Wednesday, November 17, 2021


Sorry for the delays on this one. I've been busier then normal and frankly, I had a lot to think about with some of these films this time around. Took me longer to write then usual, which sucked 'cause it delayed me from watching or enjoying anything else. I did get around to watching some other stuff, most notably for me, "Yellow Submarine", which is one of those movies I've had a hard time getting ahold of for awhile for some reason; finally nice to get that one off me watchlist, and it's quite a good movie. I don't know why a bunch of music films seemed to cross my path this time around, but they did, and as you'll see, they were pretty good. 

Among more recent films I didn't get a chance to review, I saw Terence Malick's "Song To Song", which, I like, but definitely felt like it was a more minor Malick feature. I guess anything and everything has seemed minor works of his since "The Tree of Life" but yeah, still minor. Kinda felt like a better, more complete, version of Michael Winterbottom's "9 Songs". without all the sex, but still, ehh.... I think I prefer Malick when he takes a decade or two between films. 

I also watched "The Leisure Seeker", which I think I kept confusing with "The Leisure Class" which is that one HBO movie that was the "Project Greenlight" finalist from it's last season, which from what I heard wasn't that great. (Glad to know that Effie Brown came out of that season as the most successful person out of it.) Anyway, that film, is, pretty standard old couple comedy, with the one characters having a movie version of Alzheimer's. It's harmless, but I was mostly rolling my eyes. 

Anyway, I'm finishing up 2019 as soon as I can with the Worst of the Year next blog, and hopefully I'll rush through the OYL Awards after that. That's probably why I was running through a lot of 2019 films this time around, so let's get to the reviews.

GUNDA (2021) Director: Viktor Kosakovskiy


There is a genre of the meditative documentary that I've become far less and less impressed by over the years. I have one of them on my upcoming worst film lists that's been on my mind. That said, I've seen the genre be great though. It's not easy, but it's possible. After watching "Gunda" a black and white, wordless meditation on some farm animals living their daily lives, I think I finally decoded what makes one of these films work and what makes others fail. 

The one that fail, for me, are the movies that use this style of filmmaking to tell us what to think. The ones that work, are the ones that are allowing us, to think. On the surface, I don't love "Gunda" either, but it definitely works for what it was doing. But, it didn't force me to think about anything. It just showed the daily lives of these animals, mostly some the title pig and her piglets as we see them from youth 'til adult, (And piglets are so very cute btw, as the Google Image search picture I chose depicts, awww!) as well as some cows and a rooster. And yet, I did think about these animals. Occasionally as I glance over towards the screen to see the images. This wasn't "Koyannisqatsi" or my personal favorite of this genre, "Samsara" here, but this was surprising good ambience. Actual sounds from a farm is way more compelling then other relaxing sounds, and yet, I still grounded myself into thought as I watched the lives of these animals. 

They seem like relatively quaint lives, if not full and complete lives, and sure, the idea that these are essentially future dinners for me, came across my mind occasionally. Hell, I put on an old episode of the Japanese version of Iron Chef while I wrote this review, because as cute as I like seeing the suckling pigs battling for space among mom's udders for milk, I also kinda thought about how nice they look on my dinner plate as well, but I liked getting lost in the farm. When this is done badly, it's usually without an intent of just showing us the world, it's usually to provoke a message. There's some environmental documentaries that have used some of the same techniques and approaches here, and I think I've mostly been repelled by them. They're trying to make me care about what we're looking at, instead of just letting us wallow in the world at large. 

Russian director Viktor Koakovskiy seems particularly good at this. He made a movie I've been meaning to get to a couple years ago called "Aquarela" about ice and it's shaping and moving in recent years in light of global warming. He's been at this for awhile, and I suspect I'll enjoy his work more then other similar filmmakers like this. That said, I won't say this is the best thing ever or anything, but it's nice to see this kind of documentary done well and correctly for a change. 

