Thursday, April 22, 2021


I'm still sticking with this new format, and sometimes that means that I'm not reviewing as many movies as I've used, and that's kinda the idea. At least, I'm not reviewing them here; I might post some thoughts on random older films that I'm watching. I made a few notes on FB and Twitter about "Room 237," that documentary on "The Shining" that everyone's been telling me I should watch. I finally got around to it, I liked it, I didn't love it, and I still think the movie is mostly overrated, although some of the theories proposed in the movie did strike me as just, ridiculous. The idiot that wanted to talk about how the film was about how Kubrick faked the Moon Landing in particular, yeah, Kubrick's interesting enough, don't bring your conspiracy BS into it, even if he is trolling you. 

To recommend a couple other films I just got around to, "On the Seventh Day (aka "En El Septimo Dia)" is a delightful little movie about an illegal immigrant trying to get his family over to America while also trying to figure out how to run a delivery shift while also playing in his local neighborhood team's big soccer game. A few documentaries, the HBO docuseries "What's My Name: Muhammad Ali", was particularly good, "Voulez-vous Rire Avec Moi ce Soir", about the European stand-up scene was compelling;  "Running from Crazy" as well about the Hemingways from the perspective of Mariel, who we don't see nearly enough of in general. Oh, if you want to have your mind blown, I watched Allen Funt's documentary, "What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?" for some reason. It's so weird, it's basically like every X-rated prank you've ever seen on Youtube or some other old prank show, but like 50 years ago. "Candid Camera" must've been a lot weirder then I think we realize. 

Anyway, Oscar Predictions will be posted this weekend; I'm working on them now and I might do a Post-Mortem on them... we'll see though. Let's go to the few movies I've been watching and did manage to review, including the Oscar-nominated "Another Round"! 

ANOTHER ROUND (2020) Director: Thomas Vinterberg


Okay, so I-eh, I don't drink much, at all. Except for the fact that I'm a writer, this is otherwise not a shocking revelation to most. It's not that I'm straight-edged, in fact I've spent much of my life around people who drink, and other mood-altering substances, let's say. Some of it I was aware, most of it, I was probably blissfully unaware of, 'til much later in life. (Hell, there are friends of mine, to this day, who are trying to configure ways into getting me to-eh, [finger quotes] "loosen myself up", if you will....) Honestly, I don't have a particular issue with it on paper, but I generally have not had great experiences hanging around too many chemically-altered people. (At least, none when I'm aware that they're altered.) I've often been the one in the room who's not drinking, and let me just say, it's not a terribly fun place to be, but I still think I prefer it to joining the crowd and drinking alongside them. Frankly, I would hate to act like the way I've seen some do when they're under the influence, and I genuinely feel a lot of concern for those who do partake. 

I'm not trying to be a buzzkill here btw, if you're fine with it, then fine have a drink, have some fun, be safe, don't break any laws, have a designated driver, etc. etc. etc., but I just- it's just not for me. So-eh, those feelings though, that I've gotten when I'm the only one who's not drinking; that's a lot of what I felt while watching "Another Round", a strange, supposedly uplifting dark comedy from Dogme 95 director Thomas Vinterberg. Now, I'll confess that I'm not overly proficient in Vinterberg; I liked a couple movies of his I've seen, 'The Hunt" and "Submarino", but I can't say I was hugely effected by them. I know "The Celebration" is generally considered his best film; I haven't gotten to that one yet. There's a lot of Dogme 95 that I haven't gotten to, but this movie feels a bit like how that movement was probably created. A couple friends had a few drinks, and instead of deciding to artificially rediscover neorealism, they, decide to keep drinking. 

Okay, it's a little more complex then that, but not much honestly. Basically, there's four high school teachers, that basically decide to concoct a social experiment on themselves. Over a dinner, they decide that, they've struggle a bit with their midlife crises lately, and hypothesized that it's because they're not drinking enough. Specifically, they're testing the Skarderud Theory that the human mind and body is better at a blood-alcohol or BAC level of 0.05%, is the ideal BAC to have while going through life; I suppose? Honestly, it just feels like alcoholics searching for an excuse to keep drinking. Strangely though, it actually works. The character Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) a bored history teacher actually has some inspired teaching moments and even has things pick up with his wife Annika (Marie Bonnevie). Eventually the other friends join in and they also have good moments at their respective teaching jobs and life. Tommy (Thomas Bo Larson) has a decent job coaching kids soccer, although he has to maneuver his way through an awkward encounter involving a water bottle that actually got a slight chuckle out of me. Lars Ranthe as Peter and Magnus Milang as Nikolaj also have some good scenes here as well. In fact, the acting in this movie is really amazing all the way through. 

