I'm finding a lot more interest strangely enough in some history-based Youtube channels actually, but like the cool ones. Atun-Shei Films in particular has a fascinating collection of material. I find a lot of solace in history, even as it becomes more and more frustrating to realize how much it's really negatively shaped our world, but I think that's why, especially during these times, it's becoming more and more valuable to actually know the history of how things happened to be how they become as they are. If we don't know or how to care how things came about, we're not only doomed to repeat, but we're gonna be helpless to stop it when it is repeated. So, learn your history everybody, and the real not the things that they've easily made poems out of over the years. (Even if some of those are amazing poems.)
Well, that's all the pseudo-wisdom I got today, let's get to the punditry. Here are this weeks, MOVIE REVIEWS, starting with a special review of "HAMILTON"!!!
HAMILTON (2020) Director: Thomas Kail
This is gonna be a different kind of movie review if you can even call it that. There's honestly not too much I can say about the movie, other then, it's "Hamilton", and it's amazing. I don't think I can say much that nobody else has said already. I'm not normally one, as you can tell, who is always in a hurry to see the biggest movie in theaters, or streaming, right away, but in this case, I've made an odd exception. I wasn't planning on doing so, but once a relative insists on buying DisneyPlus just to see the damn thing, then, yeah, you're gonna end up seeing what the fuss was about. And in this case, I'm glad I did. I can easily see why this won everything a few years ago at the Tonys and there frankly hasn't been much since that's taken over both Broadway and the public consciousness (Not that anything else on Broadway could right now, thanks COVID-19) and in a just world, this movie is at least, on the shortlist, for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for the Oscars.
Yes, you read that right, DOCUMENTARY! This is not a typical Hollywood adaptation of a hit Broadway musical, not that I have any particular issue with those, but instead, we get a film recording of the actual Broadway performance of the musical as it was performed on stage, at the Richard Rodgers Theater on Broadway. Yeah, it's "staged", I mean, it's a literal staged show, but in a filmmaking sense, it's shot in many ways, like a feature film would be, so it's not exactly a perfect depiction of say being in the audience for the show. There are camera perspectives from several locations, it was shot over three days, including over multiple live performances with cameras in several different positions in the crowd for each performance as well as a day and night reshoots for close-ups and Steadicams shots. Shooting a performance intended for the stage, one that's intended to be watched live, on the medium of film is not an easy thing to achieve; I think they do it very well, but sometimes, sure, the entire stage isn't necessarily shown in the frame, so you might not see what every cast member is doing and depending on what the cameras and editors choose to have you focus on does the frame the performance for you; it isn't the fully immersive experience of seeing the show on stage would, and that's a fair criticism. Then again, it's a performance of the original cast of "Hamilton" at the original theater where, once Broadway opens again, whenever that'll be, it's still be performing to sold-out crowds, albeit smaller ones since they'll be seated six feet apart from each other, and it's amazing for all the reasons everybody says it is and maybe more and I don't think I much to add to that conversation other than admiration.
You might think that I want to focus on the point that performance recordings like these are and should be considered documentaries, and they should, and it is a stupid rule with the Academy that these kinds of films are not Academy-eligible, even for Documentary Feature, but honestly I don't; I'm just pointing that out as a reminder that this movie is getting screwed on a bizarre technicality that frankly, I don't think I agree with. Honestly, I don't want to focus on that either, however.
Instead, I have a completely different bone to pick, and it's with, well, Broadway itself. 'cause I have to ask one question to Broadway and in some respects to all the major theater communities out there.
WHY THE FUCK DO YOU GUYS NOT DO THIS MORE OFTEN?!
Yeah, I do not understand why we do not get more films like these, especially from Broadway productions. Look, every criticism I can make about how important it is to get the full experience of a theatrical performance by being in the theater, I mean every word of that, honest, I do, but I don't care. Most people do not live in New York, and even if you do, not everybody can afford to see a Broadway show. Sometimes it's hard for anybody to be able to actually go see any theatrical performance, even in local theaters. Not just for cost either, sometimes one just doesn't have the time or the travel ability. Sometimes you can't find a babysitter is a big one, and also, there are other options out there, more than ever before for your entertainment purposes. Also, theatrical purposes, especially major, groundbreaking and cultural significant productions, like Lin-Manuel Miranda's Pulitzer Prize-winning work here, shouldn't just be limited to, cast production albums, as much as I do enjoy those, or wait until Hollywood comes and adapts a musical for the big screen, like Manuel's "In the Heights", will be when it finally gets released,- currently scheduled for next year. Even in a recorded form, like 'Hamilton" there is a lot of power to actually seeing a theatrical production, done the way it was originally meant to seen, even if, one can only see that threw a camera lens.
So, why isn't Broadway producing more film productions of stage performances, even though it gets there work out there to more people and can earn more profits for producers/performers, blah, blah, blah,...-", and yes, I know their answer for that. Broadway and I presume many other people in the theater community have this idiotic concern that if they can just see the performance streaming or on DVD, they won't go to actually see the performance on stage, which is just stupid and wrong, I might add; the same people who think that are the same people who thought Atlantic City legalizing gambling meant that nobody would come to Las Vegas anymore. And even if that was the case, well, "Hamilton" was shot four years ago, and look at how excited we still are to see it, now! I think this argument is just dumb, and you know, even if this wasn't, there's no way we shouldn't be getting more of these productions, 'cause Film is the best way to preserve them.
I don't know how this doesn't get through Broadway's skull, but all these amazing actors and performances, not just in this movie, but in all these great plays and musicals that we've mostly only heard about, and not actually seen over these years...,- theater's biggest detriment is that it's not a medium that's preserved as other arts are. Even among the old arts, we still have paintings and sculptures around, outside of perhaps dance, theater is the medium that arguably most needs to be recorded for prosperity, and sure, there are places who do film their recording. The Met for instance has done this, PBS and others have found recording outlets for performance art, and I absolutely love a lot of those productions. Hell, Disney's been doing decently well with this even before "Hamilton", I watched their Broadway production of "Shrek" on DVD when they released that, and I loved it. I mean, "Hamilton" got an MPAA rating, Disney planned on this being in theaters, which is why I'm covering it, but that happens so rarely-, the last time I remember a direct recording of a production like this making it to the big screen was-eh, Spike Lee's film "Passing Strange", a recording of Stew's play and that movie barely got a theatrical release before making it's way to television, and it still made my Ten Best List that year. "Hamilton" will probably make my Ten Best of 2020. I love seeing these documentary recordings of Broadway performances and if they made and produced and publicized these kinds of productions more, I betcha more people would enjoy them and seek out live theater more. And they don't have to be released into theaters or stream on major streaming services, or anything like that, they don't even have to happen to be shown to the public until their major run ends, or just a reasonably appropriate period of time.
If anything comes from "Hamilton", it's that whatever the roadblocks are that do prevent more theatrical productions like these to get recorded for preservation and prosperity and sold to the American public, through streaming, DVD, theatrical releases, television presentation, whatever, that they need to start to crumble down. That doesn't mean I don't want to see any more straight traditional Hollywood adaptations in the future, but there's value in terms of quality and money, in releasing more recordings of these productions, and on this level.
And hell, it's not like there isn't a bootleg Broadway market out there, there is, it's prominent, you can mitigate it, and make money doing it! This should be a far, far more common thing.
ONWARD (2020) Director: Dan Scanlon
So, at one of the rare times that I was able to head out to a gathering during these times, (And in general) I got into discussions with a friend of a friend mine who raved about "Onward", the newest feature film from Disney/Pixar, and he talked specifically how the movie was the best version he'd ever seen, of the idea of "Dungeons and Dragons" turned into a piece of film. Obviously, this concept intrigued me, since obviously, I am very much-, um, not a fan of "D&D", like, at all.
I'm sorry on this one, I'm gonna speculate on what knowledge I do know on this game a bit, 'cause it's stuck in my mind and I had to jump the queue on this to find out, but I have no real idea how observant this perspective on the movie is or isn't, I don't get the appeal of this game, and I never have. I mean, I get why it'd be cool to have a dungeon, you never know when that would come in handy, but dragons? I don't need to be in a world surrounded by dragons. (I certainly don't want them in my dungeon; they'll be putting all my prisoners at risk; I can't have that!) And I really don't get long-form RPG tabletop games like this, like even for a game, why would you want to pretend your in a mythical land made up of-, well, that's the other thing, why is this game so malleable? Like, the whole point of games is to play within the strict set of rules, but people make up new adventures and rules every game; I know this seems like a weird question but, how do you cheat? Or how do you win? I don't know, I feel like the more I look into the game, the more I feel like "Mazes and Monsters" was onto something. A game shouldn't just be "Create Your Own Adventure", that's all I'm saying.
