Tuesday, October 19, 2021


Among all the short films I wrote and tried to get filmed in college, I think I hold the record at UNLV for the amount of scripts I had in some form of production and never got finished or made at all, one of the parts I wrote was written specifically for Michael Tylo. It was a production class project and me and another writer basically took a diagram from a scene from a Woody Allen movie, and a new scene trying to match the same tension arcs, and then changed the location to a car ride. I had the first of many drafts on the project, and it got changed quite a bit after my hands were on it, but I was happy with the parts of mine that were left in, all of it I wrote knowing it would work for him. Michael was a member of The Players' Club and had become pretty famous as an actor on numerous soap operas, probably most notably as Quint on "Guiding Light". For me, I remembered him most for being the last actor to confess on the stand to Raymond Burr in the last of those "Perry Mason" TV movies. He always looked tired and grumpy, always seeming intense, even when he was just hanging outside the FDH building with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other, but he was a sweetheart. I had a few film classes with him, including a very beginners acting class once. After much of his work in Hollywood had withered, he enjoyed his work as a professor at UNLV eventually becoming the Dean of the College of Fine Arts. While he was generous to me in the very basic intro acting class I took with him, he was one of the people from school, who thought I should pursue film criticism, and I'm glad I took that advice. I did get to see him perform once too; in a school theatrical production, he played The Old Man in a staging of Sam Shepherd's "Fool for Love". It was kind of an odd production, they had him, above the performers, literally, looking down on them from above, like a ghostly presence that's always there; I was nervous at the beginning knowing how old he was standing up and acting on that catwalk for the whole thing, but he was really special in the role and you can really tell how much he enjoyed performing. 

Michael Tylo passed away recently; he was 72, and apparently had been sick for awhile, he died peacefully. He's gonna be missed by a lot of people, myself included. RIP Professor Tylo.

Well, on that note, there's not much else I want to discuss for now. Sorry I've been delayed lately with these posts. Let's get to the Movie Reviews!

BETTER DAYS (2020) Director: Derek Tsang


So, at certain periods of my life, I've been bullied, mainly at school. Now, I say that, and part of me thinks that, like, "Yeah, that's true, but...", 'cause, there are different levels of being bullied, and compared to others who were bullied and actually suffered severe mental and physical traumas, injuries and humiliations, no, I didn't get that per se, certainly not everyday. There were definitely a few incidents I can recall that were troubling and horrifying both at the time and/or in hindsight, and to be sure, some of these left me scarred enough, that you know...,  let's just say that I still hold grudges 'cause I'm too chickenshit to shoot a gun. (Or at least too chickenshit to serve time in jail for shooting a gun), that doesn't mean that I suffered as much or the way others have suffered from bullying. All things considered, I probably had it pretty well off; my lack of legit tolerance is probably why I was discouraged and/or discouraged myself from acting out more violently then I did. (And the unfortunate side effect of being smart enough and emotionally aware enough to understand that my actions have consequences) 

Still compared to what most people who have suffered, what I dealt with was nothing. I don't wish it on anybody, but nobody threw or pushed me down stairs... I don't think... Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, maybe something like that did happen....- Repressed memories aside, nobody beat me up and videotaped my humiliation, nobody stripped me of my clothes, or forced me to do something gross or horrific...- okay, as I write this I'm feeling like some of these did actually happen, and I might've repressed a lot more of this then I realized, but I do know people who suffered way more then I did. And certainly, I didn't suffer from bullying the way Chen Nian (Dongyu ZHAO) suffered. Well, I certainly know I was never tackled in an alley by a gang that forcible cut my hair against my will, that I assure you, did not happen. 

