Thursday, December 23, 2021


Happy Holiday Everyone. 

I swear I'm trying to get these out in a more prudent time period, but yeah, I've been behind lately. Other blogs and projects are taking far longer then expected, and I've had far less time then ever before to do them. Life is what happens when you're making plans.

I did get to see a few other films then the ones I'm reviewing, most notably the HBO documentary "Jagged" on Alanis Morissette during the "Jagged Little Pill" recording and tour and I enjoyed it. I'm not sure what Ms. Morissette had an issue with as she bemoaned the film despite participating in it. I'm sure she has her reasons. I also got around to "The Hottest August" a documentary that's about August 2017 New York City and some of the growing tensions in the place during the hot summer. It's basically a bunch of random interviews with people in the town. It's interesting enough for me to recommend but yeah, I can see people just shutting it off as well; it's pretty random and unfocused. 

Anyway, enough about the stuff I didn't review, let's get to the film I did. 

A QUIET PLACE PART II (2021) Director: John Krasinski


I don't think we needed a sequel to "A Quiet Place", but I can't say I don't appreciate the catharsis. Looking back on my review of the original, I clearly remembered the conceit of the movie moreso then the actual events of it. For instance, I didn't remember that John Krasinski's character didn't survive to this film, which is confusing since the movie begins with a prequel sequence, this left me confused when we caught with later in the film, but that's mostly on me. I haven't returned to the film since I first watched it; I mostly just remember how intense it was. How clever the conceit was, how, yes, quiet, it was. 

The post-apocalyptic horror that was "A Quiet Place" existed because life as we knew it was interrupted by some unidentified monstrous bug-like creatures who's sense of hearing was so strong and sensitive that they could pounce and kill when they hear the slightest noises that humans make. Now, they've continued travelling on down the road, quietly obviously, evading the giant bugs. And now, Evelyn (Emily Blunt) has to keep her newborn baby quiet along with her surviving kids Marcus (Noah Jupe) and Regan (Millicent Simmonds). 

Eventually, they make their way to a family friend, Emmitt (A surprisingly barely recognizable Cillian Murphy) who's secluded himself in an underground soundproof bunker after losing his family. After recognizing where a lone radio signal that's playing Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea" on a loop, Regan gets an idea to travel to a small coastal island where and grab ahold of the radio station where loud static caused by her hearing aid could make them static and helpless due to their hyper-sensitivity to sound and eventually, she convinces Emmett to go on the coastal journey while Evelyn protects the other kids at the homebase. 

Looking back at my original review,  I noted how much I liked Millicent Simmonds's performance, and she's even more critical here; arguably she might be the lead over Blunt, and to me, "A Quiet Place Part II" is a showcase for her. She's got the most difficult role and basically is the hero character, while Murphy does play a good distraction as we do expand on this world a little bit more. 

I do have some qualms though. It's not as compelling as the original, but it's certainly good enough. It's a rare horror film idea that is strong enough for multiple films in this world and I'm interested in seeing them. John Krasinski is back as a writer/director and this is definitely a personal project for him and Blunt. However, because it's not as unique and original as the first one was story wise the cliches of the genre become more clear, most notably, how a couple of the major death scenes in the film involve black actors. Including a brief performance by Djimon Hounsou as Man on Island. This is a man who's received two Academy Award nominations for his acting and now he's playing "Man on Island" and gets one monologue and then a funny death scene? I'm sure he's happy with the salary, but this was a waste. (How has there never been a push for Djimon Hounsou to be a lead in a superhero movie btw?! Fuck Idris Elba, Djimon Hounsou for the next James Bond! Twitter, get on this!) 

It's also just the general downward motion of the plot. The first movie was about establishing and exploring the world and now we're at the point where we're familiar enough with the world where we've figured out how to successfully change it for the better. I can see why, this isn't, maybe, perhaps, the very best approach for this genre, even though I do get it. There's apparently a third in the works; I'm not sure what story they're gonna have now, but based on this film, I have to believe that it's gonna be more of a downturn in the Hero's Journey, unless they do something really new and different, which I don't think they will, hopefully. Anyway, as to "...Part II", it's still pretty strong, and while I haven't enjoyed most post-apocalyptic fiction recently in media, this is one world I am intrigued by. Perhaps it's in how little we know about how things got this way, or in how these characters happen to luck into being more able to survive this world because one of them has a lack of a skill that others have and the family adjusting to her disability leads them more capable of surviving in this world where most other humans that have somehow "survived" have basically turned into feral zombie-like scavengers. "A Quiet Place Part II", is a little bit more louder and assured, but it still thrives in that quiet haunting tension. I hope it never forgets how frightening that lack of sound is no matter where this potential franchise or series ends up. 

PIG (2021) Director: Michael Sarnoski


If they didn't happen to also be so lusciously delicious, the fact that pigs help us find truffles would be more then a good enough reason to keep them alive. I think I brought this up briefly when I reviewed "The Truffle Hunters" but I haven't had truffles much in my life, but the few times I have, they are absolutely worth it, and they can be worth a lot, especially in the restaurant world. "Pig" seemingly takes place in the underbelly of this world and decides to take the narrative of a traditional revenge plot and tries to find how far it can go. 