Anyway, I knew people who played it in high school, they tried to get me to play, but the game didn't appeal to me, and based on the pictures some of them liked to show, the game was just an excuse for my friends to drink, get high and have orgies, and frankly I didn't need any of that. (What? I don't know what to tell you, in my high school, the nymphomaniac fuckups were also the D&D people, and while I'm still friends a lot of them, sometimes they could be annoying with this stuff. [Shrugs])
Anyway, "Onward", is it "Dungeons and Dragons" inspired and a representation/inspiration for the movie? Umm, yeah, I guess you can pretty easily make that claim; I haven't looked it up, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was a direct inspiration. Does that make it a good movie? Ummm, tsk, kind-a, not really. Oh, don't get me wrong, I think "Onward"'s an okay film, mostly a minor entry for Pixar, but I wouldn't necessarily say that "Dungeons and Dragons" motifs and plots are what made it good.
So, "Onward" does take place in a world of wonder, with several magic creatures and spirits, most of which, in this world, fell by the wayside after technology came about. Magic still exists, but it's marketed differently. Famous castles known for being where mystic creatures would explain the quests necessary for young Elves to go on are still there, they've just transformed in theme restaurants and stuff like that. It's an interesting idea, the idea that a Tolkienesque world of magic would transform into a world that's noticeably modern like ours, where wizardry lives side-by-side with cell phones.
Within that context, we have the story of two Elvish brothers, Barley and Ian Lightfoot (Chris Pratt and Tom Holland). Barley is the older brother who's currently splurging on his gap year after high school and before doing anything else. He is obsessed with the past and often gets in trouble for it, going on quests that follow the old mystic quests and having to be taken home by Colt Bronco (Mel Rodriguez), a police officer who's dating their mom, Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Ian is much more introverted and shy. It's his sixteenth birthday and he's still struggling to fit in, unsure of how much he wants to either. His father passed away when he was just a baby and has no memory of him, which Barley has a couple memories from when he was a toddler and to some degree, they're still not over that loss.
That's when the journey aspect begins when Ian gets a magic staff along with a spell from his father; he apparently was into the mysticism past like Barley was and set things up for Ian, who unbeknownst to him, apparently is a wizard, although Barley isn't, somehow, and their father has set up a spell to be able to have him around for one more day. (So, wait, did he know he was dying and set this up?) They managed to get the spell to work, but, for some reason, only half of their father, the bottom half. In order to get the rest of their Dad, they have to go on a quest and find a Phoenix Gem to activate the magic staff, and complete the spell. That seems like the kind of thing I would've made sure they had before dying, but I guess he had trust in them to get it?
Anyway, Ian, Barley, and a walking pair of Dad Pants head out on an ancient quest to find the Phoenix Gem before it's too late. Part of me wants to kinda disregard the narrative subtext of the film as male "Frozen". I won't be that mean, but there are some similarities that kinda get under my skin, mainly 'cause I don't think they work as well here. Without going into details, they had one character do something at the end to prove their love, and I think I would've had the other character do it, or do something else entirely. What they did was fine. I don't think the movie was particularly original. Disney's had these stories of learning to appreciate a parent or even a sibling narrative before and this one follows a lot of the same arcs as those. Like, I got some "Brave" flashbacks with this plot and whatnot.
That's the other thing, the Dungeons & Dragons parables, like, if that's the direct source of inspiration, fine. Like, I can see it, for instance, there's a scene where the two brothers have to put down a drawbridge in order to get across a gorge, but the lever is on the other side, so they have to figure how to use their magic spells and be able to pull the lever, and the spells can only work in certain ways at certain times, etc. etc. I would just argue that there's probably older fantasy inspirations then just that game. Basically, the board game is just a long game of Adventure, so you run into those same ideas and puzzles in most adventure stories. And not just in other classic literature either. If there is a big problem with "Onward" it's that it's not too close to "Dungeons and Dragons", it's too close to a medium that "Dungeons and Dragons" would be better suited for, video games.
Like, I get why, if you were in an actual Arthurian fantasy world on a Quest of some nature, why you would actually want to have a group of people with you, on this journey, but today, in this modern world of our, honestly, that's the kind of game I would enjoy, not with a bunch of friends over a tabletop, but in a solitary version, playing it in a video game format. I know video games are more interactive with others now than ever, but I still think of them more as a single-player experience, and in that format, I think I would have more appreciation for the game. If I'm around a table with a game with buddies, I don't normally want to work with them, I want to strategize against them, outwit them, something like that.
Anyway, I'm needlessly pontificating, but now is "Onward" a video game disguised as a movie? Eh, a little, not-, well, it's not so much that I'm gonna pan the movie, but yeah, let's say if they adapted this to a video game, which they probably did, I can't imagine it being too difficult to adapt. Still though, I feel there are more interesting versions of this. Hell, the "How to Train Your Dragon" movies for instance, feels like a far more satisfying and compelling version of these films. Even by Disney/Pixar standard, like if you're combining animalistic creatures with a modern world concept, I think "Zootopia" did this better, and I was the one who didn't love "Zootopia" like everybody else. The farther I get from "Onward," the less impressive it feels. For a story about a grandiose journey to have a strange, rare, last chance to have just a moment with a parent from your past, eh, it might have elves and centaurs and several other mystical creatures, but you know, "Field of Dreams" had baseball.
A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019) Director: Marielle Heller
So, a few weeks ago I happened to stumble upon a Youtube reaction video, one of my guilty pleasures admittedly, and this one involved an Irish woman, watching an old episode/clips or two from "Mister Rogers Neighborhood" for the first time. Link's below:
I have found this fascinating, 'cause as an American, who grew up on the show and like, most everybody, has a particular affection and nostalgia for him, he was so distinctive and unique a presence that it's actually really difficult to describe or explain him to others who didn't grow up with him. I don't know if younger generations of kids in America have this kind of trouble understanding it, they might in the recent years since his retirement and passing, but I've noticed that apparently there isn't an equivalent to him in most other countries, nothing remotely close in fact. So, yeah, watching somebody who isn't fully immersed of who Fred Rogers (Oscar-nominee Tom Hanks) was, is actually rather endearing and enlightening. And it's great to see them react and have those emotional, calming moments with Mr. Rogers that I remember having all the time. And I think it helps to have that understanding, or to try to have it, 'cause for me, when "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood" opens on that big red model building and the camera traverses through the neighborhood to the house, and Mr. Rogers, even a Tom Hanks version starts singing that titular song, I just immediately become transfixed in much the same ways that I've been since, literally as long as I can remember. It's practically a Pavlovian response for us, and trying to describe him in actual detail is really too difficult; it's simply ingrained in us like it's always been there.
Of course, the movie itself, is essentially, something similar to that discovery, only on a personal level. The movie is based on an Esquire article by Tom Junod, the name changed in the movie to Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). I read the article and some of the other pieces he's written on Mister Rogers, and to paraphrase his best description of him I could find, it's that he is the personification of extreme, radical kindness. He usually wrote pieces that tried to get to the more secretive or hidden aspects of how somebody or others would be, bad. Naturally, that's what investigative reporters do, they're used to trying to seek out the more sinister intentions of the world. However, with Mister Rogers, he quickly realized that he had to do the opposite and try to seek out how exactly he had become so, good.
It perhaps helped that Fred took an interest in Tom, as he was going through troubles in his life at the time, and Mr. Rogers has, always had an unusually fine-tuned empathy radar. Lloyd's struggling with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper) who he gets into a fight with at his sister Lorraine's (Tammy Blanchard) wedding. Naturally, we're gonna eventually see Lloyd's struggle to eventually be able to accept and forgive his father, with the help of his new friend Mr. Rogers.