THE GO-GO'S (2020) Director: Allison Ellwood



The timing's a bit funny to me. Earlier today, as I was scrolling down my Facebook wall and I happened to notice Jane Weidlin, who I follow on Facebook, 'cause she's a pretty fascinating figure in and outside of the the band, posting some clips and footage and mild anecdotes about how the Go-Go's were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame recently. It's so recent, that they don't even have their year of inductions listed yet on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame's webpage among inductees, but that's understandable; they tape them earlier, and they don't air the program 'til later this month on HBO Max. At the end of this documentary, which eventually aired on Showtime after being screened at Sundance, and once previously during the film as well, there's a few notable names, including Chris Connelly and Stewart Copeland who themselves ponder why exactly they haven't been inducted. I know for a fact that this movie played a big part in them getting inducted, which..., honestly, kinda surprised me when they got it. I mean, I don't think they're unworthy, but full disclosure here, I do submit a fan ballot every year, and no, I didn't vote for them. Honestly, I think I was little surprised they were even on the ballot. I don't think they previously made the fan ballot, and well,...- Well, I'll just confess this, I didn't really truly (Finger quotes) "get" The Go-Go's 'til much later. 

Like, I actually did, essentially know their history, but there was something about their hits that always irked me. In particular, "We Got the Beat" which, I for years, only thought was good for the opening of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and was otherwise a fairly simple song, and "Vacation", which, I think we can all, pretty much agree that that's one of the absolute worst music videos ever. That's also when I thought their sound just became a little too sanitized for me. (It probably doesn't help that when it comes to girl punk bands of the time, I've always been a much bigger fan of The Runaways then The Go-Go's.) Admittedly, I think "Vacation" is still kinda eh on my ear, but overall, yeah, these are terrible, very incorrect takes. "We Got the Beat" in particular; I don't know what the hell I was thinking, that song's great. And "Our Lips are Sealed" is a classic. 

And they were the first big, successful all-girl rock band; to this day, they're the only one to ever have a number one album, and considering how little rock'n'roll bands are pop culturally relevant now, which, boo!, but yeah, that's probably a record that's gonna stand for awhile. I mean, there's always been girl groups, but there really hadn't been an all-girl band, certainly none that made it this big. 

Certainly none like The Go-Go's which...-, um, oh boy...- like I said, I actually did know the general history of this band before going into this documentary, and I'll say this about them, um, yeah, The Go-Go's were just, like, the biggest out of control drug addict partiers in rock'n'roll!

Yeah, I think that also kinda made me dismiss them more then I should; they had this, like I wouldn't say a clean-cut pop image,- like it wasn't like hidden, their excesses, but like, it didn't come out, come out, to the general public just how much complete trainwrecks they all were. Like, they were apart of the L.A. punk scene, and they partied, probably harder then any other of those bands. Let's just say that, like Aerosmith, it's mind-boggling that they got into the Hall of Fame, with all their members still being alive. And the L.A. scene,- people when they talk punk rock, especially at this time period, there's usually first, the London/UK scene, where we get The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, The Damned, and then 2nd, there's the New York CBGB's scene, where we got The Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Blondie, The Misfits,.... By contrast, the L.A./California punk scene, never really crossed over into mainstream, not as much at least. Like, I like X, and Black Flag and The Germs and whatnot, but they're not the names people think of with punk. (I have a theory that like, 80% of people who have a Dead Kennedy shirt or sticker have never actually listened to the Dead Kennedys; they mostly just like the logo) Anyway, The Go-Go's were formed in that scene. 

The documentary goes through their entire story, and it is a bit of a complicated story. The band, had very punk rock roots; they basically started up as a band after seeing The Sex Pistols' infamous L.A. performance, which I think was one of their last performances before they broke up, and after correctly identifying that Johnnie Rotten and the band were, basically pricks, they kinda found each other and started to learn to play. Yeah, they barely knew their instruments; they genuinely don't sound that much different then early Kathleen Hanna/Bikini Kill punk, especially Charlotte Caffey's early work with her first band, The Eyes, which is actually surprising 'cause she was a classically trained pianist. And the biggest addict, which she somehow kept secret. 

I don't know why or how you could possibly manage to hide a drug addiction in the Go-Go's, but apparently nobody knew how bad a heroin addict she was.... I guess it's kinda like, literally hiding a needle in a box full of needles, but like,....- Seriously, The Go-Go's were- you can put them up with any male band you can imagine from that time, they were excess personified.

Yeah, the band, especially in the very early days went through several iterations and, two band members were replaced before they first made it big, they even went through a relationship and breakup within the band...  They eventually became good enough to be the house band for the Whiskey A Go-Go, and eventually got their big break touring England with Madness and The Specials..., and dating members of Madness and The Specials. 

It is kinda hard to reflect on just how unusual and unique they were, both at the time, and in hindsight. There just weren't a lot of all-girl bands, and the industry really didn't know how to deal with them for a while. They were unique and well-known enough for everybody to know about them, but they took forever to get signed, even after getting some airplay in L.A. 