Based on a popular Young Adult novel in Asia, Chen Nian is a high school Senior who's studying intently for the college entrance exam or the Gaokao as it's known in China. She's from a fairly poor family and her struggles to get to college are essentially a way out of poverty. However, after one student's suicide, she becomes the new whipping girl for the-, I guess we're officially using this term, the school's "Queen Bee," Wei Lai (Ye ZHOU). She's humiliated, assaulted, they tell rumors about her and her family and spread them through the internet, they videotape and humiliate her, and after she turns them in, they begin chasing her outside of school with boxcutters. These girls are just as vicious as the men's street gangs that also perpetuate the neighborhood and the school, and everybody else just kinda sits back and watches and lets it happen.

See, that's something that I find shocking; I don't remember seeing a lot of bullying myself. I heard about it occasionally, and perhaps because I suffered a lot of it meant that it wasn't in the purview of me to see it in others, but I'd like to think that I wouldn't just watch as somebody was literally getting attacked by others; I would've called a teacher or something, asked if they needed help at least or were okay. (Then again, perhaps, when I think of this situation, I usually don't know the people involved, when that's usually different when it comes to fellow schoolmates.... This review's bringing back a lot of repressed memories....) Perhaps I did see something and missed obvious signs. The only times I remember being aware of others being bullied, it was when I heard some extremely horrific tales from some victims who discussed getting bullied and beaten up everyday and frankly I just didn't believe them. I mean, every time somebody did beat me up, I was almost always beat up at school and during school hours, and some of these people told me they were beaten up at or on their way home, and I didn't relate. In that respect, I was lucky. (I also did typically have the teaching staff on my side, that does help.)
Chen isn't so lucky there. Not only are the Queen Bee and her tagalong posse willing to seek her out off-campus, but she gets caught up in somebody else's beating, a young kid named Ziao Bei (Jackson Lee) who doesn't go to her school, and seems to be homeless, living alone in a hidden little hole in the wall. He's not lucky enough to be advanced enough to go to the high school and whatever homelife he had, he's clearly been living on the streets right now. Eventually, he starts protecting her and she even moves in with him while she continues studying for the Gaokao. For the most part, this protection helps her out to evade the Queen Bee and her clan, but eventually, situations occur and they catch her. I won't give away where this ends up, but this movie is satisfying.

The ending credits with how the story of Chen Nian led to bullying reforms throughout China, and while those claims are impressive, I couldn't find any evidence of the story being directly based on a true story. It's adapted from a popular young adult novel, and the movie became the first Hong Kong made and directed film to earn an Oscar nomination in the Best International Film category; only the nation's third nomination and the previous two were directed by mainland China-born directors. It's the first film I've seen from director Derek Tsang but he seems to be really good at telling some wonderful coming-of-age tales. This movie also must've been hard to cast, and he gets some amazing performances out of some very young actors; I was actually shocked when I looked up their ages and saw how just how not-so-young many of them were.  I guess the title, "Better Days" is a hopeful one, looking up towards the future where this sort of behavior isn't so prominent or is at least far more discouraged. The movie's bookends with scenes of Chen Nien's in the future, as a teacher, seeing a similarly traumatized student in pain, clearly from being bullied and she ends up deciding to, pay it forward. There's never going to not be bullying to some degree, either in school, or in society, but I agree with the sentiment. Things will get better, and it's gonna to become a more ostracized and less accepted practice the better that schools, adults, and yes, other kids learn how to combat it, and demand that such behaviors are not acceptable in any part of society.

Despite everything, "Better Days" is optimistic even if sometimes that means that there isn't a better way to rid oneself of the bully in one's world, then to literally get rid of the bully. Perhaps some, might find that subtext of the movie and reading, somewhat controversial. As someone who was bullied, I can say for sure that that was often the only solution that I ever came up with myself, (In theory, not experimented or practiced it...) so I am not judging it, at all. Hopefully, "Better Days" refers to a time when that's never the only actual solution to the problem.

THE MOLE AGENT (2020) Director: Maite Alberdi


My initial instincts with "The Mole Agent" is that this is that rare documentary premise that probably worked better as a regular feature film. Cast some of the best older actors around, get somebody like a Michael Caine to play the the private investigator to go undercover and report on the goings on of the inside of a nursing home. I mean, the film nearly writes itself, but I guess I get not doing that. Instead, "The Mole Agent" is a lovely documentary from Chile that uses this little conceit as a way to enter the world of a nursing home. 

