DA 5 BLOODS (2020) Director: Spike Lee
Wednesday, January 20, 2021
MOVIE REVIEWS #178: "DA 5 BLOODS", "CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION", "CORPUS CHRISTI", "JUST MERCY", "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT", "DIANE (Jones)", "OFFICIAL SECRETS", "GENESE (aka GENESIS)", "EXTRA ORDINARY" and "CRAWL"!
Oh, it's a new day, yes it is. It's the last hours of the Trump administration as I'm writing this and everyone sane is excited. Thank fucking Christ too. These last four years have just been, the worst. And we're gonna be feeling the effects of Trump's incompetence and corruption for years to come, and not just in the fact that white supremacists are still around, 'cause they've really fucked everything up; we're gonna be struggling to fix so much that's been systematically and maniacally broken.
(Sigh) Well, we've got a long way to go, and a short time to get there, but it's nice to feel like we're on the right road for once, again. As to me, I've been catching up on a lot of TV shows and movies. I've got a lot of those to get through, mostly I've been watching those cult documentaries on HBO Max honestly. I watched "The Vow' and "Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults", . I actually liked that new "Harley Quinn" animated series a lot, even if it was a little too insider, and they really make Commissioner Gordon seem like a schmuck. I always finished "Carmen Sandiego", that was intense, but great! I finished the latest season of "The Crown", that was frustrating honestly.
I also watched a lot of other films that I'm not reviewing here, like the "Tiger" documentary on HBO, that was good. As was the Bee Gees's documentary they had; "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart", that was sad and touching, and a great reminded of just how much great music they've made.
I also got around to "Small Axe" Steve McQueen's five-movie collection of West Indies immigrants in London. It's gotten some love from several critics group since each movie had screened separately at film festivals before being combined for the Amazon miniseries, I get why, but I think it's a miniseries, not a movie. Also, I'm not sure why everyone loves "Lovers Rock" among those films, that was the one I found the least interesting of the group of films. If I have to rank them, I'd probably say "Education" was my favorite, but the other three were just as good, but I thought "Lovers Rock" was kinda boring and forgettable. The music was good, but yeah, I like the others better. Still, this is a great series; reminds me of "The Decalogue" and anything that reminds me of that is a must-watch.
Anyway, I think that's everything I've been going through. I'm finally healthy also btw. Well, I'm not healthy-healthy, but I finally tested negative for COVID-10, so yeah, me! Alright, let's get to the reviews!
DA 5 BLOODS (2020) Director: Spike Lee
I once said that Spike Lee is one of the few directors whose bad movies I'll happily sit through. That's absolutely true, and I have; Spike is always a fascinating director, but I gotta confess he isn't always great; that said though, when I said that statement, I had a particular film in mind, "Miracle at St. Anna". It was the first time he made a war movie, and it's interesting. It's an interesting failure. It's a mess of a narrative that seems to have flashbacks within flashbacks that get so lost in its ideas that you forget about the absurdity of the main narrative, which involved a modern-day murder that seemed to harken back to actions during World War II. He had a weird fascination with having then-modern films have recalls back to WWII back then, which was a bit odd 'cause it made half his characters seem like they must've been decades older then they look; I heard "Inside Man", one of his rare big-budget studio films had that weird dynamic. Oddly that's one I haven't seen yet..., but he's had other films that had some similar ideas about time as well; his remake of "Oldboy" comes to mind, and I think after watching "Da 5 Bloods", I finally got it. I always wondered why he framed past wars in the present in some manner; I didn't think it worked with "Miracle at St. Anna", but it was interesting, and it makes much more sense here, 'cause the fact is that, history is a study of slow, incrimental change, and the past always has a greater impact on the presence then we realize. We're getting a lot of that realization beaten over-the-head in light of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the Trump's Insurrection last week; these events don't happen in a vacuum, and Spike Lee knows that. And wars are like that as well, so yeah, war stories should be framed that way as well.
And that's where we meet "Da 5 Bloods", four surviving African-American Vietnam Vets who have returned to Vietnam today. Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) are apparently on an approved assignment to go back to Vietnam after possible remains of their fallen leader of the squad, Stormin' Norman (Chadwick Boseman). The plan is somewhat funded through a Frenchman Desroche (Jean Reno), who they connect with through an old Vietnam acquaintance of Otis named Tien (Le Y Lan)
Paul's son David (Jonathan Majors) is also tagging along, worried about his father, who's been suffering nightmares, and has become a Trump supporter, complete with a MAGA hat that he wears backwards as the five head out into the jungle, lead by a local travel guide Vinh Tran (Johnny Tri Nguyen). They also run into a trio of members of a charitable group devoted to land mines, Hedy (Melanie Thierry), who David tried to hit on at first, as well as Simon (Paul Walter Hauser) and Seppo (Jasper Pakkonen). The thing is, the Bloods aren't just there to find and return their fallen comrade to the States.
They're also out there to collect, gold. Yeah, despite everything about this being a war movie technically it's much more direct influence is John Huston's great film "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", a movie, that I've written on here before, but I guess I haven't.... I could've swore I did, but... hmm, I guess I didn't. (Note-to-self....) It even quotes the movies most famous line at one point, at a similar point in the story in fact.
