Monday, April 5, 2021


Yeah, I mentioned that I would be running this blog a little differently from now on, and this is the first thing, movie reviews are hopefully gonna be posted more often. I decided that regardless of whatever I'm doing, every time I watch ten feature films, that I'll post a reviews post. Keyword, "Watch", 'cause I'm not gonna write a review of everything, only recent enough films, so Ming-liang Song's "Stray Dogs" and Gustavo Rondon Cordova's "La Familia (aka The Family)", sorry, you guys are a little too old for me to write about you, both of you were pretty decent films though. 

I'm also not gonna be posting as many commentaries anymore. They'll still occur, but they'll be rarer and they won't be on a regular basis; I'll post when I feel like I have something to say, for good or bad. Part of it is that I just don't feel like I have as much to say on things anymore. I mean, what's everybody talking about now, "Justice League: The Snyder Cut"? Dude, I haven't gotten to the first one yet, so I'm not bothering with it until I get to the first. (It's on Netflix queue, waiting list to be on my Netflix queue; I'll get to it.) As to anything else I might have thoughts on, and I do have some thoughts, eh, look if I really think I have something to say, I'll say it; I just don't feel like putting stuff out just to put stuff out anymore. Besides, more importantly then that, I have some writing I want to get to outside of this blog, and I want to start focusing more on that. At times, this thing can get tedious, as with most everything on the internet and in the future, I need a priority shift. 

So anyway, more movie reviews, less commentaries, and I'll still be doing my Canon of Film, and yeah, I'm not forgetting the Oscars, in fact, I'm clearly working on trying to get through as many of the nominees as I can at the moment, as well as other major features. In the meantime though, let's get to some reviews. 

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2020) Director: Shaka King


My first introduction to Fred Hampton didn't come from a history book or any elaborate documentaries on the history of Black Panthers or anything of the like. It was actually from this miniseries made in the late nineties called "The 60s". I loved it at the time; I'm not sure it holds up particularly well now, but it was well-made and is a very, you know,-, think like that show "American Dreams", but four hours long. Anyway, there's a small segment near the end of the movie where a troubled character befriends Fred Hampton, and it's a beautiful few scenes that paint a very positive portrayal of him, but he was played by David Alan Grier, who's an actor I've always loved, but at the time, he was, 43-years-old, and I had been watch him on TV since "In Living Color", like eight years or so before that.
So-eh, I wasn't aware that Fred Hampton (Oscar-nominee Daniel Kaluuya) was only twenty-one when he was killed by FBI Agents and members of the Chicago PD during a so-called "Raid". I imagine him, much older, wiser. I knew about the Breakfast program that he led, I knew somewhat of his positions in the Illinois Black Panthers, but I didn't realize how truly young he was. Or how young any of these people were at the time. The way it's always portrayed, whether positively or negatively, and much of it had been tainted from the stories that people like the J. Edgar Hoover's (Martin Sheen) of the day wanted it portrayed, was that the Black Panther were a far more calculated political group that preached that form of militant socialism that only in recent years I would argue, has genuinely gained a real foothold in the Democratic Party, but a lot of these protestors and civil rights activists, they really were just kids. Huey Newton was a college student when he founded the Black Panthers with Bobby Seale, who wasn't much older, barely in his 30s, if that. Hampton, being 21 is startling to me. 

That said, I did always kinda wonder if there was a good movie to be made about him. I certainly didn't expect the guy who made "Newlyweeds" to be the person to answer that question with a resounding yes admittedly, although arguably it's actually not about him, it's about another Black Panther, Bill O'Neal. Except, although being a teenager himself, he wasn't a Black Panther; he was the FBI informant who gave out Hampton's apartment address and a detailed map. He even poisoned him with a sleeping pill earlier that day. He was recruited by Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) who at first seems fairly reasonable. He's got O'Neal dead-to-right on a stolen car charge, as well impersonating an FBI agent, which was actually quite an ingenious idea; he figured correctly that walking into a club with a badge instead of a gun, was far scarier and it almost works. He gets offered a job to infiltrate the Panthers. Mitchell talks about how he investigated the infamous Cheney, Goodman and Schwerner murders, (If you want to know more about that through film, go watch "Mississippi Burning") and he tries to make the argument that the Panthers are just the KKK on the opposite end. 