Sergio is a recent widower who's got just enough technological knowledge to be hired to go undercover for this nursing home. He's hired by the son of one of the patients, Sonia, as he fears they're not treating her well there. He suspects theft and possible elder abuse. This setups indicates potentially something disturbing in the home. We do see a few reports of theft, but mostly, we get some depictions of some wonderful characters, particularly one old lady Marta, who seems to have fallen in love with Sergio. She has a lovely time with him, and he seems well-liked in general at the home; they even name him King at one get-together party. 

Essentially, the movie is an excuse to showcase the people living at these nursing homes and how lovely and full of life they are. I've seen a few movies like this recently; the last one was called "Some Kind of Heaven" about a retirement village. That one was not as endearing as "The Mole Agent". I watched "The Mole Agent" twice, and the second time through it became much more endearing. I'm not sure what the original intent was with the film and the idea. It does show a better and more compelling look at some of the fascinating and compelling characters in this particular nursing home, and it does look a little critically at the conditions and how it's run. We find out who the thief is for instance. There's nothing eye-opening here necessarily, which, is in of itself, eye-opening, I guess. 

I wonder if this is the kind of movie that could be shot everywhere. And I don't mean, that it just happens that this film is Chilean in particular, I mean like, should they actually remake this movie, everywhere. Set up a similar setup in as many nursing homes around the world as they can, and send in a mole private detective and see what people we find and what abuses we may or may not discover? I hope this wasn't too contrived, is all I'm saying, there's an idea here that's strong, and I don't hate the result we get, I just think that the film might just be well-worn territory. The film earned a Best Documentary Feature nomination and was shortlisted for Best International Feature at the Oscars last year. It's the kind of nomination that I have nothing against personally, but you kinda wonder if the fact that the Academy still has a lot of old people voting in it might've effected the count. That said, this is a good movie, one that I can understand people going back to. I don't know if it's complete, but for a few months of investigating, if this is what you come up with, eh, I've seen colder investigations. I've also seen way less interesting and more poorly made looks into the world of nursing homes and retirement communities. So, this is fine. 

DATING AMBER (2020) Director: David Freyne


Thinking back on it in hindsight, I could easily see "Dating Amber" being told, with the characters being adults. It probably has a few times that are slipping my mind to be honest, but yeah, the idea of somebody acting as a straight relationship partner to protect a gay friend's sexuality from getting out, that, was anyway, a fairly common practice. It's also smart to set this movie in the mid-90s. I suspect most high school student, even a generation or two later, wouldn't have been caught up as much in the insults and insensitive bullying that came from keep demeaning or insulting others cause of their sexuality, not as much anyway. 

Home, might've been a different matter though. I know, when I was in high school, it seems like half my best friends were, at least, openly bisexual, at least to their school friends, almost all of whom that I knew anyway, we're incredibly supportive. Years earlier though, I do remember the six-letter f-word thrown around every day on the elementary school playground, as well as other derogatory homosexual terms. So, 1994, before Ellen came out, yes, this seems like a good time for such a story to happen.

Amber (Lola Petticrew) is a lesbian who rents out her trailer to her classmates for their sexual escapades and misadventures. Her father recently committed suicide and her mother Jill (Simone Kirby) is still a bit flaky afterwards. She's saving up money and getting ready to try to be a real part of the Riotgrrl movement. (She's also totally right on about Oasis sucking and that Kathleen Hanna is better.) Eddie (Fionn O'Shea) is in more denial about his sexuality identity then possibly any character in film history. He's a weakling who's insisting on following his father into the army, Ian (Barry Ward) and while he and his mother Hannah (Sharon Horgan) are clearly struggling to stay together, with his career in the army being a main divisive issue between them, even Ian's kinda unsure about Eddie joining eventually. He's picked on and bullied at school for his latent homosexuality, by both the idiot boys, and the girls, including Tracey (Emma Willis) the one who he absolutely just refused to be with to comical degrees, despite her forced attempts to try to get him to have sex with him. 

