Saturday, November 14, 2020

MOVIE REVIEWS #176: "STAR WARS: EPISODE IX-THE RISE OF SKYWALKER", "HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING", "DARK WATERS", "THE SOUVENIR", "THE WILD PEAR TREE", "A BUMP ALONG THE WAY", "THE MULE" and "TITO AND THE BIRDS"!

(Long deep sigh)

Well, I'm back to reviewing movies, sorta. Honestly, I'm taking it really slow these days. I mentioned this on my Facebook, but I contacted COVID-19 and spent about six days in the hospital because of it. I'm doing better, I'm still in quarantine in my own home, and I still have follow-up appointments to get through but I'm doing better. The medications have helped, and my symptoms are no longer so severe that I had to check myself into the hospital for them, which, if you know me, you know that I generally, just don't do that. Even after a couple days of tests and coughs that wouldn't stop and an inability to move well 'cause of a severely stiff neck, until they actually said I had tested positive, I was still halfway certain it was all in my head. Seriously, that's-, I don't know what that is, whatever the opposite of hypochondria is, but I just was convinced I was sleeping wrong or something minute like that and that once they adjusted my back or something that things would be better, but-eh, yeah, I'm one of the over a million people that have caught COVID-19 in America now. I'm still using an inhaler medication to help with my breathing periodically, and I've unfortunately had to take time off of my paying work job. They been good to me though, thankfully, and honestly I can't wait to get back to work ASAIC. 

I want to thank those at Henderson Hospital, the doctors and nurses that I hopefully didn't bother too much. They worked really hard and took good care of me at times when I really needed taken care of. I've even starting to change my diet a bit, 'cause of their recommendations. I'm taking things slow as I'm still sick, and transitioning to healthy, but this was the longest I've been in the hospital, ever I think. I've never had too many medical emergencies before so this was eye-opening and frightening. It was concerning for awhile too; I won't go into every detail, and I am by no means saying that mine was anywhere close to having the worst of COVID-19 experiences out there, but it definitely took me back.  

Obviously, movies haven't exactly at the forefront of my mind, but I did write some reviews and watch some movies. Some of those before I was hopsitalized, others afterwards. I didn't write a review for the documentary "Varda by Agnes", which I did watch, but I didn't have subtitles with it, but I was happy I found a copy at all, so I took it. It's what you expect, and it's pretty good. Basically it's just a filmed version of her in some kind of "Inside the Actors' Studio"-type setting, biopic/filmography of her life. She's made a few of these recently; I can't really tell which are the better ones or not. Unfortunately it'll be her last film as she passed away recently, one of the last links to the French New Wave that isn't a complete prick like Jean-Luc Godard. (Shrugs) 

Anyway, I need to heal, so let's get to the reviews I did manage to write this time around.  


STAR WARS: EPISODE IX-THE RISE OF SKYWALKER (2019) Director: J.J. Abrams

★★1/2


It's taken me years, but I've finally got it; I know what this franchise actually needs. It needs a new villain. The Empire, The Dark Side, I'm sick of them; in some ways, they genuinely suck and are boring as hell. It's been how many long long times ago, how many movies and it's all just, the Jedis vs. The Dark Side. No wonder in, even the good stuff in this franchise has just bored me to tears in recent years; I just do not care anymore. We keep expanding and reinventing and telling more and more stories within this universe, when frankly what this universe needs is, just something else to fight against. How about a movie where the Empire is defeated and we have to see the victors struggle to rebuild the universe and determine how to organize and control the universe from there? Why in this universe have we just insisted on keeping these keeping simplistic dull villains around? Yeah, they're evil, in a very generic and obvious manner and without any real explicit reason for this Empire to be so powerful other then the fact that they feel that those who have the magic power of the force means they don't have any actually responsibility to use those powers for good. 