It's hard to make that argument with modern eyes, we do see the Panthers occasionally talking about Cuba a bit. They refer to each other as Comrade. They talk about Hampton escaping to Cuba after he loses an appeal over a case of stolen ice cream of all things that landed him in jail, which is actually where Huey Newton ended up, but Hampton wants the ideas and the party to move forward, not him. In that sense, the title makes a lot of sense, although Judas wasn't always an informant, but O'Neal always was. During one violent confrontation with police, we see him taking a gun and heading up to a roof, claiming it'll make sense later. That escalation ended in people getting shot and the Panthers surrendering, and eventually the police just flat out burning the Panthers' headquarters to the ground (Man, it's hard to see the police as anything but a street gang these days, isn't it?) 

O'Neal, years later after it was revealed he was an informant, would commit suicide shortly after his lone singular interview on setting up Hampton was published. At some point, it's hard to tell when or where Mitchell and O'Neal realized what they were doing was wrong, whether they knew it at the time or only after-the-fact, but Mitchell puts up a good facade when in front of O'Neal. 

Hampton, we get to see rebuilding and orating at several places. He meets his wife Deborah (Dominique Fishback) at one of these speeches at a college, when she talks about him secretly being a poet. 

I think he was wise beyond his years for sure, and that definitely seemed to scare the FBI, but boy, these kids were so young. Kaluuya gets a wonderful performance, depicting Hampton as the already-acclaim organizer who managed to extend beyond the Panthers and brought together several other groups along with their cause, arguably moreso then other Black Radical figured did or could've. Lawrence Ware's New York Times review  feels like it gives more justice to Hampton and the Panthers movement then I think I ever could. He also points out that this is Hollywood's most rare movie that's both Black and Radical, he argues since Spike Lee's "Malcolm X". I'm not sure it's as great as that masterpiece; I don't think it's perfect, but it was always fascinating. Two young kids from the streets of Chicago, both had very different paths in life, both ended up meeting, one determined to change the world, another hired to stop him. In some ways, the tragedy feels more Dickensian then Biblical to me. Who knows what would've happened if these lives would not have crossed, who knows what would've happened to the Panthers or to Fred Hampton has they survived. 

I also think of what would've happened had J. Edgar Hoover not had the power that he did too quite frankly. 21-years-old, he was still just a kid, you know? 

NEWS OF THE WORLD (2020) Director: Paul Greengrass


Between this and Martin McDonaugh's "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" among others I can think of, I'm getting a strange sense that, for some reason now, England, Britain, the UK and to some degree Ireland, are suddenly being inspired by our clasic westerns. I'm not entirely sure why, in an era of America where we're far less inspired by the likes of John Ford, John Sturgess and the Anthony Mann's of Hollywood's past then ever before, it suddenly seems particularly strange and odd that our old rulers would suddenly be so inspired, either literally in our portrayals of our messy track onward towards Manifest Destiny, if not literally in the west, but in the motifs, tropes and storytelling devices they created or enhanced. And yet, it's kinda interesting to see what an outsiders take on the genre would be if they were given the same tools. That's why despite the problems with "Three Billboards...", it is ultimately an interesting and fascinating film. And it's not like Great Britain's the only ones from across the pond who've ever been fascinated by our most American of genres; the Italians beat them to that by over half a century. 