The movie gets harrowing and predictable, and yet, unpredictable as the group slithers deeper into the jungle and things get more and more out-of-control and more people get thrown onto the pile of just how fucked up a situation they're in. More gets brought up about each of their pasts and why and how they got back to this place. How we got here. Spike Lee, like I said, always places the wars of the past in a greater, modern context. And a greater context of African-Americans having to fight in America's wars at higher rates then others, fighting and dying. And living, and what happens after that. Oddly, I think I actually prefer Paul's decent into gold fever madness more then I like old Bogie's Fred C. Dobbs character's decent, 'cause as much as I like "...Sierra Madre", I always felt a bit like that came out of nowhere, and just seemed to be an arbitrary plot addition. Here though, it's setup and well-earned, it's fifty years of going mad, silently, culminating in this one complex attempt at getting the gold, colliding with the horrors that that gold cost him years earlier.
"Da 5 Bloods" is probably not among Lee's very best, but its a strong second-tier Lee, and homage both the classics of cinema that Lee's a student of, and his more quintessential stylized approaches that we just expect from him now. Like I said, even his bad films I can sit through and be engrossed in, and this is still a damn good film. It's a classic idea, told in Lee's unique and original way, and it's one of his very best, and whatever your thoughts on the film, you're not going to leave the movie feeling unfulfilled.
CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION (2020) Directors: James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham
I think one of the things that I think conveniently often gets forgotten is how so much of the modern world that we know today, genuinely had to be fought for. It seems unbelievable that, all the way to my lifetime, we didn't have requirements for all buildings and properties to have handicap accessibility. It sounds and nowadays feels like something that should've just automatically existed, but like all Civil Rights laws seem to be, it wasn't an overnight revolution; it took decades of advancements, setbacks, protests, and surprisingly, most of it began, at, camp.
Camp Jened to be exact. The movie begin with an introduction from the film's writer/director James Lebrecht a noted sound designer in the L.A. theater scene, and one of the participants in the camp. It was essentially a summer camp for the handicapped, but this was in the early '70s and basically it became a summer-long woodstock for the majority of them, which was badly needed for a bunch of teenage disabled kids, going through their hormonal urges and little normal interaction with kids their age, much less kids with other disabilities, this was an important place for them. It's pretty normal now for kids these days, but back then they often weren't allowed in public schools since they didn't always have a program for them, and the ones that did weren't always great. That was also often the best case scenario. The movie shows highlights of Geraldo Rivera's infamous Willowwood expose, one of the few good things Geraldo was involved with... Willowwood was an understaff and bad-conditioned home for "retarded" kids; a lot of them based on the footage, I highly suspect may have misdiagnosed autistics; just trust me on that one; I can tell, and some probably had many other conditions.
The first half of the movie is often about the camp and the people involved and who were there, and it's a direct line from there to the beginning of the Disabled Rights movements. Nixon vetoing the first bill after declaring it would be too expensive.
Once it finally was passed, it wasn't implemented, and they had to sit-in protest outside Joe Califano's office in San Francisco, he was Carter's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfarem and frankly his behavior was just obnoxious in hindsight. It literally took an electricians strike at ABC of all things in order for him to reverse his decision and authorize the law! And even that was only for federal buildings, and not private proterties and businesses.
It's so bizarre how strange this was. I know, hindsight is 20/20, but its amazing what they had to do. "Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution" basically documents that struggle from the beginnings at this camp to modern times, where it's generally accepted that there's ramps around every building and things are designed specifically for accessibility for the disabled. It's a pretty fun documentary as well, 'cause more then anything else, it shows the growth we and they made as accepting them as human beings. It's sounds like such a stupid and miniscule achievement when you say it out loud, but that's what it is. They had to fight to be accepted because they weren't.
CORPUS CHRISTI (2019) Director: Jan Komasa
Admittedly, being American, when I hear the term, "Corpus Christi", I'm half-expecting a movie about the coastal Texas city that I think of as being the home to the late Tejano superstar Selena. (I grew up in the '90s.) I think the term is actually just the Latin phrase for-eh, "The Body fo Christ", and usually "Dead Body of Christ", but it's also the name of a Feast in Christianity, celebrated in June in commemoration of God's turning of water into wine. It's got a lot of other connontations, and a lot of them are examined here.
"Corpus Christi", which earned an Oscar nomination last year for Best
Foreign International Feature, ([Sigh] I feel like I'm never getting used to that) is a clever little, dramedy about a recently-released juvenile convict, who was released from the detention center at age 20 to go out into the world. Daniel (Bertosz Bielenia) has a job lined up at a sawmill in a local town, but he also, through the help of the prison chaplain, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat) he's become a converted Christian and wants to join the clergy. This is apparently impossible given his record. Anyway, before he goes to work, he ends up going to church, and through a clever enough lie, ends up going convincing the parish that he's the new priest that's come. He, has a collar on him, so, he goes with it.