I mean, they're still fucking batlling Emperor Palpatine!!!! (Ian McDiarmid) Look, maybe this is a hot take for everybody else, but I don't care about Palpatine. Sure he was a good villain in "Empire..." and "Jedi", but I've never thought of him as a truly compelling villain. He's not a villain I want to see destroyed; I just don't want to see him, period! In fact, I'm generally just having a hard time being attached emotionally to any of these characters to be honest. But yeah, Palpatine is apparently the Professor Moriarty from "Sherlock" villain in this world, where apparently he can pretty decisively die and still managed to build up the largest military empire the Universe has ever seen after hiding out for decades in some unknown uncharted areas of the universe?! This is fucking stupid; I dare say one of the stupidest things in this franchise, and that's saying something. 

So why's Palpatine's the big boss at the end- (Ugh, god I hate using video game metaphors for films) well, remember Rey? (Daisy Ridley) That new character we've been following, the one that I think went out to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in one of the previous films? I-eh think? I honestly don't remember myself to be honest, but apparently, she's related to Palpatine. So we got, the light and the dark with Palpatine's granddaughter, struggling with her decision to be on the Force's side despite being a Jedi master, and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) the son of Darth Vader, who's struggling with his emotional pull to the Dark Side, since he may, or may not want to be on the side of the Force.

Meanwhile everybody else and every other thing seems to come together for a final battle. 

I'm not gonna explain all of it; I couldn't if I tried anyway. At some point Princess Leia (The Late Carrie Fisher) passes away although we do get some footage of her. Basically everything and everyone comes together for this final battle while Ren and Kylo inevitably confront Palpatine. I do like that the Force's regime is led by a General Pryde played by Richard E. Grant. That's stupid, but still clever. What is not clever anymore is C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels). I don't know quite when or how this shit starting happening but I suspect that after "The Phantom Menace" and Jar Jar Binks became so despised and hated, that any of the idiotic and/or stupid plotpoints and dialogue that was probably intended to go to him, has since been going to C-3P0. Look, I get it, he's a machine and all, but I've felt this way since "Attack of the Clones" with C-3P0 and he is really annoying and idiotic here. 

I won't go into every detail, but basically everything get delayed and stymied for a few too many scenes because the solution to a problem relies on C-3P0 literally doing the one thing that he's, for some reason, not programmed to be able to do. He can do it, which is a translation from one banned language, and he does, but his programming bans him from revealing the translation to the team. I-eh, um...- WHAT!?!?! Anyway, eventually they figure out the obvious ways out of this, but it was so stupid to begin with that I don't even really know where to begin, other then I genuinely feel like this started as a joke that would've made sense for Jar Jar, in that he probably would be the one person who could actually do the thing that was needed, but nobody asked if he knew what to do for like six scenes, so he didn't say anything. 

I haven't read any reviews online, I do know that this movie didn't particular get well-received among the "Star Wars" fandom. Frankly, I don't care about that; I get why they would hate it, I'm panning it too, but apparently I'm one of the few people who thinks "Captain Marvel" is one of the best and most interesting superhero characters in the MCU, and she is, and her movie was very good, but you know I'm not a fan of "Star Wars" and I'm not a fan of what fans think. The real reason I'm panning this film is that, I just didn't care one way or another. And you can chalk that up to a lot of things. I think JJ Abrams directing and storytelling are questionable here; this does just feel like a rush job to try to force everything they've been (Finger quotes) "building up," for a few movies to finally come together, but even without that, "Star Wars" is just tiring and not special these days, and yeah,- I think most of it has to do with the fact that it's just not grown up much in the fifty or so years it's been around. Even "The Mandalorian" which I did see, and I liked, I mostly liked because the story was so strong that it reminded me of other films and stories outside the world of "Star Wars". It could've been a western, or a samurai story or something of that nature. Frankly, the fact that it was a "Star Wars" series was a hinderance on that show for me, and it's really a hinderance on this movie, and it's not that I don't like "Star Wars", it's that "Star Wars" hasn't really advanced beyond it's most basic and primitive narratives. Even when it's done well, like I've liked most of these newer renaissance of "Star Wars" movies, as I'm watching them, but afterwards, I struggle to remember what happened or why I should even care about them. 

