Sunday, November 27, 2016


This isn't quite the most elaborate set of reviews lately. I've been working on other projects for one, but also I haven't been watching too many recent films lately; I've been going back and watchig some older films lately. Call it nostalgia for a better time, especially since the immediate future looks so fucking horrorific and right I'm putting my money on Jill Stein of all people that she'll pull an inside straight flush on the recounts. (No, I'm not over it, I probably won't be and you have no idea how difficult it's been to not turn this into a political blog and do a ten-piece article on how I'm now convinced the Electoral College has to be eradicated, and no, it's not simply that Trump won that changed my mind on that. [Deep breath] But I won't do that, don't worry.) So-eh, I've been taking a look at older films that I've missed before, and I'm rewatching a few other things but that's a conversation for later.

Anyway, I checked out a couple other Mae West films, unfortunately they were her later films, "Go West, Young Man" in particular, I didn't like too much. "My Little Chickadee" is worth a watch as a curiosity 'cause that's the film she made with W.C. Fields and both of them are credited with writing the script together. I'll get to W.C. Fields at some point, he's another name from that gets overlooked, but that movie was fun. Inconsistent but fun. I also, for whatever reason, have a lot of Czech films on my viewing schedule in the next few weeks and months and I finally got around to "Up and Down", the Jan Hrebejk multi-narrative comedy that I thought was a bit of a mess mostly, but I enjoyed it. Czech comedy has a tradition of telling multiple stories and have them clashing and colliding at the end, I'm thinking "The Fireman's Ball" mostly, but "Up and Down", isn't as confined and it's a bit of confusing to follow everything but there was a good acting and filmmaking. There's a shot in the beginning involving a baby on a back of a truck that was really impressive, if that was a special effect it was a damn great one. I also, for some reason watched "Bride Wars", I don't have too many thoughts on it although it's nice to see Anne Hathaway dancing on a rope again. If you've never seen her episode of "Lip Sync Battle" eh, you'll know why that's impressive. Seriously, why do people hate her, she's amazing!? Even in crap like that, she's special, I don't get the backlash towards her, at all.

Alright, I saw some other older films that I had time to write reviews for at the bottom, but let's get to this week's edition of our movie reviews, 'cause we got some interesting and important ones, including a few major films from this year that might come up this Award Season. Yeah, we're in Award Season folks, so get used to that. Anyway, let's get to the reviews!

