots, no experience progressive, with not one, but arguably three ethnic names, none of which are Italian or Irish as per standard in New York machine politics, and she's not just young by political standards, she's young, period. But she was, and still is, compelling.

That's honestly what I give her more credit for then anything, while she is studious and dedicated as a public servant and a strikingly observant and sharp debater, it's definitely the fact that she became the ultimate leader and signalbearer of this movement is as much to do with her appeal. She's different then anybody else, and that's appealing. Vilela is a great candidate and has a great story/background, albeit a very sad and unfortunate one, her daughter died of a pulmonary embolism 'cause she wasn't able to get care early because she lacked insurance, but like all the other candidate did fit into archetypes of candidates that we've seen before.

And I can't say that I'm not skeptical of this movement to some degree. I do genuinely feel that most people go into politics, especially on the left as people who begin with a genuine desire and need to change something about the system, but even the best and noblest of those candidates can inevitably get caught up in that system. I worry about that with even AOC, but perhaps she is an exception. Although I'm conflicted about it because I genuinely do believe that the best approach to change government is to work from within to dismantle the system and not to simply rage against the machine.

But I guess ultimately, we need both, one to keep the other in check and both need each other to come together to get anything done. What's more American and hopeful then that? "Knock Down the House" shows why we need these political outsiders to occasionally come in and shake us up. It's also a wonderful history lesson and guidebook to show exactly how that can happen, and yes, how difficult it is to achieve it, but not impossible. If a bartender can go from scooting outside the Capitol to working in it the next day, then absolutely, we should be showing why they can and how she did it.

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019) Director: Ruben Fleischer


Review: Zombieland: Double Tap delivers wise-cracking, brain ...

I wasn't exactly looking forward to "Zombienland: Double Tap" offhand. It had been a decade since the original film, and honestly, despite several previous attempts to keep the series going before, including a TV series that didn't get off the ground, and frankly I just kinda found myself disinterested. I mean, other then "The Walking Dead", which, frankly I never cared much about, I thought we had basically overcome our zombie trend that had going on for a bit. I mean, why now? Why are we now suddenly watching a comedy about a world where everyone dies and we're all stocking up on twinkies and toiletpaper and staying away from anybody else for fear of dying off ourselves? (Sigh) Oh-kay, this damn coronavirus is screwing everything up, and now that I'm thinking about, I'm gonna have to prepare for a buttload of coronavirus zombie movies in a few years but still, this movie came out last when that wasn't a thing.

And the original "Zombieland" was a great movie. It made my ten best list, it was the first great comedy about zombies. (Yeah, you heard me, that one your thinking of is overrated and boring) It was genuinely hilarious, and filled with wonderfully eccentric and appealling characters and just was a smart, insucient and hilarious take on the genre, one that I hadn't seen done before and was filled with some of the best and most compelling actors working in Hollywood at the time. So, yeah, I guess I'm definitely up for seeing more of that, and sure enough, they delivered another fun comedy about living in a United States that's turned into a purple mountain's majesty of braineating mutant zombies.

That said, I was a little surprised that when we meet our old friends, they've actually taken up a permanent resident at a house. A well-protected one, that for the most part keeps the zombies up, but still; I remember thinking, before the original TV spinoff idea for this series took place, that it could've made a good TV show, to see Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) travel across the country and running into new people and situations, like a "Route 66" only with zombies everywhere as they discover new quirks of the new condition while simultaneously forming bonds with themselves and who/whatever they discover. However, I guess that would get tiresome after a while, but so would staying in the same place, something that both Little Rock and Tallahassee are starting to feel. Tallahassee 'cause he just wants to go out and start hunting and killing more zombies, and Little Rock, who was still a little kid years ago, and has basically repressed most of her growing libido through her teenage years, and eventually, she begins to get frustrated with everyone, Tallahassee for being too overbearing and predictable a father figure at times, and with her overprotective older sister, who's struggling with her own smothering from Columbus, who she's been with for a decade and now he wants to get married.