I can't rise to hate or disgust, but it's, no pun intended, that the franchise has just forced an indifference on me with these films. There's so many of them now that I can't keep track of them or really have any reason to bother trying anymore. Is it good or bad? I don't really know? Probably not, but-eh (Shrugs), either way, I just want to move on.


HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (2018) Director: RaMell Ross

★★★


"Hale County This Morning, This Evening" earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature in 2018, making it the last film from that year of the nominees that I've seen, which means I can finally get around to doing my Top Ten Lists, finally, ([Sigh of relief] So glad that's finally finished for me.) and it's also one of those movie that ends right around the time that I think it was starting to get interesting. It's the debut feature by photographer RaMell Ross; I thought the name sounded familiar, which it was for me, but that's because I remembered him from when he played college basketball at Georgetown a couple decades. Since then, he became a Visual Arts professor who also teaches high school basketball. This movie, basically is a kaleidoscopic mosaic of, well, Hale County, as he moved down there in 2009, and lived for several years filming, most anything and everything it seems like. Whatever caught his eye and he creates a lyrical mosaic of life there. 

Where is Hale County? Well, it's suburban Alabama, population around 16,000; yes, it's named after the Confederate War General. It's not entirely a poor area, the northern part of the county is basically a suburb of Tuscaloosa, which is a college town, and therefore, a little more afluent, but most of it, feels like what you'd expect it to be, plus desolation and economic recession on top of that. I will say that it's always a little off-putting when you see decrepit towns on the outside, and then you cut to the inside of a high school, and you see young athletes shooting hoops on an otherwise pristine indoor basketball court or walking through a locker room. It's one of those weird contradictions, where on one hand, you're happy the school looks nice, conducive to learning and all, but the town surrounding it seems like it could be from another world. 

There's some repeating characters in the movie that we kinda follow, but the movie also in and out between random sequences, like musical performance and shots that barely rank higher then home movie footage. There are movies that are kinda like this that I can think of, um, Ron Fricke's documentaries like "Samsara" for instance, but his movies are worldscapes that dwell on the wonders of the universe. Actually the film that most came to mind was a documentary from few years back called "45365" after the zip code of the town that the film obversed. Even that was more of a general world view of the town, and the town wasn't so much a very poor area; in fact the point of that movie was that it was a typical modern Americana area, "Our Town" could've taken place in "45365". In that sense, yeah, "Hale County This Morning, This Evening" is better, but then there's the other big comparison which is the Frederick Wiseman films.

I rarely seem to get around to Wiseman's yearly films in time to review them either, but they're masterclasses  in cinema verite. Personally I usually only like the films of his that have a subject matter I like, but that's because he takes a subject and just shoots and shoots and shoots and shoots.... and then edits together what he finds into some kind of story and expression of, say the life of the New York Library system or my favorite, life at Berkeley college or some city or whatever. Ross is trying to do a few of these different things, and I think he was beginning to suck me in when the movie ended barely pass the 70 minute mark. I felt like there could've been more, but this could also just be an expression of what he experienced and saw and perhaps that is something that's somewhat incomplete, despite onhand for some unfortuante and disturbing aspects of life going on there. And maybe, he just saw enough as well before he had to move on? 

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie enough to recommend it, but I wondered if a more succinct story of modern-day Hale County, Alabama could've been told; the movie felt a little too short for me, but I did like what was there.


DARK WATERS (2019) Director: Todd Haynes

★★★★1/2




So, apparently if you bond enough carbon atoms together along with some of the right powerful flourides, you can basically kill half of West Virginia. That's not the only thing I learned from watching "Dark Waters", but I think that's an important thing to lead off with. It's a context that helps to explain, just how egregious the actions of DuPont Chemicals was and has been, and just how far they're polluted, us. Literally, us, the world. Those carbon atoms and flourides create stuff like, Teflon, which is not great. I mean, sure it could help fry your eggs, but breathing in some of the residue from it, can cause, well, several disturbing medical conditions, and apparently, the chemical is now, in us, through being dumped into water, or buried in landfills..., it's literally everywhere. Apparently, in autopsies, they're finding more and more of this compound, known under a few names in bodies. "Dark Waters" is the story about the lawyer, Rob Billott (Mark Ruffalo, who's making a career out of playing these kind of pro-justice workingman heroes) a former DuPont lawyer, who eventually switched sides and now is the main attorney fighting for those who's DuPont's hurt, and they've hurt a lot of people. 