I saw more then a few reviews compare "Pig" to the "John Wick" movies, where the main character goes on a violent search and rampage after his dog is killed. Honestly, I have never gotten the big deal with any of the John Wick films, because, to me, they're just typical hitman movies that, eh, I don't know, happen to look good, I guess???? I really don't get why they have such a huge appeal, unless people really never saw typical hitman movies before. 

I've definitely never seen a movie like "Pig" before. Sure, an animal is kidnapped and it's owner, in this case a reclusive Oregon truffle hunter with a past named Rob (Nicholas Cage) gets his prized truffle pig stolen, and he decides to go out and find who took it, but that's still not quite changing the animal. Rob had been selling his truffles through a young supplier named Amir (Alex Wolff) who's trying to branch out on his own despite his father Darius (Adam Arkin) being the big Portland truffle supplier to the main restaurants. Up 'til now, nobody knew about Rob and the pig, but now that the pig is stolen, Rob, along with Amir, are out searching for the pig, and that means, Rob, has to go back into the Portland restaurant world, that he's been avoiding for years. Apparently, he still knows the ins and outs of it, and manages to re-introduce his presence at an underground fight club meet where waiters and cooks go to have matches after dark. 

Rob, turns out, to have once been, the biggest and most important and influential chef in the area, and his full name, Robin Feld, carries quite a lot of cache, even in his decrepit, hobo-like state. Why he left the restaurant world in favor of this life as a hermit who's too unconcerned with his appearance to even clean the dried blood off his face even as he has to consider what his next moves and who and how he can get the information out of them. Since he's not a hitman, just a hermit looking for his pig, we get to see different approaches and reasons for how they go about their goal. It's nice to see a movie that's about going to dark places and having to deal with some pretty bad men and seeing solutions that don't involve violence, and even motivations that don't fit neatly into the typical narratives. 

"Pig" is the debut feature film by director Michael Sarnoski, and it's a lovely creative little unpredictable thriller that feels both oddly plausible and comically surreal. I don't think I mention it enough because he's rarely, if ever, in movies that are actually any good unfortunately, (Which ergo means that, since I usually give movies with critical acclaim precedent in my review schedule, that I'm less likely to review them) but I think Nicholas Cage is the best actor working today. Nobody can take a scene or a line of dialogue, or even in this movie, a complete lack of dialogue for much of the time, and find the best and most interesting ways to deliver it. I speculated in my review of "Joker" that I thought Cage would've been the ideal performer for that particular "Joker", not that I think it would've made the movie that much better, but he can make any movie more watchable, and this is a wonderful performance of his, in how quiet it is. With this and with "Mandy" he is able to be just as compelling and intense in as few deliberate words and actions as possible, and it's startling to watch. The cliche with Cage is that he constantly goes over-the-top but that's not remotely true, and here, he's underacting brilliantly. 

I also like that "Pig" is ultimately spare. It could've had a grander narrative, there's characters who you believe and know are capable of far worst then we see, and there's story threads that in the wrong hands could've been stretched in the wrong directions, and hit too hard for this narrative to be believable, like the cassettes tapes of Rob's late wife that he listens to as his only reminder of the former life he had that he keeps. Or, hell, they could've just done a lot more with the "Pig", but the filmmakers knew their material was strong with it's bare bones, and knew not to bother with more then was needed. (And besides, Rob's right about the trees, and also, certain dog breeds are actually better at finding truffles anyway.) I came away from "Pig" way more intrigued and impressed then I thought I would going in and I think credit goes to Cage and the filmmakers, particularly Sarnoski. I've panned or at least been underwhelmed by a lot of beloved directorial debuts in recent and I don't think this is the greatest in a certain amount of time, but this feels like a good filmmaker starting off strong who I very much like to see what he'd come up with on a bigger budget. Oddly, it reminds me most of Rian Johnson's "Brick" in how that movie was an indy twist on a classic genre that showed his range was above his budgetary limitations, and sure enough when he finally got the freedom and budget to make what he really wanted with "Knives Out" it was the most fun film of the year. Different kinds of films and genres entirely, but I wouldn't be surprised if Sarnoski can travel a similar indirect path in the future, and I'm looking forward to that. 




I don't talk that much about any recent celebrities' passings. Either on this blog, or on my other social media outlets; you won't see me make too many references to them on my Facebook or Twitter pages. It's not that I'm not effected, in fact, sometimes I've very effected, but honestly, most of the time, I don't usually feel like I have anything to add or say to the conversations. Years ago, one of my very first posts was about, trying to figure out what to say when you didn't particularly have an emotional connection to, in regard to the then-recent passing of Whitney Houston. You can find it if you search, but I won't link it here; it wasn't one of the my favorite pieces at the time or now, and was written from a, less mature and darker place then I'd prefer, (It was about whether or not we should still be using Whitney as a punchline for all her excesses and habits after her death..., so yeah..., it's maybe not my most [finger quotes] "woke" pieces.) 

That said, I made an exception after Anthony Bourdain sudden suicide a couple years ago.

It was this Mixed Bag Blogpost where I decided to make a parallel to Anthony Bourdain to, or all people, Hunter S. Thompson. I don't know if that is a good or sound comparison of two legendary outlaw modern renaissance men, but it was something I was thinking about and I hadn't seen the comparison brought up before. 