This is a funny premise, and the idea of seeing this quiet but unconventional young man trying to BS his way through seeming like a priest, and then becoming quite a popular priest, is a good starting point for a lot of different kinds of movies. This one, takes a more introspective and somber approach. The townspeople, especially the youth, who are all similar-in-age to Daniel are dealing with a strange car accident that left a lot of them dead. He particularly gets close to Marta (Eliza Rycembel) after getting caught in the middle of the town's conflict over whether or not one of the victims of the accident, an older gentlemen who died in his car alone and appears to have been impaired while driving, should be buried in the same cemetary as his six teenage victims, an issue that's divided the town and the church for months.
Daniel's an interesting character. I was trying to think of any other particular film with this kind of narrative about somebody who dives into intricacies of the church without properly being apart of the church in a traditional manner, but most of those movies were more straight-forward comedy; they essentially used religion and faith as the punchline. Daniel is that rare imposter who's striving to not only be genuine but faithful. He struggles, although his non-traditional approaches to preaching as well as the actions that are particularly unusual for a man of the cloth. It all does begin to crash down, but you feel sad for him; he tried to better his life and existence in a way that frankly more people and criminals like him should, but society brings him down. Perhaps he does keep the faith. To paraphrase St. Augustine, Daniel probably wishes that God make him good, but not quite yet.
I enjoyed "Corpus Christi", but I think I like the idea of it, more then the film itself. Directed by Jan Komasa, who's work I'm not familiar with until now, I worry that he might be too subtle with some of the implications of his ideas but I like that he has them and gave me a movie to actually think about.
JUST MERCY (2019) Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Near the end of "Just Mercy", Bryan Anderson (Michael B. Jordan) the "big city" Harvard lawyer who came down to Monroeville, Alabama, and talks about how, a few miles from where they're standing were some of the worst crimes against humanity, ever. It's a place where slaves were brought in and traded. African-Americans were lynched; the Ku Klux Klan ran the town. He's seeing how ingrained the town is in racist past. It's not a new observation with these sort of southern small towns in movies like these about blatant miscarriages of justice, that yes, usually involve racism, however, if the town's name, rings a little bit of a bell for you, it's probably because it's the hometown of Harper Lee, and it's town that "To Kill a Mockingbird' is based on and their biggest tourist attraction is a Mockingbird Museum dedicated to the book, which the locals often note as being one of the country's greatest monuments to Civil Rights. I'm sure it's great, of course, but with all do respect to Harper Lee; there's a certain amount of irony, that we'd probably call either twisted or sardonic if it wasn't just outright sick and disturbing, in the fact that this town's idea of an idealized Civil Rights hero, is a white lawyer that didn't even win his case, and who's client was, summarily executed despite being innocent.
(By the way, in case I never have a chance to bring this topic up again, but "To Kill a Mockingbird" has always been a little bit overrated; I can't be the only one who thought that even before we found out Atticus Finch used to be a Klansman. It's still pretty damn good, but hmmmmm, I think it's time for a slight re-evaluation of that work's greatness. [Oh while we're at it, now that it's in public domain, can we finally admit that "The Great Gatsby" is really isn't "The Great American Novel" that it gets claimed; in fact its probably of Firtzgerald's weaker works....])
"Just Mercy" is an intense, sobering look at the early creation and beginning of the Equal Justice Initiative, the Montgomery-based non-profit and their goal of either getting innocent people off Death Row, which, there's way more people on Death Row who are innocent then people realize, but they also provide them the legal counsil for death row inmates trying to get their sentencing reverse to life in prison.
The movie, based on Stevenson's autobiography, tells his story of the institute's early days as well as the eventually freeing of Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx) an African-American man who spent decades on Death Row after being convicted of murdering a young eighteen-year-old white woman named Rhonda Morrison. The case was extremely flimsy, they had gone a year without an arrest and Sheriff Tate coersed a confession out of the main witness, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake-Nelson) a longtime criminal himself who was serving a life sentence at County Jail before he came forward with his admittance of lying on the stand, interesting, without making and deal for a shorter sentence. A new case was still rejected, despite that and more new evidence, including evidence that the police withheld from the original trial, including several statement that proved that McMillain wasn't anywhere near the woman, who he had never met, when she was killed, but the State Supreme Court eventually overturned the decision, forced a new trial, which didn't happen as the court concurred that with Stevenson's motion to drop the case for lack of evidence.
I just gave away the main story of the movie, sorry, SPOILERS, but the movie isn't about the result so much; I mean, it is, but it's more about the difficulties and challenges of both going through the Death Row system, whether one is guilty or innocent, and the struggles of trying to manipulate through a court system, especially local court systems, that, while perhaps based on supposedly unbias readings of the law on paper, in action are frankly completely bias, and often racist ejudications of justice lead to such regular occurrances as innocent men on Death Row. Innocent black men mostly, as well as black men, getting imprisoned regularly. Living in that more decrepit part of what can otherwise generously be called a "town". It's not that the law is the reason for the problem of the society around it, but society problems are definitely reflected in the law system is has, and death row itself is one of those problems.
There's a lot of statistics that reflect this; but beyond even the moral aspect which, yeah, it's immoral, basically for people to even be on Death Row, the evidence is often not as clear or flimsier then usual, 'cause if there was a lot more evidence, the defendant would probably settle for a reduced charge. Even when they're not innocent though.