Part of me wants to criticize the film in much the same way I think many films based on magazine articles have of making the story about the writer of the article. It's a tired cliche, and I think it's becoming a bad one at that, but then again, I'm not sure what would be the best way to showcase Mr. Rogers's impact, other than to show how he affected others. Director Marielle Heller has been one of the most interesting and best young filmmakers around; I still find myself reflecting fondly on her debut feature "The Diary of a Teenage Girl", and I quite enjoyed "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" the Lee Israel biopic. I suspect this is the best we can get for a feature film that's essentially about Mister Rogers, outside of the many documentaries on him that are out there.
Everything about Mr. Rogers is utterly fascinating. There's a striking purity to him that seems otherworldly and everybody's struggled to try to explain it in terms that others can understand. And by others, I mean adults; I don't think kids ever felt any real need to try to deconstruct him in such ways. Part of it, is that Mister Rogers was so good, and that's just not terribly dramatic, but it's good to know that that kind of goodness does exist, especially these. I'd hate to think of what Mister Rogers thought of Twitter. (Although you should absolutely subscribe to Betty Aberlin's twitter account, she is awesome!)
So, I'm recommending the film overall. It's always good to have the Mr. Rogers section of my subconscious pulled into the forefront of my mind. There are also some really strong performances here too; I want to specifically mention Susan Kelechi Watson's role as Lloyd's wife Andrea; she plays Beth on "This is Us" and in this movie, I was amazed at home much focus and attention she demands when she's on the screen. She might be one of the most underrated actresses around, and despite not having too much to do, this is a really great performance. And yes, Tom Hanks is really good here. He got his first Oscar nomination since "Cast Away" believe it or not, for this role, and you know what, I was skeptical, but this is a very good performance. He's not trying to exactly recreate him, physically as much, but he does understand to get him emotionally, which is the hardest part to get with him anyway.
LES MISERABLES (2019) Director: Ladj Ly
The description of this film on Rotten Tomatoes goes as follow:
"'Les Miserables' transcends its unwieldy story with compelling ideas and an infectious energy that boils over during a thrilling final act."
That basically describes the actual "Les Miserables" story, any version, but definitely the Victor Hugo original version, which was written and took place partly in Montfermeil, where this new modern story, also called "Les Miserables" takes place. Based on a short film by its director, Ladj Ly, that itself was based on real events that Ly actually photographed back in 2008 but they occur here shortly after the 2018 World Cup, although it seems like it could've taken place, at any point after the 2005 "Riots" that ran through the French suburbs, especially those populated by France's evergrowing Northern African population. Yeah, France went through what we're going through now, but fifteen years ago, and little has changed there, so maybe it's more like, one of the dozens of other forgotten times in American history that this happened here. (Kinda like how nobody actually remembers what obscure French revolution attempt the original "Les Mis..." is actually about.)
Anyway, "Les Miserables" was France's submission for the Academy Awards' International Feature category, a bit of a surprising pick for them, but it did get nominated and I can see why. This is probably a film that has more resonance for France then it would for many Americans because of the root sociocultural issues it shows. It's about police abusing and dominating a minority community. Basically, the structure of the film is "Training Day". Stephane (Damien Bonnard) is a Parisian officer assigned to work with Chris and Gwada (Alexis Manenti and Djebril Zonga), two corrupt cops who terrorize the low-class neighborhood, and that's a generous description under normal circumstances.
In this unusual circumstance, they end up accidentally pepper-spraying Issa (Issa Perica) a young boy who is severely injured by the blast directly to his face. They were recorded doing this, not by body cams, or normal passers-by, but by a drone of all things, something that I'm a little surprised hasn't happened more often honestly. Most of the rest of the film, they're scouring the neighborhood for the drone's owner Buzz (Al-Hassan Ly), but he ends up heading to Salah (Almany Kanoute) one of the local leaders in the community's and while they're using their own neighborhood spies and connections to seek out Buzz and destroy the drone's memory card, Issa leads them into a trap where the neighborhood fights back against them. The movie ends on an ambiguous note, where Stephane is left with a decision to make, to either take out Issa or to turn on his fellow officers.
The movie then ends, with a Victor Hugo quote, "...There are no such things as bad plants or bad men. There are only bad cultivators."
Of course, "Les Miserables" is about a lot more than just, the abuse of police power upon the disenfranchised, in fact, that's what I consider the least interesting part of the narrative in most versions, but then again, the through-line of the drama, is indeed, all about a cop who's determined to chase down a crook, no matter how long it takes, simply because he is a criminal, for literally stealing to survive; an officer who doesn't see that the crime isn't an act of an individual, but a societal problem caused in part by a failed police system, ruling with laws that are systematically designed to protect those who need protection the least and to destroy and disenfranchised others. Of course, the ultimate irony in "Les Miserables", the original is that the police themselves are also a product of the same system and I think the ambiguous ending is a symbolic representation of those truths being combined, and leaving only Stephane, with a rare conscious ability to choose which side is he on and that whatever that decision, he ultimately is apart of that system.
All that said, I'm not sure what to make of the film itself. At least by the standard of an Oscar nominee for International Film, I probably would argue that "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" was probably a better film for the nation. It's an ambition and personal first feature from Ly. It feels more reminiscent to me of a scream of desperation than a well-crafted work, and that's both an advantage and a detriment. The ending especially reminded me of a bit of a reversal of the famous open-ending of Mark Levin's "Slam" oddly enough. That film's also about societal laws and ills, but it's through the perspective of a young artist who's arrested for selling drugs and struggling with trying to understand the complex inner feelings of not feeling like he did anything wrong, but according to the rules of law, he is a criminal. Now, "Les Miserables" is a much better movie than "Slam" is, but it kinda fails in the same way by ending the movie about the problem with society, on that individual's choice that isn't even really answered. I mentioned "Training Day" as the baseline structure of this film, "Les Miserables" is also a better movie then that film is, and they do stray more then enough from it, but I still wonder if it was the best approach. I can easily imagine, say taking an approach to the material more attune to Paul Greengrass's work, in particular, "Bloody Sunday" for instance, and making this movie even stronger then it is.
This is high-level criticism nitpicking though, "Les Miserables" does the job wants to very well and that's ultimately all that matters. It's getting its voice heard; it wants to showcase this systemic failure and show how and why it needs to end and how to fight against it. That's about all you can ask for. It's also another reminder about the power of film, and filming police brutality and how it's as much our job to reveal it, a message and responsibility that we should never not be reminded of.
WEATHERING WITH YOU (2019) Director: Makato SHINKEI
You know, I never really thought about it, but weather is something that I'm surprised isn't more used in animated storytelling. It's a powerful storytelling tool, but it's not always a natural fit for cinema, and whether you're Howard Hughes looking for giant cloud-shaped breasts or Spike Lee trying to replicate the hottest day of the year, in the middle of Autumn, or Terry Gilliam getting his "Don Quixote" movie canceled because of an unexpected hailstorm, whether is something that's not only far easier to control with animation, but it's also vastly easier to make visually enthralling with animation. Rain for instance usually falls way too fast to even be visually seen on camera.
So in that sense, Makato Shinkei's "Weathering with You" is already interesting enough just by its idea of the weather being a major centerpiece of its narrative. It also helps immensely that it's just absolutely gorgeous. You can stop at any frame of this movie and you'd have an amazing painting, even when it's inside a literal Tokyo McDonald's. Actually, this is maybe the beautiful portrayal of modern-day Tokyo I've ever seen on camera. During a particularly rain-filled summer, Hodoka runs away to Tokyo and lives on the street for a while, before finding a job working for Suga, a guy he befriended on a subway. The job, is, um, well, apparently Suga runs some kind of-eh, well you know those magazines that-, not like the National Enquirer, but like, those local ones next to them at the Wawa that talk about aliens and urban legends that are spotted. I don't see them Out West too much, but I do see them pop up Back East, and I guess that's a thing in the Far East as well, and they're reporting on the rain and some of the spiritual or conspiratorial about it. The big one, involving sunshine girls. which,-
So, the sky is weird in this world, and the movie hypothesizes that there's a world, similar to the Ocean ecosystem inside the clouds and that some humans can, basically act as mother nature and call upon the Sun. Mostly, these are young girls. Suga's provocative niece Natsumi is intrigued and soon Hodoka becomes a reporter for the magazine in exchange for a house to live in basically. He's not old enough to really work, but... anyway, he happened to meet one of these Sunshine Girls, the young Hina who he's falling in love with. He met her at the aforementioned McDonald's and has also run into each other a few times. She's out on the streets as well, taking care of siblings, and she's so good at conjuring up the sun as a Sunshine Girl that she's basically working doing that. It's actually kinda disturbing metaphorically, especially when you find out her actual age...- yes, this is essentially a story of, really young teenagers, teenagers on their own. I'm not exactly sure why, especially since this romance is the main narrative. Hodoka is in love with Hina, but the more Hina uses her power for Sunshine, the closer she gets to eventually becoming apart of the sky itself, and it's actually causing her body to become translucent. If she stays with Hodoka, the city of Tokyo will be drench in continuous downpour forever; if she goes, the sun will come and stay out.