Honestly though, I think what I was really doing, and what a lot of people who loved Bourdain were doing, was just trying to come to terms with a man who was so talented in so many fields and seemed to be such a grand adventurer, so full of life, such wit, so much piss and vinegar, trying to create a justification or explanation,- something in the bargaining stage of grief, you know? of why or how he could've hung himself in his hotel room with a bathrobe rope. We were all just kinda shocked and I also think his death caught us so offguard in just how much we really cared about him and what he represented. 

But did what he represent, really represent who Anthony Bourdain was? 

I guess that's the question that Morgan Neville's latest film, "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain",- well, I don't know if they're trying to answer it, but he's at least trying to get to a bottom of why well felt that essence of him so strong viscerally. Although, it does somewhat speculate though.

Bourdain's life was definitely spectacular, but he was a flawed man. He would've been the first to admit that. He documented much of his past in his original bestselling book, "Kitchen Confidential" detailing his debaucherous rise and fall in the New York kitchens scene in the '80s. He was a heroin junkie who self-recovered cold turkey, which, as a few of his closest friends, especially David Choe makes note of, as being something that, no junkie is able to really do, suggesting that he sort just traded one addiction for another most of the time, and travel and fame became his new one. 

The early beginnings of his television career are fascinating; I did actually watch "A Cook's Tour" at one point, which started as a secondary small, local television companion series to what became his second book, where he first started traveling and seeing the world and eating the exotic foods of the area. His longtime behind-the-scenes television producers and crew people were some of the big talking heads here. It's actually somewhat startling to think that Bourdain wasn't an early natural at this traveling thing, which he wasn't, in fact he rarely traveled outside his own New York worlds growing up, but he eventually found a way to take it all in, and more importantly, insert himself into the depictions of his series. 

The guy was a damn talented writer, in any medium. I listened to the audio book of "Medium Raw" not long after his passing and it seemed as full of life and experience as ever. The guy had such an interesting and compelling way with language, and that as much as anything separated his series. Yes, they were travel shows. Yes, they were shows about seeing and meeting interesting people in many various places, but it was him going to these various places and exploring, and we're getting his thoughts, and not some PBS-style educational tour. They don't go into the details of either of his more famous shows' creations, "No Reservations" or "Parts Unknown", but we do see a lot of uncut footage of Bourdain throughout these years. The cutting room floor material, some other smaller private moments of him. We even get an interview with his second wife, who often came along on some of these trips. He divorced his first wife after the fame and riches from his original book got in the way, and eventually, evolved into a family man Ottavia, even having a child fairly late in life, something that he didn't particularly see himself doing years earlier when he was a struggling restaurant owner bitchin' on the street about the fact that he can't understand why the fish guy was running late. The scenes of the young Bourdain are kinda startling; I read about them of course, but rarely saw him. In many of his later interviews and shows, he often worried about he deteriorating skills as a cook as he would do it less and less over the years and travel and writing and hosting would take over. 

There's a few highlights, like the infamous "No Reservations" episode where they were caught in Beirut right when a war started. I'm actually surprised to find that he wanted to not air that episode at first, fearing exploiting the deaths and disasters of many in the area while he and his American camera crew were held up at a luxury hotel watching the war go on while sunbathing on a roof wasn't in the best taste. He was probably right, but I think that paradox was important to tell as well. Over the years, especially on "Parts Unknown", his show became less and less about food and enjoying the places that he would go, and became much more cerebral and spiritual. I remember that one weird episode in San Francisco that mostly detailed and centered around his jujitsu obsession for instance. His wife got him into that, and sure that's fine, but even if you're heavily into jujitsu, why you focus your foodie travel show around even one episode of it around it? Well, Bourdain did, and it was a good episode, but yeah, maybe it should be looked at, as much as a sign that something was wrong or questionable then just a quirk of a unique creative man.

There's been controversy about the movie. One of Bourdain's e-mails for instance was recreated through a speak recognition machine that recreated Bourdain's voice and essentially created a fake voiceover of his. (Shrugs) I get why that's a little irksome, but that wasn't a big issue for me. More notable to me was the choice of not interviewing his last girlfriend Asia Argento for the film; there's dispute on whether she was just not asked or whether she declined, although I think they purposefully didn't ask her to participate, and I do get why. Bourdain really dived into his relationship with her, and when he was with Argento, she had been at the forefront of the #MeToo movement as one of Harvey Weinstein's most noted rape victims and Bourdain, in an interesting but sudden shift, started talking very openly and publicly against Weinstein and other predators, becoming one of the more vocal male celebrity voices of the movement. It's not that Bourdain wasn't political or outspoken before, he was quite political in much of his discussions but he certainly wasn't on the talk show circuit spouting his opinions before.

Yet, the people around him did talk about the nightmare production the Hong Kong episode of "Parts Unknown" was when Asia herself stepped in and directed, and Anthony, on camera, fired one of the cinematographers that he had worked with for well over a decade. It's not so much that Asia was just such a domineering force as it is that, Anthony was and in some ways always had been an unstable presence, and perhaps in this latest evolved form of Bourdain, this instability was becoming too much. Argento, right around the time of Bourdain's suicide was caught up in a tabloid story herself that placed her as the sexual abuser, apparently grooming and having intercourse with a then-17-year-old who was an actor in the film "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things", who was also coming out in the #MeToo movement. 

