Anyway, not much to talk about right now; most of my life has become debating between whether to stay awake or fall asleep most of the time now, and I assume I'm not the only one wiht that issue. Anyway, let's get to the reviews, so I can start really focusing in on the Emmys shows.
DRIVEWAYS (2020) Director: Andrew Ahn
I don't know why there's always this strange expectation that kids, young kids especially, are under such pressure to make friends with, other kids. Honestly, when I was young, I usually related and had more enjoyable and easier times making friends with adults around me. They seemed to have more knowledge and wisdom to share and they didn't try to beat me up just for fun. There's a scene in "Driveways", a sweet, albeit curious film where the young, lonely protagonist Cody (Lucas Jaye) is having a birthday party at a skating rink. He's tried inviting local kids and friends around town, but they don't come. I've seen this scene before, in movies, the first one I think of is "Little Man Tate", but I've had and been to those kids birthday parties before, and honestly, they sucked. I had one party like that for my birthday in Kindergarten and my whole class was there, and didn't like it. Never again. I went to a couple others, but they weren't great. In this film, the one friend of Cody's that shows up, is the only one he really wanted to be there, his next-door neighbor Del (the late Brian Dennehy), and he ended up taking Cody to his bingo game along with his other older army buddies. He seemed a lot happier, and I would've been too.
Del is an old Korean War veteran who mostly sits on his front porch these days. His wife's passed, his kids and other family have grown up and gone home. Cody is a quiet and shy eight-year-old who's moved next door suddenly. His mother Kathy (Hong Chau) is caught up in the task of trying to clean out and probably sell her sister's house after her sudden passing. She turns out to have been a hoarder and there's just a lot of junk to go through, including a dead cat. There's also not many other kids worth being around, and his father is absent, and based on Kathy's phone call with him, where he seems to barely understand that she's sorting through her sister's dead stuff, he seems fairly useless.
It's not a difficult or new story, the young kid finding a surrogate father in the people around him, but it's a really well-told one. Brian Dennehy's gives a really lovely performance, one of his last ones. The director was Andrew Ahn, who made the observant little LGBT indy "Spa Night" a couple years ago, which was about a young Korean man getting a job at the spa that his father got him. It was also essentially a plotless slice-of-life mosaic, and this movie, appeals a little more to me I guess. "Spa Night" was about a teenager coming-of-age with adulthood, and this is a different coming-of-age tale, but it's a well-made and touching one. It comes from a lot of different angles to get to the simple friendship between the kid and the old man, but I like that it comes from those multiple directions. You have the aging widow, the lonely kid, the mother who's going through a sister's life that she doesn't know, you even get the growing up Korean in America aspects 'cause there's that annoying Christine Ebersole neighbor character with the equally annoying kids. "Driveways" is a touching meditative little slice-of-life with wonderful performances at the core and a burgeoning young filmmaker who's getting better with every film.
KLAUS (2019) Director: Sergio Pablos; Co-Director: Carlos Martinez Lopez
I guess I'm a little out of tune with the times on this one. This probably won't be published 'til August, but it's Christmas in July, as I write this? Kinda? Eh, not during a Pandemic, I guess.
Anyway, "Klaus" earned several awards, most notably a surprising sweep at the Annie Awards last year, one of the most prestigious honors, and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, which along with "I Lost My Body" put Netflix on the animation map huge, and "Klaus" became a surprise holiday hit. And I think that's basically what it is. It's not a bad movie by any means, but it's mostly a very solid Holiday special done as a feature and done really well. And as you can guess, it's an Santa Clause origin story, kinda.
The movie starts with Jesper (Jason Schwartzman doing a subdued David Spade) who's a spoiled rich kid who's gotten into um, Postman Training Academy, just roll with it, because his father is the head Postmaster General but after years of living life on his rich family's dime fairly lazily, he gets forced to open a local post office on the extreme Northern Arctic town of Smeerensburg, under the condition that he must mail 6,000 letters by the end of the year, or he'll be cut off from his family's fortune. This is, hard enough normal circumstances, but apparently this town, is-, well, they're-eh, they're not quite, the kinds of peoples who write letters to each other or others. Led in by a sailor named Mogens (Norm MacDonald) the town of Smeerensburg is apparently a violent town that thrives on a long-standing rivalry between the two fighting families, the Ellingboe and the Krums. When confronted by the children about the reasoning for this, the family leaders, Mr. Ellingboe and Mrs. Krum (Will Sasso and Joan Cusack) they both explain, that it's tradition. I'm literally not making that up, they don't have a greater origin, it's just tradition. The whole town lives to fight and be mean and naughty and murderous to each other, 'cause of tradition.
This place is so intent on keeping things this way, the schoolhouse, has only one teacher, Alva (Rashida Jones) who doesn't teach because none of the kids are sent to school, and she's turned into a fish mongery. Eventually, after trying but unsuccessfully getting anyone to write letters, he visits and strange cabin separated from the rest of the town on the island. There, he meets a mysterious old man named Klaus (J.K. Simmons) who was once apparently a toymaker, and with an exchange of a letter or even a picture, along with a penny, Klaus begins delivering some abandoned toys he has in his garage one by one. Yes, this is the fable about why we write letters to Santa. I was hoping there'd be a scene where Santa was on trial for his life and the letters would be the evidence, but, oh well; this still isn't bad.