Eventually, they make a deal to pretend to be a couple to help deal with each other's difficult home and school situations, and this works for the most part. Perhaps a little too well as they start to feel a bit for each other. Not sexually, although for Ian, who'd rather live a lie in order to please those in his Irish suburb, that doesn't seem to matter. He get more annoyed as she begins seeing Sarah (Lauryn Canny) while he sees little reason to stop dating. It's an interesting thing to see repression and denial; like he's trying to will his urges away, if he just becomes masculine enough. You almost get the sense that in another time period, this kid grows up to become the Chris Cooper character in "American Beauty" or something. At one point, he let's his urges at an out-of-town party go for a minute and he ends up attacker anybody who witnessed the incident. They're literally at a gay bar, but you know, he doesn't get it yet. 

"Dating Amber" is a coming-of-age, coming out story that probably has more familiarity to many then they probably would realize today. In some ways, it's a time portal to a past that hopefully fewer and fewer teens, homosexual or not will never have to experience. Sometimes accepting oneself for what they are can be harder to do then surviving the expectations and ideals of any community or family even. The movie is purportedly autobiographical from writer/director David Freyne and I'm surprised I haven't seen a clever movie with this plot before, especially considering how many great teen movies are about outsiders coming together. Maybe this one just seemed a little too natural to ever happen before now, and it takes the power of hindsight to recognize the screwed up situation the past was for so many.

COUP 53 (2020) Director: Taghi Amirani



In 2013, the United States formally recognized their involvement in the 1953 coup to overthrow the Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh. It was the first, and by far not the only time that the United States and their intelligent agencies would be involved in the overthrow of foreign governmental powers and install, puppet dictator leaders who would do what they ask, most of which involved selling and using of their natural resources, in this case, oil. If you remember British Petroleum for the Deepwater Horizon oil tankard spill, well, they got the majority of their oil buy taking and controlling Iran's oil reserves. 

In fact, the United Kingdom actually had a lot more to do with the overthrow of Iran then America did, and had more monetary interest in the overthrow then we did, although it was more of a concern and note then the history books now indicate; apparently Eisenhower ran on not only ending the Korea conflict but also the Iran issue. (Truman, didn't want to overthrow democracies)

Talig Amirani has been a documentary filmmaker for years but he's been an expert on Mosaddegh for perhaps longer and has been utterly fascinated with how important and world-changing his overthrow and installing the Shah has influenced and change his life and the world, particularly the Middle East over the years. He's a duel UK-Iranian citizen and knows both cultures well, and how the story of Mosaddegh's removal is told in both the Middle East, and the West, and wants to get as much of the actual history down as possible. Unfortunately, for those who actually know how history is written and rewritten, this can be a much taller order then we realize. 

"Coup 53" is a more unusual documentary then most, in that it follows Taghi as he's making the movie, something that, believe it or not, is very Iranian. Iranian New Wave moviemaking is often about the deconstruction and reveal of the filmmaking process, and here we begin with him, and then we see him going to several other sources and talking heads about the coup, most notably, some people who were involved with the documentary series "End of Empire". 

"End of Empire" was a documentary series by the BBC in the '80s that was about, well, essentially everywhere that England used to rule. I saw a meme on Facebook not too long ago about how more countries in the world have a holiday for their Independence from Great Britain then for any other holiday on Earth; I doubt that's actually true, I'm sure New Year's and probably Christmas has a little more influence, but you know, I wouldn't be surprised if that's true. Anyway, Iran or as it was formerly known, Persia, actually isn't one of those countries, technically, but there was an episode of "End of Empire" on it anyway. It does discuss the coup, but not to the effect that Taghi would prefer or expect. It is a British production after all..., but he begins investigating the documentary itself. Eventually, he finds some transcriptions of interviews that didn't make it into the film, and some unused footage as well that actually discussed such things as the kidnapping and murder of his Chief of Police, Mahmoud Afshartoos, an original attempt at a coup that failed, and the successful one that installed the Shah. Most notably, a person named Norman Darbyshire, an MI-6 operative stationed originally in Iran before Mosaddegh as a defense mechanism threw out the entire British embassy and he then orchestrated, basically the entire coup in exile in Cyprus. 