We do see some final shots of Bourdain on the sets of his last "Parts Unknown" episode, having fun with his good friend, legendary chef Eric Ripert, who himself is interviewed in the show, although he doesn't talk about the tragic fact that he was the one who found him that day, which I don't blame him. Their last conversations are interesting and funny though, even though, yeah, it's clear that Bourdain's morbid streak was at it's most dire. 

I spent the movie, trying to stare deep into the old shots and scenes of Bourdain, trying to get inside his head myself, and for the first time I felt like I was truly getting a feeling of just how chaotic and strained his mind must've been and eventually became. A man with a lot of vices in his early life, who suddenly was flung into fame and thrived in it. His last years, his travels seemed and were much more of a Conrad-like dive into the soul as he got deeper and deeper caught into this strained world of travel and interviews and culture. For the first time, I seemed to be able to grasp the mania that was must've been swirling around in his head and the struggles of a man who's never been, in his word, "normal", trying to find normalcy in a world where there clearly was none to be around.

"Roadrunner..." is not a conclusive look at the life of Anthony Bourdain, and I think the movie knows that, hence the title, "A Film About Anthony Bourdain", not "the film" or any other such signifier. It's not even the only film or project on Bourdain going on at the moment, and I don't know if we'll ever get one conclusive, assured, complete look at Bourdain. His charisma and sardonic attitude was matched only by his enigmatic nature and fame. Personally, I loved Bourdain, so naturally I feel an appreciation for the film, even if it isn't a complete picture, and if you had any affection or appreciation for Tony, the film will greatly appeal to you as well. I hope wherever he is right now, he's at peace; leave it to him to have us sorting through the loose ends of his life trying to find a real story of him that might not even be there. 

DAYS (2021) Director: Ming-liang TSAI


I can see a lot of people being perturbed at critics recommending a movie like "Days". It's a foreign film, without subtitles, there's almost no dialogue, and in many ways, nothing much happens. This is the exactly the kind of movie that people who can't stand movie critics will go after critics for liking. And I do get it. This is the kind of movie on my bad days that I would be annoyed at as well. I'm not even entirely sure how to describe it to make it enticing to others, but it helps if you know the work of Ming-liang TSAI. He's a Malaysian-born Taiwanese filmmaker, who's known for meditative observational slices of life meandering films, many of which are truly beautiful. I particularly admired "What Time Is It There?" about a man who's infatuated with a woman who then moves to Paris and he begins getting obsessed with keeping up with her by changing all the clocks to the time that she's at. 

That movie was twenty years ago and for more complex and interesting then "Days" which literally just looks on it's main two characters. Really, one main character, Kang (Kang-sheng LEE). He's fairly lonely. We see him in his home, and doing some normal random things. Cleaning some food. Tending to a garden. Getting some painful-looking acupuncture. We follow him around town a bit. 
And then, he ends up in a room with Nan (Anong Houngheuangsy) a masseuse, who he eventually has a sexual encounter with. 

It's a long encounter, of two very quiet, and very lonely people who live alone in very separate parts of the world, and this time, they crave and release their long-suffering loneliness pain. We also see a bit of Nan in his small apartment environment as well, and there's that contrast. We never hear why these two lost souls who briefly find each other are alone by themselves to begin with. We just know that they're lives are otherwise lonely and empty and for this brief massage appointment, they are able to release some of their urges and needs that they previously hadn't before. And that's what intimately amazing and appealing about "Days" or "Rizi" as it might also be known.

I can certainly see why this film appealed to people nowadays. The movie wasn't made and has no trace of the pandemic in the movie, in fact, the film apparently took years to make. 

Sure I might not enjoy this film from other filmmakers, but TSAI is a great director who knows how to frame and let the poetry play on. Apparently this film took a long time to make, it started shooting in 2014. It didn't get released until last year where it won some major festival awards, and it's powerful. I wish I was in a better mood for it, and I prefer my TSAI a little more complex then that, but if you want to be entranced by a slow, meditative look at the beauty of loneliness, then this film works. In a better mood, in the right setting, I can see really enjoying the film. It was a little too slow for me these days, but perhaps, I just needed to calm the fuck down and let it take over and engulf me. 

Or maybe I'm just too used to my own poetic beauty in loneliness that I wanted something a little more.... (Shrugs) 

RIDERS OF JUSTICE (2021) Director: Anders Thomas Jensen


Before I begin this review, I should note that, this movie ended up getting on my bad side right away. I ended up watching this film on Hulu. I wasn't planning on it, my Blu-Ray came in the mail, but I had the strangest oddity with my DVD Player on my Roku TV where apparently in one input I could get only the visual, no sound, of the movie, or the sound, but no visuals of the movies. I've had odd issues with DVD players bufore, but this one I couldn't figure out the issue. Not sure what happened there. (I mean, I essentially know what happened, but I couldn't fix it.) 

Anyway, that's part of why this movie has just been a struggle for me. I get what's going on here; it's definitely going for that kind of misunderstanding parable that you might get in say, hmm, a Coen Brothers film. "Burn After Reading" or "A Serious Man", but eh, it kinda jumps the shark a bit. It starts off well enough, after a brief prologue in Estonia about a girl wanting a bicycle for Christmas, we get a family devastated after an apparent train accident sends Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) and his daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heide Gadeberg) into deep grief after Markus's wife Emma (Anne Birgitte Lind) and Mathilde's mother is killed in the accident. 
Now, this already, has a lot of intrigue to it. There's plenty of great movies that start with devastating grief, but this movie, takes a weird turn. Mostly involving another passenger on the train, Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kass), who I'm now realizing might be named after the Kevin Kline character in "A Fish Called Wanda". He's concerned because he gave up his seat for Emma on that train, but also because he saw some suspicious behavior before the accident. 