SING STREET (2016) Director: John Carney


John Carney has quietly become one of the most beloved filmmakers in the world in recent years. I've been among those who have exclaimed my affection for his work in the past, most notably, his first and best film "Once", the only film in my Canon of Film Series that I published twice, once, because I felt like it, and the other time, because it's theatrical adaptation on Broadway had just broken all the Tony records. I named it the best film of 2007, which does get under people's skin, since the traditional argument seems to be between "There Will Be Blood" and "No Country for Old Men" for that spot, and while those are great films, if I was truly honest, I could live without ever seeing or thinking of those films again; I can't say that about "Once". I can't even really say that about his second film "Begin Again", which, was no where near as great, but it tapped into some emotions and feelings that are very difficult to explain, unless of course, you've seen the movies, than you'll completely understand where I'm coming from. The secret to Carney's work as a great independent director is that, he's a musician first. A songwriter, who's films feel more like great albums that you can keep put on and drift away into the world of the movie. His third film, "Sing Street", on the surface, seems like the biggest deviation of the theme he has. Essentially, all three of his films, are about musicians getting together and making an album, curiously enough. In that respects, "Once" will probably always be the best of his films, because it came first and the pure shock of it when first seeing and experiencing it, just completely blindsided it's audience, who probably wanted to just dismiss the film as "Before Sunrise" with musicians, or something trivial like that, a few The Swell Season albums in my CD collection later and now I rank it among the Top Ten films of the decade. Still though, "Sing Street" works probably despite better judgement on my part. It doesn't hurt, again that the music itself, is really good, although not necessarily too good, and that's fine, because "Sing Street" is the first one that's not about trained, professional musicians, but about young teenagers who, do what every teenager tries to do at some point, start a band. (Well, I didn't, but that's because I thought I'd be a solo artist, and 200+ sets of hackneyed vaguely Bob Dylan meets Melissa Etheridge meets Alanis Morissette meets Tori Amos lyrics later and suddenly that guitar went to my cousin and I found myself getting into film instead.) The kid, is 15-year-old Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a young Dubliner, on Synge Street, who's often the subject of ridicule by typicals bully and the like, and is naturally a bit awkward. But, he has a crush on an older girl, 17-year-old Raphina (Lucy Boynton), who he wants to go out with, or just be near, or find an excuse to be near her. She wants to be a model, so he decides to have her be a model in a music video of his. First, he needs a band. And after that songs that are worthy of getting her attention. Oh, also he needs to learn how to play music, so do most of the ragtag crew of band members which include a keyboardist Ngig (Percy Chamburuka) a multi-instrumentalist and composer Eamon (Mark McKenna), and a manager, Darren (Ben Carolen). He does have help from an older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor) who has dropped out of college and mostly just sits on the couch wasting time, at the dismay of their parents Robert and Penny (Aiden Gillen and Maria Doyle Kennedy) who are, in the process of inevitable divorce and are basically too involved in their own lives to realize their younger kid has basically become a musician. And a fairly good and hopefully successful one. For one thing, he gets his model, for the music video, and she ends up doing everyone's makeup, and overseas the costumes and can direct a bit. I won't say when the movie takes off, but it takes off, and sure enough, what seems like young kids trying to play musician, eventually turns into, young kids, playing musicians, but convincingly and well. They get gigs, they're mostly successful. They're music videos actually come off well, and the music, which seems corny and innocuous at first, once it's evolved a bit, actually seems good. Since the movie takes place in the eighties, it's a bit, somewhere between Duran Duran and The Jam, but that's not a bad soung, actually, the songs are quite good and memorable. As well as the images. It's weird to say that, a director is going at telling his story through song, but Carney does that. There's not much actually that happens, but in it's episodic way, from one song and performance to another, we're drifted into this world and we become apart of it, apart of the band you might say, and we suddenly wonder and care about Raphina when, she suddenly doesn't show up for something she was supposed to. We know she wanted to get out of her surrounding and had an older boyfriend, and it's-, wow, it is really not that different from "Once" and yet it feels different. Bob Dylan just recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first person to do so almost exclusively and mainly for songwriting, and there's constant debate since, but, if there's ever a debate whether music can be poetry, Carney's films should prove that argument wrong. Especially if you're a fan of romantic poetry. Music at it's core is a genre of romance, and this movie, is a romance. Not a love story, but a romance. A romance of characters trying to walk out onto the wire and get to that place where they really want to go and walk in the sun, whatever the hell the Irish equivalent of that it. In the name of love. Love of music, love of two brothers, love of trying to get out and achieve their dreams, love mostly of how music can make one feel in a particular moment and time, or whenever you think about it. I once heard somebody say that all art strives to be music, and, yeah, I can hum a few notes of, eh, I don't know, "Layla" to you, and you'll probably get Clapton's guitar rifts in your head and movies try to do that, but few do. Carney makes music to tell his movies, I don't know if that makes his movies as much art as music itself, but he's closer than finding a middle ground than anybody working today.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (2016) Director: Whit Stillman