And animals as well. Our introduction to him is through Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) a farmer who's cows have died out after they grazed on his brother's land. His brother, was a worker for DuPont, who got sick and died, and they eventually buried the chemicals under his land. The water started both killing the cows and making them crazy, and made both him and his wife Sandra (Denise Dal Vera) sick. Bill works in Cincinnati, far from his family's home in small town West Virginia, but eventually he and his firm take their case and this hurts their reputation at first, but the more he digs through, the more he finds. 

I mentioned Larry Kramer 'cause Ruffalo has been as much of an activist as anything else these days. Ruffalo played a version of him in the TV movie "The Normal Heart", which was based on one of his plays and ever since then, between sporadic gigs as the Hulk, he's been defining his late period acting persona for these activist roles. Not always in the biggest movies or roles, but I can't think of any actor who's straining to do as much good in the world right now as he's been through his role choices, most notably before this in Tom McCarthy's oscar-winning masterpiece "Spotlight". I was reminded of this as we watch Ruffalo, in what's genuinely a rare leading role for him take this to go through what's generally a pretty expected and somewhat cliche character of a normal guy who takes up an extraordinary case against a big corporation and it takes over his life. He has the frustrated family, including his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway), the uphill climb at work, represented most by the firm's leading partners Tom Terp (Tim Robbins) and Harry Deitzler (Bill Pullman) and against the corrupt company he's fighting against that he once worked for, represented by Phil Donnelly (Victor Garber), a DuPont executive and former friend. 

The beats are all there essentially, and I'd be hard-pressed to explain exactly why this movie is different and better then most of the others like it. The only other movie that comes to my mind that seems comparable to this film is Steven Zaillian's underrated masterpiece, "A Civil Action". That's the movie with this story that most lawyers will tell you as being the most frustrating and accurate when it comes to the so-called little guy trying to win class action cases against major corporations, especially when they poison entire areas. It's an endless, money-draining battle that usually ultimately leads to some kind of civil payment action that, often in this case never seems to be enough to get actual justice. This one isn't that, clinical; in fact I prefer "Dark Waters" because it's not just a case, it's how Phil Billott eventually got his eyes open and the fact that he continues to fight and care for those effected by this act of environmental negligence from DuPont. Ruffalo's is more the right guy for this kind of role then Travolta is, arguably he might be the most right guy for these kinds of roles then any other actor in history. I'm talking more about him then anybody else 'cause this really is his baby; he's not only starring, but is one of the producers and he's the bought the rights to the New York Times story and got the gears rolling on making this, and it's a damn good film like this. 

In fact, the strange thing for me, is that this was directed by Todd Haynes of all people. Haynes to me, is the period drama guy who tells beautiful female-led period pieces like "Far From Heaven" and "Carol", telling melodramatic stories of women having their sexuality challenged and the struggles of them exploring their desires and urges in a world that rejects them. He's definitely made other films too, like the experimental biopic "I'm Not There" where several different actors played variations of Bob Dylan; my point is still that he's one of the last people I would've expected for such a unusual straight-forward based on a true story modern narrative feature. That's probably why it's strikes such a different tone. The movie does tend to stray from some of the conventions, a bit, but more then that, it usually finds some ways to refocus the beats enough to feel different, like how this movie isn't based around courtroom scenes. There's a couple, but there's not a grand trial, there's several, and the focus is often on much of the stuff that goes on before and after the trials, like how in order for DuPont to fulfill their promise after one deal is struck, there's a requirement of waiting for an independent science panel to prove DuPont's negligence caused the illnesses of the townsfolks, and how he found they so many samples that it took seven years for the scientists to actually finish it, and that left the tonwsfolks waiting, often while they were dying off. That's an interesting kind of drama that a hack storyteller in Hollywood might've skipped over to get to the more traditional narrative conflicts, but Haynes along with the wonderful screenplay Mario Carrera and Matthew Michael Carnahan decides to focus on that instead, and other more obtuse angles to the story. 