The movie focuses in on other stories as well, like Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) a former Vietnam soldier suffering from severe PTSD who built a bomb that ended up killing a woman. He didn't intend to kill her, or anybody, but they show a lot of Stevenson's struggles trying to get him off death row, but those actions were even more futile. I tend to like movie about the struggles of the law, and this is no exception, and the intensity of the story and the fear and tone of the world; it reminded me, not so much of "To Kill a Mockingbird" as it does, "In the Heat of the Night" frankly. There's threats and phone calls, but it's a black lawyer from not around here trying to do what nobody else could and everybody who said they could had failed them before, and against a system, led by a young new D.A. Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall) who despite being a former defense attorney, was convinced enough to not pursue and fight the charge, mostly through being friends with the General who seem to mention how much the family of the victim was horrified.
We never do have a representative of the family in the movie, and not too many people who claim that they just don't want to bring up the incident. Honestly, writing this review in the middle of an attempted insurrection et. al. well, a lot of this sounds distressingly like white people trying to cover up their sins, in order to keep being allowed to make them.
As to the film, it was directed by Destin Daniel Crettin, the young filmmaker who made "Short Term 12" a few years back about the inner workings of a foster treatment center; that explain Brie Larson's appearance here as a supporting work as the EJI's co-founder Eva Ansley. The film is intense and nerve-racking; it's intent is to make us feel angre and frustration until we find some relief like many of these films. As to what puts it above other, the performances, especially Jamie Foxx's I think stand out. Michael B. Jordan's calm and quiet confidence while confronting the blatant systemic racism in the system. Like literally, there's simply just pure racist actions done, like having a doorman outside a public courtroom to block McMillan's family and other African-Americans from enterting until there were no seats in.
This movies takes place mostly in the eighties and nineties btw. It doesn't feel that dated though. "Just Mercy" is a really strong, albeit conventional film about the perils of our justice system that are still being fought today, documenting the birth of the modern anti-execution debate and process. It's properly more of an important film then a great one, but it is a damn good one.
BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (2019) Director: Gurinder Chadha
Boy, what to make of this movie. Well, I guess I got knock out the biggest elephant in the room, in that, I'm a huge Springsteen guy. I can't help it; my family's from Jersey, it's practically in my blood. I probably own my Springsteen albums then I do any other artist, and I listen to him more then I listen to most anybody else. "Born to Run" as far as I'm concerned, is the greatest song in rock'n'roll history, and in many ways, like the main character, Javed (Vivelk Kalra) in "Blinded by the Light", I was heavily-inspired by his music when I first came across him when I was, like, 12 or 6, however old I was, and for the most part, it hasn't really ended. So, on that note, I get it. I get exactly the kind of, inspiration emotional pull that Springsteen's music can have on people, especially people who seem to be stuck in the one-horse towns where even the horse seems dead.
Yet, is it a good idea to make a movie about someone being a huge Springsteen? Well, I'm not normally in favor of promoting fandom, even Springsteen fandom, but its not really fandom so much as cultural appropriation that the movie's about. Now that can also be troubling, but it's really more, how it's about that..., and that's also kinda cringy to be honest, but it's cringy in the same way that any cultural appreciation kinda is. especially with this film. It's one of those very well-wourn classic narrative, especially regarding cultural clashing like this, especially for stories about,- well the obvious go-to comp would be Bollywood, but Pakistani cinema and art is heavily influenced by that genre of film, the Asian Subcontinent region in general. The son, wants to do something against the wishes of their stringent parent, in this case, his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), who wants Javed to get a good job, while Javed wants to go off to college to be a writer. He's a Pakistani who's father moved them to Luton, England when he was young, and he's now a teenager in the midst of the Thatcherism England, and it feels like it, and it's apparently especially hard if you're a foreigner, which yeah, sounds right. Although apparently nobody listens to Bruce Springsteen in 1987, which I call bullshit on, 'cause that was the year he released "Tunnel of Love" and that hit #1 on the UK charts that year, but-, I digress, I get it. Bruce wasn't the hottest he'd been, and most people like his neighbor and best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) is a musician who's far more inspired by the new wave and post-new wave pop of the era, which he probably has a better claim to being of the moment, although he does trust Javed more with his lyrics, and protects him against some of the more racists thugs that populate this area of England at the time.
Anyway, it's through a fellow Pakistani student Roops (Aaron Phagura) that introduces Javed to The Boss and from there, Javed begins to get the inspiration and self-esteem to start standing up for himself and getting writing work for both the School paper and through the help of his English teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) among others in and outside his family. He even finally gets a girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams), and occasionally manages to get the entire to break out in a musical dance number to "Born to Run", oddly, and all the while the family is struggling to get by and his father struggles for work after getting laid off.