Shinkei is an incredibly talented visual artist, and this is his best film so far, but I still have issues with it. It's definitely the best visually. He has a fascination with times and other planes of existence, and apparently young protagonists, especially ones going through adolescence. His previous film "Your Name" is considered by many to be one of the best anime films in recent years, but I'm one of the few people who didn't care as much for it as everybody else did. Part of it, I thought was that his material is perhaps a little too regional for me; "Your Name" had a lot of symbolic recall to the devastating Miyagi Tsunami in 2011 that killed almost 25,000 residents, and I felt that power, but there was something else that felt wrong about it, and it was how he was a little too fascinated with youth and gender roles during adolescence. "Your Name" dealt with a man and female high school youths switching bodies and lives, while they were heading towards a disaster. There are echoes of it in "Weathering With You" only narratively the romance with a sky being, makes a little more sense, but in practice is somewhat creepier, 'cause it's literally a story about a romance between two kids being the thing that's powerful enough to control the weather?! Two, essentially orphan street kids as well.
The deeper I think about "Weathering with You", the stranger and creepier it gets but maybe others will see greater power in the metaphor then perhaps I do; I think Shinkei's obsession with youths exploring their sexuality being the keys to fantastical aspects that salvage the modern world, has disturbing implications, and unlike say Miyazaki's more darker undertones, I'm not certain there's deeper metaphorical meanings or as much as some may think there is, but I still recommend the movie. It is too damn beautiful, and in truth, I can think of other movies that did similar things. "Almost Famous" came to my mind a few times while watching this film, and that's about kids growing up too fast in an adult world too. No matter how it's read, it's a fascinating journey for most of the movie getting there.
GLORIA BELL (2019) Director: Sebastian Lelio
I saw but didn't review Sebastien Leilo's "Gloria", a movie about an older woman in her fifties starting a relationship. It didn't have the biggest impact on me, but I do remember liking it, and was looking forward to this American remake, directed by Leilo himself, the Chilean director behind the Oscar-winning "A Fantastic Woman"'s, first English language film. That film became "Gloria Bell", and for all intents and purposes, it isn't exactly that different than "Gloria", but something's off. It's a little difficult to explain, but the original film, there was more of a feeling that the Gloria (Julianne Moore) character at the center of the film, was really overcoming some inner-personal issues by going out ot date and having a relationship with an attractive ex-military man, in this film named Arnold (John Turturro). The relationship is sexy and erotic, but...-, I- you don't get entirely the sense from "Gloria Bell" that this is such a strange aberration for her. I'm not entirely sure why, perhaps it's the pacing, perhaps its the performances or maybe even the casting 'cause Julianne Moore, to me, has a long history of playing sexy characters like this over the years. She's low-key been one of the most naturally erotic and adventurous actresses for years, and many different kinds of sexual performances as well. Paulina Garcia, who played the lead in the Chilean film, I'm not terribly familiar with her filmography, so perhaps that mystery to her helped, but it did seem like, this particular relationship was a huge shift for her. Right in the beginning we meet Gloria Bell in a disco and she kinda fits in already, when we met Gloria at the disco, at the beginning of "Gloria", she didn't naturally.
It also doesn't seem much like her world was as lonely as "Gloria" was, or even that strange. She has similar random screamings from her neighbors as she did in the original film, but it doesn't go anywhere and it didn't stand out as precariously here. Everything in the original movie felt like I was learning more details about Gloria, and inevitably her boyfriend and his curious and questionable behavior, feels more like a glorious, erotic misadventure, instead, when he shitcans out of a major family gettogether to go be with his own mysterious family, I just feel like, "Yeah, he's an asshole, screw him!"
Maybe I'm just a whore for Spanish-language love affairs and this material just seems better because it's in a romantic language. I don't know, Leilo a very interesting filmmaker who's made some fascinating character profiles in recent years, him along with Pablo Larrain and Sebastien Silva have made Chilean cinema some of the biggest on the world cinema stage in recent years, but I feel like "Gloria Bell" was just a retread for him, and therefore it's just a retread for me. I wanted to like it, as I yelled at the screen for Gloria to finally dump Arnold over his bullshit, but even after she got her just desserts at the end, it still felt hollow.
THE SILENCE OF OTHERS (2019) Directors: Robert Bahar and Almudena Carrecedo
I think there's a lot to take in when it comes to some of the protests and destruction and decimation of not only physical statues of some of our so-called "leaders" and "founders" from our past. One of them is just a natural overwhelming rebellion of those figures as the American ideals and dreams that have been pushed by our leaders for centuries were, at a minimum, not designed for everybody to achieve. The other side, is-, well, it's a historical, and analytical reevaluation of their work, and, the men ('cause it's usually men) behind it. I've people complain or even argue that this is unjust to reevaluate and judge these men on the standards of modern society and that they lived in a different age and time then we did, and while I don't agree, it's not entirely unfair, but it's also missing the point, 'cause reevaluating the men, we're reevaluating the history. A history, that many of us, simply, didn't learn growing up. That which should've been emphasized was literally written out the books, and replaced with a romatic ideal of what happened and what was going on. We are often told, only what those who want power and control over the people, would allow us to learn.
I don't want to make it seem like this is all just the corruption of those at the top. History is long and complicated, and there's only so many pages in textbooks, some things are going to get overlooked or under-discussed and under-taught, even under the best of circumstances. Is it absolutely necessary to know about the Whiskey Rebellion and how George Washington tried to squash protests by literally taking arms and firing on them, while President? (Shrugs) Maybe, but if you focus on every little incident and detail of note then we're not getting to the U.S. Civil War until the 8th month of a nine-month school year, so perhaps it should only get a sentence or two instead of a chapter. However, to think that we are not actively striving to cover up their sins by emphasizing certain traits and ideals of our past as opposed to others, is frankly, just not true. We're doing that a lot in the U.S. right now, but we're not the only ones.
In Spain, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead, and they don't talk much about him there. And, I don't mean, they don't talk about him, because of all the horrible things he did as dictator, I mean, they literally don't talk about him much at all. Which is a bit unusual for somebody who was a tyrannical, genocidal dictator for over forty years in the country. However, that's by design. Two years after Franco's death, in an attempt to move on from the past, they instituted an Amnesty Law that political prisoners and allowed for exiles to return to the nation, but guaranteed impunity to all those who committed crimes under the direction/reign of Franco and his party as well as for all those on both of the Spanish Civil War. The declaration is nicknamed, "The Pact of Forgetting" and it was heavily agreed upon by members of Spain's right and left political parties. It's still technically enforced today, and the elders do not discuss much and it's not taught in Spanish schools. It also means that nobody has ever been taken to court or tried for their crimes against humanity under Franco's reign.
At least, not in Spain...
Spain, is not alone in this approach, by the way, in fact, several countries instituted similar amnesty laws and pacts in the decades since, after they, in one manner or another, were no longer under dictatorial rule. Peru, Chile, Rwanda, Cambodia, and more notably for the purpose of this film, Argentina. These countries, after much political upheaval and insistence of the public, overturned those laws and have since begun efforts on many fronts, including prosecutorial ones, to recover and document their actual histories. Spain is only now starting this process, and it's starting on the other side of the world. Family members and survivors of Franco's torturous abuses, filed in Argentina charges against two of his surviving torturers, some who literally lived next door to the family members of people they tortured and killed for decades afterward.
Argentina is a country that allows for the practice of Universal Jurisdiction. I only, kinda, grasp this concept, but basically, there are some crimes that are so heinous to the world, that countries or states are actually allowed to prosecute people, regardless of where the actual crimes actually took place. The most famous example I can probably give of this kind of prosecution occurring is the Nuremberg Trials. If you're wondering why Argentina, as opposed to some other country, other then the fact that Spain just isn't doing it, one of the more notorious crimes of Franco is that, he took newborn children away from their parents, and well, um...- if you think about it, look up Videla and Pinochet of Chile also, along with the kidnapping children of prisoners.... (South America's recent past is a lot more disturbing then people might realize, but that's another story....)