Still though, this latest British interpretation of a western, it's...- well, for one, it's from one of the absolute last directors I would've thought of who'd make such a genre picture. Paul Greengrass is a great director, a period piece classic Hollywood western, is about as far away from everything else he's ever done that I can imagine. He's got one side that's part action filmmaker, most for the Bourne sequel movies, in particular, "The Bourne Ultimatum" which is arguably the best of the series. I guess if you go back enough in his career you'll find him more prone to these kind of ideas, but the action movies and the more documentary-stylized political thrillers like "Bloody Sunday" and "United 93" as well as his previous feature to this one, "22 July", are the other recognizable side of him. Neither of these fit with "News of the World", a novel adaptation who's screenplay is written by the Australian guy behind "Lion" and "Candy". 

So, what to make of it? (Shrugs) Well, it's got an intriguing premise. The movie takes place in Texas shortly after the Civil War and Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) has found a post-war job, essentially going from town-to-town and reading the newspapers from across the country to the locals, many of whom haven't heard the news before. News did travel pretty slowly back then and yes this is a pretty long-standing position that some held, dating back to the old town crier who read the acta diurna's from Ancient until the last of the known traveling newspaper readers still around, the great Mort Sahl. During one of his travels, he comes across an abandoned overturned wagon. Inside is a little girl who's official name is Johanna (Helena Zengel) although she goes by Cicada. She's a white girl from a predominantly German immigrant section of the state, but after her parents were killed, she was taken in and grown up as an Ikowa Native American. This is troubling for both of them as they end up heading off to town to find a Bureau of Indian Affairs to help settle her case. Eventually, none of this helps, and after trying to pawn her off to a caring couple while he goes back to his travels also fails, he ends up deciding to take her home to relatives himself. 

The movie has some very clear western inspirations, most notably "The Searchers", the idea of saving somebody and helping them find their proper "home", whether they want to or not, is pretty clearly referenced here, although there's a lot of westerns that are essentially long delivering journeys and getting caugh up in the trevails of travil. I guess the interesting aspect here is that neither can fully understand the other, so much of the movie is just about trying to have the two characters understand each other both emotionally and literally. Captain Kidd is a widow who's wife died of cholera while he was in Virginia leading a losing fight during the Civil War. The movie shows a lot of reluctance after the war from the local Texans they encounter, especially as the news is about the struggles of the Johnson administration and the difficulty involves in reintegrating the Southern states back into the Union while Reconstruction is being fought at every turn. Yeah, I guess some parallels to modern day here, but I couldn't help but looking at "News of the World" mostly as a fairly traditional western and little more. The movie looks amazing though, the cinematography is spectacular, especially one scene during a duststorm that, I don't know how they got, those shots; they were spectacular. 

Overall though, I felt the movie thought it was greater and grander then it actually was. I don't think it earned its emotional ending despite some strong and interesting performances from Hanks and Zengel. "News of the World" has an interesting and clever idea with it, but it still felt a little old and tiresome in its western tropes. Like, why a story about a white girl who was captured by the Native America, again; I've seen this way too often, even in movies that are supposed to glamorous Native Americans. I feel like there's so much more that could've been done with the ideas here that I can really only marginally recommend the film, despite it being overall good, the movie gets less interesting and good as it goes on. 

EMMA. (2020) Director: Autumn de Wilde


Okay, so-eh, I have a Jane Austen thing. I can't remember if I've ever brought this up, but outside of "Pride & Prejudice" which I think is an absolute masterpiece as a novel and occasionally as a film (in particular Joe Wright's adaptation.), I really can't stand anything else Jane Austen. "Emma" in particular, I have just never found a real entryway in, in any format. I hated the last major film version in the late '90s, and I've basically hated every film version of every Jane Austen adaptation I can think of, even when I don't realize it's a Jane Austen adaptation, 'cause if you're my age and you know anything else about "Emma", you know that there was a second film adaptation of the movie in the early nineties, redone as the modern teen comedy "Clueless", and I didn't know that going into the film and I still hated it. And I still stand by it by the way, "Clueless" the movie sucks. "Clueless" the TGIF/UPN teen sitcom based on the show, that-, that actually wasn't that bad, but the film, ugh, as if!