So, essentially what Taghi and legendary editor Walter Murch decide to do is not only investigate and piece together the missing pieces of the old documentary, including reshooting the Darbyshire interview with Ralph Fiennes portraying him, and getting the actual filmmakers who were involved with the film there. There's also some impressionistic animated sequences that document some of the eyewitness events being told by the interviewees of both this documentary and from the unused and/or recreated footage from "End of Empire". 

Essentially, "Coup 53" is about how narratives, for documentaries and yes, history are created and told. The truth never is simple, and much of it is either undocumented, repressed from the public, unknown to the public, or often has to be investigated years later to find out. Nowadays, there's more avenues to report the news then ever, and we're more cognizant and aware that the first drafts of history are rarely if ever the complete stories but even still, things get forgotten, parts get rewritten, or reimagined, timelines get misplaced, and there's only so much room you can fit in a textbook, or a documentary, especially if you don't want to tell those parts of the story. 

All documentaries and movies are bias, anybody who asks for an unbias perspective is either an idiot troll who knows better or an idiot who doesn't. "Coup 53" makes us exceptionally aware of that fact by placing the ways that history was kept from us into the forefront. While we may be able to actually uncover the real history of the world by sorting through hundreds of papers in specifically select boxes that have been storage away and kept for years, some/much of it, we're still not be in possession of for one reason or another, are we actually going to seek out and get these stories out there, or are we just gonna keep telling the more comforting tales of history that we're familiar with, that have been forced down our throats and sanitized with soap and corruption? 

Anyway, I'd go on more rants, but smarter people then me already have, the big thing is that "Coup 53" isn't just one of the best documentaries out there, it's one of the most important. It shows and tells us history that should be more pressing and told then they are, and how and why it's not been told until now. There's ways to deconstruct the medium of filmmaking to make a bigger point through documentary and this is one of the best and most successful uses of it. This is the kind of movie that's both a must-see for cinephiles as well as history buffs; arguably, this should be a classroom staple documentary. 

BORN TO BE (2020) Director: Tania Cypriano


You know, what exactly has been the fear for someone who wants to have a sex change operation. And I'm not talking about the idiots who think God is infallible and anybody who's not a straight white male/female is unnatural or whatever, I mean like, the actual fears and stigmas and whatnot. If somebody believes they weren't born as the right sex, what the issue with them wanting to change it, and why is it something that is, so difficult to get done? It was something I was thinking about at the end of "Born to Be", where Dr. Ting, the head of the fairly newly-created Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery, was driving home while on the phone with a young teenage boy, who was asking questions about just how young he had to be in order to begin the transitioning process. Like, my first thought was, "Well, clearly, he's desperate enough to even go through whatever processes and back-channels had he to do to even get on the phone with this very busy man we've been watching for awhile take care of several transitioning patients, and, part of me thought, "Well, yeah, why does he have to wait 'til he's eighteen to begin the process? And why does he need a parent's approval to even get a true consultation before then?"

Now, it's true that, most of medical techniques and procedures, well-, some of them are still being invented, we even see some the process and setbacks of some of them as Dr. Ting is himself creating and trying to master some of these procedures, but we are still way farther along then we ever were previously, but still.... Like from recollection, every time I heard about this, in the past, the focus was on two things. First, the money, 'cause insurance weren't covering it, but second, just how difficult it is, to go through a long process of living actively as an opposite gender, for, at least a full year, before you were cleared to start having surgeries. In hindsight, yeah, why, would that be, what the hell would be the point of that; like you had to live as a transvestite before you can change your gender?