They go through, pretty much the entire Go-Go's story, which has also lasted a lot longer then I think anybody really thought they would. Their breakup was a rough one; I remember being shocked when they came back with a fourth album back in 2001. Partly because I was shocked they got back together at all, 'cause they were pretty much hated each other for years previously but also because I thought it seemed a little too late for them which, eh it was mildly bigger then I thought it would be..., and they had a few half-way successful, half-way failed attempts at comebacks before then. We don't get to see much of that, although we do see the band getting back together now and writing some new material again as they work around a Broadway show based around their music that was a hit, and they're-, well they got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They released a new single too, that's pretty good. Maybe they'll have a new album. 

The movie didn't go into the greatest amount of minute details of their disputes over the years, most of which was based around money and songwriting credits at the time, but make no mistake, this really is a complicated band with a lot of tricky history between these girls, but most of it seems to long be in the past.

Anyway, yeah, The Go-Go's is technically probably just a proficient documentary, but you do get such a larger sense of this bad, more then we have at any other time and they've never been this personal before. And we do get the grander sense of how they were true groundbreakers and are an important, seminal and in many ways, very influential rock band. They might got shoved together into New Wave once they got the shine on them from the MTV machine, but the Go-Go's are really a punk band that kinda accidentally started making pop songs and I think that's why their songs still holds up and has a lot of power. Perhaps I should've voted for them this year, either way I'm glad they got in; I wasn't against them being in the Hall, ever and this movie makes a damn good case for them. It's definitely the most definite insider look at their history yet, told by them, themselves. It's also just a lot of fun. You really can't not have fun with The Go-Go's, and that was true when they hit and that's still true now.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, no they don't go into that video...- if you know the one I'm talking about, then you know..., and I'm sure now that they're sober-ish, they can probably be around roadies again.... 

ABOMINABLE (2019) Directors: Jill Culton and Bill Wilderman


"Abominable" is by no technical means, a bad movie, at moments, it even borders on being quite good. There's a good idea here, but "Abominable" is very much a soulless movie. 

Now, what do I mean by that? Well, it's one of those things that's hard to describe, but you know that no matter how much we bag on Disney that essentially, when they do make something, especially with animation, that for the most part, you can kinda tell that a lot went into it. I don't just mean the technical accomplishments, but you can feel that there's something there, even in most of their least compelling and interesting films, you can still find a glimmer or two that let's you know that this was somebody's true vision and intention; that while this might not mean something profound or compelling to me, that it indeed felt and meant a lot to somebody. Even if that somebody is/was Walt Disney himself. Yeah, that's why we do still care of what they do or who they bring into their ether, 'cause there clearly was somebody's vision behind it who did care about what they were producing, and that mostly continues to today to one degree or another. That's why when they do something, like a "Cars" sequel or, I don't know, "Home on the Range" or oee of their endless amount of cynical live-action remakes or whatever, where it does feel like there wasn't a true creative intent behind the film, it seems much more disappointing, because of what came before. That's the lack of a soul that I'm accusing "Abominable" of here. 

And don't think that this is a huge claim, this is almost par for the course in the animation world; the fact that most animation studios essentially fall constantly into the same trap of trying to do something that's too much like or similar to Disney is another reason why Disney remains so dominant, and yes, "Abominable" clearly is trying to be a Disney film. (Or a Disney/Pixar film to be precise.) It's so much trying to be it that at one point, a character makes a subtle, but somewhat random and pointless "Finding Nemo" reference in the middle of this movie about three Chinese youth traveling through the mountains. Yeah, I don't get the reference either, except, possibly to get people to think of the kind of movie they were trying to make? Is it about trying to get a character home, but hell there's other Universal animated films with that same narrative essentially too, but yeah, for the most part, I wouldn't try to reference them either. 