This actually makes the movie a little difficult for me to judge; 'cause I don't really want to pan this film too much. The premise is disturbing and hokey, and really feels like Vinterberg is trying to show what his nights out with Lars Von Trier probably were when they wrote up those stupid rules in the mid-'90s. And ultimately, the movie does show that drinking and staying a little drunk all the time, is ultimately not good, although I'm certain some idiot's biggest takeaway from the film is to don't drink anything with absinthe in it. (Which, should've just been a given, but oh well...) And I'm not really against movies about a bunch of guys drinking; in my mind I kept thinking back to Claire Denis's "35 Shots of Rum", and that movie has basically a half-hour scenes where four characters are just getting drunk and having a good time at a bar, and I don't remember much else about it, but I loved that movie. It's arguably Denis's best, so why does that work there, but the drinking in this movie, is just disturbing. Well, drinking on a night out and getting to know each other is a lot more intoxicating an experience then a bunch of middle-age longtime friends trying to recapture a bit of their past spark for one. That's probably a reason why I didn't like "At World's End" either  Still, though, all the arguments I can make for why these characters are essentially drunk pricks, I can probably make for Alexander Payne's masterpiece "Sideways", and that's one of my all-time favorite films, and that's just two friends drinking. They're also experiencing life and they're on a pre-wedding trip... I think that's what ultimately annoying me about "Another Round"; it's just four old men using this scientific theory as an excuse to try to drink their way through life, and they're not even like doing anything with it. They're not changing much, they don't want things to change, they just want to find something better, and they're searching for it in the bottom of a flask hidden in the school gym's utility room. Like, even if this was realistic, I still don't want to hang around these people who are trying to become functioning alcoholics. 

I'm told the movie is supposed to be life-affirming but honestly, I don't see how, and hell it ends up destroying and ending one character's life, so even that thing is tainted ultimately. There's a little bit about the differences between binge drinking when you're in high school and when you're an adult, the movie even opens with teenagers performing in an organized traditional drinking challenge ritual that, is incredibly stupid. I guess the contrast is that the teenagers are stupidly trying to have fun and be drunk while the adults are taking a more thoughtful, scientific approach to it, and therefore are smarter?! I don't get this movie. Maybe I had to have drank a lot more in my youth, or now to fully understand it, and you know, there is probably something to be said about the fact that I made a choice to bypass the traditional sewing of my youthful oats, but in most aspects, I also don't feel any regret for that decision, and you know what, I can definitely think of movies that have made me wish I had more life experiences as a youth, or at least enjoyed the ones I had more then I did. This can be done romantically and well, not even that, just something more compelling somehow...; there's a good movie in here, somewhere, but ultimately, I didn't see it, and in my mind, I shouldn't have to be chemically-altered to enjoy or understand a piece of art.  

WAVES (2019) Director: Trey Edward Shults


Richard Roeper review of Trey Edward Shults's latest film "Waves" begins with an observation that the movie constantly ends up in the water. Honestly, I didn't catch that observation strangely, the "Waves" that I noticed most prevalently in the movie were, well, soundwaves. More specifically, the kind of soundwaves we catch while walls through and around walls. Maybe because it hit me more, the notion of listening in on loved ones, usually a parent, as they talk and fight and you know, it's partially around/about you, and you can hear them. Walls can do a lot of things; they can build up a foundation, give you a home, they can separate out some privacy for you, get you your own personal space, but they can cut you off from the outside world, but they don't really protect you against sound; they're not entirely thick enough for that. They seem to block us off from the outside influence and stimuli, but those soundwaves do indeed sneak in. 