Like, what...? Like if you think about it, for half a second, it's preposterous, making people prove to others that this is the right, and yet, I do kinda get it.... I get it in the same way that I get why I'd worry about anybody who was going to get any kind of life-changing cosmetic surgery. On top of, all the, "it's surgery, things can go wrong", problems that can arise, and if you don't believe that just watch a marathon of "Botched" once in a while, and that's scare the fuck out of you..., but, I can see like, even if everything goes right medically, being horrifically concerned and worried about what you just did?! I think a lot of people can think that, whether it's a nose job, a boob job, or whatever, I'd be concerned about whether or not I made the right decision; I mean, hell, I don't even have any tattoos or piercings or ever dyed my hair, much less decide that I should change my entire gender. 

But, that's from a perspective where, mostly I've felt comfortable enough with both my outer appearance, and more importantly, my inner self that I wouldn't feel the need to consider such action. I think it makes sense from my bias perspective, but "Born to Be", more then I think most any other documentary I've seen on the subject, arguably any other film, reveals, well, how much different this is, at least that's what I got the most out of it.

Dr. Ting is the head of this newly-developed part of Mount Sinai, and he's one of the foremost experts on gender transitioning and even he's still learning on the job. He's also still trying to teach on the job, as so few doctors do what he does that they're trying to start learning programs up. He's learned from an Argentinean doctor who was the best at the world at this, and he's still learning to do some things on his own. We see him and his busy life; there's months of waits for people to have a consultation, and even then, he's often so busy that that consultations have to wait longer then reasonable. Yet, for the most part, he's got a real emotional interest in his patients. 

We learn about a few of them and the filmmakers seem to have gotten some amazing trust out of Dr. Ting and his patients. One of them, Cashmere, a man-to-female transitioning has been around for awhile. At one point, she talks about being apart of ball culture and even mentions her friend Marsha, who is Marsha P. Johnson, which is a name you should know for her importance in the trans-acceptance movement.  Another one is Mahogany, who was actually quite successful as a model in South Africa as a guy, but couldn't keep up the gig knowing that it wasn't his intention to remain a male. He's still quite chic as he goes in for feminization surgeries around his face. There's also a young patient, Garnet, who we watch transition from male-to-female. She's a young 20something who actually has quite a bit of family support from her transition, and yet, one night, after transitioning, she attempted suicide and continued to struggle with mental health issues. Dr. Ting is particularly shook by this, and I can understand why. You'd think being able to transition into a more appropriate body for you would help lead to less suicidal struggles and thoughts, but it's not a cure-all. She's not regretting the transition at all, in fact she's ecstatic that she was able to change at such a young age, but you know, she still has issues.... That's sad.

"Born to Be" is one of the most engrossing documentaries around. It's the front lines of the new advancement in medical world and the progressive world where genders that aren't simply male or female are more accepted and common and there's more options for those trans people to figure out how best to continue with their lives, and more opportunities to get them. This is one of those where I'd like to see a sequel in like every five or six years or so, like the Up Documentaries about what's going on in the lives of these characters as well as the doctor and the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery and see where and how everyone has advanced personally, technologically and how the culture has evolved and changed. As the medicine and techniques advance, more people will be able to be the people they were born to be, and that's a wonderful endearing thought. 

THE WIND (2019) Director: Emma Tammi


There's been two major trends in American horror filmmaking in recent years, one I'm more of a fan of then the other. The one I really like is the African-American and African-immigrant led stories of racial fear horrors, with films like Jordan Peele's "Us" and especially "Get Out", along with stuff like Remi Weekes's "His House", that's based on personal experiences and racial theory commentary on the modern world. The other, is the period piece supernatural horrors that started with Robert Eggers's "The Witch" and "The Lighthouse" and others, like Mona Vastfold's "The World to Come", which, isn't quite a horror, but is horrific enough and similar enough to this film that I'm gonna count it. I don't love this trend to be honest, even though I think Eggers's films in particular are quite special, I honestly think in the wrong hands, this genre can be little more then just, average horror movies, in a different setting, while the other trend has more openness for personal new takes and twists on the narrative. 