"Dark Waters" is a really sharp achievement; it's one of the rare times this kind of narrative doesn't just fascinate you for the history documentation but for finds a way to get you emotionally pulled into the characters in ways that you just don't see done that well too often. 


THE SOUVENIR (2019) Director: Joanna Hogg

★★★


I'm not entirely certain what to make of "The Souvenir" to be honest. I guess, it's a better title, "My Adventures in Film School Dating an Abusive Heroin Addict"? I hate to be trivial about it, it seems to very much be autobiography for it's filmmaker, Joanna Hogg, who I will not confusing with Joanna Froggatt even though Hogg is a British indy avant-garde director and Joanna Froggatt is an most known for "Downton Abbey". That's neither here nor there. Anyway, I've only previously seen one of Hogg's earlier films, "Exhibition" which was a strange meditation on art and the artist as well, dealing with a home that's for sale that's also up as a performance piece, essentially. Despite some naval-gazing, I liked it despite myself. "The Souvenir" is more personal and also more interesting on the surface, but it's also more predictable. 

Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) is the art student who's intent on making a film about a family in Sunderland. (Shrugs) Okay, Sunderland. Anyway, the manipulative asshole junkie boyfriend is Anthony (Tom Burke). He's a-, well, there's not much to him. He does some pretty shitty stuff. The normal stuff, lies, cheats, steals. He's an addict and she's just naive enough to not know it. Her mother (Tilda Swinton, Honor's actual mother btw.) catches it pretty quickly. He works in a foreign affairs office, so that allows him to travel, but he does have an impact on Julie's life and work too. He's the kind of horrible boyfriend who just seems to be likable enough that the girlfriend just seeps into his world and force her to change herself enough. Like, she stops showing up for class regularly, and she's stuck at home to please him while he's out getting and doing god knows what. 

It's kinda difficult to watch, not because its unrealistic but because it's just so familiar. I get why somebody would make a film this personal, there's usually that one bad relationship that's too important not to document in some way, but also just still bad in a lot of way. To me, the best film like this is Lone Scherfig's "An Education", and it's still easily the best. "The Souvenir" is okay in that meandering art film kinda way. I'm not sure I want a sequel, which we're getting apparently. I mean, I guess there could be like an "Oliver's Story" kinda thing here. The title btw, is actually a reference to a painting that Julie an Anthony saw together and they had a disagreement over. (Shrugs) I could come up with clever things to have the title make sense, but eh, I don't feel like picking on this film too much honestly. There's a scene where a friend of hers, Jack (Jack McMullen) asks about her absense and we  see her finally pick herself up and rejoin the world after she finally leaves him for good, and I like that scene. It's painful in it's truthfulness, not only in how she gets back, but also in how she doesn't reveal all the information, even though he'd like to know more, and would genuinely like to know and help. Well, he believes he does anyway.


THE WILD PEAR TREE (2019) Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan  

★★1/2


Turkey is not a country I generally don't think of much on the world cinema stage. John Oliver had a good joke about Turkey awhile back calling it, "That country that's bigger then you think it is." Which, it is. It's big enough that you're actually somewhat surprised how little the influence the country's had over most of the rest of the world. It's definitely got influence over the Muslim world, but they've been fairly insular for the most part otherwise. That doesn't mean they don't produce great films and filmmakers, but-eh, they're not always at the tip of the tongues of even the biggest world cinema experts. One of those filmmakers that might get mentioned as a great Turkish filmmaker is Nuri Bilge Ceylan. I can't necessarily disagree; I haven't seen all his film, but I'm looking back to my review of "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" which I liked a lot because while it was this slow, plodding movie, it had a cool premise at the center of it. That was the first film of Ceylan's that I had seen, and I was impressed but I wasn't enraptured with him. I was less impressed with "Winter Sleep", his previous feature, which I panned outright despite a lot of people apparently praising that film. I still think "Winter Sleep" was just a bad use of his narrative approach; I've been told some of his earlier films like "Climates" are masterpieces; I'll probably get to them at some point, but "The Wild Pear Tree" was the first time where I was just sick and tired of this style of film outright.