It's fairly predictable from here, but there is something inspiring about seeing something in another culture that's essentially rejected in another, and that embracing of other opportunities that don't seem presented to themselves in their own upbringing can be enticing, and in many ways, it's a critical progressive aspect to this modern world. That something that Gurinder Chadra understands; you might remember her as the Kenya-born British-Indian filmmaker who most famously made "Bend It Like Beckham", another movie about somebody defying several layers of societal and familial culture to try to achieve a dream, in that case, a young Sikh woman who wanted to pursue professional futbol, back when that was a thing in America strangely enough but not really an accepted thing in the UK or much of Europe back then. She's made other cross-cultural fairy tales, my favorite being "Bride & Prejudice" a fun, modern Bollywood-esque retelling of the Jane Austen story that was ironically an American and British produced film. It's an interesting take honestly; one of my big issues with fandom is that most fans of anything I noticed, my own fandoms included is that I suspect most people become fans of stuff that mostly confirm their own personal biases and not-so-much get inspired to seek out and learn something new, stuff that might challenge or give them a different view or perspective on life that might not be one that they share. In that sense, I might find "Blinded by the Light" a little difficult to watch because I think anybody that's a superfan obsessive of anybody can just be nails-on-a-chalkboard frustrating; I mean, as much as I love Springsteen, I don't think I need somebody screaming the lyrics to "Badlands" in front of my face while I'm sitting in a diner, even if the prick deserved it, I'm happy at least that this is a story about fandom helping expand it's character outlook and outreach into the world, so for that I'm recommending it.
I do wish they would've found a way to use "Atlantic City" on the soundtrack though. That one never gets enough love. There was like three or four places it could've easily fit, and it would've been great.
DIANE (2019) Director: Kent Jones
Honestly, I wasn't even gonna review this film. Mostly because I thought it was a 2018 film, but even after I realized my error there; I couldn't imagine what the hell I'd have to say about "Diane". I was actually shocked to look up the reviews and see how much praise this movie got. I'm reading some of these glowing reviews of the movie, and I'm kinda just wondering if I saw the same movie they did. It's possible, there's a couple movies out there called "Diane" for some reason. (Man, I've been getting angrier and angrier at generically-titled films lately.) But, no, I saw the same movie as they did. And I've seen quite a few movies like "Diane" lately.
"Diane" is the latest in an indy-subgenre that I'm gonna start calling "The Blythe Danner Indy". Blythe Danner doesn't have to be in them, but I'm using her 'cause she's been in a few of these in the last few years. Basically, it's a movie that's a minor, slice-of-life narrative centering around and older female character played by a legendary established actress that's either a love story or some other similar narrative about coming into their own, later in life. It usually involves several other older female actresses, perhaps an older male actor or two, often as a love interest, (although that's not in this one) but the supposed groundbreaking, life-changing events are fairly minor in terms of drama and narrative. Basically it's kinda the direct opposite of the "Quirky Parker Posey Indy", where you hire Parker Posey as the lead and she becomes as crazy as she can to turn the movie into something. Here, you get a great lead actress in this main role, in this case, Mary Kay Place is the titular Diane, and you watch her in a more slice-of-life narrative trying to stay and remain as normal as possible while some unexpected or crazy stuff happens to/towards her. "Diane" is a little stranger then the normal versions of the Blythe Danner Indy, but I think it qualifies, especially since the main distinction of this genre is that, these movies generally are just boring. They don't usually outright suck, but they're just non-existent practically. Little happens and things that do happen, happen at a snail's pace.
"Diane", is,- well it's far from the worst offenders, but it's still bad. She's a mother who tries to take care of her son Brian (Jake Lacy) a heroin addict in his '30s who's fairly unreliable and bad at hiding his struggles and addictions. She's also constantly concerned with her cousin Donna (Deirdra O'Connell) who's in the nursing home dying and has a disturbing past with. She has other daily rituals and a group of friends she hangs out with, mostly Mary (Estelle Parsons) and Bobbie (Andrea Martin) with whom she does volunteer work with her church.
This is one of those movies where there's a plot device that, I generally like, but it's rarely done particularly well. I don't know if it's done great here, but basically, at some point midway through the film, we learn essentially all the major past histories that have, maybe, sorta, kinda led to the current status between these characters, kinda,.... Does it actually? I don't want to give it away, but, eh, like the movie itself kinda admits how not a big deal this even is at one point. I mean, it's not, not a big deal, but it's...- I don't know. I feel like I was supposed to be like this great reveal, and frankly I was just finally amazed something actually happened at all, and it still happen offscreen years ago.
There are other stuff that happens that are even more surprising. The son is missing for awhile, but he eventually returns, the friend eventually dies, etc. etc. The son shows up clean, with a wife named Tally (Celia Keenan-Bulger) who's one of those overly-religious people you meet at NA meetings that try to "save" everybody. Then later, um..., we see Diane, take some heroin...- what the hell!? Like, this movie has ways of surprising you, admittedly, but it just kinda comes so far out of nowhere.
I get that the movie is messy to show the more subtle nuances of the daily rituals of life, but there's ways to do that without just letting the movie drift from thing-to-thing. I guess the movie really depends solely on whether or not you find Diane interesting enough to begin with to find these revelations and actions thrust upon her, compelling. Mary Kay Place won some Critics awards for her performance here, and she does give quite a strong performance as she always does and has for decades. I'm glad there's still some starring roles like these out there for older actresses. The thing is though, she isn't that interesting. Even the revelations about her past, like the movie never feels like it's aiming to give us a complete portrait of her, it's just casually drops facts about her past as plot developments. She's supposed to be a mystery that we find out about as we go, but it doesn't do this particularly well. I like the idea of slowly revealing details of the past with a character while we're experiencing their present, but I also think that generally only works well also, when the main character is also in the middle of interesting actions or development. My favorite movie with this is Alexander Payne's "Sideways", which is full of these well-timed reveals and developments that add to the main character depth, but Diane just isn't a particularly interesting character. She doesn't do much, and except for her son's addictions and her friends being sick or dying, there's not much to her. Basically the whole movie is relying on us caring about this one questionable mistake she had in her "past", and we get hints of that past, but I don't know, I didn't even find that too odd or strange.