I'm not exactly sure how marriage would still even try to work in Zombieland, but this freaks out Wichita and her and Little Rock leave one day. Then, Little Rock leaves Wichita after meeting a douchy hippie stoner kid named Berkeley (Avan Jogia) and he's like, the worst kind of this trope too, the ones who play other peoples songs on their guitar and try to claim it as their own to impress wildeyed young girls, only he's not even clever enough about it to do it well, but in a world of zombie, the cute hippie with the pot is king so Little Rock goes off to elope with him to a pacifist commune that's apparently set up called ironically Babylon of all things, but it's explained that it's after the David Gray song. You know, I'm actually a huge David Gray fan, and I've been more references to his music in things, but that feels kinda backhanded, although totally hilarious, especially since that song, and Babylon itself has nothing remotely to do with anything in this movie. Although I do love how Berkeley laments that he wished he wrote that. And also that Madison (Zoey Deutch) pronounces it "Baby-lon" when she first sees it.

Oh yeah, there's other characters now, and one of them is Madison, the kind of idiotic ditz of a girl with that lispy baby talk way of speaking that really shouldn't have survived a zombie attack like this but managed to hang around by hiding in a Pinkberry freezer at the mall. Naturally, she ends up sleeping with Columbus after Wichita left, only to still be around after Wichita came back, and for some reason they keep around, even after it seems like the zombies killed her.

The zombies themselves have evolved a bit into separate groups, including the most deadly mutation, called T-800s by Berkeley or Bolts by another duo they run into, Albuquerque and Flagstaff (Luke Wilson and Thomas Middleditch) after tracking down Little Rock to the Heartbreak Hotel, outside of what used to be Graceland. These zombies take more, way more then two taps to get killed, and sometimes require a lot more elaborate Zombie Kill of the Year-level kills in order to take down. I wonder if there's like one single magazine or something out there that keeps track of this in this universe? Also, if everybody's named after the place they're from, why are Wichita and Little Rock sisters? I mean, I guess it's possible for sisters to be from different places like that, but it still seems weird. Although the whole location-naming thing in this quirk has always seemed strange. I mean, I like the joke, but like are the only ones from these particular places to survive?


I don't know, and honestly I don't care. This is a lot of fun, and except for the commune being so stupidly anti-weapon that they melt all their guns for peace sign necklaces...- eh, that joke's funny, but it was also better on "Family Guy". I also like Rosario Dawson, as another new acquaintance they find on the road, named, Nevada. (Although we do find out where she's from eventually.) There's also a great post-credits scene that I will not give away at all. It's not as wonderfully fun and absurdly quirky as the original, but it's still a pretty good follow-up to the first one, and a delightful new look into these characters as well. I mean, Abigail Breslin was 13 for the first movie, (And was at the time, the biggest movie star in the film, strangely enough) and now you can actually give her a more adult storyline and they do. It's actually kinda nice to see a character continued on played by the same actor from when they were that young; you don't really see that too often in movies anymore. I also just love these other actors too. Eisenberg has always been one of the most compelling and fascinating actors around and him and Harrelson are always fun together; I mean, half of why I like "Now You See Me" was basically that you had those two acting rebels playing two of their most over-the-top and bizarre characters and that's also what I like about them here.

Director Ruben Fleischer has had a bit of a struggle going back-and-forth between his sitcom and television work and then slipping back into his film work for a while. and I'm not exactly sure how excited he is to go back for a sequel to his biggest film hit, but I thought it was a good return to form that I hope can get him on a more sturdy and solid track in the future. I do think more could've been done with a "Zombieland" sequel, but I definitely was satisfied with this one.

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE (2019) Director: Richard Linklater


Cate Blanchett goes missing in 'Where'd You Go Bernadette ...

So, for about an hour or so into "Where'd You Go Bernadette", I was having my patience tested. I kept staring at the screen and pausing and unpausing the movie, and I kept asking, "Where you going with this," to the movie. That's not normally something I think of asking with a Richard Linklater film, a director who you can make a legitimate case for being among the best working directors today. That doesn't mean he's infallible, he's made a questionable movie or two here and there, and not just the so-called Hollywood movies he makes to subsidize the more personal indy projects he takes on, but yeah, this movie, for a long time got me fearing that this was one of those movies where a character is eccentric in such a way that the movie doesn't really just how, for lack of a better word, crazy, she is. Like Tea Leoni's role in "Spanglish" or most indy films where Parker Posey has an underwritten lead and has to try to make something out of nothing. Eventually though, I realize my worry about Linklater losing his own mind a bit, started to evaporate as "Where'd You Go, Bernadette?", does in fact, literally realize that it's main character has truly started losing it. That doesn't necessarily make it good, but at least the movie knows what's going on is not normal, no matter what's supposedly happening to the character, and even with the caveat that the titular Bernadette (Cate Blanchett) is truly unwell, there's still a lot shitty behavior from others that need to be questioned.