"Abominable" is about a yeti who escaped from Mr. Burnish's (Eddie Izzard) science lab, and with the help of his lead zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulsen) he's determined to find the yeti and get him back, as he planned to show the world that he's made his biggest discovery yet. I honestly don't know why animated movies like to dabble in this kind of cryptozoology; I was kinda unsure about it being used in "Missing Link", where it kinda made more sense, but this is one of those well-worn animated tropes that I always think is kind of a bad idea, 'cause there really isn't too many stories you can tell with it. You know that someone's gonna find the yeti, in this case a young teenager girl named Yi (Chloe Bennett) and she's gonna get close to the Yeti, and you know that people are going to come after the Yeti, which they do, and you know that essentially Yi, and the Yeti, along with a couple other friends of hers, the older neighbor boy Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and the young neighbor friend Peng (Albert Tsai) are gonna go on this journey too, hell, we know that Yi's gonna have a homelife of some sorts that she's struggling with, in this case, saddened by grief after losing her father so she retreats into odd jobs and work to make money to try to go on a journey to recapture him, essentially. None of this stuff is bad, in fact, this stuff is some of the best parts of the movie, but it still feels like it's forcing a narrative story together, almost like it's done by a focus group committee.

There's even the worst, laziest and most arbitrary example I've seen yet of these animated movies having a villain reveal. Yeah, I forget when this started, but there's been some pushback about how Disney and animated villains aren't as memorable or menacing as they used to be in recent years, mainly because there's too often a secret villain character that only truly gets reveal later in such stories. There's some great examples of this, "Frozen" comes to mind right away, there's some good albeit clunkier ones, like I don't remember who the villain at all was in "Zootopia" and I don't know if anybody really does and that was a decent movie, but this one is so badly done that every other flaw or hall-ass attempt I could've normally overlooked in a film like this, just seemed exemplified ten-fold 'cause of it. 

Oh, and also the Yeti, who they name Everest (Joseph Izzo) after they realize that's his home and the kids decide to travel down the Yangtze to the Himalayas to bring him back home, is magical, somehow. He can call upon nature to grow things and attack; I don't know why he is. Or why another character apparently also has a similar power, but yeah, he's also a magical, spirit yeti, who can make thing grow to the size of a house, um, because...., I don't know, somebody thought there should be a little "Spirited Away" in this too; I don't get it. (Also, I know, this is a kids' story, but like, I know Everest itself, isn't as difficult to climb as other Himalayan mountain, despite it's height, but just traveling to the Himalayas is like, not an easy thing, by any means, even with all the dandelions, trains and automobiles they took to get there, much less, travelling by foot for most of it. I guess in this world the distance between Shanghai and Kathmandu is about the same as Lord Farquaad's castle and Princess Fiona's castle in Duloc. [Shrugs])
"Abominable" is, competent, but it is just soulless. It's by no means the worst animated movie or anything, but it's one of the more clearly lacking in original inspiration I've seen in a long time. Objectively, I can think of many worst films, hell this movie might not even make, like a bottom five or ten for Universal animation. There's good ideas here, I like an animated story about youths in China for instance and I like the idea of overcoming loss, like a parent's death, I even like all the main protagonists; there definitely was some work put into making "Abominable" as good as it could be, perhaps it was hand-strung by others to make it more traditional, but whatever-the-case, it's not good enough to recommend. I mean, why would you recommend it, there's no point of view in this film that's truly worth analyzing or considering, and that's the damnedest problem with it all. More proof that you can mimic the same ingredients and techniques that art with soul has, but without actual soul itself, you're only left with hollow nothingness. 




There are many words to describe Bob Dylan, the artist, the word that always comes to mind when trying to describe Dylan the man, is enigmatic. There's been several movies based on him or about him over the years, documentaries dating all the back to D.A. Pennebaker's "Don't Look Back" in the early sixties to now, Dylan seems to be truly difficult to pin down. One movie, Todd Haynes's "I'm Not There" thought the best approach to him was to have six different actors portray him at six different periods of his life, shot in six different styles, and frankly, yeah, that sounded about right. This isn't even Scorsese's first documentary on Dylan, after the TV movie "No Direction Home" that eventually aired as apart of PBS's "American Masters". That documentary, which I highly recommend as well by the way, chronicled the early years of Bob Dylan, from '62-'66, around the time of a famous motorcycle accident that nearly killed him and left him out of the music scene for two critical years in the '60s. 