So, I tried to look at "Emma." with fresh eyes for this film, 'cause you know, on paper, this is a compelling story, and Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a compelling young female character. If you don't know the basic story, Emma fancies herself as kind of a matchmaker, although she mostly is one of those kinds of who politely tries to stir up shit between her friends. For instance, after her governess Mrs. Weston (Gemma Whelan) she decides to interfere in her friend Harriet's (Mia Goth) search for a suitor. She's not outwardly trying to insert herself, but she does that passive-aggressive insistence thing and eventually she convinces Harriet to reject a proposal by George Knightley (Johnny Flynn) and this effects a lot of people's behaviors afterwards, like a Mr. Elton (Josh O'Connor) who she believes is actually in love with Harriet, meanwhile he's actually in love with Emma, and confesses his love to her during a funny sequence. He later returns with a wife of his own, which is very Jane Austen....

She also, as witty and intelligent as she is, has a sad tendency to stick her foot in her mouth by saying the wrong things at the wrong times, like when she insults Mrs. Bates (Myra McFayden) a dear friend and local matriarch for no reason. When confronted, this seems to be one of the things that starts to get it into her just how hurtful and mean-spirited some of her actions are, but not. It's get complicated from here; I think a lot of this gets lost in time because Austen was really writing satire of the English upper class and a lot of the nuances of this stuff just falters for me, and I suspect many. Perhaps the reason why "Pride & Prejudice" works the best of her books is because of how personal everything is for Elizabeth Bennett and seeing her virilent feminism get in the way of her finding love is far more compelling then Emma's meddling narcissism getting in the way or her and everybody else finding love?

I don't know, I feel like none of Austen's other works work either, for other reasons, but this "Emma.", it's fine for an "Emma." adaptation I guess, but this story just doesn't work on me. I can think of some people who Emma Woodhouse does remind me of, and I'm sure this narrative can actually work even today. (I'll apparently still be annoyed by it, but yeah, I can see why it would have meanings for others) I imagine Emma would probably be some kind of successful Youtube influencer that everybody admits is smart and her material would be good, but would just keep finding ways of getting cancelled every other week because of something thoughtless she'd say on Twitter and eventually she'd alienate everyone around her. Still though, that person seems even more frustrating to hang around with for a couple hours today, much less back then when there wasn't much else to do. I can respect the craft of the film, the movie earned Oscar nominations for the movie's costumes and makeup, they seem okay, and the movie is well-made and well-acted. Anya Taylor-Joy is a very good Emma, and there's some light jabs from Bill Nighy as her father I enjoyed. The cast is good, the movie well-made, and an interesting choice of debut feature for music video director Autumn De Wilde, but it just doesn't work on me. Eh, maybe I'll one day rewatch Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensability" and that'll finally click for me, but so far, "Emma.", like the majority of the Austen canon, ehhh, (Shrugs) they just continue to seem like superfluous lesser works to me, and this one is no exception. 

COLLECTIVE (2020) Director: Alexandra Nanau


So, living in Vegas, there's quirks about the town that perhaps visitors and others might not think about. One of them that you wouldn't think of unless you've lived here, is that we are really, really serious about fire safety. Moreso then most cities; this is an absolute do-not-fuck-with issue for us. In 1982, the original MGM Grand Hotel, now known as Bally's, had an electrical fire break out in a ground floor restaurant. Within six minutes, the fire had spread to the lobby of the hotel and due to toxic fumes and faulty smoke instillation in the venting system, 85 people were killed from that fire, most of them weren't even near the fire, they were hotel guests were couldn't escape the smoke and fumes from the floors above, at the time, it was the deadliest hotel fire in history and still ranks as the 3rd worst such disaster. The hotel hadn't set up modern fire protection measures since it was built before many of the laws regarding them weren't essential for them to follow since they were grandfathered in; that changed pretty damn quickly after that.
In Bucharest, Romania, a similar disastrous incident occured in 2015, where a nightclub called "Colectiv", caught fire during a rock performance. The smoke engulfed the area and 64 people were killed from the flames and smoke and over a hundred others were injured. Unfortunately, for the people in this story, this was only the very beginning of their problem. Afterwards, while the country was in the process of resetting their fire safety codes and trying to hold the country's Social Democratic Party 37 other victims died in the months following the horrorific fire, while in hospital care for their injuries. That's a lot, and that caused another stir. The film, "Collective", a documentary that showcases the investigative journalists investigating the corruption of the Party and how through their incompetency and corruption, they led to a horrible miscarriage of justice and healthcare.