"The Silence of Others" is about this trial and follows it from 2010, when the lawsuit has only two plaintiffs and is filed, all the way to,- well, technically it's still going on. Most universal jurisdiction cases never actually make it to trial, and this one hasn't yet as one of the indicted, Antonio Gonzalez Pacheco, a police officer nicknamed Billy the Kid when he was torturing and murdering people, refuses extradition to Argentina and the Spanish government is sticking to their Amnesty Law. They've even refused to have the judge go to Spain and interview/interrogate for the case in Argentina. The victims and plaintiffs often do travel to testify though, determined to get justice. In Spain, while the Amnesty Law isn't annulled, they've started a lot of what we have been doing. Changing the names of streets, ostracizing the memorials, and other Franco remnants that pepper the everyday culture of the city. Digging up mass graves and trying to identify the remains. There's a lot of mass graves hiding in plain sight in Spain. On the sides of the roads, in the middle of farmlands and fields, hidden in plain sight as normal cemeteries, usually walled off from the public next to cemeteries that honor Franco....
We don't have a lot of memorials with bullet holes still in them, but other than that, I couldn't help but to think of my country while watching "The Silence of Others". We've put off paying for our sins a lot longer then Spain has so far, and while we're in the middle of reevaluating and recontextualizing our own history, and the several problematic aspects of it, and how much misinformation we've been taught in history classes, and seeing that misteaching shoved down our throats by the powerful elite....- Yeah, this movie felt shockingly reflective for me. The details and the time period is different, but it seems more and more like we're generally going through the inevitable information age revolution, where we have to ability to find out what previously only a select few knew and even then.... Knowledge really is power, I guess. As to "The Silence of Others" it's a powerful look into a country that has been keeping the past secrets that desperately needs to have it finally revealed. Forgetting, placating, minimalizing, and hiding the truth, it just doesn't work. No matter how horrible it is or was; it has to come out. For us to heal, for us to learn and for a country to move on and better ourselves. Let's hope that's the message that both the United States and Spain are learning right now.
COLEWELL (2019) Director: Tom Quinn
I know there are some who are, probably-more-anxiously-then-they-should waiting for some fictional day where the U.S. Postal Service is eventually eradicated. Slowly dissolving from being behind the times in technological growth and usefulness and into the dustbin of America, like the Pony Express for instance. I don't understand this sentiment, the same way I don't understand, say cutting funding for PBS, even if you're anti-government funding, what has PBS done? Has it caused harm, is in not provided generous services, did you not like Mr. Rogers growing up or something? Still, having a local post office, it's not as useful as it used to be, that's an unequivocal fact, plus it doesn't make the profit that it used to, of course, it is profitable, but that's not the point; it's not supposed to be profitable, it's supposed to deliver our mail, among other activities.
"Colewell" is a lovely little film that takes place in a very small, albeit fictional Pennsylvania town, one where the town's postmaster Nora (Karen Allen, and it's so nice to see her in a lead role again) has been overseeing the local office for decades. In places like Colewell, the local post office often acts as much as a local community center or meeting place where everybody comes into all the time, sometimes daily, (Well, except on Sundays I presume.) and it's about to be closed. There's little warning, although it apparently was discussed for a while, and all the people who've come to town to execute the transition and closing, don't have much control of the situation or that many answers. They're offering Nora a position at the nearby large town, which is still keeping its post office, and it's not like the citizens of Colewell, won't still be getting their mail every day, but most of them are pissed.
For those who don't know, this is something that's occurring more and more often across the country. Between less funding and less mail being delivered then ever, post offices are closing more and more. I'm not even in a particularly small town, and several post offices near me have been either under threat to close or have; it's kinda weird seeing the search engines automatically see my address and just miss my zip code by a number or two as though my post office is already closed. (It's not yet, but who knows.)
"Colewell" is framed through Nora, who's both terrified about losing her place in the community as well as being older and not being sure she even can change her life around enough to take a smaller job at the bigger office in another, but also whether or not she wants to anyway. She reflects on how she used to be more of a nomadic drifter in her youth and wonders whether that's a more natural path for her to take, even though, she's now spent decades as a small-town postmaster. It's an interesting personal drama, and she pulls off that inner conflict more than most would've, but I found the more compelling details being about the struggles of the modern small town losing their post office. The director is Tom Quinn, he's an interesting local filmmaker out of Bucks County, Pennsylvania area; it's his second feature film after the critical cult indy, "The New Year Parade" from over a decade ago. Despite the more succinct visual style of this film, he's actually more well-known for the behind-the-scenes work, especially Visual Effects of all things; he worked on Colin Trevorrow's great "Safety Not Guaranteed" for instance. I haven't seen "The New Year Parade", but we've been getting some good and interesting contributions from regionally local filmmakers lately, Stephen Cone's work for instance has brought a different light to Chicago then normal, and Bucks County, and the whole suburban Philadelphia scene could use some interesting artistic people finding interesting slice-of-life tales out of there. Tom Quinn's "Colewell" is also a reminder that you don't have to be in Hollywood to get a strong actor for your little movie either. Even when she's been in a big movie, Karen Allen's been playing such small supporting roles that she's barely registered, outside of the last Indiana Jones role for decades now. Looking through her filmography, I didn't even remember that she was in James Toback's "When Will I Be Loved", arguably his best film, or Todd Field's "In the Bedroom". I don't know why she's been so missing for so long, but this is a reminder that she's still here and is just as powerful a performer as ever.
I hope I see more of her, and more of Tom Quinn's work in the near future, I think cinema desperately needs both of them right now.
ONLY YOU (2019) Director: Harry Wootliff
The very generically-titled "Only You" is a pretty by-the-book modern romance tale, that is mostly pretty good, if not particularly original. It's the debut feature from British director Harry Wootliff, and the movie is shockingly bare bones. The movie begins soon enough with our lovers, Elena (Laia Costa) and Jake (Josh O'Connor) having a meet-cute trying to hail a cab. It starts out as a one-night stand but they keep running into each other and soon enough they're dating. At first, the big issue is that she's lying about her age, and she's much older then he is. She's a 35-year-old cynic about love and he's still a 26-year-old romantic, which I guess is still stigmatized, the much older thing, but I don't know, that's being more commonly accepted these days, and it shows 'cause once the information about Elena's actual age is finally revealed, Jake doesn't care.
However they do feel pressure to start a family, which is when that age thing does matter a bit. and something that they're struggling with. I guess this isn't terribly new either, but the movie basically shows this modern-day struggle of being an older woman who isn't able to conceive, and the depths they, and mostly Elena have to go through in order to try to have a kid.
The movie is basically just, incident from life, these two meet and usually make love, new incident, come home and talk and make love, repeat for a while,... honestly, it's not nearly as explicit, but I was getting a lot of "9 Songs" vibes from the film. It's not that bad, and I get it, but-, I don't know, Wootliff did say that her intention with the movie was to portray a relationship where one of the partners is struggling to conceive and the conflicts and complications that arise from it, especially when the woman is dating a much younger man, I just think that this could've been done without the traditional, breakup and get-back-together-at-the-end trope. It doesn't really work that well here, 'cause it's artificial. Part of why it works, in say, eh, "Jerry Maguire" for instance, is because Jerry's love of Dorothy is part of his revelation that something is more important to him than just success in life, and her recognizing that she's not just a convenient person to hold after late nights at work and that get-together-at-the-end scene works because of that. Here though, they love each other and she trying to break up with him, not for any other reason then she...- well, I guess she's also skeptical of love and this particular May-December relationship but, I think this story could've been told without that trope. (Is it still called May-December if the woman's older? I gotta remember to look that up.) I especially think this because the performances at the center of the film are really great here. Laia Costa, I remember from the amazing one-take German film "Victoria", and here I can see that she has the ability to be really special for years to come, and this is one of my favorite Josh O'Connor performances so far. I bought these two as a couple, and I think we could've shown their disfunction during this period without diving into three-act structure head-first.
There's enough good here that I'm recommending "Only You" but I feel like this material has been done better and that Wootliff can do better, and I hope she does soon.