One of the other people who died in the crash was apparently supposed to be a witness for a trial of a major motorcycle gang called the Riders of Justice, and Otto along with his partner Lennart (Lars Brygmann) who have previously been trying to get funding for their algorithm, (I don't remember what they were trying to do, but it's the kind of thing that if it was successful, it'd probably be a maguffin in a David Mamet movie) believe the accident was staged and believe they can identify the guy involved through some facial recognition software that their friend Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) has. 

From here, this is where it starts to get goofy and convoluted as their "plans" devolve into other disasters, and eventually people getting shot or killed. I won't go into all the details, partly 'cause I had trouble following, others probably won't, but it was straining on me. Especially, since there's, like, several narratives. After their main guy was found not guilty, they start seeking out info on what's been going on with these "Riders of Justice", and also the daughter has her own mental crises going on, about how all this actually started with a bike getting stolen. That part's actually very Kieslowskian, but it get dolled up when one of her father's new friends tries to pretend to be her grief counselor. That's another sideplot, about how the father doesn't want therapy for his grief, while the daughter wants it....- There's a lot going on here, and it's a little too messy for me. It's weird, 'cause it is all kinda interesting, but it all kinda feels like they were trying to shove together many different films, and instead this just came out to a complete mess. 

The film was directed by Anders Thomas Jensen, it's the first film of his I've seen directed, though he did write a movie I liked a lot, Susanne Bier's Oscar-winning film, "In a Better World". He's actually worked quite a bit with Susanne Bier, and essentially his films with her were about struggles with coping after tragic or important incidents. Markus for instance, is also a soldier in Afghanistan when the train hit, so his stance on therapy could also be effected by his military work. His movies usually are also more complex then they seem at the surface, but are also more emotionally enthralling and cerebral in their approach, but the movie's idea came from Nicolaj Arjel, a very good writer, but most known by me for adapting the original adaptation of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". This feels like the action side kept interrupting the more natural pull of the emotions in the narratives. 

There are ways of doing this well, combining these kinds of contradictory genres but I don't know, I tried a few times with this one, and the more I looked, the less interesting the film became for me. It's kinetic and I like both aspects of this movie, and the underlying theme about how grief, when not handled well can lead into such dark avenues as conspiracy theories and even worst, but I still found it too jangled to care about everyone involved. Admittedly, I think I was too frustrated to start with, but this movie didn't win me over when I did get around to giving it a fair shake either. 

PIECES OF A WOMAN (2020) Director: Kornel Mundruczo


Go to the hospital. 

Go to the hospital.

Go to the hospital! Go to the hospital! Go to the hospital! GO TO THE HOSPITAL!

GO TO THE-, WHY AREN'T YOU GOING TO THE HOSPITAL YOU DUMB STUPID BIT-, oooooooooooooh-kay, I get it now; it's- it's going to be this kind of movie. 

(Deep breath)

Oh-kay, consider the words I was yelling at the movie above, your trigger warning, for anybody who will need it. You know you who are, and you know if you can handle this, and trust me, I understand. The first half hour of this film, is rough to get through. I can see both sides of the argument as to whether or not this sequence was absolutely essential to be shown at all, and for as long and as detailed as it was, and I don't know if I really have an opinion on it. 

In fact, I've spent a few days trying to determine my full thoughts on the film. What I'm struggling with is that, this is a weird adaptation. The movie is actually adapted from a Polish play by the film's director and screenwriter, which makes the long take in the beginning make a little more sense. It's done in mostly one take, but there's a lot added to the play after that. Mainly a courtroom sequence. 

After the child died from cardiac arrest after the home birth, Martha (Oscar-nominee Vanessa Kirby) is obviously going through grief, she goes back to work early,... she's trying to move on and forget everything as soon as possible, but that's not happening. Her mother Elizabeth (Ellen Burstyn) is interested in suing the midwife Eva (Molly Parker) who wasn't the original planned midwife, but was the one sent by the original midwife who was busy with another patient. Martha's husband Sean (Shia Labeouf) is a recovering addict, but he's also caught up in the idea of a lawsuit and he's also fallen off the wagon, and started sleeping with Suzanne (Sarah Snook) Martha's cousin, and the district attorney who's prosecuting Ava. 

The other scene in the play, takes place later on at a gathering of the major people, and that's also the best sequence here, but it feels discombobulated with everything else. The movie should really be about these characters going through their shared grief, and there are times when it is. Ellen Burstyn, who's character is a Holocaust survivor gives an amazing monologue during one heated argument over just how emotional everybody should be during these scenes; it's one of the great reminders that Burstyn is genuinely one of America's greatest actresses. There's good performances all around this film, but the movie gets bogged down by it's forced courtroom narrative. It's not that it's a bad or cliched choice, although it is, but it's so unnecessary in it's setup and execution. There can be an interesting movie here about the decision to have these fancy births in places like the home, as opposed to the hospital and the side-effects of such actions when things go wrong, as well as the struggles of those who suffer from tragedies like these, the mental aspects as well as the emotional ones. "Pieces of a Woman" almost is....