The movie was directed and written by Kent Jones; he did that documentary "Hitchcock/Truffaut" a couple years back; this is first non-documentary feature and apparently more people were impressed then I was. I can see an interesting movie here somewhere, but it's mostly just this vague idea right now about an older woman with a past. Perhaps, if the movie wasn't so varied, maybe start the movie near the end and have the whole movie be about this confrontation between her and her new daughter-in-law as Tally tries to recruit her for her evangelical church and life and not just manuevering around to all these other aspects of her life first? Yeah, that's the problem; this movie doesn't really start 'til like forty-five minutes in and then the conflicts and resolutions kinda just feel like an afterthought. I guess Jones wanted to develop the character enough, but I don't know; the whole point of these movies is that, you cast a great actress and she can walk on screen and immediately know how much of the world she's carrying on her shoulders and here. It just comes off as meandering when there's too much of this in the beginning. It's sorta interesting, and a strong performance in the center of the film, but this script needed a few more runs before it should've been made into a film.
OFFICIAL SECRETS (2019) Director: Gavin Hood
Yeah! This is what I wanted to watch during the middle of Trump's attempted coup on Democracy, a movie about how horrible and corrupt the Bush administration was in sending us into an illegal war in Iraq under false pretenses that they were an immediate threat to the country because of an illegal nuclear program that they didn't have.
Me and my Netflix queue have no sense of timing. A-ennnnn-ne-way, yes, people want to put a bright light on W. these days, mostly only because the next GOP President was so much more monstrously worst, but it's hard-to-forget and really should be remembered, just how he managed to somehow get away with his shit. And it was all bullshit, and it's essentially the GOP's and Trump's same playbook. Start with a lie, keep telling and insisting on it, make sure your propaganda outlets keep promoting the lie, until everybody believes the lie, and claim their "Un-American" or some variant of it, if you don't believe the bullshit lie, even if all proof and evidence supports that their lie, is indeed, a lie, and by the time everybody realizes it's a complete and utter lie, we're fifteen+ years into an unwinnable conflict that we really should have never been in, especially since, we were/still am already in the middle of one of those, and that one had at least, some moral and tacticle justification to it.
Yeah, Bush was awful, as well as all his GOP compadres, (And some of the DEMs that voted for the war too.) so was Tony Blair however. Now as an American and a Liberal; I tend not to blame Blair as much with the war; I kinda consider him more as one of W.'s victims in his lies, and this movie, "Official Secrets", it kinda explains that position, but it also points out that, the UK, or the UKUSA, (pronounced Yo-kuza) were basically going along with the U.S.'s will. Thankfully, no one else seemed to be, which is why they were trying to bribe/blackmail or otherwise force other smaller countries UN representatives to vote for the invasion after Colin Powell's testimony to them. (Sidenote: Colin Powell recently announced that he's officially switched political parties and is now a registered Democrat; I'm not terribly surprised honestly.) This film tells the story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) a GCHQ translator/spy who was the UK whistleblower who released a top secret e-mail about the US and UK's effort to dig up dirt on the UN voting members. It took awhile after she gave the email through a few trusted friends and sources before it ended up in the hands of Observer reporter Martin Bright (Matt Smith). Interestingly, the Observer was actually fiercely pro-war, but the story was too good. It got off to a rocky start, first just proving that the email was what it was, having to prove that its something that could've been written by the NSA, then finding the original author in the NSA, which is damn near impossible when they're not trying to hide stuff.
Meanwhile, Gun's life becomes a bit of a living hell. Her husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) at one point is nearly deported after she reveals herself as the leak, and even the Official Secrets law, which was changed during the Thatcher administration, is particularly striking. I don't know if you, a whistleblower, is still not allowed to talk about what you already blew the whistle on to your lawyer, for fear of an extra charge of whistleblowing, but that better have changed, 'cause that is the most bullshit thing I've ever heard. (Also, Thatcher was, the worst as well! I may have mentioned that a few times on my Twitter recently when I talked about this latest season of "The Crown", but its still true.)
The movie was directed by South African born-director Gavin Hood, you might remember him most of his Oscar-winning film "Tsotsi," but in recent years, he's made an onslaught of intense political thrillers like the underrated "Rendition" and "Eye in the Sky", as well as some more traditional big-budget popcorn fare like "Ender's Game" and X-Men: Wolverine". I think this is his natural strength, but the movie can be a little flawed. I particularly hated the use of the score, sneaking in on us when it wasn't needed to underline dramatic points; this movie should've been more "The China Syndrome" then it was. I also think the first parts of the movie where much better then the second, but there's more then enough good here to recommend and its an important enough story to be told. I wish I had to gotten at practically any other time period, to appreciate it outside of current events, but it's still a solid well-acted must-tell feature from a reliable director.