"Rolling Thunder Revue" documents, not necessarily his mid-'70s resurgence after a supposed lull at the beginning of the decade, but the infamous, Keseyian-like strange old-style medicine show tour that he led through the middle part of the decade. When trying to explain his purpose at the beginning of the movie, we get a rare shot of Dylan, trying and failing to be more prophetic then he actually is. This is probably my favorite little scene in the movie, 'cause it feels like the one rare time where Dylan isn't some performing version of himself.
That said there's a lot of him performing, and a lot of my old questions finally answered, like, what-the-hell was with that chalky-blue face paint that he was wearing at this time when he performed. We don't get the replay of the most famous clip of him in this look, where he's practically rapping "Tangled Up in Blue", which is a bit sad, that's one of my favorite Dylan songs, but we get to see a lot more of him actually performing on stage, and it's surprising how much of a performer he was, bouncing and moving around, almost dancing clown-like in nature, moving like a Fellini clown but dressed like and moving like a rodeo clown. And the makeup, partially inspired by KISS, yes, KISS, because Scarlet Rivera, the violinist who was on the tour, apparently was dating Paul Stanley at the time, as well as the idea of masks. Dylan hypothesized that those who wear masks, were the ones who told the truth to you; you're be more willing to say the truth to those, when you're talking to someone who doesn't know who you are. That-, actually does seem sound; in fact, I'm like, 90% certain that that's an idea that dates back, at least to the Comedia Dell'Arte, so a few hundred years. I guess Dylan is a kind of Pedrolino on this trip; a joker who heads up the thieves? 


I can make this whole article Dylan references if I wanted, but the movie is really just a look at the tour, and the people behind it, most notably the original filmmakers of this footage. The filmmaker who got the majority of this footage and is one of the many talking heads interviewed is Martin Van Haselberg, except he's known in the movie as Steven Van Dorp. Except he's also just credited as "The Filmmaker". Yeah, this is very Dylanesque, actually, but all the main performers and people we see in the movie are given their own character names in the credits. Like, one of the early shots is of Patti Smith reciting some bizarre poem while struggling to fix-, what I would normally presume is her bra, but it's Patti Smith, so I doubt she's wearing one, I think she's actually just trying to hide a hole in the side of her shirt..., anyway, she's listed as "The Punk Poet". Rivera is "The Queen of Swords", Allen Ginsberg, who performs more music then I would prefer is The Oracle of Delphi...- (Yeah, I've actually known this, but Ginsberg actually tried to transfer most of his poetry into music, for most of his career, his later years especially, and-um... I'm not gonna say it's all bad, 'cause it's not, but-eh, yeah, Ginsberg's work is better in spoken word, I think. [And, in case you're wondering, eh, no, he never turned "Howl" into music, as far as I know, it's more like "America" or "Ballad of the Skeletons" stuff that he made into music, but still, it's weird]), and we get to see both some interview clips with Ginsberg, and some rare footage of him, dancing. Yeah, Ginsberg, as Dylan informs us, was actually quite a dancer.

There's some others, Joan Baez, as lovely as ever is The Balladeer, and she's a big talking head as well. Ramblin' Jack Elliot is The Sailor, who really genuinely does live up to his "Ramblin'" part of his name. Sam Shepherd's "The Writer", Sharon Stone is "The Beauty Queen"...- Yeah, Sharon Stone, was like, 19, and kinda found her way onto this tour after impressing Dylan backstage.... Sharon Stone is indeed, very quirky in ways that I can see how they put some people off but she is bizarrely more interesting then people realize, and yeah, this sounds exactly like something would've happened to her. 

Nobody seems to like Ratso Sloman, "The Rolling Stone Reporter" who was interviewing people on the tour, which, yeah, sounds about right too; he seemed a bit full of himself the way R.S.'s reporters always did seem, unless they actually were Hunter Thompson. At some point, Joni Mitchell came on board during the tour, just because she could; she's listed as "The Artist" and talks about an argument she got into with somebody listed their favorite male songwriters and wondering allowed why the gender separation.... 

At one point they do interview Ruben Carter, credited as "The Boxer" and how Dylan had gone up to meet him while they were touring near the prison he was in at the time, and we do get a great performance of "Hurricane", which to me, has always had some of Dylan's greatest collection of lyrics and storytelling in them. It's mostly kinda just, another thing that happened then really being apart of the "Rolling Thunder Revue", but that's kinda what the film and the tour was. Like, Joni joins and a few others come along the way and Ginsberg and Dylan get into a bit of a tiff because Ginsberg's parts of the show keeps getting cut, which, honestly as much as I love Ginsberg, yeah, he kinda needed to be there the least. (Also, the more you look into Ginsberg, the creepier he does get.... Not that Dylan doesn't have skeletons, but-eh.... ahem....) "Rolling Thunder Revue" was one of many strange chapters in the life and times of Bob Dylan, and the movie does a very good documenting and reflecting on it. There's a tons of Bob Dylan stories out there and still some that he's making stories now, and music as well. "Rolling Thunder Revue" is accurate in that it's one story; one long rambling story that ultimate makes no sense and yet so perfectly encapsulates it's time, it's place and the people involved, that it can only make complete sense. 