Perhaps this just doesn't translate to me; maybe in Turkey, this kind of film/storytelling isn't inherently bad and it's cultural significance just goes over my head. Ceylan's made good sprawling, pacing parables that intrigue and delight me, but... (Sigh) I mean, this one's just...- ugh. It's about this college kid named Sinan (Dogu Demirkol) who's coming back to his hometown, Can, which is a small town in the Marmara which is the Northwest part of the country, which normally I think of as Istanbul, but this is one of the rare, small towns in the area. It's a small working class town, and he goes around talking to old friends and relatives, somewhat to catch up on what they've been doing, mostly he's looking for, um, people to give him some money in order to publish a book he wrote. 

(Sigh) 

Look, maybe this wasn't predictable to some, but-eh, take it from me, friends and family are probably the last ones who will invest in you, especially if they don't have money. Like, I don't know what his thought process was here. I mean, I get it, it's the clash of cultures that everybody in college inevitably goes through when they truly start learning about the world, but like, sometimes people are just, truly unaware, you know? Anyway, what he does find out is that his family is actually worst off then they realized as it turns out his father Idris (Murat Cemcir) has been gambling away the family's fortune. Well, not fortune, but they were relatively well-off before, and now they're, well, not. 

Also, there's this thing about the father struggling to dig himse;f a well. I think this is supposed to be this quixotic quest that the father invests in, but I actually kinda think wells are fairly useful things to have and build, so, eh, maybe it's just a bad place for it or something. Eventually the father leaves the family, the son sells his dad's dog to get his novel published, and then, after a couple years of mandatory military service, he finds him working as a rural shepherd. I'm not sure what to make of this; I'm sure it's symbolic in some way, but I just didn't care.

I'm sorry, but like there are films about the kid coming home from college and seeing his expectation not met or undermined, and finding out things about his family that he didn't know, and there's several ways to go about telling that story, but this just wasn't a good way to go about it. I don't think it's the best use of Ceylon's style of filmmaking. This was torturous and boring to sit through. You need something way more unique and compelling at it's core in order to pull this off, and his last couple films, I just don't think he has, and it's starting to bug me. I'll concede that I might be missing some deeper meanings that go over my head due to being a little more unaware of the regional motifs of the places of the stories he's telling, but you know, I can overcome those deficiencies if there is some entry into a filmmaker's work that's compelling me to try to understand more, but his last couple movies have just made me want to seriously think about cutting myself again. 


A BUMP ALONG THE WAY (2019) Director: Shelley Love

★★★




I'm debating whether to even write a review of this one. I mean, it's technically not released in the U.S. yet, that's one reason, but nothing's being released technically anymore, so... the other hand is that, eh, I just don't think there's much to talk about with "A Bump Along the Way". It's a Northern Ireland film, Derry to be specific, which I'm told is slightly popular in America right now due to a series on Netflix called "Derry Girls" (Shrugs) Okay, I'll check it out sometime I guess. 

In the meantime, "A Bump Along the Way" is a cute little movie about a struggling single mother, Pamela, (Bronagh Gallagher) to an outcast teenage daughter, Allegra (Lola Petticrew). This alone, would be interesting enough, but the movie then takes a turn when Pamela unexpectedly gets pregnant in her mid-40s. A "geriatric pregnancy" it's called by her OBGYN. She's not a particularly great mother to begin with necessarily; the father is a one-night stand with a plumber nearly half her age named Barry (Andy Doherty) who acts the way you expect deadbeats to expect in movies like these. He's slightly less annoying then Allegra's father, Kieran (Gerard Jordan) who's at least willing to be around enough to defend himself against claims of not being there for her daughter, even though, he's pretty shitty too. 