Maybe it's just the transfer to film admittedly, I suspect the power of this story loses something in the translation from stage to screen. The fact that the movie takes place in America probably hurts a bit as well; I bet some of the subtexts gets lost in the translation where in America, a home birth is just something weird that some eccentric rich people occasionally do 'cause they can, that's bad enough under normal circumstances, but I can see how that kind of decision could be more harmful in other situations and places. In Poland, it probably would be looked upon as a more erratic and questionable choice. 

"Pieces of a Woman" mostly feels incomplete. There's definitely a good movie somewhere in here worth watching, but the movie seems to have tried too hard to expand when it really should be zoning in and doubling down on the inherent intimacy of the play, especially given that long polarizing opening. It's like they wanted to do that, but chickened out. I'm actually close to just panning the movie outright, but I'll be nice and say it's worth watching, but these pieces don't feel like they complete the same puzzle. 

OVER THE MOON (2020) Director: Glen Keane; Co-Director: John Kahrs


"Over the Moon" is the second animated feature I've seen in recent months where the main characters and story take place in China. That's fine, but it's actually kinda weird and startling how much else these two films have in common. Both are about young teen girls who lose a parent, both protagonist struggle to connect with their younger sibling-like character, both of them go on a long, arduous and magical journey in search of or with a possibly mythological creature. It's not even that these films are based in China though; these plot thread actually feel a little too much like too many animated features lately. 

You know, one of the reasons that, even during Disney's roughest pre-Renaissance years, and well into their Renaissance why there was such a struggle for other major animation studio to really grab an in-road into taking over, was that, too many times, the major studios would basically end up taking a good or decent idea or two, and then, water it down or compromise it so much, that at the best you can call a lot of these films, "Disney-Lite". I've met some animators over the years who worked on a few of these films during that time period, and they actually had a lot meaner names for some of those forgotten projects. (Like, without going into names, I know a guy who worked on "Quest for Camelot" mention that they referred to it as "Quest for Crapalot" privately amongst themselves.) I'm bringing this up, because I feel like I'm starting to see that same kind of trend towards the, "Just Copy Disney" mode of films, only nowadays, it isn't so much, copying Disney as it is, copy Disney and Pixar. 

It's not that these movies are bad either per se, while I didn't care for "Abominable" and was a lot harsher to it for seeming like a paint-by-numbers copying of the structure and format of better movies, I do like "Over the Moon" a lot more. At least as I was watching it I liked, but I can't help but mention that I still did see the formula at work though. No wonder, while "Abominable" was a Dreamworks Animation project, and "Over the Moon" is done through Netflix Animation, both films were actually made by Pearl Studio, the Chinese-based subsidiary animation studio. So there's clearly power in the story of a young kid, seeking out the truth in that their most beloved legends are real and journeying to find that out, to the Chinese people. Do I get that legend? Ehh, kinda. 

I guess my favorite animated feature in that genre is Robert Zemeckis's "The Polar Express", and that's definitely a more Western film so perhaps it is just a cultural exchange that's lost in the translation. Perhaps these two films biggest sins is what movies they were trying to be. "Abominable" was trying to seem more like a lesser-tier Aardman like film, while "Over the Moon", feels very much like it's trying to be a new "Frozen" or even a "Frozen II". I was actually thinking with Cathy Ang's voice during her song numbers, that I genuinely thought she was Idina Menzel when she sang. (As well as Ruthie Ann Miles sounding like Kristen Bell's singing voice.) Ang voiced Fei-Fei, a young girl who's obsessed with this legend of Chang'a (Philippa Soo) who's this sad grieving moon goddess that pines for Houyi (Conrad Ricamora), her long lost lover. It's a myth that Fei Fei believes wholeheartedly after her mother (Miles) told her the story while they baked and sold moonpies. 

After her young passing, she and her father Pa-pa, (John Cho) take over running the moonpies business, but after a few years, he begins going out with Mrs. Zhong (Sandra Oh) and as it becomes more and more clear that she's staying, and bringing her own traditions to the moonpies, as well as her rambunctious son Chin (Robert G. Chiu) Fei Fei starts acting out. Eventually, her frustration and wanting things to be like they were, lead her to build her own spaceship to the Moon to find the aforementioned Moon Goddess. How, she manages this, I'm not entirely sure whether it's supposed to be literal or in her imagination, but obviously the metaphor is clear, it's a story about loss and grief, and I guess feel like there's been a few too many animated movies lately about loss and grief. 

I mean, I guess, the middle of a pandemic is as good a time as any for this theme to constantly come up in children's media, but I don't know. I'm not loving the recent entries in this genre. Even "Soul", which I liked a lot, kinda seems a little more like a strange curiosity then an actual effective movie in hindsight. Maybe it's just that the magical realism introduced into these film worlds just doesn't work as well for me as it does others. Fei Fei Voyage to the Moon is no Alice going through the looking glass in my mind. I also think it's just kinda odd how they introduce legends and myths into worlds like these like it would be better if they existed. To go back to "The Polar Express", one of the darker undercurrents of that film is that it's clear that not every kid who takes that trek to the North Pole, comes out of it with the Christmas spirit, and that even if one does come out with it at the moment, it could all be temporary. "Over the Moon", tries something similar at the end, going back to how Chang'e was a legend that they tell, but with the wink that she is real, but it feels like the movie is trying to have it both ways without really diving into the possibilities of what that means. I mean, a world with space lions and a world without space lions are very different from each other, you really to make a choice on that one. 