GENESE (aka GENESIS) (2019) Director: Phillippe Lesage
One of the most pointless and inaccurate critical reviews of my work I ever got was from this classmate of mine in one fo my first screenwriting classes. I had written a short sci-fi screenplay about a naval submarine on a recovery and rescue mission of a previous submarine that has sunk. Without giving too much away, there's a reveal at the end where it turns out that the ship they were looking for, wasn't anywhere near where they went out to search for it. Anyway, others in the class got to review and write Reader's Reports for their work, a job I enjoyed for them, and while, surprising for me, most of their critiques of my short were positive, there was one who didn't particularly like it, and the constant refrain in her notes was the phrase, "What is the point of this?!"
Honestly, I can pretend that she was entirely wrong, but objectively speaking, my script didn't have much of a point. That said, it's art and art doesn't need a point. I can list dozens of the greatest films of all-time and many of them have no real point or need to exist. Overall, that is a dumb criticism of others artistic work; not everything that's ever been typed out and printed has had a point in existing; they're not all "Poor Richard's Almanac" or anything.
That said, I kept finding myself asking that question in regards to "Genese" or "Genesis"; I've seen the film under both titles. Of course, when you're asking, "What is the point of this?!", you're not really asking for an excuse for something to exist, what you're really asking is for the person who created the art to explain why they decided to make it. As to my script, I quickly shat out a two-page version of it years earlier in a Marine-Biology class of all things, and the teacher liked it a lot, so I figured, "Well, if she likes it, I guess I should expand it for class...." as to why this film exists...- well, I guess I can speculate. The film was written and directed by Phillippe Lesage, I haven't seen any film of his before, so I can have to go by seeking out reviews and summaries of his previous work, but it seems that he likes to make coming-of-age films. Nothing wrong with that. This film, has three different "Coming of age" stories, all revolving around young love.
The distinct gimmick here is that he's showcasing three different young romances over the film. The main two are Guillaume (Theodore Pellerin) and his high school crush on his best friend, a sorta, hockey player named Nicolas (Jules Roy Sicotte), and with Guillaume's half sister Charlotte (Noee Abita) and, well, first with her boyfriend Maxime (Pier-Luc Func) but they end up going with others after, I guess agreeing to an open relationship...? Honestly, none of the guys Charlotte ends up with seem particularly good for her, and one is downright sick. (I better note now that there is a rape scene in this film, for those who might be sensitive to that.) I think the reason that the movie kinda troubles me a bit is that these romances, kinda drift in and out a bit. For instance, for all the inflections we get between Guillaume and Nicholas, we end up mostly listening to some obnoxious teachers most of the time. Lesage is French-Canadian, but I'm definitely getting some Truffaut vibes, especially early Truffaut from him. That would the third relationship, a 12-year-old at a Summer camp, Felix (Edouard Tremblay-Grenier) and much of the last third of the movie, in a Haneke's sorta way, is about the close relationship with a young girl named, Beatrice (Emilie Bierre) he has at summer camp. I'm told this is a callback to an earlier film of his called "The Demons" in a way that's somewhat similar to how Truffaut would constantly return to Jean-Pierre Leaud's Antoine Donnel character. There are connections between these characters and stories, but I get the sense that this third part was basically his "Antoine and Collette".
There's other things that struck me the wrong way, like his weird use of very particular songs on the soundtrack, often repeated, including Topps's "Outside", which I think he's trying to use the same way as Sofia Coppola used music in "Lost in Translation", particularly Air's "Alone in Kyoto". I guess the inspiration makes sense. I guess there's a wonder I have of why these three romances, these stories. They obviously mean something to him, but what? I read some what think it's a commentary on youth romances..., eh, I can kinda see it, but I think you can make that claim with any movie that's about young romance. Personally, I think you could've done this with one of these stories, but three? I mean, it can work, the rule of three is always best, but I'm not entirely sure of how these are connected. Maybe with the his previous film, this would make more sense but this should also work together as one on its own.
Also, why is it called "Genesis"? Like, "Genese" or "Genesis" as in birth? Beginning? Eh, I mean I guess it's all first loves, but I think the only point he's then making is that, people's first experiences with love and romance, often happen at different ages? Is that his big observation on the subject? I don't know, it feels weak to me, that said. Perhaps I'm missing the greater message but I also don't think, whether his reason for telling this story, he didn't necessarily picked the best way to tell it. I won't stop anybody from watching the the film, but it leaves me with too many questions for me to recommend it.
EXTRA ORDINARY (2019) Director: Mike Ahern & Edna Loughman
I can't say that I laughed too much at "Extra Ordinary.", written as two words, and sometimes with a period at the end, sometimes not, I'm not sure on that, but I did chuckle a decent amount. I'm not quite sure how to describe the movie; I guess essentially with its structure it's a rom-com, but it's also a comedy subgenre that I've seen very mixed results from in the recent past, it's a supernatural comedy. In this case, most of the supernatural stuff is ghosts. So, spiritual fantasy, comedy, I guess.