Roeper's not wrong though, there are other kinds of "Waves" that the movie focus on. There is water, but the movie has several "Waves". I don't entirely know what they're going for with it, but I caught some; I just wonder if that's enough for the whole. 

"Waves" is a family drama that sets up two narratives, each based around the two siblings; the first one involves the older brother Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) a high school wrestler who's under an immense amount of pressure from an intense father, Ronald (Sterling K. Brown). Ronald's world, literally (The director plays with the aspect ratios through this movie) and figuratively slowly collapses in upon himself. First, his father's intensity and drive leads him to not inform him of the severity of a shoulder injury. His father it's informed by their stepmother Catherine (Renee Elise Goldsberry) also has this habit, as he's got pain pills now for apparently a knee injury that he fights with. He also has a seemingly good relationship with his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie). 

Without explaining exactly what happens with Tyler, the second part of the movie focuses on Tyler's younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) who's life start to finally, start to come into focus after she starts dating Luke (Lucas Hedges) a nice young man she meets at one of her extracurricular meets. (Apparently she's on a lip-syncing team, I think.... That was weird honestly....) Anyway, around this time, she's mostly solitary and left to her own devices by both parents whose relationship is starting to increasingly deteriorate. She finds new inspiration in her boyfriend, who's got an estranged relationship with his father, who's a drug addict that's dying of cancer. Emily's biological mother, we learn died of an overdose when she was a kid, and after some reflection she helps him try to reconnect with his dying father at around the same time it seems like her father is starting to drift further away from her, and to be honest, he mostly focused on Tyler anyway. 

So, there's power in this slice of life double-story. I like how the movie is subtle in it's emotional narrative and how it's focus is mainly on the kids as they react to their surroundings and how it's often at odd angles that they find out the struggles of their parents, that they try to keep away from them. I thought the performances were great all around. I'm really amazed more focus wasn't on how great the actors were. As to the story, it's told in a fairly meditative approach, and I don't hate it, but I feel it's parts are probably better then the whole. It actually reminds me a lot structurally of a story that I remember one of my old classmates pitched in an old screenplay class about two stories of two people and how one kid's life get good and the other's gets bad; I think he called it "Seesaw"...? I might be getting that wrong, but eh, it's one of those things where, this works with three, not two. I mean, it kinda does work here anyway despite breaking that rule of three, but I'm not sure I love the narrative. And I don't love the "Waves" metaphor itself; it's another thing that kinda works here, but I don't really know what it means in this context. Maybe it has something to do with the South Florida location, maybe it has to do with the tone.... I don't quite get all of the intent here, but I like the story and the performances. "Waves" is an ambition film that probably doesn't fully work, but it's way too powerful to completely ignore. It might have too many ideas for me, but at least it's got stuff to say and does it in a different way. 

MONOS (2019) Director: Alejandro Landes


Soldiers are, young. 

That's-, that's definitely not a fact that we really think much about, really, but, it's pretty much a fact that, in whatever form of an army takes around the world, legit-or-not, they're all full of, for lack of a better term, soldiers, who are really young. They're teenagers most of them, if that. Young, dumb, hormonal, kids. And yet, they join up in militias, military, commandos, freedom fighters, terrorists groups, all over the world, they're joining armies and we're handing them guns and other destructive weapons and putting them into potential deadly, life-threatening situations. Literal warzones. Hell, arguably their presence alone is what makes them warzones. 

So, "Monos" is a movie by Alejandro Landes. I've only seen one film of his, his debut documentary "Cocalero", but that was a long time ago, and he hadn't made a movie in eight years before "Monos", so I'm basically coming in blind to his work. The fact that we're following a young Columbian guerrilla army is the real clue. There's no name given to this, I guess it would technically be a platoon, maybe...  or a squad, I guess; I don't know how normal armies differentiate sizes of units honestly, much less guerrillas ones, but most likely based on location and their activities, this is a FARC army that's being represented here. They were/are still, kinda, an insurgent military group in the country known for being a major figure in the Columbian Conflict, starting from the mid-'60s all the way 'til, only a couple years ago. This is kinda the group, or one of the ones that we think about when we think of why South America is generally so dangerous for tourist. They were naturally apart of the legal drug trade, which is how they funded their military which at it's peaked had around, 25,000 members, and they also known for kidnapping foreigners for ransom, often in the millions of dollars range, presuming they get the money before they kill who they've kidnapped. 