Basically the hospitals were using disinfectants for the burn victims that were heavily diluted to what they should've been. The pharmaceutical company that produced them claimed otherwise, but when they were tested as more and more deaths got reported, that's what they were. Apparently the corruption from the Social Democrats went deep as they did basically nothing on either the fire safety standards, nor did they do anything to check that the hospitals were equipped with competent tools to help those who needed it when a disaster took place. 

Detailing the movie itself is difficult to do, we're watching as new info and whisteblowers come out, and we're seeing the government particularly the Health Minister seem particularly combative towards the media we're following, even as doctors are revealing pictures of maggots popping up in the patient's wound. If there's a movie that the film reminds me the most of, it's actually "All the President's Men", more then anything, It even ends with an election where the corrupt party wins reelection and despite all the controversy and uproad, they double-down on their incompetence and corruption and the public hospital appoints a new manager who's grossly unqualified to run a hospital. This after a previous health minister who, after sorting through the corruption in the health department said that it was so corrupt that they would have to fire everybody in leadership in order to get anything done, meanwhile, people are dying and dying of their lack of care. 

"Collective" became the second feature film to receive both a Best Foreign Language Internationl Feature and a Best Documentary Feature Oscar nomination after North Macedonia's film "Honeyland" last year and in both instances I can completely understand it. It's utterly compelling in its constantly moving investigative discoveries coming up against the constant inertia of government corruption. One thing that Trump Presidency has revealed, combined with all the other recorded footage of politics going on is exactly how all corruption, when confronted basically acts and reacts in the same ways. They attacked and dismiss the Press, then they double-down on their lies for profit, they promote those into positions of power people who don't know how, or just don't care to ever do the job they're supposed to do and it always comes back to bite them back in the history books, if not in the elections themselves, and this goes for any/all sides of the political aisle by the way. Corruption of all kinds is a truly selfish system of government, it costs the lives of those its sworn to protect, all for benefit of only those in their own "Collective".

THE WOLF HOUSE (aka LA CASA LOBO) (2020) Directors: Joaquin Cocina & Cristobel Leon


"The Wolf House" is an amazing surrealist explosion of eye candy. Trying to decipher the nightmare logic slice of stop-motion is probably not the point. Honestly, I think that's kind of the best approach to much surrealism to begin with, because it's not about what it's about, it's about the experience you have watching it. Basically, the movie all takes place in a person's mind anyway, at least I think it does.

On the surface, the movie is about Maria (Amalia Kassai) a German refugee who finds herself living alone in a house that's surrounded and haunted by a wolf. Is the Wolf literal, metaphorical? Could be both. The house she lives in, or moves into eventually is inhabited originaly only by a couple of pigs but the house seemed to be enchanted in some manor as it reacts in tune to Maria's emotions. Eventually, the pigs turn into people themselves, and the house, and she just constantly morphs and transforms slowly into,-, I don't know alternate versions of herself? How she perceives herself and her surroundings? Sometimes it seems like she's literally apart of the house itself. 

The Wolf even has a voiceover character (Rainer Krausse), that you can't tell whether it's a voice inside her head or some exterior voice infringing upon her. Honestly, I'm not sure what the difference even really is at some point. Even her pigs, which seem more like Maria's children in both actual form and how they're treated warn her against going outside the house for food when things seem bleak, for fear of getting caught from this Wolf. 