Oh, there's also an Olaf character in this, named Gobi (Ken Jeong). Hmmm, yeah.... that's not great. 

I'm still recommending this movie by the way, I know it sounds like a pan, but there is more then enough special in "Over the Moon" to watch it, and for Pearl Animation it is a vast improvement on "Abominable". The studio's first big project was "Kung Fu Panda 3", so they are, if nothing else, good at creating some amazing worlds and this is no different. The visuals are spectacular to look at at times, but I still hopefully that narratively we're in the primordial stage in their existence. They've got other projects in the pipeline so perhaps their next films will be better, but I still liked "Over the Moon", but I definitely feel like I'm waiting for the next great animated film to come and wake me up. 

ON THE ROCKS (2020) Director: Sofia Coppola


It's admittedly hard at first to not watch Bill Murray in a Sofia Coppola film and not constantly reflect on his character Bob Harris from Sofia's greatest film "Lost in Translation". It's like trying to think of Alfred Hitchcock and Janet Leigh and not think about "Psycho". (I would've said Hitchcock and 'Tippi' Hedren and "The Birds", but actually I think "Marnie" when I think of those two. HOT TAKE: "The Birds" is overrated; "Marnie" is underrated) It doesn't help that essentially, he's playing another, this time, literal father figure to a young woman in a struggling relationship going through an artistic ennui period, but you know, it's a Sofia Coppola movie, so it'd be weird if that wasn't what was in it. (Which is probably why I didn't care much for her remake of "The Beguiled")

I can see most vocal critics pouncing on this, otherwise fairly lightweight tale of hers. I get them, her characters come from privilege, their always concerned about or around fame, her characters seem to be drifting through life with less then a care in the world; people can point to her films and basically call them "Rich People's Problems". I get it, she's lucky as fuck. She's literally been famous since she was a baby, and this is, almost sitcomish-ly light for her, and yet, I don't mind. I think it's a good film, good story, told well, and does take some delightful shots at life in the upper class. It might feel like Nicole Holofcener at her least self-aware but it's made like Holofcener at her most self-aware, through Sofia's soft, romantic classic film filter of course. (Watch, tomorrow some idiot's gonna ask her about superhero movies and what she thinks of them.) 

Her stand-in character this time is Laura (Rashida Jones) a married with kids struggling stay-at-home writer who's quickly got growing concerns that her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) might be cheating on her. There's some obvious cliche pieces of evidence or lack of evidence, he's travelling a lot at work, he's started acting weird and strange, he's possibly deleted all his texts. He's not showing up for her birthday, he's not informing her in due manners about his work, or the fact that he's got sudden trips planned all the time. And on this latest one, he found a toiletry kit that apparently belonged to his co-worker Fiona (Jessica Henwick), who seems to be quite close to him whenever they're at work, or not at work. 

It's around when Laura's father Felix (Murray) inserts himself into the picture. He's always going on about something regarding the male's need to cheat and pursue more females through some analogy using the animal kingdom and how it all dates back to our roots in the fight for survival of the species. It's nothing new, but there is something delightful out of Murray saying it, and Laura's constant eyerolling reactions to it. He's some kind of famous art dealer who seems to know everybody from everywhere, and he comes into her world like he's some kind of James Bond-like figure with answer and solutions and gadgets and contacts for everything. She rarely, if ever actually confronts him on his bullshit, but the tension is always there as he cheated on her mother years earlier and is now taking the role of protector of his daughter from, well, every daughter's greatest fear, accidentally marrying their father. 

It's definitely cliche, but it's not a cliche I mind exploring. People do cheat and it's not like there isn't reason for suspicion. I won't reveal whether or not Felix and Laura are right about his cheating, but I will say that, perhaps one of the movie's weaknesses is that, there is a definitive answer revealed eventually. However, it's still dealt with in ways that, are a lot more observant and aware then perhaps we'd expect. Even if, that involves getting a sitter and jumping on a plane to Mexico with your father, in a truly foolhardy plan to, I guess catch him? Confront him? Something. 

Really, the search into her husband's affairs is just really an excuse to hang out and iron out some things that have been unsaid between Laura and her father. Not necessarily anger or resentment towards each other, they weren't exactly not hanging out or taken out of each other's lives, but things that were left unsaid, were constantly left unsaid and this was simply put, another time to try to get together and move onto a new chapter in their relationship. She is still busy with the kids at home and school, and having to deal with her regular day-to-day upper class homemaker hang-ups, relationship-related and otherwise, and he's still this iconic figure who can waltz in and out of peoples' lives on a whim and travel the world, and seems to be able to get out of a ticket by knowing the cop's father once upon a time. It must surely be weird being friends or related to someone, who does seem to know everyone else.... 