It's a little simplistic, eventually we get the transformation of Klaus to a Santa-like character and we get to see Jesper become, I guess Santa's Loyal Helper (Although I guess in that sense, most everybody who works in Post Offices are Santa's Loyal Helpers... Are we all just Elves?), and he gets over his more brattish qualities and eventually raises a family and builds a life, yada, yada, yada. Honestly, it really isn't that far off from, some of the traditional, Rankin/Bass material, well their best material anyway, or some of the other beloved holiday specials. It does get hampered by the weird choice of antagonistic that fight and be mean, because of, tradition? Like, couldn't have they one inciting incidents, even the Hatfields and McCoys feud all started over a pig that one of them claimed to have stolen?
It helps that the movie is beautiful. The animation is stunning, it's an American film, but Director Sergio Pablos uses a distinctly Spanish pallette and animation texture. It kinds reminds me of another great animated Christmas adventure, "The Polar Express," but it's hand-drawn mostly, not CGI. Pablos is from Spain and was a Disney animator through their Paris Animations Studioes, back when that was a thing, who moved to work with them in America, who got fired after the notorious "Treasure Planet" bomb led to the mass firings in the hand-drawn animation department. He eventually founded his own studios, SPA Studios and created the "Despicable Me" franchise among others. This is the first feature of his that he's directed himself though and it's a startling work. For this, it didn't need to look this good, and I appreciate the time he took with it. I can definitely why the animation people in particular loved it, and I like the idea of this reimagined origin story of Santa Clause; we haven't had a really good Christmas feature in a while and this is one I can being a regular at the holidays. Story-wise, I think it's perhaps a little too simple for my taste, but it's fine, it's fun, for the most part. and it has wonderous Clement C. Moore or Chris Van Allsburg feel to the animation that makes it just seem so classical, that it seems immaculate, like it's been a representation of Christmas forever.
HONEY BOY (2019) Director:Alma Har'el
So-eh, I'm guessing Shia LaBouef wrote a therapy script. He was probably advised to do something creative. I mean, I've done it, we all have at some point, although they usually don't get made though. Normally they shouldn't get made, but this isn't bad. It's the debut feature film from Alma Har'el, and she does a fine job directing this barest of Hollywood indies, but this is clearly Shia's primordial screams.
I actually knew somebody who worked with him on that TV show he was on, like, however-, twenty years ago it was, when he was still a teenager, and he mentioned in passing some of his troubles, even back then. Apparently, he really filmed this movie after directing leaving rehab, and he plays James, the father character, to Ottis (Noah Jupe) a 12-year-old sitcom actor who struggles between work and trying to be the in-between for his divorced parents, while also trying to hang around and make friends with those around him, which, admittedly, might've been some cohersive people. James is an alcoholic, who's supposedly recovering. He goes to AA meetings, but often makes up stories about his addiction. He gets frustrated every time he hears about his wife's new boyfriend Tom, and anytime he does anything nice with or for Ottis, he gets frustrated and yells and screams in frustration and regret. He does that often anyway too though; he's the kind of guy who you either avoid if you can avoid it, or walk on eggshells as you sink into their world if you can't and Ottis can't as a kid.
The movie shows this in flashback as we see Ottis, ten years later (Lucas Hedges) as he's drunk and disorderly, and arrested again, and now is trying to not only admit his issues are indeed issues, but also apparently has symptoms of PTSD and in recovery is in therapy with a confrontational court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Moreno (Laura San Giacomo, in like the 3rd or 4th indy movie I've seen of her in this kind of cameo; I swear, she must only take roles where she can work for like two days on set or something.). He's constantly just identifying his surroundings and flicking the rubber band on his wrist whenever he gets frustrated, which is often. His reaction seems to constantly flip out whether he's inebriated or not, so I believe it.
Ottis's father wasn't exactly in the business, but he was a rodeo clown, known for having a chicken act apparently. I'm not sure why that detail, but the details aren't terribly important. The only real joy we see of Young Ottis is occasionally when he's on set and he sees his co-stars actually seeming interested in him and his well-being, and again. At one point, he's confusing and imagining the narratives from the show with conversations with his actual father. I mean, there's not much to say here, this is a lot of write-what-you-know and he dived into the roughest parts of what he knows. The deep recesses of his subcouncious. Like, I guess I'm happy he's getting this out and these experiences mean a lot to him, but yeah, this...- it's still a bit fragmented to really be a narrative. I guess I appreciate the film more then I enjoyed it. As a movie itself, it is entertaining, but I don't think it really goes anywhere. It's actually a pretty good two-hander between LaBouef and Jupe. There is a good perfomance too by young musician FKA Twigs who played the one love interest that Ottis has as a young kid and that could've been an interesting movie in of itself, but I guess it's cool that the movie is what it is instead. I'm more on the fence of "Honey Boy" as a film, but it's interesting look into the insight of it's troubled but talented artist tackling their own demons.