I actually have been thinking quite a bit about Whit Stillman lately. He's a strikingly enigmatic filmmaker. And actually, "filmmaker" is kind of misleading, he's been making more movie than ever recently, it's not he hasn't been artistic during his time away from film, which at times, has spanned Presidential administrations. He first made "Metropolitan" in 1990, which earned him an Oscar nomination and his second film, in 1994, "Barcelona" I've yet to see either of those. I first encountered him with his fourth feature, "Damsels in Distress", which he made six years ago, a movie that, I didn't quite get at the time, nor do I think I get now. There's definitely something interesting about it however, and it more or less showcased for me, a prototype of what I've called the "Greta Gerwig character" and she's basically been doing variations on that role ever since, in many good and bad films some of which she herself has written. The movie in between, in 1998 was "The Last Days of Disco" a movie that, I have grown to love more and more upon reflection. Trying to explain Stillman and his appeal is difficult, but one thing seems to be common, that his very prudent and upper-class (or think they are) characters, that live somewhere between the pages of Woody Allen and F. Scott Fitzgerald, are mostly populated by smart young and sometimes older women, who seem to actually be the in-charge instigators of everything, especially socially everything and the men, who think who are in charge are mostly doofuses and buffoons who have stumbled into their place in society mostly because of their wealth and penises. and it's the women who tolerate and upend them, sometimes helping them. In other words, he is the most perfect director imaginable for a Jane Austen adaptation. That's literally too good to be true, it's too perfect a pairing, like when you found out Tim Burton was going to direct "Sweeney Todd..." it was like, "Well, duh, of course he is." Who else has a piece of art so perfectly fitted a director like that?

So why am I panning it? Is it bad, it is wrong, did he actually screw up the material? Uh..., okay, um, I'm probably gonna get some shit for this, but I have to admit a bias here, and that's, that I generally hate Jane Austen. Not everything, "Pride & Prejudice" is a great book, and Joe Wright's adaptation of that novel is masterful and the best adaptation of an Austen work I've ever seen..., it's also the only adaptation that I think has ever worked and is a good movie. Yeah, yeah, I hate Ang Lee's "Sense and Sensability", I hated that version of "Emma" with Gwyneth Paltrow, hell, I hated "Clueless", and I didn't even realize at the time that that was a remake of "Emma"; even when I don't know I'm watching something Jane Austen, (Okay, to be fair, I didn't hate the TV show, "Clueless" for some reason. Not totally sure why but it kinda worked in that medium for some reason.) I seem to not think very highly of it. And I was hoping I could get away from that with this adaptation of her novella, "Lady Susan" that Stillman has titled, "Love & Friendship", which, let's be fair here, could have been an alternative to literally everything she ever did. (I literally think he's joking us with that title; it's almost mockish. It's so quintessentially the most generic Jane Austen title, I'm almost shocked it wasn't actually a title of hers.) And it's not like he doesn't give us a new perspective on the material, just from the opening moments when he introduces the characters to us, with that style that supposed to be almost like reading a theatrical playbill but almost borders on Wes Anderson parody, he's definitely not going the typical romantic route of Austen, and that's actually refreshing. For a minute, and then Stillman's wry but witty dialogue is also refreshing and fun, for a minute or two, and then, the movie, is basically about a widower, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) who's trying to find husbands for her daughters while also struggling with her in-laws improprietaries which have become most scandalous for, Jane Austen world standards. And now, I'm tired and they're losing me. There's something about this, Austen set up that's never really worked for me, and I think I know what it is, it's that usually the stories are told from the perspective mainly through the character who's trying to do the setting up and marry off their family and whatnot, and that's not interesting. The reason "Pride & Prejudice" works so well is that Elizabeth is not in favor of marrying and being with a man, especially one like Mr. Darcy, and it doesn't hurt that she's a more modern character out of place and time. That's not to say someone like Emma or Lady Susan isn't, they're modern too, but they're stll the people trying to orchestrate and set things in motion, or control or re-direct what's already in motion. Basically, this felt like Jane Austen paint by numbers, and, while that's still, absolutely for Whit Stillman, I'm not actually criticizing him, he does a good job of this, and the movie has it's moments and well-acted and casted, and it looks great, but yeah, I can only take some much of this before I start pulling my hair out.This story also has a bit of a "Dangerous Liaisons" twist to it as well, which is another novel I hate that I don't think has ever turned out tolerable on screen. (No, not the Michelle Pfieffer one, or the recent Chinese remake! And no, not "Cruel Intentions" either, although setting them in high school, actually did improve that story a bit and made it make slightly more sense. Didn't make it good, but at least it's stupid manipulative horny teenagers acting like stupid manipulative horny teenagers in that one UGH!)