"The Wind" is one of the latter types of films, a period piece, supernatural horror. I like is a bit better then "The World to Come" which is still on my mind. "The Wind" had me worried, since the last time I saw a horror movie where "The Wind" was the villain was M. Night Shaymalan's "The Happening", which is one of his very worst films...- so I wan concerned going in. 

I do like the film enough to recommend overall, but the movie, does have problems. The movie takes place in frontier-era New Mexico where Isaac and Lizzy Macklin (Ashley Zuckerman and Caitlin Gerard) have moved to hopefully begin a new settlement in the mostly deserted area. The movie actually begins though, with a burial, not of either of these characters but of Emma (Julia Goldani Telles) the wife of Gideon (Dylan McTee), and her stillborn child. Emma and Gideon were a new couple they befriended after they moved nearby. 

Now, this is a movie that I don't think it's helped by telling this story out of order. It does create a sense of unease and tension, but in this case, I think it hurts the overall narrative. This is one of the weird movies where I actually want somebody to reedit this in chronological order; I think it would work the narrative better. 
You see, we get to see Emma and Lizzy's friendship bloom and evolve, and Lizzy does share about her previous failed pregnancy, and some of the weird, paranoia images she saw during her pregnancy and how her husband, wasn't able to see the demons. Also, Emma's marriage to Gideon is struggling a bit as well, as these images begin to invade both Lizzy and Emma periodically. 

Eventually, this all kinda works out, as we sort through the clues and the when and where and mostly of what of it all, but I just don't know, how much of this really worked as something deeper then a typical ghost story. Like, if this took place in modern time, would much change? Ehhh, other then being closer to a town and presumably people, not really in my mind. I think that's my query, if you're gonna set something in a different time period, there has to be a reason, and that counts for horror too. I'm actually in the middle of "Lovecraft Country" at the moment, and that's a horror series set at a specific time period for a reason. That series, is an interesting comparison between these two trends and I don't completely get that show either, but I always feel like there's more going on then just what I'm able to grasp. "The Wind" is interesting in what it's trying to do, but I don't know how deep it really is. I think there's good metaphors about the fears and paranoias about childbirth here, but again, I think that could take place in modern times too. It's an interesting debut feature from Emma Tammi, a young director most known for a podcast series, which, yeah, kinda makes sense; this story does fell like it make a better "Welcome to Night Vale" episode side story perhaps. I'm on the fence obviously, but the film worked for me at the end and sometimes that's all a horror really needs. 

SOCRATES (2019) Director: Alexandre Moratto


Well, I don't know what I thought a Brazilian film about "Socrates" was going to be about, but I guess this is as good as a subject matter as anything. Alexander Moratto's debut feature is about as a bare bones a haunting neorealist narrative as you can imagine. At barely over an hour long, the movie relies on the intense closeness and intimacy of it's subject. 

The movie follows the titular Socrates (Christian Malheiros) a young teen boy who's mother suddenly passes away unexpectedly. It was just them, and now he's got nobody and for whatever reason, he's not willing to easily accept help from others, not that he necessarily should trust everyone either though. With rent due, he tries to take his mother's janitorial job, but has trouble getting a permanent replacement job because of his age. Also, he can't get his mom's paycheck, but he does lie about her passing at first. A social worker (Vanessa Santana) tries to help, although she admits that most of the options involve his going into the foster system. He gets some help and comfort from Maicon (Tales Ordakji), a slightly older teenager who's attracted to Socrates, although isn't out yet.

Socrates is gay, and we learn later when his father, Robson (Jaymes Rodriguez) inevitably does come back and make his presence known, that he's ashamed of him for this. 