BLACK MOTHER (2019) Director: Khalik Allah
"Black Mother" is separated into trimesters. Trimesters of a young Jamaican woman's pregnancy, one of several voices that we hear, none of which I think are named, although I suspect that, if they aren't the voices of some of the people we see on screen then they are at least representative of them. They are definitely remnants of voices that were interviewed for this project. "Black Mother" is from Khalik Allah, the avant-garde documentary filmmaker known for "Field Niggas" a similar visual poem of a film of a Harlem drug-fueled streetcorner. "Black Mother" essentially does the same approach, but throughout the whole country, in essence of Jamaica, although it does start with the streethookers and expands from there. (And, I guess it doesn't exactly hit, whatever the highest class level of Jamaican society is.
The movie does give us, a pretty good abbreviated history of the nation through the patwa-ladened talking heads as we see some at stunning images of the nation, and it's people, switching between newer footage and presumably some stock footage. I'm not sure which was the one of the old man, the with disgusting hunchback that looked like a baby's skull popping up at his shoulderblade; that freaked me out. Hoenstly, I'm not actually sure how much insight we get into Jamaica from watching the film. This isn't necessarily a historical piece, or a modern observational look at the country now; I've seen it compared to pictoral journals or scrapbooks of random images; I had a lot of thoughts about "Koyannisqatsi" myself, but instead of the images working with the music, I thought of the language of the voices were used as the music to accompany the visuals to create a poetry. It makes sense when you look at Allah, the artists. Khalik Allah, comes from a photography background, much moreso then cinema, and yes, this feels more like something that'd fit better as an exhibit piece in a museum then it would if it screened in a regular movie theater.
I mean, there's references to the biggest names of Jamaica, Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley most notably. but you're not learning, you're feeling the country. That sounded weird, but yeah, the movie's intent is to capture the images and tones of living there. He recordings the sounds of the street of Kingston, the same way he records those of Harlem. Perhaps it only feels lively and strange because we, or at least I, would be a little more familiar with Harlem, then Jamaica, but that's probably why I'm enthralled with it as well. And why Allah is as well, he's looking for the most striking images, and perhaps more often then it should be, it's a naked woman, usually standing in like a parking garage or wherever he shot that, but it works. Especially with the parallel of the mother through the stages of pregnancy, and life being born. You can read the movie as a birth or rebirth, or an introduction to the world that a kid being born today is born into?
That's what I thought, but the best way to interpret the movie is to just watch it yourself and see what you feel and think about it. It's a visual poem that deserves to be seen and interpreted by others. "Black Mother" is an immersive experience and ultimately a fun one to go through. "Black Mother" is probably one of the more unique films this years, definitely one of hte most avant-garde, but also one of the most sucessful experiments in cinema this year.
BAIT (2019) Director: Mark Jenkin
Well, if you ever wondered what a British Neorealist modern-day version of "The Lighthouse" would look like, well, we have "Bait"; the latest feature from the British Independent director Mark Jenkin. He's directed feature films before but this was his major breakout movie. It hasn't gotten a theatrical release in America but it's a pretty unique experience. It feels like a movie made decades earlier. Show in black-and-white, on a Bolex, using a 1:33:1 projection, but then cutting it off at the sides for a the allusion of a more 3:4 square projection, "Bait", tells a very simple story of a fisherman in a fishing village, that's trying to save up for a boat.
It's a little more complex then that, but it's not so much the story, but the way it's told. "The Guardian"'s critic said that it was like an episode of "Eastenders" directed by F.W. Murnau; I can't speak to the "Eastenders" part, but yeah, this Murnau-like, filtered a bit through Vittorio Di Sica's neorealist lens as well. The title is actually not about fish though, it's about the town. Essentially, this fisherman village is in the middle of transforming itself into a tourist trap for those who want a romantic idealized getaway to a British fishing village...? Yuppie porn, I guess.
Edward Rose (Martin Ward) is the fisherman who's frustrated with the change, particularly since his father''s house and his old boat, which are transformed and redecorated so as to appeal to the tourists. I'm not even sure how much tourists they actually get, but it's effecting the area and effect Edward, who's growing ever more discontent with everything.
I don't really know what to make of "Bait"; I suspect it might have more power in its local England, but to me, this movie was style over substance, and it's an interesting style; I'm just not sure the effect was beneficial to the story. I'm not sure when the movie takes place, but it could take place today and be shot normally and be just as effective; that was the sense I was getting. Or even, say, shot in like a '70s style or something like that. This felt like a reel film, a movie you put on your reel to show what you're capable of doing and not so much a theatrical feature. Still, if you're interested.
WOMAN AT WAR (2019) Director: Benedict Erlingsson
For a fairly simple story, "Woman At War" takes a peculiar approach towards its heroine, Halla, a progressive ecoterrorist. She's currently working in the dead of night and dawn of the mornings to sabotage an aluminum plant from opening. In the meantime, she teaches music as a high school and for the most part, these two worlds don't really collide. It kinda helps that there's a weird chorus-like rock band that seems to follow Halla around, and apprears to break the fourth wall whenever they feel like.