That, and this movie is again, and I feel like I'm complaining about this way too much, but dear god, please, can we stop with movies having boring, generic titles like "Only You". Not only is this a bad title, its already the title of a forgettable romance that nobody remembers...- like, call this movie "Jake and Elena" and it would've been fine. Or "Elena and Jake" just something other than "Only You".
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND (2018) Director: Orson Welles
If I didn't know better, I'd swear Orson Welles planned this movie this way. And I don't mean that the recreation of the film seems/feels completely flawless to Welles vision, although I suspect it's pretty damn close, I mean, Welles intention was to not finish this and to eventually, years into the future, have some of his best students, admirers and acolytes of his come in and sort through the footage themselves and to eventually create this finished cut, decades after his passing. Like, I don't know how he would've planned for that or figured that out, I guess he kinda did it in a Mark Twain knowing his autobiography would be relevant a hundred years after his death kinda thing if he did plan that out.
For those unfamiliar, "The Other Side of the Wind" was one of several projects that Orson Welles started but for one reason or another never finished in his lifetime. This one was shot between 1970 and '76, there were a few attempts at it, and the movie does reflect that a bit. One character, is shown being played by Rich Little in one shot, and then later by Peter Bogdanovich, who, along with Frank Marshall, who is the one who naturally oversaw this production to completion. He even narrates the opening in character as Brooks Otterlake, a protege of director Jake Hannaford (John Huston), which, yeah, this is already really meta, and we haven't even begun to get to the Hollywood satire parts of it, which is mostly the rest of the movie, but still. Bogdanovich, on top of being a major director himself, especially at this time, he's also one of the foremost Welles's historian and biographers, and here he is as a protege of another famous director, played by a huge contemporary of Welles. John Huston doesn't get brought up as much anymore but he literally was on the opposite side of the lot when he was making his groundbreaking debut feature, "The Maltese Falcon" when Welles was making "Citizen Kane"; you could compare these two as contemporaries who took similar yet very comparable paths in their careers. I could write a whole piece on them if I wanted to, and this movie is particular, is framed in such an ironic way. It's basically a movie that's about the last unfinished movie that Hannaford made before his sudden untimely death.
It's an unfinished movie by a great director, finished after his death, about a movie by a great director finished after his death!
(Mind blown hand gesture)
The movie and the movie within the movie all seem to also chaotically switch back and forth between several genres as well. It's shot like a mockumentary, complete with documentary crews and biographers and other stragglers hanging around Hanneford as they're all heading off to his 70th birthday celebration, where he's screening a rough cut of his new movie. It's a party and they go back-and-forth between talking about his past and present between projector issues between reels. Between the movie within the movie and the movie we're seeing, the film seems to be able to jump several styles and artistic flourishes like switching between color and black & white, almost in that same kinetic matter that he did with "F for Fake". Although I think Welles's lover/co-writer and star of the movie within the movie, Oja Kodar should get just as much credit as Welles here.
Oja's an interesting figure in of herself, Welles's lover over the last years of his life and one of the big preservers of his legacy who like Charles Foster Kane, Welles tried to make her a star. It didn't work, but she plays The Actress in the movie within the movie, which, I'm not gonna describe, but basically she's naked throughout the whole thing. Micheal Phillips said it reminded him of Antonioni's "Zabriskie Point", which,- I haven't seen "Zabriskie Point", but it's actually very Antonioni, almost a parody of him, although it's still quintessentially Welles. Not the least of which, includes a sex scene in a driving car that hypnotically and almost hallucinogenically, the camera is transfixed on her necklace and it bouncing up against her boob in the thrusts of intercourse. (I swear, I'm only giving the flowery language because the movie damn-near insists on it, and while yes, it's blatantly Welles showing off his exotic, and sexually expressive girlfriend that's half his age, but it's really an amazing directing sequence as well. Like, seriously, who would think to focus on that? Only Welles). Still, Kodar is from what would now be called Croatia these days, so I have to imagine with this and with much of the editing and filmmaking in Welles's final completed film before his death, "F for Fake", I have to imagine that Welles was being influenced by the Yugoslavia Black Wave as well, if only through his wife. In fact, a lot of this movie feels late period Godard-ish in how it just seems to be collecting and incorporating all the trends and movements in cinema that have occurred over the recent years; hell, there are several important filmmakers in the movie who are playing themselves.
The main topic of conversation revolves around Hanneford and his latest discovery that he made into a star, the conspicuously absent, John Dale (Bob Random) and what exactly is the nature of their relationship is. There's also a scene where a drunken Hanneford bitchslaps a persistent critic, Julie Rich (Susan Strasberg). I personally rolled my eyes at that one, but I guess every director at some point wants to show what they want to say/do to critics.
"The Other Side of the Wind" probably isn't a revelation, maybe it's a newfound classic, but it's another document of Orson Welles's greatness, and I'm definitely taking whatever we can get and the fact that we got this is great. Welles's back catalog is filled with projects that never really came to be and if any of it can be fully realized today and still keep clearly the vision of Orson Welles intact, is invaluable. I don't know "The Other Side of the Wind" is gonna be regarded as a new classic, but it's one great last look inside the mind of the man who basically invented modern cinema and perhaps this is a small glimpse of perhaps, what he might actually have thought about that fact having seen where cinema had taken his inspiration in his later years. Either way, it's a must-see for all cinephiles and personally, I can't wait to see it again myself.
THEY'LL LOVE ME WHEN I'M DEAD (2018) Director: Morgan Neville
Along with the release of "The Other Side of the Wind", we get "They'll Love Me When I'm Dead"; titled after an accurate, albeit misquoted, statement long-purportedly made by Orson Welles, it's a Morgan Neville documentary about the making of the film. The struggles to make the movie, to get the funding to make the film, the eclectic and strange struggles of those who were there making the film. From this film, which is one of Neville's more interesting documentary achievements, I learn, for instance, how to recognize more of the actors and names from the '70s that I didn't recognize earlier. It wasn't my ignorance entirely, although I never would've noticed what and how Peter Bogdanovich looked like in 1970, but also, like Orson Welles often did, they often looked quite different 'cause of the makeup choices. (Apparently, Orson Welles, even when looking the most normal, often wore a fake nose. I know he liked to wear makeup a lot, especially in many of his later films, but the nose was new for me.)
It also helps to see just how much he was aiming to absolutely annihilate and parody the Hollywood machine at that time. The Susan Strasberg character, for instance, was supposed to be Pauline Kael. (Shrugs) She's been dead half my life and I've never finished a feature film, and I've wanted to slap Pauline Kael across the face a few times, so yeah, that makes perfect sense. Of course, Huston is obviously Welles's stand-in, but they did grab a waitress out of a nearby restaurant, a maybe-legal teenager to play Bogdanovich's girlfriend that Huston's Hannneford goes after during the night. This flew over my head, but this was actually a last-minute addition character as purely a reference to Cybill Shepherd, who...- well, I don't know how people remember that story now, but Bogdanovich and Shepherd had a very noteworthy relationship in the '70s spawning from when he found/cast her in "The Last Picture Show". Much of the film was actually shot in their home where, for a while, Orson was living periodically, while he raided their fridge for Fudgecicles and wallowed in depression.
The film was being shot for years before he even got John Huston to join the cast, his lead actor. He also worked his cameraman Gary Graves to the bone. Graves was on-call for free for Orson Welles for most of his the rest of his life, having to take any other work he could find just to live, including working with Ed Wood and also shooting porno movies until such pseudonyms as, Tilmeg Akdov. Welles, even edited a shower scene in his film, "3 AM" just to make sure he got back to shooting "The Other Side of the Wind" as soon as possible. (Yes, Orson Welles edited porn, apparently!)
Eventually, the movie got taken from away from Orson; he had actually finished most of it, but the Shah of Iran would overtaken in '79, and they funded the Paris distribution house that was funding the film,- maybe was funding it.... It's always unclear whether or not Orson or anyone around him ever had the money or didn't to make anything. Orson tried to create a fake company to sue for the rights to his film back, claiming he had the money to pay off the rent owed, which he didn't, but the court rules that the owner of the medium was the producer anyway, so once again it was taken out of his hands. Apparently, this cut was scrounged together from Gary Graves's old pieces that he tried for years to edit himself after Welles's passing, but he just couldn't see it in the footage.
Reminds me of the tale of the judge who looked over the screenplays for "Citizen Kane" that him and Herman J. Mankiewicz wrote, who said that yes, it was clearly Mankiewicz's story, but Welles is the genius that brought it together.