When we meet this group, they're at attention and talking to somebody called "The Messenger" (Wilson Salazar) who's giving them instructions and approving their assignments and even their relationships. They're supposed to watch over their most recent kidnappee, who they call Doctora (Julianne Nicholson) and they are to take care of and watch over, their cow, Shakira. Which, makes sense, they're a bunch of kids in the remote mountains of Columbia, they're watching over this American who they've got imprisoned essentially, they need some food to survive while they waste their time shooting off guns, experimenting with sex and mushrooms, and just letting their regular old rage out, so yeah, a cow makes sense. 

Also, they end up accidentally killing the cow. They're conflicting on what to do about it. Dog (Paul Cubides) is the one that killed him, but it's Wolf (Julian Giraldo), the leader of the squad, ends up taking his own life. In the chaos afterwards, over the meat of the dead cow they're eating, they decide to put the blame on Wolf, fearing what would happen if they told The Messenger. Not all agree, but after there's an apparent attack on the compound, this thread mostly gets dropped until they have to change locations. They end traveling on some, what I guess is an island somewhere, it's definitely a coast, where things really start to fall apart. They're still idiot kids having fun mostly, but in-between, they temporarily lose track of Doctora, and that's when things start to get out of hand. First, they don't contact the Messenger after Bigfoot (Moises Arias) breaks the radio and also begins a relationship with Leidi (Karen Quintero) that wasn't approved. Eventually, after The Messenger comes to check on him, Bigfoot eventually turns on The Messenger and the group really does end up on their own at that point as a runaway splinter group from whomever the larger group was. 

The movie has a cast of mostly unknown kids who had little-to-no acting experience before this film, and they do a pretty good job. I'm told that the movie has a lot of parables representing the recent history of Columbia itself, that's something that I don't doubt, but like say, the historical symbolism of recent Mexico in Alfonso Cuaron's masterpiece "Y Tu Mama Tambien", I probably missed a lot of that subtext, but I certainly buy it. "Monos" in Spanish means monkeys, and which is also an animal known for being heavily populated, alone and adrift in the South American jungle. I love the sense of claustrophobia that we're constantly feeling. These kids are essentially separated from normal society and off on their own devices, but they're in their own world. There's no talk of any political stances or even much talk about the crimes and trades they're in; they're barely pawns enough to matter, and you end up wondering exactly how they ended up here. We don't get any backstory of that, almost like it doesn't matter; it just is the case. "Monos" essentially is about any group of kids who end up in any renegade faction militia group or rogue terrorist army. They're cursed by geography, economic circumstances, probably some kind of propaganda they're not fully aware of and other variables that we'd look on as horrifying, and they're caught not only in that warzone but they're also straddling that troubling age between childhood and adulthood. 

THE GREAT HACK (2019) Directors: Karim Amir & Jehane Noujaim


I have a theory that so often in life, in particular, those most desperate moments of despair, heartbreak and perhaps disillusionment, we often ask ourselves, the wrong question, when trying to analyze or comprehend just how everything went so wrong. We get a slight example of this in "The Great Hack" when it's most compelling character, the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Brittany Kaiser quietly reflects on Alexander Nix, the infamous data-collecting company's CEO, that frankly, he always seemed like a nice guy despite everything. Somebody off-camera then reflects back to her, something along the lines of "Well, yeah, he was being nice to you because you had the skills and talents that he needed...". You can kinda see that realization in her eyes as she takes a slight breath to recalibrate a lot. 'Cause that's the right question to ask, and it's not always obvious that that's the question to oneself when you're in the middle of it all. 