Yeah, um, consider this a movie that I am passing on, not just because of my negative review, but also because this is a perfect storm of material that I am just naturally resistent too. The fact that I was entertained at all, is just out of curiousity of seeing Stillman and his troupe of actors, most notably for me Beckinsale and in particular Chloe Sevigney who were the main girls in "The Last Days of Disco" actually, eh, definitely save it from being completely intolerable, but I have a limit to Stillman and I certainly have a limit to Jane Austen's typical bullshit and eh,... yeah, I like it better than "Clueless" and "Sense & Sensability" if that helps? (Shrugs)

OUR LAST TANGO (2016) Director: German Kral


So, I'm not particularly knowledgeable about the tango, or dance in general, but tango is the national dance of Argentina, that I know, so I'm not surprised that this dance documentary is from there. Now, I feel like I've had a bit of a bad streak lately when it comes to dance documentaries; I had one on my Worst Films List last year recently, and it wasn't the only recent dance doc that I've been underwhelmed by. Maybe I've felt spoiled as I've compared most of those films to Wim Wenders's amazing documentary "Pina"; "Our Last Tango" is not that good, but I think the streak is over. The movie takes an interesting approach, as it works as a bio of it's stars, Maria Nieves Rego and Juan Carlos Copes, a legendary tango pair who danced together for forty years before they broke up as a team in their '60s. Now, in their '80s, they're coming together for this film and one last dance. I think, from a simpleton perspective this wouldn't have been that interesting, but the movie also makes interesting choices, switching between archive footage, interview footage as well as new footage that recreates the past with performers, mostly dancers and they basically tell their story, through dance. Juan becoming more of a choreographer when they hit America for instance, you see an actor playing him, in a dance number, where he's correcting the dancers, that's a great touch, and all those are wonderful, and they're also intercut with interviews where Maria is being interviews by the director and the dancers themselves. It's a bit meta, but I enjoyed it here. The dancing numbers were well-done, and well-shot and it help tell their tale in a way that's much more enjoyable than a straight interview with archive footage. It was an appropriate way to add heft to a story that's thin and kept you visually intrigued at the same time. Their story itself, is pretty interesting alone, especially how Juan's marriage led to them dancing together for years without talking, 'cause Maria basically was in love with him, and that got in their way in numerous ways. Still though, I was genuinely surprised they go an eighty minute movie out of this material that probably in lesser hands would feel like a short film that was stretching to be elongated into a feature, but I bought this. Dancing was great and used well and the movie was enjoyable. Tango's not my thing, per se, but I understood why these two would be so enthralled with it enough to make it a life's work, and that's enough for me.