This movie is a strange combination of genres and it's kinda hard for me to analyze this one. It's an Icelandic film, which is the one Scandinavian country who's film scene is a bit of a mystery to me. It's probably the one country that a know more another the country's music scene then I do its film scene. It doesn't help that I'm not familiar with this director's previous work. It's Benedikt Erlingsson's second feature film after "Of Horses and Men" which I haven't seen. As far as I can tell, it seems off-beat and strange enough to seem like what few work I've seen from Iceland and similar Scandinavian countries. Stylistically, the film it reminds me the most of it "Sound of Noise" a strange Swedish movies about a protest music collective that terrorized it's victims by playing music through the locations they attacks, Stomp-style. This isn't that avant-garde, but that's kinda how the band chorus works.
The real drama and indecision comes when Halla finds out that she's finally close to possibly adopting a child from the Ukraine, something she's been wanting and hoping to prepare for for years. However, she's become more and more high-profile as an ecoterrorist and the authorities are beginning to track her down. Honestly, I think this is a bit of a weak personal narrative, but eventually it makes some interesting choices with how the movie handles it.
The films works mostly because of the craft; I don't think the movie is particularly special or enlightening as a story, and it wasn't well-made and strange and quirky, it wouldn't even be that interesting. Still, I'm gonna recommend "Woman at War"; there's a very strong performance at the center and I do like the idea of looking at the conflict between radical political activism conflicting with the work and expectations of motherhood, especially late-in-life adoption motherhood. There's a lot of interesting inner conflicts here, might've just been too odd a package for me.
TULLY (2018) Director: Jason Reitman
Leave it to Diable Cody to write in insert shots of breastfeeding-induced bloody nipple discharged in her version of a "Mary Poppins" story. At least, I think that's what she's going for here.
The third collaboration feature between the directing/writing team of Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, after their masterpieces, "Juno" and "Young Adult" and it feels like,- well, for one thing, this is the most, upper class white people movie they've both made yet. Not that either of them ever started out like John Singleton or anything but if they're other movies have been critical looks at modern suburban culture, "Tully" is the first one that simply embraces and accepts it. She's still full of intricate details about modern life that only she would observe and focus on, like the aforementioned perils of breastfeeding a newborn. Or raising a child that's troubled, or just, motherhood in general. Marlo (Charlize Theron) is a struggling mother, who's pregnant with her third kid. Her oldest, Sarah (Lia Frankland) is a mousey little girl who's doing okay, however her son Jonah (Asher Miles Fallica) is a bit more troubled. With the help of a donation from her brother Craig (Mark Duplass) he's been put in a better kindergarten school, but they're still having troubling controlling him. It's mentioned that they've gone to several doctors and none of them have figured out exactly what his issue is, my bet would be that he's somewhere on the autistic spectrum, based on how he freaks out at certain sounds and changes in his routine, but it could be other things too, and they're trying to work on treatments but this school clearly can't handle him and they're asking for her to provide for a full-time teacher's aide for him.
After her latest is born, Mia, she starts going headlong into typical post-natal depression, and begins exploding at people and acting fairly irrationally. Her brother and his wife Elyse (Elaine Tan) who also have three kids, but can afford and use several nannies and teachers, tries to convince Marlo and her workaholic husband Drew (Ron Livingston, really good here.) to get a "Night Nanny", somebody who takes over at night, with the baby. It takes a while, but she finally relents. The Night Nanny turns out to be a young single 20something named Tully (Mackenzie Davis). She a very open-minded free-spirited go-getter who sleeps during the day and at night, helps put Mia down and then helps Marlo relax. Tully shares her interests, like watching the reality show, "Gigolos" apparently, and just, seems to be a good sounding board and amateur shrink for Marlo, who suddenly starts to seem better and even begins to open up about herself and motherhood as her and Tully start forming a strange kind of friendship as well.
These are the best parts of the movie, for the most part. There's one weird scene, involving a waitress outfit that I'm not gonna get into. Honestly though, I kinda wish this was more, the inspiration for, a TV series, instead of a movie. The friendship between a night nanny and a struggling mother suburban mother is really compelling and these two performances, especially Theron, who did her famous, destroy-her-body thing for the role, gaining fifty pounds, and keeping it on. Honestly, Charlize Theron is one of our best and most devoted actresses and she is never given enough credit for how amazing and willing to go to some dark places when given a great role. She looks almost as bad as she did in "Monster"; she basically the female Christian Bale in her ability to shapeshift her body severely.
The third act of this movie, I'm not gonna give anything away, but I thought this was amateurish plot developments though. There was a way to tell this story, and perhaps have this twist, in a way that was different then this. I do like how Tully and Marlo are stuck in a Brooklyn dive bar bathroom and Tully has to help Marlo eject breastmilk that's overflowed; those are great details that only Cody could come up with. Still, this twist tells me that she didn't have a full idea on how to end the movie, and frankly it probably should've been a series instead, keep it going. She's created some of the best television this decade with "The United States of Tara" and "One Mississippi".