"The Other Side of the Wind" isn't the first and probably not the last documentary feature about Orson Welles. but it's one of the most interesting, both in its subject matter, taking a very sharp eye on some of the lesser-known aspects of Welles's later life, but also how it's shot. The movie is partially shot in black and white, with Alan Cumming appearing onscreen periodically as a narrator to lead us through some of the story. Cumming is always good, although I'm not entirely sure what to make of that choice. Or the way Neville shoots nearly every interviewee at some obtuse high hat over-the-shoulder shots, but the quick-cutting approach does seamlessly fit in with much of the footage of the movie and the behind-the-scenes footage of Orson Welles himself. We're gonna discussing "The Other Side of the Wind" and Orson Welles forever and this documentary is apart of that discussion, and one more puzzle piece of insight into the mad genius of Welles. It's a fascinating and fun documentary, definitely worth watching in companion to the film, and it does work on its own as well. To some extent the making of "The Other Side of the Wind" is more compelling then the actual movie, so yeah, we need this film as well.
IN FABRIC (2018) Director: Peter Strickland
So, this woman buys a killer dress...-.
No, I had no intention of just leaving my review with that, but I do get the sense that I'm gonna be in the minority on this one. Perhaps, I didn't get it. That's certainly possible; I'm sorting through some of the reviews, and I see a lot of comparisons to some of the classic Italian Horror directors of the '70s, like Dario Argento and Mario Bava, and sure, I'm a little lacking in those filmmakers filmographies, but I do recognize the influence and the style. Even beyond that though, I certainly feel like that I am just, not really getting "In Fabric". Like, perhaps I don't quite understand it, or "get it" as some might say. Maybe I do, maybe I don't; I feel like others could make the argument either way. But there's something wrong with that logic too, let's say I get it, and I still don't think it's any good. Also, there's plenty of films that personally I do not get, that I understood that I don't quite get them, but recommended the movie anyway, sometimes highly. Partly, because I don't "get them" and partly because I felt like that they were worth exploring until I got them or that even if I did "get it" doesn't mean that it's a bad movie and that shouldn't cost a talented and well-made film a recommendation from me.
That said, I'm trying to determine where exactly on this thread of split hairs does "In Fabric" fit? There's a lot of mood and atmosphere, something that Director Peter Strickland is known for. I've seen his previous two films, "Berbarian Sound Studios" which was an atmospheric homage to the glory days of slasher horror as an celebration of filmmaking, particularly sound effects, as well as "The Duke of Burgundy" a damn-near masterpiece about a turn-of-the-century lesbian S&M romance that oddly enough focus around insects among other things. He clearly loves classic film and recreating it and reorganizing some of the images and motifs in order to come up with modern takes on some of those classic narratives. And that's where I'm kinda struggling with this, 'cause I'm not sold that this is a modern take. To me, this might've looked like a Mario Bava film, but it felt for most of the movie like an old bad episode of "The Twilight Zone".
Sheila (Marianna Jean-Baptiste) is a bank teller that buys the red dress. She's a struggling single mother, but as soon as she puts on the dress, some strange things start happening. It's not explained how or why this dress seems to come alive, and either attacks or just in some other manner causes harm to those who put it on. Originally the model of the dress in the advertisements was killed, and things begin to happen to Sheila. The one thing that everyone who wears the dress is a red rash on their chest.
Then, a longtime couple that's about to tie the knot, Reg & Babs (Leo Bill and Hayley Squires) come into possession of the dress, and similar rashes and washing machine mishaps and bizarre issues with work, which include two surreal bosses that interrogate our characters named Slash & Clive (Julian Barratt and Steve Oram) who-, well, I was about to say seem like they come out of another movie, but honestly, nearly everybody feels like they come from another movie in this film. The movie's centerpiece is the department that's advertising their huge sale with some bizarrely hypnotic commercials and promotions and whose store has so much more bizarreness just one dumbwaiter trip down into the depths of it. It's led by a head saleswoman named Miss Luckmoore (Fatma Mohamed) who sells dresses and entices her clients like she's some exotic witchy tarot reader, gives languid warnings or insurances about what outfits one should buy. Eventually even all that facade crumbles, and inevitably all this does come together after everybody including the mannequin that's put that dress on has succumbed to, whatever it is they're succumbing to.
You know, dresses do have a lot of symbolic meaning in literature, and the way that dress moved through the air, did remind me of that one decent scene in Ridley Scott's "Legend". That's more of a fairy tale, but a bright artery red dress, on these characters can have several meanings itself. The obvious one is blood, but is the blood running through our veins, uplifting, is it uplifting us, is it draining us, is it the sign of lust, or love, or death? And if so, what do any of those meanings mean in the context of this, bizarre, 1983-ish world of a mall department store that may or may not be some kind of cult that executes the powers and demands of the dress, or maybe they are just selling it to unsuspecting clientele. The more I tried to answer this, the less I cared, and that's ultimately the problem with "In Fabric" and why I think I am on the right side of panning this one. Strickland's previous two films were just as strange and esoteric, but they weren't mysteries necessarily. They were tonal pieces that allowed you to fall into the mood of the films and get swept away with the characters. They had weird quirks with them, but they were stuff that helped expand the characters, not stuff that made me wonder what do these things mean? I could answer those questions, but I didn't need to know in order to enjoy those films. 'In Fabric" feels like it's forcing me to try to get to ultimately solve this riddle, like it was something to get to the bottom of..., but by the end of the movie, I didn't want to find out, 'cause I just didn't care at that point.
The dress was gonna kill, so the dress was gonna kill. I knew I wasn't gonna get an answer to "Why/" but as the film went on I was sitting there, frustrated, as I waited to see how it would do it. And maybe it did do it well, but I have to care that it did.
MAQUIA: WHEN THE PROMISE FLOWER BLOOMS (2018) Director: Mari Okada
"Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms" marks the first "stand-alone" feature-length film for P.A. Works, one of the major Anime studios in Japan, until now, mostly known for television. It's also the first feature-length film for director Mari Okada, one of the few major female filmmakers in Anime; she's written several features and series and "Maquia" is an interesting debut. It's a medieval fantasy feature that's oddly about, a single teenage mother having to raise a child that she adopts. The titular, at least in the American translation, Maquia, is an orphaned Lorph, a tribe of people who live, I guess on a different-but-parallel plane of humans, They have a long life expectancy, capable of living hundreds of years and aging slower than most other mythical species. Her tribe is then attacked by a competing group called the Mezarte, leaving most of her tribe dead, presumably, and then she ends up in the human world, along with her infant brother, who she ends up adopting and raising named Ariel.
Years later, the king of the Mezaerte forces a marriage to Maquia's best friend, Lelia, in order to increase the life expectancy of the Mezaerte. Her boyfriend Krim tries to interrupt this, but after Maquia becomes pregnant, he ends up going to the human world where he connects with Maquia, who's constantly struggling to raise her growing son, who is beginning to seem troubled and confused by his origins.
This movie is hard to describe honestly. I like the look of it, in theory, the pastel watercolors look is a detailed and interesting approach although I'm not entirely sure how much it adds and while it's okay, it's not Studio Ghibli-level or anything. A lot of the ideas in it, especially the idea of a story about a single mother raising a kid, that's honestly the best stuff of the movie, and frankly, while it might have some significance to some, I felt like I was watching some really antiquated royalty bullshit played over fantastical worlds and peoples that I just couldn't get behind. This might be me, and my biases, I've noticed anecdotally for instance, that women, in particular, seem way more interested in Henry VIII as a character then I do. A know there's a lot of important history there, but good god, if you actually dig into the details, it is so much ado about nothing in hindsight. "Oh, I need a son; I need a son, to carry my name, and all you wives can only give me daughters!", well guess what, the daughter took the throne, things kept going, and it wasn't always peachy, but even then, most of that was his bullshit they were cleaning up. (Shrugs) I felt a lot of the fantasy stuff was just that kind of old-time trivialness. Honestly, I think the movie would've been more interesting without any of it.
The movie it reminded me of the most was "Where the Heart Is" and that's a film that also mostly worked best when it shows the evolution of a young woman as she deals with young motherhood. "Maquia..." got caught too caught up in this world it was creating which, honestly, I just found confusing.