BEASTS OF NO NATION (2015) Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

For reasons, that, I probably should've obviously knew from the title, my first instinct before writing this review was to look up the names of the groups involved in the movie, to get a better geographic idea of exactly where/when in Africa the film takes place. I guess that goes back to the idea of whether or not it's better to tell your story in a real-life setting, or to create one on your own, and of course the answer to that is, "It depends...". I don't know, maybe I thought it would be more powerful for me, if I could pinpoint this, but I guess ultimately it doesn't matter. It's pretty much taken place in every other part of the continent at some point in recent history. "Beasts of No Nation" marks the first non-documentary feature that was distributed by Netflix, and they picked a powerful film. It's a war movie that centers around, Agu (Abraham Attah) a nine-year-old boy who's family is killed by a rebel military group. He's then captured by a mercenary group that's led by it's Commandant (Idris Elba). Commandant, is probably a Joseph Kony-type charater, although he can be a mix of a lot of different renagade African tyrants. over the years. The movie chose, if it isn't clear yet, it didn't name it's West African country it takes place in, neither did the novel the film is based on. That said, I think this is a preference, but it's knawing at me, 'cause there's a tendency in Western Cinema especially to generalize Africa, when there's numerous different and distinct tribes and cultures abound, for me, I feel like this would've been a more powerful story, even if it's fictional if they were more specific about where this was. I know, I don't think a lot of people minded this, and there's a few examples of films I can think that get away with this. This is essentially a formulaic movie, it's about the sudden change from being a young kid, to suddenly becoming a soldier, and a murderous um massacring soldier at that. A rough sudden shift in...-, well in everything. He's goes from a happy kid, having fun, imagining, and suddenly, he's taught how to take a machete to a guy's skull. I guess, the one comparison that comes to mind is "Platoon", and the tenuous relationship between Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger's characters in that film, and not that that movie's any more realistic than this one, but it does set a time and place. What "Beasts..." does do, is setting up the emotional pull; this is a movie that's more pathos and ethos than logos. The big shift is when Commandment, makes his way to the Capital City and when he overlooked for General in favor of one of his other soldiers, it's then when he begins to go rouge, and now we're into "Aguirre..." territory, and eventually, his "soldiers" start to turn on them as lack of food and water comes over them. Idris Elba, won numerous Supporting Actor Awards for his performance, and he is quite good here. A lot of people, complained about him not getting an Oscar nomination, and I can see why (I don't think it was racism that led to him not getting in; I suspect it was more that this was a Netflix movie that led to it). He is the key performance, if he doesn't work in the film, than the movie doesn't work. That said, I still found myself a bit removed from the movie. I felt like, while the movie had fable-istic touches, "Beasts..." came off, slightly more like a message picture to me. That's not a bad thing, but it does handcuff the film a bit for me. It's a recommendation, but definitely one that's more admirable than emotional. I appreciate the movie more than I recommend it, but it does what it's trying to do. It's director is Cary Joji Fukanaga, who I sorta like his version of "Jane Eyre" a few years back, although he's most well-known for directing the first season of "True Detective", which everybody seem to like except me. I don't know if he added anything more to it, I feel like he's a cinematographer who happens to direct most of the time, which is his background. He actually did the cinematography for the film as well and it is impressive; I wonder if another director could've given some more purposeful and visioned on the material, but yeah, this still is quite powerful and memorable.