TEMBLORES (aka TREMORS) (2019) Director: Jayro Bustamante


I don't really know what the current social climate in Guatemala is, but I get the sense that from Jayro Bustamante's perspective, there's definitely a repressed sense that covers much of the country. He's been quite vocal about it, at least in his movies. His latest film, "La Llorona" is about the hauntings a family suffers through after their war criminal patriarch begins to see ghosts as he heads towards both his death and his public prosecution, if not his actual prosecution. His breakout film "Ixcanul" is about an arranged marriage among an indigenous mountain group of Guatemala that live, pretty far away, but overseeing, the modern world of Guatemala City. I thought that was an extreme example originally, but perhaps it's more indictive of the culture of the nation in general. "Temblores" or "Tremors", which-, yeah, there's too many bigger movies called "Tremors", so I'm calling it "Temblores" too, does have some earthquake tremors; I think, if I remember my Central American geography..., (Google search) yes Guatemala is geographically prone to earthquakes, lying between two major tectonics plates....-, but the movie is more about, a symbolic tremor that separates and possibly splits and hurts a family. That tremor, is that a male patriarch, Pablo (Juan Pablo Olyslager) announces that he's gay. He's fallen in love with a man named Francisco (Maurice Arbas Zebadua) and has announced his intentions to move in with him to his family. 

The family, is not in favor of this, to say the least. It's hard to describe all of this, but I get the sense that gay rights are still at their primordial stage in Guatemala. Apparently, while it's legal there, the current government tolerates hate crimes involving sexuality. I know Guatemala, like the majority of Latin America is very religious, and Christianity's influence still perpetuates everyone's daily life. During one conversation with his family, he tries to defend how God's made him this way, therefore they should be accepting, but they completely dismiss it. There's also an obvious toll on his wife Isa (Diane Bathen) who seems the most accepting at first strangely enough, until she sees two toothbrushes in Pablo's new apartment. 

On top of, some of the other horrible tropes of early anti-LGBT acceptance, the notion that homosexuality leads to stuff like pederasty, and that means that he's fighting and losing a battle to still have the rights to see his kids, who are mostly just baffled and confused at the whole thing, but there's this perpetuating sense that homosexuality is equivalent to a lack of masculinity and manhood that Pablo can't really escape. Eventually, he's sent to, what we would consider a church-sponsored, conversion camps, although this one seemed a little more inquisition-style then most of the others. It seems to work though, in the same way that whipping Kunta Kinte enough will get him to admit that his name was Toby, but I guess it "Worked", along with the excessive familial praying and other social pressures eventually, he breaks it off with Francisco after the therapy, in order to remain with his family and kids. 

I guess "Temblores" is about the suffocating effect of this kind of societal pressure, and yeah, we don't see enough movies about that anymore. Thankfully, in America, despite some misguided attempts to reinforce such narrow-minded beliefs and cultural touchstones of our society, we've mostly evolved past this. (Although I did once here a story about one of my old Senators constantly comparing homosexuality to pedophilia when asked by a gay student about his anti-gay position, and that was, not twenty years ago, so maybe I'm only wishing that we've evolved as much.) Anyway, Bustamante's one of the most interesting filmmakers in the world right now and this is a powerful film about Christianity's corruptive hold on the laws of the country as well as in the mind of the people of Guatemala, and perhaps it's a sign of how horrific their hold is over other countries and peoples as well. It's funny, there's actually a lot more earthquakes then people realize, they happen somewhere in the world almost every day, most of the time we don't always feel them, but they're usually always there, right below our feet, simmering below. 

MICKEY AND THE BEAR (2019) Director: Annabelle Attanasio


I must be missing something with film. Perhaps on another day I might not be so annoyed with it, and can appreciate so many of the things that it does different, but mostly I felt like it did a lot of the things the same, actually. It's a frustrating small town coming of age story about a smart teenage girl who's stuck having to watch over her drunk Iraq veteran father after her mother's passed. It's not that there aren't more layers to this, but I really don't think it's as interesting as everyone else did. 