I honestly mostly chalked this up to the script being fairly generic, despite the interesting conceit of a single mother being pregnant while raising a teenage daughter, which starts out strong, but kinda gets less interesting as it rolls along, but Variety's review by Guy Lodge makes a good point about how the movie shows how women are often and usually judged far more harshly for imperfect behavior, and often by other women. The daughter, is judgmental of her mother, who she's at that age where she's mouthing off to her for everything anyway, but she's often judge by the mean girls at school for her mother, and her actions as well. Some students like her mother as they see her at the bakery she works at part-time, but that only infuriates her more at the moment. And yeah, I get it, if you're growing up and all you see are your parents struggling to just provide anything, it can be annoying. You expect to be, not have everything great, but that realization that your parents probably aren't put together or doing well-off themselves, that's a tough one to accept, at any irritable age, and throw in an unplanned pregnancy on top of that....

I think the movie does indeed back away from really exploring these issues, the second half of the film, I kinda skimmed over; it's basically a slightly less funny, "My Big Fat Geriatric Pregnancy", but I kinda see why they did that too. My brother's five years younger then me, and the thing I most remember about my mom's pregnancy was wanting to jump on her and give her a hug and sit on her lap, but I wasn't allowed to, and even that just felt like I was being defeated. But, you get over those kind of feelings; I wouldn't expect this movie to have the two leads still fighting and getting into a shouting match as the mother goes into labor. Hell, I was happy that they both didn't become pregnant at the same time. I guess that makes the movie both unpredictable and realistic. 

(Shrugs)

It's the first feature directed by Shelley Love, and she herself had a later pregnancy, so I guess I'll recommend the movie for being compelling on that level, but I do wonder if more could've been done here narratively. I like the first half better then the second, but it's a nice little movie with a good slice-of-life premise.  


THE MULE (2018) Director: Clint Eastwood
 
★★


Before writing this review, I went back to re-read my review of the last Clint Eastwood film I watched, "Richard Jewell", his biopic about the falsely-accused Atlanta Olympic bomber. I wrote about one of Eastwood's recent obsessions, sudden fame. I panned that film, I don't regret that, there was a lot to pan, and I don't feel regretful about panning "The Mule", which seems to have the opposite problem, there's not much here at all to talk about. With "Richard Jewell", Eastwood was taking his half-ass shot at political commentary through one of his most interesting recent subject, sudden fame. "The Mule" deals mostly with his other most recent, prominent subject, and some varient of Eastwood's the old man who's old ways are passing him by. He's been telling some varient of that narrative for awhile, but it used to be compelling or interesting, or have some take on the subject. 

On paper, "The Mule" should have an interesting take on it too, Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a 90-year-old horticulturalist who takes a job as a drug mule for a Mexican cartel. How does this happen? Well, fairly easily actually. He has a fight with his long-abandoned family over something and while his longtime ex-wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) runs off the pointless exposition about him, and then he gets a job offer. He's broke and losing his home, so he decides to take it. 