It begins with a montage from one of those old-style TV docuseries you might see about ghosts hauntings and sightings, one other such apparitions. In this world, the unexpected shaking of a tree branch or a slight movement or pen or pencil rolling to the other side of the cup their sitting or, a dish suddenly being thrown across the room, are all, not just signs of ghosts trying to communicate, but actual ghosts who are communicating and often frustrated with the humans they love. Obviously, some people are more capable of connecting or even if necessary, possessing though in the otherworld. The main two characters experience that. First is Rose (Maeve Higgins) a driving instructor who's the daughter of a famous, ummm-, I guess the word is medium, technically, although that sounds wrong in this case but I probably just watched John Edward when I was younger..., anyway, her father Vincent (Risteard Cooper) was a famed medium until an accident during a possession accidentally ended in his death, and Martin (Barry Ward) a single father who's wife continues to literally control every aspect of his life from beyond the grave. His daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) is insistent that he get help with getting mother to move on from them and he seeks out Rose, even though, she's sworn off using her skills.
She doesn't help him out, but they both do feel a slight spark from their meet cute. Before they can seriously consider a relationship though, Sarah gets a possession spell put on her by Christian Winter (Will Forte) an old American rock star who's moved to Ireland for tax reasons while he works on his comeback, which now involves sacrificing a virgin to the Demon Astaroth (Jed Murray). This is the part that I smirked at joyously the most. There's a lot of strange ideas in movies and sometimes in real life, about rock stars dealing with the occult, and it's a trope that I never really think works, so it's fun to see it mocked here. This character in particular, is such is a perfect parody of a certain kind of failed rock star. I like his one hit song, it's like a parody of somebody trying to turn cover by "Stairway to Heaven" and "Knights in White Satin" at the same time.
As for the film itself, it's mostly a device to go from one gag about ghosts to another. I liked some of the ideas, like a ghost who gets annoyed that his wife keeps putting non-recyclable trash in the recycling bin. Or that a dead wife will still be telling her husband what to wear everyday, long after she's passed, and physically hurt him if he tries to defy her, still. A lot of its funny, it gets a little too over-the-topo at the end which includes what technically is one of the strangest sex scenes I've ever seen. That said, I didn't love the jokes about older ghost movies as much, although they were kinda funny with how the one who can talk to ghosts hasn't seen any of the pop culture stuff about ghost and ghostbusting. Still, this movie was a quirky and light comedy. Some good performances in it, enough laughs and nothing that was offensive or anything. It's not extraordinary per se, but it's a decent little movie.
CRAWL (2019) Director: Alexandre Aja
This is one of those, "How did you end up on my Netflix queue again?" movies for me. Not that its bad or anything, I'm recommending it, but it's basically just a pretty well-executed better-then-your-average Sci-Fi channel B-movie. (Shrugs) I guess that's why it ended up there. Eh, it works for me. Great trash needs to be appreciated too and this is some mildly entertaining trash.
"Crawl" is the latest horror thriller from horror director Alexandre Aja; I haven't gotten to too many of his other films, but some of them seem interesting, and this film, is simple and creative. It's basically a locked-in horror, an aspect of horror that I think is very underrated. We all know the idea of horror is that you can't escape the thing, but I think literal places where you can't escape but I like stuff that comes up with locations and places more creative then say, a cabin in the woods. In this case, our characters are stuck in the middle of a hurricane, in Florida, and under a house. That's inventive, and it's simple. Try to survive the storm and all that comes with it. That's the objective for strained father and daughter Dave (Barry Pepper) and Haley (Kaya Scodelario). Haley drives down from the University of Florida where she's in trouble of losing her swimming scholarship in order to see if her father was able to get out before the hurricane. She finds him, eventually, in the middle of the storm, unable to move, under the house, which is now populated, by alligators.
Or are they crocodiles? Or are they both. Sorry, I'm behind on my genus studies of large lizards. Anyway, it's intense for awhile. The movie's less then 90 minutes long, so not too much of a while, but it's an inventive premise and both of them have to figure out how to survive this, if they can. Preferably avoiding, drowning, or getting eaten or killed by chomping alligators. It helps that she's a swimmer. There's some good special effects and some thrilling moments. Eventually it turns into the camp that it is, but even that's pretty cool. There's ultimately a lot of good drama in the film. There is one stupid sequence, that has nothing to do with the main two characters. It involves a groups of idiots floating down the street in a small boat in the hurricane, trying to steal anything they can from one of the abandoned stores, including an ATM machine of all stupid things. Yes, seriously. It's the middle of a category five hurricane, the town's abandoned, everybody else has left, and they're trying to rob a store of candy and hot dogs and an ATM machine that probably has no money in it. They get what they deserve, but that's five-to-ten minutes of the movie I could've lived without. Also, can we all agree just agree that after "Barbershop" did the ATM stealing thing, that we don't really need to do it anymore in movie; I thought we all kinda already agreed to that, but I guess not.
Anyway, "Crawl" is a fun, mildly-intense special effects horror. It's done well enough. There's not too much else to say or add, it's an interesting idea for the genre, it's done well enough. It's nothing worth thinking too deeply about, it's basically what I want in a movie where people are trapped in a hurricane that's infested with crazed man-eating alligators that seem to know how to break your cell phones at the worst possible time.
Posted by David Baruffi at 9:03 PM