I'm recommending "Tully" despite my disappointment with the twist, 'cause 2/3 of this movie is wonderfully obserantly details and great dialogue that I love. It's nice to see Reitman back on track too; I haven't seen "The Front Runner" yet, but I was very disappointed in both "Men, Women and Children" and especially the dreadful "Labor Day". I've always liked him, and while he can make some great stuff on his own or with other writers and collaborators, it's clear to me that these two do their best work together, even in something like "Tully" which has issues, lesser filmmakers would've screwed this up so much more that it would've been some unwatchable Woody Allen-esque failed quirky indy. This is mature look at the struggles with motherhood and the reflections on what life one gives up to become a mother. It's essentially going from a young adult, to an actual adult and how horrific, frightening and ultimately rewarding that can be.
MADELINE'S MADELINE (2018) Director: Josephine Decker
I decided to look up "Madeline" before writing my review, 'cause I didn't really know any definition other then the common girl's name, and it's a kind of a French cookie also, but apparently the word also can mean, "One that evokes a memory." Ah, now it makes sense, one who often evokes a memory, is an actor, especially a method actor. Madeline (Helena Howard in her debut film role) is such an actor who works with this avant-garde theater troupe run by Evangeline (Molly Parker). This is the kind of theater troupe that goes out and performs in the street in pig masks to promote their upcoming shows, which actually aren't that different actually, although Evangeline, who's pregnant through most of the movie is inspired by Madeline, essentially as her muse, although in many ways, protects her like a daughter.
That's a little better then the way her actual mother Regina (Miranda July) seems to treat her. The movie actually begins with a nightmare about her mother's expected behavior. We first see her in Madeline's violent dream. We see her freaking out a lot, sometimes in understandable situations, other times, she goes outside the bounds of normalcy. That said, apparently Madeline has also been in psychiatric care before, so how much can we trust her. Then again, her mother can be pretty erratic as well. She seems particularly protective of her. She may be an actress who's shining in the theater, but she's still a teenager, one with issues and who's struggling to find her way in the world, and both her homeworld and her life in the theater world are coming together and mixing and clashing with each other.
It's hard to describe the plot of the movie, there's memorable scenes and the handheld camerawork helped lends the movie a realistic feel; you feel like you're really caught in the middle of all this. As a journey it's compelling, as a narrative, I don't really know what to make of it. It's really more of a mood peiece to me, it's about what it feels like to get inside the head of an actor, and how both of those worlds collide and contrast. Now there are movies about trying to get across that idea, the big one for me is David Lynch's "INLAND EMPIRE", but that's also about a lot of other things. This movie is more insular.
There's a scene at one point where Regina has joined the troupe temporarily, in order for Evangeline to be more inspired by Madeline, 'cause essentially she's using her and her life as a muse for this next project and that's when we really see all these worlds collide. Helena Howard gives an amazing performance at the center of this movie, this movie doesn't work without it. She has to go through a lot of ranges here and it's quite an impressive performance, although Parker and in particular, July's performance helps as much too. She's an eccentric performance artist known for directing a few features, most notably her film masterpiece, "Me and You and Everyone We Know"; she's a very daring casting choice here, but it's a very inspiring one though, and she's brings a chaotic fear and beauty to this role.
It's fascinating to look at these characters and see how much these seem set in their owns worlds, completely oblivious to each other, despite being intricately connected to each other, 'cause it's clear that each one of these three characters, they're seeing their own tunnel-visioned world and when they're confronted with things that challenge that perception, they each have a hard time with it. The film was written and directed by Josephine Dekker, she's mostly an actress herself, but has made some independent features before, but this was her biggest breakthrough and it does feel an actor's movie in all the best ways. When actors direct, they often overfocus on details and this movie, is all about how a performs take the details around them and transports them into their performance, and that's really a difficult thing to express, without it being, actor see something, not actor incorporates it. This shows the messiness of that process and how it's twisted and jumbled in the actors mind, and gets transformed into their art; that is a very difficult thing to express on film, and for the most part, I think this movie nailed it.
I wouldn't necessarily say I'm that interested in rewatching "Madeline's Madeline", but I am interested in experiencing it again.
ANDHADHUN (2018) Director: Sriram Raghavan
Oh, dear. I am so out-of-my-league here.
Look, I've- especially in the age of the internet, it's become a lot easier and more accepted for critics and pundits to become specialists in subsects of a genre or art medium, or anything really, and look, I'm glad some people do that; like, I will never understand how Lindsay Ellis for instance, can go through every "Transformers" movie and come up with a never-ending multiple series of analysis on several layers for those films, I would ball my eyes out, but I'm glad she's doing it. Me, I pride myself on knowing and being able to analyze and consider and watch as much of as many things as I can. No genre's too complex, no part of the world too obscure, if I hear that it's good, I will go and try to seek it out whether it's something that I'd want to watch or not, whether I'd care to watch it or not, etc. etc. And I think overall, I've done a decent job at that; I think I'm reasonably knowledgeable and well-versed in a lot of cinema. And that includes knowing about so-called "world cinema." I haven't seen everything from every country obviously, but I feel like I know enough about the big, big film countries of the world, and seen enough movies from them that I can have a reasonable, intelligent discussion and observations about those country's cinema.
All except one country. One very major film country, and that's India.