Now, I say that, because the movie's got a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and it will still have 100% rating since I'm not an RT critic, yet, but I don't know. Maybe everybody else kinda got swept up in it; I mostly just saw the formula at work. It could be that I just see it too often with first features now; the movie was the debut feature film from director Annabelle Attanasio, who's mostly known as an actress; apparently she's been on "Bull", most notably, I remember her from "The Knick" myself.  It's not a bad first feature, but I've definitely noticed that I don't get nearly as sucked in with outstanding debut features as others have; I'm not sure why I've made that a trend of mine, I do find it annoying, but I also wonder why I don't get more blown away from a first-time filmmaker either, anymore. Maybe I just like more experienced and confident filmmakers.

Like, this is a small town story, and it technically takes place in Montana, but I never would've guessed that. I thought it would've been, like West Virginia or somewhere like that when I first viewed the film, especially when they bring up how Mickey's (Camila Marrone) mother died from cancer 'cause by pollutants dumped in the town years ago. I guess that probably happened in Montana too, but I didn't get a real sense of area. In fact, this movie felt a little too much like it could've taken place anywhere, which maybe was the point.... (Shrugs) I don't know, maybe I still have "Certain Women" in my head. 

It doesn't help that one of her romantic interests is British also. Like, I get why, Wyatt (Calvin Demba) is a charming young man, much better then Aron (Ben Rosenfeld) the sleezy boyfriend who basically just wants sex and her father, Hank's (James Badge Dale) OxyContin, but I still was like, "So, he's the character from outside the world who's telling her about how she should leave." I mean, I get why, and her father is a depressed, alcoholic, painkiller addict who's a mess in mourning and probably PTSD'd up the ass. Basically, a role tailor-made for James Badge Dale to play. She's a taxidermist's assistant outside of her senior year, and she has scholarship offers, but little monetary ability to get out, and she still does care for her father, even if she's basically becoming literally, the mother to his whiny dad. She's even wearing her mother's clothes, and their relationship is disturbing. 

This is also one of those movies, where, basically I find myself debating whether to think of this movie in terms of character depth. Hank, is a very unlikeable one-note character, and he's an annoying character. He reminds me of the Jeremy Sisto character in "Waitress" in that regard, where you're perplexed by the fact that he's so unlikable that you wonder how the main character got with her at all. Yet then again, there are people like that. The movie makes a glimpse of an insinuation that it's all the men in this area are kinda pricks like him, especially her first boyfriend.... So, that takes out any of the sympathetic backstory he should've had.... I just don't know how to take this; I feel like I've seen better, more interesting versions of this film, but I can't say I hated it either. I guess I should be nice and recommend it, and go with the flow a bit more here, but I can't help escape that feeling that this film is more of a writing exercise that's done well, but probably still needed another once-over or two. I can see liking this movie more on a second viewing, but for now, it reminds me of the better movies I'd rather see. 

COLD CASE HAMMERSKJOLD (2019) Director: Mads Brugger


Just when I thought I had seen all the great documentaries from 2019,..., kinda.... Honestly I was kinda worried about this one going in, it irked more of conspiracy theory documentary then true crime investigation, but as with all great mysteries, we actually follow and dig deeper, we end up in places we never thought we would. At least, that's what it seems like.... This is a weird one. Trying to describe it is already proving hard.... 

Okay, the title, "Cold Case Hammarskjold", what the hell does that mean? Maybe the name's more familiar to those outside the United States, but for me, it's definitely not one wasn't instantly familiar with. Dag Hammarskjold was the U.N. Secretary General during the 1950s, and he's regarded as one of the best to ever hold the position. He was one of the great statesman and peacekeepers of the world. He was a Swedish Economist who was among the delegates that adopted the Marshall Plan, he was very highly regarded by pretty much every major world power leader at the time. He helped negotiate the release of captured U.S. pilots in China who were Korean POWs, he established the UN Emergency Force, he worked for peace between Israel and the Arab states, he intervened in the Suez Crisis, and probably notably, his work in Africa, he was the one who spearheaded funding for the newly-independent Congo and was working towards a cease-fire between a couple warring tribal leaders when he died suddenly in a very mysterious plane crash over Northern Rhodesia, or what we would know as Zambia today. 

Now, the details and timing of the accident have always been a little bit sketchy enough for some to hypothesize that foul play was involved, even dignitaries as high up as Harry Truman himself believe that he was killed. He apparently died having an ace of spades on him. 

Now, this film, well...- how do I describe what they're doing....? So, the director, Mads Brugger, is writing himself, or to be more precise, dictating himself, to one of two African secretaries as he begins documenting documents his "investigation" into the death of Dag Hammerskjold. He's joined on this investigation by a private eye named Goran Bjorkdahl and together, they...- kinda don't find a lot. 