Metaphorically, all this could be anything, but actually, there is a specific thing the movie's about. The film was Joaquin Cocina and Cristobel Leon debut feature, a Chilean animation team mostly known for shorts until now, but the movie is a co-production between Chile and Germany of all countries, which makes sense when you understand the point of origin. You see, there's this isolated colony in Chile, called the Colonia Dignidad, which was this obscure little agriculture commune, that started by a German guy named Paul Schafer, (not the Letterman bandleader), who was a fugitive from West Germany due to child sexual abuse accusations..., the story doesn't get brighter from here, but during Pinochet's regime, all the way 'til after Schafer's passing into the '90s, they controlled and ran this area and the people, or lack-of-a-better-word, followers, of him. He kinda was a preacher. This guy was somewhere between Jim Jones and Warren Jeffs, only German and he went off to Chile to start his thing. You can look it up if you want to dive into much of the rest of this. Like, when you look at their Wikipedia page, and under the "Atrocities" section, "Nazi Ties" in the fifth subsection paragraph and you're talking about Germans who moved to South America after the war and it's still only fifth in atrocities, you're really on the bottom rung of utter scum,

Anyway, I think the interpretation of the movie is that, Maria is a German refugee from this group and this is her defecting from the group, or at least attempting to as the Wolf is the metaphorical Schafer or other leaders/members of the group who are waiting to go after her for defecting. This notion of constantly being haunted by a constant wolf was probably pretty literal for people from this very isolated group back in the day, and I imagine that might've been especially so for Germans in this group, being in a completely different country on the other side of the world even after they leave this group. 

I don't know if you need to know this to enjoy "The Wolf House", I certainly didn't until I looked it up for this review. The movie is a mindfuck and it succeeds in it's approach and execution. This is a movie that could only be animated to fully succeed and the fact that it's stop-motion in particular is startling in it's ambition and technique, and also the effect is hypnotizingly memorable.  I think I grew tired of it by the end, but I'm still in awe of it regardless. 

ZOMBI CHILD (2020) Director: Betrand Bonello


Okay, um, so I tried to do a little light research about, um, zombies, in the Voodoo religion. It's a little, well..., like I said, I only did light research, so this could just be as apochraphyl as anything else, but yeah, from what I can, um, I guess it's a thing. Okay, there is one famous account of a man named Clairvius Narcisse (Mackinson Bijou), who in 1962, was apparently pronounced and even buried, but was revived apparently, and forced to work in a zombified state as a slave by a sugar plantation owner, unless the owner's passing when he eventually began to regain lost memories and rejoined his old community. This account by the way, is, well, not exactly disputed, there are reports of this guy and then returning, like the events essentially happened, but in terms of an actual scientific explanation, there's debate and questions, and frankly there's also obvious questions about the supernaturalness of it all as well. Still though, apparently this is kind of a thing in the religion.

Somebody can correct if you know better, but apparently, there's natural death in Voodoo and then there's unnatural death, and when you die unnatural, say through murder or just some means or manner in which you leave things on Earth, unresolved, for lack of a better word, then your spirit continues on roaming the Haitian land, searching for a chance to regain and correct those things in life that would in turn make you whole. This is a very base explanation, and again, apologies if I don't quite get this, but this story has been an influence in movies ever since, most famously, Wes Craven's "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (It's on my Netflix; I'll get to it eventually). Now, I haven't seen that movie, so Betrand Bonello's "Zombi Child" is my introduction to this story and the subsequent mythos of zombies in the Voodoo tradition.