LABYRINTH OF LIES (2015) Director: Guilio Ricciarelli


The biggest lie ever told about the Holocaust, (other than the morons who keep trying to claim that it doesn't exist.) is that, the soldiers were all "Just following orders". The truth of the matter is more complex. It's nice to simply blame Hitler and say that Germany just fell apart for a bunch of years there, but he didn't steal the power, he was elected and almost a third of the country voted for him, and many people joined the party afterwards. (Many didn't do it by choice) and Hitler created a situation where, essentially murder and genocide were encouraged. Think of Amon Goeth in "Schindler's List", was he ordered to shoot Jews every morning from his balcon? No, that's just murder and he was a murderous vicious criminal who happen to thrive in an environment where they prejudices and homicidal tendencies weren't just endured but encourage. "Labyrinth of Lies" is the movie that's about, essentially the trials that forced Germany to come grips with that reality of their past. The movie, more specifically is about the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials, where 22 former and mid-to-lower level functionaries were tried for murder. The film starts in '58, and it shows how, a mere thirteen years after, the country has become fairly, unknowing about such concentration camps like Auschwitz and the acts of genocide that were done there, but eventually, the Nazis, who were responsible for the atrocities, and who had quietly re-entered public life. They were teachers, mechanics, etc. The movie, isn't a bit of a dramatization of the actual events, and that's really the only thing that bring the movie down. The main character is Johann (Alexander Fehling) a composite character who represents a few different young idealistic lawyers who ended up tackling the U.S. Army Document Center, who have kept the records, and there's thousands of them to sort through. Some real-life characters are here as well, Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss), Johann's boss and one of the major prosecutors of the trial, as well as Simon Kirsch (Johannes Krisch) one of the Auschwitz survivors who helps them start pieces together the pieces. It's hard for him to remember everybody, and you , so many died that identifying exactly who died when.... The title is accurate, it's a maze wrapped in a puzzle and yes, everybody, including the collective conscious of the country is lying. There's a side story with Johann being in a relationship with Marlene (Frederike Becht)  a young dressmaker that's mostly symbolic, but it mostly works. This is a difficult subject to simplify into one traditional feature film. I've seen some compare the film to "Judgement at Nuremberg" which is an interesting comparison, although it's worth noting that the majority of that film takes place in the trial, and the majority of "Labyrinth..." is essentially, the gathering facts part, before the trials. In that respect, it probably lacks the tension and drama that it needs to be a great film, but on the same token, it's not going for that anyway. "Labyrinth..." is a reminder about just how easy it is to whitewash over the past, and just how how horrific and difficult it is to bring it up again, although, in many cases, just how necessary it is. There's a late scene where Johann goes to Auschwitz, it's startling how, in some sense it's just a field, with a camp in the middle of nowhere, in some Polish town that nobody's ever heard of. After the trials, nobody thought of Auschwitz that way again, and-eh, for all it's sins and horrors, it's actually best that that's the case now and forever, and these guys did that. It's a good story that needs to be told and that's what ultimately pushes "Labyrinth of Lies" up from just a regular Holocaust film.