Taking place in Sao Paulo, Moratto's debut was actually funded by the Quero Institute, a UNICEF non-profit that uses and promotes young filmmakers from the lower income backgrounds. This movie definitely feels like it's the tightest and simplest story that you can make with young filmmakers trying to tell a young person's story. Moratto's is from Brazil, but he has dual nationality with America and was trained at the UNC Film School, and probably more importantly in terms of influence, works on few of Ramin Bahrani's film sets. Bahrani's been making some great low-budget stories of the lower and working class for decades now, including some movies about orphaned kids like the wonderful "Chop Shop". He's made more mainstream work in recent years but this is his bread-and-butter and with that knowledge, Moratto's approach makes more sense with that background. I struggled with the intimacy of the film, and how so much of the details seemed to just be conveniently held back. I get it, he's a frustrated kid in a horrible situation and full of grief and anger, but I felt like I was missing a little too much at first. I've seen some people praise Moratto heavily as a new big director, his latest project "7 Prisoners" has gotten a lot of attention. I understand that desire, but I'm not on the bandwagon quite yet. I feel this was a good first film, but I want to see more. 

For me, I've seen what he'll do on a microbudget, now, let's see what he wants to say when he has more ability to say it. 

THE RIVER AND THE WALL (2019) Director: Ben Masters


The way the right wing of America talks about building a wall along the Mexican border, you'd swear that they actually think the border is like, an actual, discernable line, like on a map that only shows countries. Like it's always been there; that borders aren't just artifices created through trades, treaties, numerous battles and wars over land and property, and several other notable incidents through history that have built and designed both these countries, not to mention natural geographic separations, like, for instance, they think they can build a wall on a frickin' river!

Well, actually, they might be able to do that.... Technically, many parts of what was the Rio Grande have dried up along the Texas border, so, hypothetically you could build there, but otherwise, it's not likely. In fact, one thing that's analyzed and brought up a lot in "The River and The Wall" a travel documentary where several videographers and documentarians, travel the 1200 miles along the Texas/Mexico border, through hikes, bikes, kayaking, and any and all other methods they deem necessary, is that build such a wall, would actually mean that America is sacrificing and giving up land to Mexico, since most of the time, they're never gonna build over the exact actual border, but sometimes a few miles  or acres inside America, along the border. Essentially, this can give quite a significant amount of land, back to Mexico. And this isn't just, like a few practicalities, this is essentially separating entire landscapes, farmland, habitats, environments from one country, while ironically, the outdoor areas of fishing and adventure areas that foster some of the areas rarest animals, especially birds. Who knew the Texas border was a birder's paradise? 

There's not a whole lot to the film, narratively; there's a lot of picturesque images and all of the group get to tell their own personal stories throughout the film, and those stories are somewhat interesting. Director Ben Masters made a fascinating film a few years earlier called "Unbranded" about cowboys traveling from border to border using wild mustang horses that I was much more intrigued by myself. There's a few political names here on both sides of the aisle, most notably Beto O'Rourke talking about the true lack of genuine need for a wall and how many ways more fencing and such would just be useless to preventing anything from truly crossing the border. He's right, if anybody think the true criminal elements that cross the border into our country would be helped more by more border security measures as opposed to say, port security measures, then they're basically delusional. Like a single drug mule is going to cross the border with 50 billion dollars worth of product in their backpacks or something, y'know? 

Mostly, the movie is just a contemplative travelogue on the Rio Grande, and I guess for that, I can recommend it. The way the world is changing, both politically as well as environmentally through climate change, they could be documenting the last time the area is going to even be available for a true journey like the one they're taking, so there is a purpose for this that's worth noting and it's a decent enough journey. It's not my ideal vacation but you know, for those for whom it would be, I'd like for them to get the chance to enjoy it before they do something stupid like give El Paso to Ciudad Juarez or something stupider like that in an effort to keep Central American immigrants out of Albuquerque or whatever hair-brained idea the right gets next week and tries to enact. 

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