And, he's successful for awhile. The cartel leader, Laton (Andy Garcia) like Earl and as he gives him more and more drugs to transfer, he sends some presence to watch over him, but meanwhile, the DEA, represented by Agent Bates and Trevino (Bradley Cooper and Michael Pena) are zeroing in on Earl, although they're not exactly looking for a nonagenarian drug mule, so there's some tension there. Mostly, it's an excuse to see Earl talking with several people he runs into on the road, and in very cliche ways. Sometimes troublingly so as well. 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that "The Mule" is basically just, "Unforgiven", but without any of the narrative subtext of the death of the western genre that movie entails. An aged bad guy, granted this guy's sins are mostly just annoying his family enough to complain about his presense or lack thereof depending on what the situation is they're mad at him about, and he's traveling a long way on a job, mostly for money. Change horses to a pick-up truck and change hitman to drug mule, and narratively you basically have the same story. That said, "The Mule" isn't an interesting modern day western or anything, it's just an old man not understanding the modern ways and then stumbling his way through the world any way. He's knowledgeable and wise, 'cause it's Eastwood; he's still that paceful, slow old rough hand who speaks softly but carries a big stick, and knows all the angles, but you care a lot less in this one. He's not the iconic Eastwood in this movie, and he hasn't been in awhile. Perhaps that's a problem that maybe only I have, but a better script or movie might've helped. There's no real sense that "The Mule" is some last gasp of a great, or even a fragile, frailed old man; he's just this old man who takes an inevitable job. Oddly, the portrayal of the cartel seems the least realistic of anything in the movie; he's an old man who clearly is one of the last people the police would consider as a mule, who would they be so concerned or focused on him so much? Perhaps this feels that way to some, but I'd argue that might only because it's Eastwood playing him and we're bringing whatever remnants of the Eastwood persona that still resonates in our consciousness into that performance. Personally, I think the story should be and really is, more basic and generic then the films wants us to to think it is. I mean, his big redemption arc regaining the love of a family that he still doesn't care enough about to not go traveling around the country at work; why even care about them if they don't care about him?! 

"The Mule" is worst then Eastwood on his own old-man tangents to make some now-outdated point, it's Eastwood on autopilot on his old-man tangents that don't even try to make a real point. It is admittedly impressive that Eastwood, in his '90s now, is this old and is still making movies, but frankly his movies are becoming less and less impressive the more he makes these days.


TITO AND THE BIRDS (2018) Director: Gustavo Steinberg; Co-Directors: Gabriel Bitar and Andre Catoto    

★★★


I suspect Brazilian cinema is gonna be particularly interesting in the next few years. Brazil's been going through, well several national issues involving a corrupt government and some extreme right-wing ideologues who've taken power. I don't know what's happened there lately or now or will happen in the future, but cinema from the country's definitely gonna be interesting. This movie for instance, an animated feature called "Tito and the Birds" definitely feels like a very basic metaphor that needs to be told to both a youth of a country in peril and under the thumb of a very erratic and irresponsible dictator who spreads hatred and fear. (Sigh) Boy, I know that feeling.

Anyway, Tito (Pedro Henrique) is a young inventor who's father Rufos (Matheas Nachtergaele) who's spent his years working on an invention that can communicate and harnest the power of birds, who he believes can be used as messengers. It's not working out terribly well at first. Eventually, Rufus is kicked out of his home, but continues to work on the project. 

Meanwhile, a pandemic ensues that's created by the climate of fear that's produced by the uber-rich supervillain and now, Tito and his friends have to seek out his father's invention, 'cause the birds power can indeed, combat the pandemic and eradicate the fear that's literally turning people into stones. 
Obviously, the parables speak to me. The animation is an interestion style that reminds me of water colors, similar in a way to "Loving Vincent", but with the multidimensional cell look that's both surreal but familiar. I don't know much about the directing team behind the film, or for that matter much about Brazilian animation, so I'm not really sure what to compare the film to, but I suspect many of the movies that'll begin to trickle in from the country to us are gonna similar political parable themes, whether it's a little kids fantasy like this, or something more adult and serious, assuming they're going to be allowed to make the kinds of films that some of the great Brazilian filmmakers have typically been allowed to make. As to this movie, I don't really know quite what to make of it. The idea is so weird and the animation is so effervescent and enriching that I found it appealling to look at if nothing else. It might not be the more complex narrative, albeit it's not an unoriginal one, but it's a movie I enjoyed immensley and definitely felt timely. This was made in 2018; I don't think they projected an actual pandemic would enrapture us, and having recently become one of the numerous statistcs that I keep watching grow on the CNN byline that I haven't been able to stop watching since the election last week, "Tito and the Birds" felt particularly illuminating for me. I might've enjoyed it more narratively if I were a kid, but it got me thinking as an adult at least. Mostly about the world that we live in that would unfortunately make a movie like "Tito and the Birds", but that's thinking nonetheless.  

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