Brittany Kaiser is the most fascinating and enigmatic character caught in this whole scandal, one that "The Great Hack" only kinda scratches the surface at, but I'm okay with that, 'cause I'm not entirely sure I'd be able to fully understand it entirely if they did go through it. Basically, I get it though, Cambridge Analytica was a right-wing data collecting group that literally stole from Facebook the info and used it to manipulate the voters. This is not subjective, this is what they did. I know, most of us essentially think we're above being caught up in propaganda, but that's simply not and they did more then that, they were specifically targeting what they called the "Persuadeables". Not exactly what you would call "Swing voters" but people who are more susceptible to believing things that simply aren't true, and they would use these tactics, along with collecting all our data points that get picked up and collected every time we make a purchase with a debit card or like something on Facebook. Kaiser was one of the orchestrators of a lot of these tactics that eventually led to both Trump's election win and the Leave.EU's successful Brexit campaign. Among others; I didn't even know about what they apparently did in Trinidad & Tobago. 

We meet a few people who we're fighting the charge, first David Carroll a media design professor who began investigating after Trump's election and then decided to sue in a British court since that's where their base was, by simply requesting that the company provide all the information they have, on him. Yeah, he wants his own information; he's not even asking them to stop recording his data, just to let him know what they have on him, but it jumped start some investigations that were already going on, and put eyes on the company. Also, we have the reporters, most notably, Carole Cadwalldr, an investigative journalist for the Guardian who was on Cambridge Analytica even before Carroll was. It was her story, and her work with the original member of the third group, the whistleblowers. First there was one of their hackers, Christopher Wylie, but later Kaiser comes out, and she's the big fish. The hard-to-find one, hell, when we find her she had escape to Thailand somewhere just to stay off the grid. (Although in the credits there's a shot of her, I think at Burning Man of all things... Some kind of get-together of that sort) 

She is by far the most compelling character in this story. She started actually as apart of Obama's campaign team, first as an idealistic intern, and later she basically became one of his key members of his social media outreach team. It's that job that eventually got her to Cambridge Analytica. You can see the change over the years on her Facebook page as she went about as far to the left to as far to the right as she could. She joined the NRA, she spoke at CPAC, she was, always around. There's plenty of video of the other big names at Cambridge Analytica and she's always there with them. She doesn't talk much about the shift, she was good for Obama's team and she needed the money and got the job offer. It seems like she has essentially followed the Edward Snowden disillusionment with both American parties and politics in general, and although she's still getting some off-the-grid work in technology and politics, and otherwise all seems to look overwhelmed in her facial expressions. We're catching her in "The Great Hack" at her most vulnerable and it shows. 

The big takeaway from all these movies is that, essentially it's not so much a recap or an explanation or even a thrilling depiction and documenting of the crime, it's more-or-less a warning about just how technology has gotten out of control and how disingenuous players with loads of capitol and power are using it to control us and how they're going to continue to do that. Honestly, it's something I've been thinking about every time I wonder exactly how can we prevent something like Trump's election happening again. We know information is key, but as long as disinformation is allowed to thrive, the people who are most susceptible to it, are gonna be flooded and corrupted with it, and I don't know what the answer is. At least not in this country where freedom of the press and freedom of speech is the top line of our rulebook. (Well, top line of our amendments to our rule book anyway). Trump won in 2016 because he was able to get his message out to the few susceptible people who he needed to win over the most, and right now, that seems to be all that it takes. 

I have some hacker friends who can understand the greater horrors of what all this means in greater detail then I ever will and they all have this look like "Mr. Robot" does all the time as they seem to realize just how much more fucked we are then everyone else realizes. "The Great Hack" is from the documentary team of Karim Amir, a great producer who works in both documentary and regular media; he's a producer on "Ramy" at the moment and he was a producer on his co-director Jehane Noujaim's previous feature film "The Square", the documentary which depicted the fall of Mubarak regime and the Egyptian Revolution of 2014, which was apart of the Arab Spring that year that originated in Tunisia. She's also has had a knack for focusing on the media and the rise of technology as her big breakthrough docs were "" and one of my favorite documentaries "Control Room". "The Great Hack" seems like it's trying to get some answers, but ultimately it's about realizing that we're all apart of this Frankenstein's monster of our own creation that is modern technology, and the bad actors who will use it to take over and control our minds in ways that we, the less technologically-inclined may never fully understand. Cause it's not like Cambridge Analytica are the only bad actors, as the former CFO Julian Wheatland explains, paraphrasing here, it's just that they were the company that ultimately went down with this revelation first. 

And I'm still gonna post this blog on Facebook when it's all completed still.... Putting out more data points for them.... 

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