India is by far the biggest rock that I have to push over the mountain without falling back down when it comes to world cinema; it's my biggest blindspot. I've got a lot I've got a get through when it comes to India cinema, and I'm not gonna pretend I've tried. You go through my complete Netflix queue, you'll find a lot of Satyajit Ray films that seems to just never be able to get towards the top of the my queue but he's just the biggest past name, I'm missing; trying to understand the modern cinema scene...- Look, I've had people try to gallantly explain it to me several times over, but I just tap out. I'm lucky, "Andhadhun" is a Bollywood film, and that's one segment about Indian cinema that I happen to conversationally know about, and it's probably the one most people in the West are aware of. We compare it to Hollywood, but in India there's like 20 or 30 different Hollywoods. They're all over the country, they're all very different, they have different genres and specialties when it comes to the films they make, and they all speak different languages from each others, and they're all focused in different sections of the country and each of those areas of the country have differing distinct motifs and...- look, I'm just the dumb American who's not gonna get it. I'd have to literally move there and spends years living there to completely get it. It is daunting just thinking about how complex their filmworld is, and that's not even taking into account how many movies they make. which is many, many more then my country makes and a lot of others.
So, forgive me if I'm missing a few things here, this really fell flat for me. Not necessarily moreso then other Bollywood films I've seen, but....
Anyway, the title, "Andhadhun" is Hindi, I believe, means either "Blindly" or "Blind Music" which makes sense, because the film centers on a blind pianist, Akash (Ayushmann Khurrana), who, isn't actually blind. I mean, he does play music blind, but he uses blinder contacts to play and now he keeps them for the rest of his daily routines as he pretends he's blind. This allows him to meet Sophie (Radhika Apte), who he starts a relationship with, even though she doesn't know he's not blind. Anyway, she gets him a gig at her father's diner where Pramod Sinha (Anil Dhawan) a retired movie star, who also gets him a job playing at his anniversary dinner with his wife Simi (Tabu).
However, things go wrong and Pramod is killed by Simi's lover Manohar (Manav Vij). They hide the body and try to hide the murder from the blind pianist, who turns out isn't blind, and also when he does try to call in the murder, it turns out Manohar is the Chief of Police.
This leads to a-eh, what I can only really call a screwball-um, action-thriller musical, romance? Bollywood's weird. Their main thing is that, they want to make movies that appeal to everybody in some way, and that includes like, trying to put a little bit of everything into a movie. Action, love, music especially, an uplifting underdog narrative.... This isn't new by the way, this is actually an American idea; you have to go way back to the early golden age of cinema, but you do see a lot movies like that, where there's a bunch going on, and it seems one you could be going from one movie to another from one scene to the next. I won't say it doesn't work, 'cause it did back then and it does now. My favorite Bollywood film is "3 Idiots" which, okay, it does have some issues, that in hindsight are kinda problematic, but it had a consistent over-arching narrative that pushed everything through and it was centered around a genre that worked well with this widest-audience possible they were going for, and more importantly, it's main focus was on the characters and their growth over the film. "Andhadhun", in comparison, and this isn't a good comparison, but it's,- well, it's just confused.
It's got a comedic screwball-romance premise, which should fit with Bollywood well-enough, some of my favorite films of the Golden Age of American cinema are screwball romances, and a lot of them actually revolved around murderous gangsters and villains. But doesn't feel like a funny screwball movie at the core.
The opening scene for instance is a shot of rabbit that may or may not be getting shot by a random hunter and when that eventually comes back to the narrative, it's a really arbitrary deus ex machina. (Well, rabbit ex machina I guess.) Like those scenes feel like a different movie. The murders aren't comedic, the situation is, but the movie itself, it gets really over-the-top and screwy, and some of it works; I like a scene where two of the main leads are in a sticky situation and have to try to get out of it, but I-, I honestly was mostly bored. The music is either, not interesting enough or there wasn't enough of it; I'm not sure which, but "Andhadhun" felt like it was mixing one-two many genres that really go together and it didn't have any characters that I particularly wanted to cheer for. I mean, even the main character, pretending to be blind,-, I know it's supposed to be meet-cute clever, but that's really a dick thing to do. Admittedly, I have experience with someone who tried that with me once, so, I'm really not big on it, but even under the best circumstances, like it was okay if you want to play music better, but I don't think you needed a waitress at Subway to bring your food for you, you know?
Yeah, I don't like this movie, and my instincts and what little knowledge I have tell me that there has to be better in Bollywood then this, but there's a chance that I might just, not get it. (Shrugs) But I gotta trust me instincts here, and pan this. If I'm just measuring how much of the film I liked and how much annoyed me, annoyed wins out.