Bonello's telling that story, secondhand essentially. The story is told by Melissa (Wislanda Louimat) a young Haitian bording school student who moved to France after the Haitian Earthquake back in 2010. The film's not told from her perspective though, the movie is mainly told from Fanny's (Louise Labeque) perspective, as she's intrigued and possibly attracted to Melissa, but moreso is fascinated by the possibilities of her and her family's past traditions with Voodoo. Mostly the idea of the zombie creature coming back to life, because she's infatuated with a boyfriend named Pablo (Sayyid El Alami) who I think passed away. and she begins trying to convince Melissa's guardian, her Aunt Katy (Katiana Milfort) who is a Mambo Priestess despite Melissa being fairly disconnected from the practices of Voodoo. 

This is, well, I don't quite know to make of it, but I've had that issue with Bonello's recent work. I've seen a lot of symbolic parallels to colonialism in the reviews, and yes, that's apart of it; France had a long and mainly troubled history of colonolizing the island nation and, I'm barely hanging on with the voodoo aspects so I'm not getting into that, but the way he tends to tell some of his movies. Multiple narrative split up around fairly singular ideas. I've seen a couple of recent works, and I think it's a mixed bag. I loved his period piece Parisian brothel patiche "House of Pleasures (aka House of Tolerance)" because I thought the ideas of stringing around several different stories and narratives made sense in that environment; I had a little more trouble with "Nocturama" a modern film about a Baader-Meinhof group of young French terrorists hiding out in a mall after planting a bomb. I think my issue is that, in both movies, he doesn't really want to dive into the actual subject matter, like how these characters become what they are or why, he's just interested in using these aesthetics and taking a very distinct, almost, emotionless outsider perspective on them. Again, that worked for "House of Pleasures", I don't know how well it works for his other features. 

By that observation though, is practically a self-deconstruction of his own cinematic approach. We get the more traditionally stereotypes narrative aspects of Voodoo, told to us from the perspective of an insider, but our main character can only consider them from their own limited and selfish perspective. I could almost appreciate if I thought he was empathizing with any of these characters, but he keeps himself out of it, even when there's stuff like character voice over and whatnot. It's strange like, all his parts are usually there for good movies, but he's always taking a very distant approach to his subjects; it's not quite as annoying and frustrating as say, how Claude Chabrol would always toy and tease with genre only to not give any shit about telling a story, or making a point, but the effect feels close to that with Bonello's work. 

I guess "Zombi Child" has enough intriguing ideas and approach to recommend it, but yeah, I can't help but to wonder about his approaches to his material. "Zombi Child" works well in discussion, but in practice is a bit of a mixed bag, an art house horror that's not so much scary as it is curious. Honestly, I don't know quite what to make of it. 

OUR TIME MACHINE (2020) Director: S. Leo Chiang and Yang Sun


There's a couple minor questions regarding the U.S. release date of "Our Time Machine"; there's no technical release date listed on, however most sources note it as a 2019 release but it shows up for various awards for both 2019 and 2020 years. I'm gonna defer to the A.M.P.A.S. on this one and call this a 2020 film as the movie, while it didn't make the Academy's Documentary Feature shortlist, it does appear on their Reminder List of all 2020 eligible films. That would make this the second documentary feature I've seen, after Kristen Johnson's "Dick Johnson is Dead" where an artist decides to have their aging father, who's beginning to fall under the spell of Alzheimer's, be apart of their artistic work in order to preserve and remember their last remaining days of consciousness and awareness. 

"Our Time Machine" details the behind-the-scenes personal process of Maelonn as he decides to both collaborate and honor his father Ma Ke, the legendary Shanghai Opera Director. He's 80 years old now, and is beginning to lose his memory. He's trying to write a book about his life, while we see his son using his puppeteering ability to create a beautiful theatrical project with his father using both their combined talents and by telling their story. His father was prosecuted during the Cultural Revolution, something which led many of the youth of modern day China to struggle to recapture and preserve much of the past that was ultimately lost. during that ordeal. He was a child during the Second Simo-Japanese War.