Well, that's not entirely true, but this is a cold case for a reason. There's plenty of suspicion and there's a lot that it's clear somebody knows, but it's been sixty years, and obviously there's still people out there who potentially don't want whatever truth out there to get out. They identify the Belgian pilot who they suspect was the man who actually shot the plane down, which they're also fairly confident, was the Plan B, 'cause the bomb that was planted on the plane didn't work. There's some evidence that's come to light in recent years that definitely indicates that the original cause of the crash, being "Pilot Error" seems quite suspicious, and it does seems like foreign governments were involved, most likely MI-6, and probably the CIA as well.... 

They make a point to note that the first big and perhaps strangest new dump of information on Hammarskjold's death came in 1997, from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, yes, the one that investigated Apartheid and they released a strange twelve page report in their findings that reference Hammarskjold being taken down by something called the South African Institute for Maritime Research, or SAIMR and an apparently a shadowy figure named Keith Maxwell who seems to have been, either a high-ranking member or the leader of the group. 

Who are SAIMR? Well, it's kinda hard to say, and no one's talking. Well, almost no one, maybe.... 

From what evidence there is in the movie the organization does seem to exist, what it does is a little sketchy and cryptic. There's a lot of slammed doors and hung up phone calls, "All the President's Men"-style. The organization, seems to be some kind of paramilitary mercenary group funded by, mostly foreign governments, most likely mainly MI-6, that took up arms and tactics in order to protect the practices of Apartheid. Basically, they're like an unregistered South African version of the CIA, and they perhaps did take out Hammarskjold. They don't find evidence of that, but they do find some rare suspicious-in-hindsight articles on some people who worked for them, and even manage to get one interview with a former employee, who talked about Maxwell, the mysterious man in white who they can only barely seem to be able to find one picture of, to discuss what they were supposedly doing during the '80s. 

What was Maxwell doing? Well, apparently, they were trying to use AIDS as a biological weapon to take out the Blacks. 

Yeah, you read that right. It's one of those nightmare conspiracy theory ideas that you're trying to do backflips in your mind to see if some kind of plan both could've worked, to attempt and then you begin wondering, would it work? Maxwell is accused of apparently setting up some shady clinics in the outskirts towns outside Johannesburg during the late '80s and secretly began injecting unsuspecting Black Africans with the disease, disguised, conveniently as a man-in-white doctor of course. Keep in mind, that while AIDS research and knowledge has drastically improved in the decades since, Africa is still one of those places on Earth where AIDS is still at a near-pandemic stage, particularly in the southern part of the continent where by some counts, 1/10 of the adult men in some countries have HIV or AIDS. Could that have been exemplified by this? And if it wasn't, which, spoilers, it almost certainly wasn't, does that mean that they still didn't try to do this, and weren't a little bit successful? The history of American medical "research" on poor, uneducated blacks, funded by our government, is not a particularly star-studded one, and I can't imagine how it'd be much better through the vein of an Apartheid-funded government. 

Does this movie, lead to much, or anything at all? I don't know, probably not. The movie itself is just too strange to not consider and fascinate about. Apparently, this director, who is Danish, used a similar, more comedic, Borat-like approach to documentary filmmaking before with a film called "The Ambassador". He's- he's not doing that per se, but he's clearly trying to create something much more of a statement, both in grandeur of the narrative and cinematically too. Oddly, it's not a "Borat" movie that this reminds me of; the movie that most came to my mind with this film, was actually, believe it or not, "F for Fake". Yeah, the Orson Welles film that was the last one he completed before he past; that movie also was a documentary that constantly double-backed and reversed upon itself, constantly reinventing what it was. Now "F for Fake" is a great movie, arguably Welles's best film, and it was about fakes and fakery, and while I don't think the movie's intending for fakeness or is an outright lie or mislead of the truth, it's also just a film searching for a truth and possibly stumbling into one lie after another. 

I might regret recommending this so highly in the future, I already over the course of writing this review, knocked it down a half a star, as I decided that I needed to look further into the movie before finishing my thoughts on it, but the movie does seem like a good mystery that stumbles into unknown worlds, and that's what I like about that genre. It struggles to explain itself, sure, and doesn't really seem to know what story it wants to tell, or how seriously to tell the story it's ended up with, but whatever it does, it does it well. I was captivated by the film for days after watching it; it must be doing something right.  

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