JELLYFISH (2018) Director: James Gardner
So-um, I've written some stand-up material here and there. I've never performed it on stage, I've written for others who've done the material occasionally, but it is an art form that I'm fascinated by. I've debated about actually trying to do stand-up myself, but eh, there's something that's actually gotten in the way and honestly concerned me a bit about considering that pursuit, and this is gonna sound strange, but, I don't think I've had a depressing enough life to go into stand-up. I know this sounds like a weird thing to think about, but comedy, the best comedy, most of the time, it comes from sadness. It comes from anger, frustration,- there's an old line about, how a good comic looks at the world and thinks it's funny, a great comic looks at the world and thinks it's not. Now, that's, that's not true at all, I can think of many great comics who for the most part didn't have depressing childhoods or experiences that we think would've otherwise cliqued that weird part of their brain that makes one see the world strange enough to be a stand-up, but I can definitely think of more who came up with troubled upbringings.
"Jellyfish" is the story of a young comic, and it's horrifying; it's one of the most depressing movies that's genuinely effected me in a long time. It's one of those kitchen sink British social movies that seems like it could've been made by Andrea Arnold at her barest or Ken Loach at his happiest. Sarah Taylor (Liv Hill) is a teenager in Margate who's homelife creates problems and struggles at school. She's basically raising her two siblings Marcus and Lucy (Herny Lile and Jemima Newman) and go to school, where she's constantly in trouble and berated by some passive-aggressive, and flat-out obnoxiuos classmates. She also brings home money by working at an arcade that seems to only be occupied by older perverts who occaasionally give her money for handjobs. Meanwhile, her mother Karen (Sinead Matthews) spends most of the days never getting out of bed and generally being incapable of doing even the simplest things like remembering to sign up for their monthly rental assistance. She literally just has to go online once a month.
They don't say it, but based on the behavior and performance by Matthews, which is disturbing as Hell, she's probably bipolar. It's mentioned that she's been hospitalized in the past, and in many ways still seems incredibly childlike herself.
Still in all of this chaos, Sarah begins to find a possible voice in doing stand-up, and begins watching performances and writing her own material. I love that she keeps a little notebook with her, something that admittedly I have trouble doing, if for no other reason then my handwriting sucks and because I think in sentences and not fragments, my hand gets tired too quickly. (From writing, not from...-, nevermind).
The rest of the movie is just the world squeezing this poor girl. The "highlight" of the movie is when she manages to go out to a nightclub and cons a rich asshole out of a couple hundred bucks by, making him not realize she's jailbait just long enough before it doesn't turn into a crime, something that she's not always able to do.... This is kind of movie where it seems like nobody has any empathy for this poor girl, and you just want to jump through the movie screen to get them to understand and see how inconsiderate their being. How she gets berating or even fired for showing up late, not realizing why she's showing up late, because her mother insists to take the kids out of school for the day, and now they're going to some amusement park because she can't say no without the possibility of her mother freaking out and the kids feeling saddened. (Even if those kids should be a little old enough to realize what's going on.) Every time the mother character was on screen, I was frightened of what was gonna happen next; it's that horrid feeling that the person who's supposed to be in charge, supposed to be the "adult" is clearly not in control or capable of ever being so. It's a haunting performance that stays with me. Liv HIll is also a very talented young newcomer and her performance isn't necessarily perfect, but it's definitely perfect for this awkward character who's only just now struggling to find an outlet to be,- not only herself, but some version of herself. just some light at the end of a metro tunnel out of Margate. Something that does mean she has to bottle up all her confusing and complicated emotions all the time.
I can see people calling this too manipulate but I buy that somebody's life could be like this, and it's really well-written. It's the first feature from James Gardner who had previously done mostly shorts and based on the fact that his latest is called, "Bicycle Thief" and is about what you think it's about, he's got a neorealist bent to him, and this is hopefully not his only feature, 'cause I think he's got some powerful modern neorealist tales to tell.
I have no idea why the film is called "Jellyfish" though.
ZAMA (2018) Director: Lucrecia Martel
"Zama" is one fo the stranger movie I've seen in the sense that essentially it's a movie about a fish out of water, who's waiting to go back in. It's strange really, the movie is like, "Look at how beautiful, majestic, tranquil this exotic wonder of a place this is, and the whole movie, the main character is like, "I can't wait to get the hell out of here?!" You'd think this movie would be more entertaining, wouldn't ya? I mean, literally, I've wanted movies like this, where the whole is about how idyllic some place is, and how some main character should stay and fall in love with this place; I mean it's a bad, often-used trope in romantic comedies all the time, especially with small-town America supposedly be so much better then big city areas, but half the time, I just think the whole town is fucking nuts and that the main character is right for wanting to get out. "Zama" isn't one of those movies.
Argentinean director Lucrecia Martel's first film in over a decade, "Zama" and a co-production between ten different countries, and is an adaptation of a novel about a Spanish magistrate, Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Gimenez Cacho) as he awaits a new post from,- well, it's clearly somewhere in South America. The movie takes place in the 18th Century when Spain was trying to colonize the continent. Apparently he's stationed in Paraguay, which, makes sense considering how exotic, indigineous, and in hindsight, the lack of Ocean that's there. Although, the movie does end with a boat heading down a river. (If you're not a geography buff, you might not know this, but even among Latin America countries, Paraguay's weird.)