Hearing about his father's life, when we do is fascinating, but sad as the more the project and the movie progresses, the Ma Ke's mind begins to continue to turn off. He mentions it slowing like a dimming light bulb, and seeing that transition is very unfortunate. Maelonn is getting international acclaim for his magnificent presentation, which involves these wonderfully design animatronic puppets that feels like they were automotons builts out of old gears from watches. They remind me a lot of the animatronics from the stage production of "War Horse" only more interesting and elaborate. I love these sequences, and yet, by the end of the movie, he fears that the project won't help earn him enough to truly take care of his ailing father. He refuses to put him in a nursing home, so he has to decide whether or how to transport this production overseas in order to possibly earn money to keep his parents at home, but that would of course mean he wouldn't be there to take care of him. 

It's a beautiful depiction of the fleeting ambitions of artists. They have to create in order to preserve and express ideas, but creations are often just as fleeting. "Our Time Machine" is a beautiful behind-the-scenes depiction of a talented artist at work and the struggle to create life from nothing, and a beautiful but sad tale of a life that's slowly withering away, and the struggle to preserve it.  

SEA OF SHADOWS (2019) Director: Richard Ladkani; Co-Directors: Sean Bogle & Matthew Podolowsky


You know, China, we need to have a little talk here. I get having trouble giving up the sharkfin; that's a longtime established delicacy, but you guys seem to be obsessed with certian things objects of superstition and myth. For one, ivory, particularly rhino horn being an aphrodesiac? Okay, like, I know I'm not as big on keeping elephants and rhinos on this earth as some are, but seriosly, aphrodesiac; this is the kind of shit some of you guys still believe? Then there's the black market item that's destroying some of our most exquisite worlds of sea life, the swim bladder of the totoaba fish. 

Yeah, the totoaba bladder. It's a delicacy apparently; often refered to as the "cocaine of the sea", and just as expensive, if not moreso. That's what "Sea of Shadows" is about, this documentary about the illegal black market totoaba bladder trade that's not only apart of a major organized crime ring that crosses an ocean, but it's also destroying our ocean habitat. Nets have been placed all through the Sea of Cortez along the Mexican coast in order to catch this fish and then trade them off to the buyers in China. They're under the belief that the bladder of this fish has great medicinal power; it doesn't, but they still believe this old wive's tails, and the illegal trade is hurting the oceanlife, most notably, the severely endangered vaquita whale. Currently, less then thirty of this, the world's smallest whale are around in existence, and while we follow those who dare to remove the nets of the cartels and track the trade from the Mexican cartels to the restaurants of South China, often in thrilling and exciting images, similar to something that feels similar to "The Cove", we get the struggle for animal activists to create a sanctuary for the few vaquita whales available. It's not easy to capture one of these rare animals and have a big enough sanctuary in the water for them, on top of that, struggle to get the population to grow while it's just a struggle to keep the animals from getting too restless in containment. They admit to having to struggle to figure out what the best action is, to keep them in captivity to preserve and save them, or send them back out to the Ocean, where the animal could fact almost definite extinction. 

Perhaps they're getting smarter to the nets, some waterlife have evolved to learn to recognize and figure out ways to avoid the nets, but there's a definite desire and need to preserve this aspect of the Ocean. It's the part that Jacques Cousteau literally called the World's Aquarium. It's one of the great wildlife preserves this Earth has, and it's being decimated, all because of a particular fish's bladder. 

I'm not gonna say this is some great documentary; it's trying to be more intense then perhaps the movie actually is. It kinda reminded me a bit of that episode of "South Park" that parodied "Whale Wars" at times, but I still was amazed by much of this. Director Richard Ladkani's objective was to inform and highlight this problem in the world, and you know, it's not just an environmental issue. Everything's effected by this trade, like how the local fisherman basically are beholden to the cartels and basically are choosing to be in denial about the damage their doing because it's their wellbeing on the line, and that's not even discussing the corruption of the police and probably government officials in both Mexico and China, at the very least. All that damage, because of the magical medicinal powers of a fish bladder, that doesn't even work.  

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