But yeah, this movie- I-eh...- (Sigh) Yeah, this isn't good. I'm not sure what happened here. Apparently this is based on a novel, which is kinda rare for Linklater actuallly. It's not uncommon for him, but he's been doing that a little more lately. His last film for instance was "Last Flag Flying", which was also an adaptation, a good one about three Vietnam soldiers reuniting after thirty years and one of their kids dies in Iraq. Before that though, you have to go back almost a decade with the underrated "Me and Orson Welles" and "A Scanner Darkly", but this one is based on a book by Maria Semple a former sitcom writer/producer who became a novelist, later in life, and you can see some of that inspiration for that in the Bernadette character. It also explains some of the strange comedic aspects of this movie that seem to clash with that main narrative of a mother suffering from many social disorders, or not. Apparently, it's more apparent in the novel that this is comedy; this is not as bad a translation as say Ang Lee's "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk", was from comedy to inspirational narrative, but yeah, that seems to be one of the issues as I'm reading in the Wikipedia page of the book, which-, um, wait, hold on, how are they describing this book?

Where'd You Go, Bernadette is a 2012 epistolary comedy novel written by Maria Semple. The plot revolves around an agoraphobic architect and mother named Bernadette Fox, who goes missing prior to a family trip to Antarctica. It is narrated by her 15-year-old daughter Bee Branch, and is told in a series of documents (emails, memos, transcripts, etc.) with the occasional interlude by Bee.

Epistolary? What the hell's an epistolary novel?

(Clicks link)

"... A novel, written as a series of documents."- OOOOOOH! Okay, I never heard that word used for it before, but I've written things like that before. Writing a story or book, not through 1st or 3rd person paragraphs and texts, but through the exchange of documents like, lettes or e-mails, or diary entries, or just a lot of strange documents in general. Okay, this explains a lot, because that's not necessarily an easy thing to translate to a natural onscreen narrative. Some are, but most books have enough visuals to explain the action sequences a little more detailed, but some of these can seem odd. For instance, Bernadette is constantly talking on the computer to a personal assistant named Manjula that we never see for almost all of her daily tasks. Organizing her daily planning, getting her the things she needs, etc. etc. This ends up being a plot point later on, when we find out who Manjula is, but honestly, for most of the movie it either just seems like a weird quirk of hers to recall what's important or to get things done, or for her, just a normal part of her regular routine.

We learn eventually through, mostly a Youtube documentary, we sorta learn the background of Bernadette, who was/is a renowned architect who shortly after getting married to a computer animator, Elgie (Billy Crudup) and moved to Seattle after her last architecture project went downhill, and she had to suffer through a difficult pregnancy and a problematic birth of her child Bee (Emma Nelson) who's now in a weird private middle school of some kind, that does have a strange cult-like group of environmental mean girl moms that all hate the misanthropic Bernadette and vice-versa, led by her neighbor Audrey (Kristen Wiig). The school comes into play, because Bee wants to go on a school trip over Christmas break to-eh, um, Antarctica? Apparently it's for some kind of science thing that would help her impress next year when she's at a boarding school, which we learn later that both her parents went to boarding school, and...- there seems to be a lot of weird exposition in this thing, that really feels like it's being undertold until it has to be brought up, for something. I don't know what they had to start with, but the writing here is really weird to begin with, and then, yeah, Middle School girl, wants family trip to Antarctica? I mean, that is a real thing, people do take cruise ships to Antarctica and occasionally flights, but-eh, yeah, eh, this is one of those movies I can easily see people labeling as a Rich/White People's problems film.