It might've helped if we knew the Spain or other world that Don Diego is seeking out to be at, but, we don't get that. Instead we just drift around as Don Diego starts growing more frustrated with the place. He's outwardly frustrated or anything, but there's not much to do and he's meandering through what few activities their are. He flirts with Luciana (Lola Duenas) a colonial matron who comes around. I'm not sure he even wants to flirt with her, but she's around all the time. He sees the local governor, and they keep getting reassigned so there's three different actors playing them. Honestly, I had ot look that up to notice, and perhaps that's part of the point. It's a movie about being stuck somewhere you don't want to be, and it feels like; as I watched it, it kept feeling like I was in a place where I didn't want to be.
So, how do you criticize this movie. I mean, it succeeded in its goal, it is artistically well-made, but it's a boring movie about being bored and stuck in the same place with little-to-no hope of ever getting out.... Obviously that rings familiar to those suffering through a pandemic right now, myself included, and boy do I not want that feeling exemplified in a movie. Yet, I can't really knock the film for it. That said, this is probably not a tale that works on film as well as it does in other mediums.
I'm gonna recommend "Zama" barely, because I think it is an interesting enough attempt to recommend watching, but boy they do not make this one easy. I can think of interesting ideas with a story about a guy going crazy on the other end of the world, but just showing it as banal and dull an experience..., I mean it might be one, but even that has to be shown as more entertaining usually. I might be giving this a little slack 'cause I'm not overly familiar with Martel's work too, perhaps this makes more sense in context with her films, so....
OBEY (2018) Director: Jamie Jones
Something that I often recall from my old sociology classes is that, "History, doesn't happen in a vacuum." Things, especially big things, don't just suddenly happen. One of the great myths of historians and media is that they're always covering events as though they do. Like the protests this Summer. According to most of us, they started with George Floyd's murder by police officers, but that was the catalyst, that's not what started it. It's been going on, it's just now everybody knows something was wrong happened; what they should know is that something's been wrong for a very long time. Floyd isn't the first police murder, I can list the names; we all can (Or should be able to) but I'll list one here, Mark Duggan. He was killed by police, and his death inevitably led to riots across the country. Not here in America, in England.
Yeah, we're not the only ones in the world who are realizing the Civil Rights atrocities are still going on and people are suffering because of the systemic racism built into our governing and sociological systems. Those riots in 2011 are the backdrop for "Obey", the first theatrical feature film from British Director Jamie Jones, and it's a gritty, modern look at the struggles of young adulthood. Well,- obviously young adulthood while growing up through a certain section of society. The kind where there's low-down parties being thrown by squatters for kids to experiment with sex and-eh, laughing gas, of all things.... (Shrugs) That's not to say these kids are all innocent; the open long take involves a long conversation with a bunch of local kids walking down the street ragging on each other, until one of them decides to just, break a car window and steal something.
Leon (Marcus Rutherford) is a nineteen-year-old who's struggling to find new work, but is also spending his free time training to box. He's had a lot of free time; he's just returned from foster care. That doesn't mean he doesn't have parents; we learn that he actually voluntarily chose to go to foster care, and you meet his mother Chelsea (T'Nia Miller) you kinda understand. Leon's father was abusive, and the mother is an alcoholic mess who apparently has terrible taste in men. (Let's just say, I suspect we went into boxing, more as a survival tactic more then thinking it was a sport that could lead him to a way out of the slums.)
Despite the limited options, he does meet Twiggy (Sophie Kennedy Clark) the aforementioned party-throwing squatter. She's-eh,... tsk..., so-um, you know the cliche character of the rich person who chooses to live like she's poor, like, she's one of the worst idealized version of that. She's a beautifuld, young blonde, free-spirit, sexually-adventurous young girl woman, who's dating a radical activist, Anton (Sam Gittens) and finds Leon attractive enough to have hang around, in that breezy little flirtatious way that some girls have, where it seems like that got high at a rave and never exactly got better? I'm-, trying to debate this character is realistic or not, but I know if I ran into someone like that when I was a 19-year-old virgin with little-to-no prospects for the future, I'd probably be attracted to her, so I'll let her slide. It helps that this is a good movie and indeed, there often are people, usually privilidged white people from higher up the socioeconomical spectrum who decide to join in and end up trying to lead in the fight, and I'm not sure that's a bad thing either, but they probably do think of sex a little more freely then the rest; I'm not entirely sure why.
"Obey" mostly showcases Rutherford's wonderful lead performance as he struggles to come to terms with these conflicting and colliding splices of his life, all while the neighborhood is being lit up itself. In some ways, the movie reminds me of Bertolucci's "The Dreamers" which was about youths discovering themselves as the world burned around them, but I always hated that film. For one thing, the characters were far stupider, but also the movie ended with characters joining in on a protest; a '60s protest in Paris, but it seemed so superficial, especially since the weeks they spent living in dirt and doing nothing but watching movies and watching as their sexual urges were explored, a little too much. This movie feels more like how people end up in riots and protests, how they keep getting beaten down by life until they can't take it anymore and eventually explode. In that way, I find myself more willing to overlook some of "Obey"'s odd narrative intricacies. It helps that the handheld low-budget directing and the acting all around is quite strong as well. With this, as well as last year's "Les Miserables", we're reminded once again that the fight for Civil Rights for all, is a world issue, and not simply a national one.