The aptly-titled "On the Rocks" is both a delight and a wonder. It's nice to see Coppola going back to her more comedic roots; people forget how funny her early films, including "Lost in Translation" truly were, and finding a new slice of life to explore, one that seems, not a remake of that aforementioned film that hangs over all her other films, but one that seems like a wonderous extension from it, to something that's both idyllic and yet progressive for her. It may just be a story of a wife fearing that her husband is cheating, but the way it's told, it's so much more impactful then just that. It's a tale of a woman trying to save two relationships that are both at points of difficulty and struggle, and we get to see how she manages to get through both of them. 

THE AUGUST VIRGIN (2020) Director: Jonas Trueba


I'm not normally one to peruse the review sections on IMDB, but I was scanning through the page for "The August Virgin" I did notice that one review by somebody calling themselves "hutradios" that I found particularly amusing, and I thought I'd just cut-and-paste it here: 

I want to warn all those who have not watched this movie yet to please avoid wasting more than 2 hours of your lives with this third-rate film. The plot is absurd (staying in your city in August, okay... Moving to another apartment just for the summer?), the situations are forced, the dialogues are unreal, the performances are poor, the tempo is inadequate (the film is way too slow)... The conversations are silly (they sound like teenagers going through their adolescent crisis more than grown 33 years old people discussing about real problems). Hard to tell where the movie is going (if it is going somewhere).
One could say that the film fails in every possible way. The worst movie I have seen in 2019 and (without a doubt) one of the worst of the decade. If the director were not the son of Fernando Trueba, this film would have never been released.

I do get the sense of how somebody writes a review like this; the only time I've ever posted on IMDB was for a positive review of a TV show that inevitably ended up canceled and it was my half-ass attempt to save it despite the critical and popular scorn it got. (For those really curious, it was for "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip", yes, I stand by it being a great under-appreciated show, no I do not think I will make that review canon.) But yeah, I think you're mostly either gonna get the really positive reviews from people who like something more then others, or like this, the really negative reviews from somebody who just can't believe anybody could like such a film. I kinda see his view, but yeah, I'm recommending "The August Virgin". 

It is, a bit odd, especially in America, but yes, tourist time in much of Europe is in the Summer, and that's when the locals, try to get away, so August in Madrid is one of those times. There is a summer vacation culture in America that's sorta equates to this, in certain areas of the country, but it's not the same. Especially not in my neck of the woods, Las Vegas, where all year is the time the tourists come, and we're all just servants to them. Vegas can really be a depressing place to live, but I think that's kinda why I related to "The August Virgin". That's a movie title that sounds like a coming-of-age story of an adolescent girl, but actually, it's a thirty-three-year old disillusioned young woman, who decides to just stay in Madrid for the Summer one year, instead of making her annual pilgrimage to the coast or something. 

This girl is Eva (Itsaso Arana), and yeah, I kinda relate to her. In fact, the more I think we're gonna to become job and work-obsessed and indoctrined the quicker and younger we get into adulthood, the more I think we're gonna see stories about young people in their thirties who are only now making decisions to try to explore the world outside their immediate vicinity for themselves. ([Sigh] God, I really do relate with this girl.) She, of course, thinks she's, in her own way, trying to get away and, find something else to her world, I guess. We don't know much about her, but she reminds me of the description of Scarlet Johansson's character from Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" in that, she's not sure what she wants, but she's very sure of what she doesn't want. I don't know if that description is accurate, but it does open up to her sense of adventure and curiosity of the world. 


Kinda. She's also kinda stuck up too. She still seems like she's stuck in that mid-college pretentious phase. Like, at one point, she visits a friend who's got a kid and she's clearly one of those single people who's talking a little too bluntly and unemotionally about it, in that just irksome enough way where you know she's gone a little too far, but she herself doesn't realize it, and the friend, while dealing with the little toddler, also can't explain to her why her unemotional observation is much more judgmental and pretentious then she may ever realize, until she has a kid, which she probably won't. We don't really know a lot about her; she basically drifts in and out of whatever she happens to be going on at the time. 

Sometimes she just finds nice time and places and people to hang out with, other times, she's just staying in, sleeping in. At one point, she's even just laying in a small pond after getting tossed into it by a flirty Brit that she and another friend she's with, and she just lays there, Benjamin Braddock-style for a few minutes. Yeah, this, there is something about modern adulthood and those who tend to delay jumping deep into, well, for-lack-of-a-better-word, "adulting" that relates well to Eva and this film. I'm not surprised that the filmmaker is a second generation director, Jonas Trueba. His father, Fernando Trueba, one of the better-known Spanish directors working today; I think of him and think his Oscar-nominated animated feature Chico & Rita, as well as his international breakthrough "Belle Epoque", but yes, this feels like the same kind of narrative I can easily see from other filmmakers who seem to have lived a life of comfort and spotlight and for them, seeking meaning and adventure in the meaningless of life is not only a constant struggle, but also a worthy topic of exploration. In other words, he's basically Spain's version of Sofia Coppola. 


You can say what you want about all the other critiques some give to her work as you say to Jonas Trueba's and to this film, but the thing is, this isn't just a rich people's problem or experience anymore; it's far more universal then people realize and that's why Coppola at her best is such a good filmmaker and Trueba is, well, he's okay. If Coppola's the standard A for this kind of film, then that means that Trueba, or at least, "The August Virgin", is a solid B- to me. Sorry to disagree with what's-his-name on IMDB, but no this film not the worst thing, in the same way that spending your August in Madrid isn't the worst thing either. 

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