Bernadette is an interesting character, but we don't see much of what makes her interesting, we only see her in this downward spiral where she's just-, I don't even know how to describe her. She seems to just be pissed at the world around her. She refuses to even try to befriend others, although considering who's around her, I don't always blame her, and she cares deeply for her family, but she's lost all other passions in life and is consumed with anything that possibly inconvenience her. She worries about getting seesick so she gets a bunch of extra pills that could paralyze her if taken wrong. She's apparently agoraphobic, although she leaves the house long enough much of the time, she's definitely a misanthrope at this point, calling all other the moms gnats. She's clearly troubled, but refuses to see a shrink, and so few friends or colleagues that she alienates or flat out just loses touch with any of the few that she has. At one point, her husband does consult a psychologist,, Dr. Kurtz (Judy Greer) who holds an intervention but doesn't go over well. I'm not sure why she's so against therapy.

I think that's the problem, we get some stray facts, but everything's so vague, yet everything's also just tied up in a nice little bow. We get to see the finished product of just how Bernadette got this way, but very little of her from before, and whether or not here, invitably finding herself is even so much different or better. Basically, the narrative this reminds me the most of, are those movies about how, there's like this reclusive rock star who made those great obscure albums years ago that influenced everybody and now there's to find them and help them find themselves, the only difference is that there really isn't some kind of journalist character that seeks out Bernadette, it's mostly just her family. And even then, it's like her daughter, who's similar enough to her to begin with and that's not brought up enough, doesn't know offhand about her Mom's influential and inspiring past as an artist?

I mean, I get the appeal of the struggling artist who has to go on a journey to rediscover their artistic voice, I go through that a lot myself, with ebbs and flows, but this isn't a great version of it, and from Richard Linklater, I particularly expect better. I know, he can tell this story in a better way, and in a way that feels more like him too. This doesn't feel like him enough, and the story just isn't good enough no matter who it is. It's a reluctant negative review, but there's just too many better versions of this to really justify this one.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2018) Director: Jacques Audiard


THE SISTERS BROTHERS | Official Trailer - YouTube

I'm not sure what to make of "The Sisters Brothers". Let's start with, the name though, it's-um, annoying. Especially since that is their moniker; if it was more of a joke, like something that maybe the Coens would do, I'd probably appreciate it more, but every time I heard the phrase used in the movie, I just felt like I was getting an elbow nudged into my chest by some guy who was laughing too much at his own joke and kept saying, "Get it!" "Get it!"?! I got it, I wish they changed the name.

For one they're not real people as far as I can tell, the movie's based on a novel of the same title, but I'd still argue that it could've been changed to something less joke-y, and second, the movie isn't really a comedic western or anything; it's kind of a-... hmm, actually it's harder to describe then I'd think. I guess it's a psychological western? (Shrugs) I mean, it's certainly not exhuberantly narrative focused, but-, yeah, I guess it's more of a character peace?

I mean the main characters are gunslingers, Eli (John C. Reilly) and Charlie (Joaquin Phoenix) are known hitmen who are hired to kill throughout the West, and there is some violence but they're not particularly violent themselves; well Charlie is and he's proud of it, but to Eli, it's just his job. In fact, at one point, when he's hired a Girl at a Saloon, (Alison Tolman) she's almost confused and put-off by how nice he is to her and barely knows how to act.

Anyway, the brothers get caught up in a couple different things, first there's a detective who may or may not be following them, John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) and secondly and more interestingly, there's a prospector named Hermann (Riz Ahmed) who's got a strange, different plan to prospect for gold then others, one that's both clever and dangerous, and it interests Charlie although thinks he's probably another conman selling something.

The way these things collide, I think feels like it would be more compelling in novel form probably. I think part of that might just be some translation issues; the film was directed by Jacques Audiard, the great French director behind "Rust and Bone" and "A Prophet"; working with his usual writing collaborated Thomas Bidegain. I suspect that they're adaptation is probably strong, and I guess it's interesting that they chose to emphasize the parts of the story that they did. There's more interest in the relationships between the characters and how they're effected by the events and less on the more action sequences that the film includes. This makes sense, those are his strong suits, but I just didn't find this story as compelling as his other works. It feels a bit out-of-step with him, except for the fact that he does enjoy switching genres as much as he does.

Also this is one of those movies where I think the cinematography was just too damn dark. I know that works for the time period that they're depicting, but this bugged me a lot; really took me out of an otherwise good movie. There's some good performances though, I particular enjoyed the Carol Kane cameo at the end. I guess there's nothing too bad to bash here, and there are a few really powerful sequences, so it's technically enough for me to recommend, but I definitely consider it a minor, forgettable entry in Audiard's work. I think this was just too far outside his milieu to pull off personally

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