I get the main idea of one group wanting to get control of the other one that had more eternal life, but it's actually more layered and complex then I'm explaining and, it just-, like in order for it to really matter it had to be built up more in the beginning, but it also had to be a lot simpler then it was here. I hate to pan the movie because of it, there's a good idea for an epic narrative about motherhood, but by the end of the movie, I felt like I was lost in someone else's story. I'm interested in seeing what else Mari Okada and P.A. Works might do in the future, but for the time being, this was mostly a disappointment.
LIFE AND NOTHING MORE (2018) Director: Antonio Mendez Esparza
For the most part, "Life and Nothing More", is true to its title. Perhaps too true to it, which makes it surprisingly difficult to talk about. It's about as modern neorealist as you can get. It's the second feature from Spanish director Antonio Mendez Esparza and his first English language film, and he shot the movie in Tallahassee, Florida, finding non-actors who improvised much of the dialogue and script, to give an impression of the everyday realities of life struggling at the margins of society. The practice is somewhere between Di Sica and Bresson, in execution, you end up a very bare-bones, familiar tale of a broken family that's struggling to love and survive.
The mother, Regina (Regina Williams) is a hard-working mother who doesn't quite know the best way to approach raising her troubled, teenage son Andrew (Andrew Bleechington). His father is in prison and while he does write to him whenever he can, and he reads those letters intently, and they are very good letters I might add, it's hard to really be a father when you're behind bars and have been for most of the kids' life. He's a nice kid, but you see him at school and clearly, they're not teaching in ways that would be useful and his mother, well,... I mean, she tries, but she also has a toddler she's watching on top of Andrew and still strives to have a love life of her own, these latest ones involve Robert (Robert Williams) a persistent guy who seems sketchy but cool enough, although Andrew doesn't buy his suave charm.
It's a movie that doesn't give us an easy narrative. Its characters are complex and contradictory. You see Regina working hard to keep a house over her heads and yet, she has no idea what to do when her kid acts out, and you hear those constant refrains like, "You're just like your father," that just makes him seem so small. Yet, he keeps acting out. At first, only a few times he breaks into cars and gets warnings. Then, he starts keeping a knife on him. He pulls it on Robert, after freaking out after finding out that his mother is pregnant, and then when he attacks a guy at a park, who frankly deserves it for being a racist dick, and he starts aggressively going after him, for sitting down quietly.
(Sadly this is as realistic as anything else, even if narratively it's annoying.)
The movie itself is fascinating to observe, and hell, even listen to. The naturalistic conversations were their own fascinating tonal mosaic, like how you can be ultimately entertained by eavesdropping on a conversation while sitting on a public bus. It's an episodic film and there's limited causality, where one thing absolutely leads to another, which is how life works. Somethings don't make sense; especially as a teenager, your emotions can swing from loving and angry and some people don't have all the words and abilities to deal with their true emotions and thoughts, and sometimes the system is not built to help you out, or to guide you in a better direction, not that you're always capable of dealing with it anyway.
The movie ends with a nice open-ending OTS-shot of Andrew visiting his father in prison, presumingly looking for advice or help, especially after he's basically right on the edge of perhaps going into prison himself. We don't get to hear what they say, and for all we know, there's no real telling if the encounter would help him or not of if it could. I've seen some critics compare the film to things like "Moonlight", I wouldn't go that far, despite being about a poverty-stricken kid and his struggles growing into adulthood, "Moonlight" was still really stylized as a film. It was slickly-made, the cinematography was special, it was scripted beautifully, and there were several memorable characters. "Life and Nothing More", is as spare as it gets. What's special about it is how there isn't much special. These actors, if they aren't just like these characters, they're portraying of themselves they've lived with all their lives. It's about those everyday experiences that can be brutal and disturbing at first, and then become so common we become numb to them, and then because we've become so numb, they become even more brutal and we begin to act out even more. Even sadly, the sequences of Robert and Regina discussing whether or not to have an abortion feels like something that's just a regular everyday conversation that one or both of them have had before.
You do hear some fascinating things on the public bus, if anybody around actually chooses to listen.
BEEN SO LONG (2018) Director: Tinge Krishman
I didn't really have any expectations going into a movie titled "Been So Long"; that's a fairly innocuous and generic title that could pretty much mean anything. That said, I can honestly say that I didn't think a romantic musical. Much less a British, R&B romantic-musical. The movie follows a few characters, the most interesting and main one is Simone (Michaela Coel) a stringent single mother who has, for way too long, withheld from any sexual activity, as her best friend Yvonne (Ronke Adekoluejo) so much more lustfully describes in a song that entices her to go out and eventually run into a brief encounter with Raymond (Arinze Kene). They hit it off, but in a really sharp scene, she calls him out on the fact that he's been to jail. In fact, he had only just gotten out.
Her daughter Mandie (Mya Lewis) is a witty paraplegic who is basically Simone's excuse to not engage in any relationship, goes on her own private quest during the movie, to find out more about her parentage, as her father Gil (George MacKay) a recently released junkie himself, has started to try to get back into her life, but Simone refuses. She also refuses to let Raymond continue to get close to her, but eventually, she relents on that, and for the most part, the traditional gettogether-breakup-get-back-together formula plays out, only with some songs inter-spliced with each other.
I'm not entirely certain the songs themselves, are great, but some of the staging and performances of them do stand out. I particularly like a wonderful duet sequence, between Simone and Raymond where they're singing about each other after making love and then reflecting on it while they're both in the shower in their homes.
In my mind, I think of the best version of this kind of romance-musical is Jacques Demy's "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" which is actually a tragic opera that's single-mindedly focused on, and the worst being Richard LaGravenese's "The Last Five Years" a Pinteresque musical with Anna Kendrick that somehow bored me to tears and made my worst list. I saw others compare the film to stuff like
"La La Land", I wouldn't go that far 'cause whatever you think of that film, it was more about than just the relationship between the leads. In some ways, this film is basically just "How Simone Got Her Groove Back". It's not a negative, and I think personally the film is somewhere in-between those extremes. I like enough of the songs, and the dramatic scenes to recommend it, as well as some of the performances, especially by Coel, who's known for the explicit British TV series, "Chewing Gum". This is a good, more widespread introduction to her, and it's an interesting little musical, and frankly, the romance genre can be so plain and generic these days that that's enough of a twist to make it interesting.
PANDAS (2018) Director: David Douglas and Drew Fellner
Well, this is the shortest "feature-length" film that I've ever written on, and emphasis on "feature-length" 'cause I'm not even really certain this qualifies. At 42 minutes, including credits, I'm probably gonna list this as a short in my records, but it's got a rating, and a release date or two. It's also got a pretty big-named narrator involved in it, as Kristen Bell narrates a short documentary, titled and about, "Pandas". It's,-, there's not much to it. It's about researchers in Sichuan Province and we follow, one, awwww! cute baby panda named Qian Qian from birth in the sanctuary to his release into the wild. There's not much else, we meet the researchers. There's a slight scene about how they take up jujitsu because they recognize correlation between wrestling pandas and the techniques. There's a moment after Quan Qian is released when his collar doesn't move for over 24 hours, and it turns out that he's stuck in a tree and injured after a confrontation with another animal, and has led to an infection. He spent five days in the tree, dehydrating before they can get him enough medicine to climb down. Pandas eat fifty pounds of bamboo a day, in order to keep up their mass, and Qian Qian had become very thin, but he recovered eventually.
That's about all their is to it. It's basically Warner Brothers version of one of those DisneyNature films. It was co-directed by David Douglas, and believe it or not, this is actually the second time I've run into one of his shorts. I previously watched "Island of Lemurs (Madagascar)" a few years back, which I remember distinctly for also being that weird documentary short film that somehow found its way onto my Netflix queue inexplicably. The guy keeps making these, barely long-enough-to-be-released-to-theaters nature shorts, usually more for an IMAX theater where these kinds of features are more immersive and tolerable. He also usually gets recognition from some obscure awards show that only I pay attention to because of the music or whatever and they keep ending here. Somebody has faith in him as a filmmaker of particular value and sure, he's fine, I guess. Perhaps I'd enjoyed these more if I saw them in an IMAX theater, but I'd be hard-pressed to distinguish his work from any other particular nature documentarian right now myself, but whatever. I'm not gonna officially recommend this one, but if you like staring at cute pandas, it's on Hulu right now; (Shrugs) go right ahead.