CONCUSSION (2015) Director: Peter Landesman


So, I don't know if everybody who reads me is a sports fan, in fact the few occasions when I've brought up sports here, I've often been reprimanded, even though, this is an entertainment blog and sports are entertainment, and frankly they actually one of the most interesting parts of the television landscape at the moment. And being a sports fan, I've been keenly aware of the continuing studies and changing views on concussions over the years. So, this latest film, "Concussion", is not necessarily something that is gonna reveal itself to me as a shocking revelation that I never knew. I've been aware of this, and for those who are aware, I don't know what one would gain from watching this film. That said, this still could've been a good movie, and for awhile it was, but by the end, I-eh, I was waiting around for the film to end. Will Smith, plays Dr. Bennett Omalu, the Nigerian-born Pittsburgh coroner who started studying head injuries related to football after he looked over the sudden death of Mike Webster (David Morse), the Hall-of-Fame Pittsburgh Center who had started losing his mind and acting irrationally in his later years. It was him that coined the term, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. For those, who aren't fully aware of the science, I won't go into too much detail, but basically, a concussion, is when your brain ends crashing into the inside of your skull. The brain is not a stable organ, it's basically floating in a protein of liquids. Now, a single concussion, even a bad one, probably won't have that much effect, but that said, it's not always clear if somebody has had a concussion, and-, you know, if you play like an old sports video game, I have an old NHL game for instance, where it's very common for injuries like concussions to occur and then, the player will return to the game, pretty quickly, that's how callous we thought of them at the time. Now, there's protocols in most major sports about when to return from a concussion, and usually it's weeks later, and keep in mind, undiagnosed concussions that can results for years of playing football, or boxing or-eh, another entity that's been plagued by this is professional wrestling. eventually, that many hits of the brain to the skull, especially at quietly the violent speed that football's played at, and eventually, you forget who the hell you are anymore, literally and figuratively. There's a big reason why a lot of recent suicides of major athletes in this sports, have been, in shots in the chest area and hangings, instead of a bullet to the brain. Anyway, the movie, the good parts in the beginning showing Bennett as he pursues his education, the guys get more degrees than a thermometer, and how he catches the syndrome and publishes the report, despite some pressure from inside the coroner office, and the city of Pittsburgh, which if you don't know, Pittsburgh is a big football town. There's not as big as they think and are nowhere as good as Philadelphia but still, they're a football-passioned town, (Wink) And no, people don't want to think that, America's Passion, (For those foreigners out there reading this, baseball is "America's Pastime, football is "America's Passion) that would rather believe that the sport they love is not as dangerous or deadly as they may fear. The thing that brings the story down, is really, everything after, especially the portrayal of the heads of the NFL, was very one-sided and not in a good, in a really cliched way. Not that they're wrong, I mean, they did have to get called to testify before Congress before these changes happened, but I mean, this was but, the dark rooms, the old men smoking cigars, the photography, it was very awkward. They basically portrayed them as though, they didn't care at all, and would rather-, well, they bring up that they were-eh, basically people who were similar in their approach to this that were denying smoking's hazards for decades, and yeah, it is that egregious, but they don't portray them as human beings either, which is the ultimate problem with the filmmaking. Although there's a lot of weird choices here, for one the casting is awful. I mean, Will Smith, there was some controversy that he didn't get an Oscar nomination for this, eh, I hate to break it to ya, but no, he didn't deserve it. I kept just hoping he's stop doing a Chiwetel Ejiofor impression for most of the movie. But still, Mike O'Malley's got a bizarre role that, seems completely horribly cast, I didn't even notice that it was Luke Wilson that played Roger Goddell. It felt like there was a stunt casting to get a makeup nomination. Like, Albert Brooks is really good, as Smith's boss but you know, all I could see was his bald head, so... The director of the film was Peter Landsmen who did another film that was a bit of a cameofest a couple years ago called "Parkland" about JFK's assassination and showed the hospital where both Kennedy and Oswald ended up before they died and all the supposed chaos that happened there. That movie, was better and well-acted, but like "Concussion" it had nothing to say about it's subject. I didn't learn anything about JFK's assassination in "Parkland" and I didn't learn much about CTE in "Concussion". He like has half an idea to show something on screen that happened, and if possible, with a degree of accuracy, but he doesn't seem to have a point of view on any of these materials. It's like, "Here, let's show you the hospital" or "Here, let's show you how concussions are dangerous in football"! I mean, yeah, why the NFL couldn't or didn't give in on that simple point, that occasionally the sport can be dangerous to play and concussions may be bad for you, I couldn't tell you, but I still suspected that the movie would be a little more detailed or at least have a reason for existing. Instead, we get, half a movie about how they realized there was a problem and the rest of the movie, kinda trying to find a story other than "Eventually the NFL got their shit together, (Or more together than before at least)", and there just wasn't one.

BEING CANADIAN (2015) Director: Robert Cohen


So, Canada. What do we make of ye? There's a few things in Robert Cohen's documentary that he definitely gets right, for one thing, Americans don't know that much about Canada. I'm counting myself in that, I honestly don't know much about Canada. I probably know more than most of my friends, like I know the geography of the place pretty well, but I'm a geography buff so I study things like that, but I'm also a history buff, and yet, I don't quite know a lot about the history of Canada. It's something that, I'll be blunt, is not really studied here. Now, don't get me wrong, we don't study a lot of country's history, mostly we cover Europe, 'cause most of their history is where American history came in, but we don't study, say Mexico and they're our other neighbor, and on top of that, we don't really study too much of say Japan or China or any of Africa really, or other major former and current world powers or superpowers, and that's unfortunate, but then again, Canada's weird. I mean, there's a deep history and there's a lot of culture up there, but it's not necessarily as glorious as other countries, including America. For instance, Canada, even being a country, was a complete accident. They sent there Declaration of Independence, to England and apparently Queen Victoria saw it on the table, figured it was a regular document that she had forgotten to sign, and she signed it, and suddenly Canada's a country. I'm pretty sure it wasn't Queen Victoria, that's how little I know about Canada, but yeah, Canada's weird and there's a lot of little quirks in their history past and recent like that. Basically we know, Canada, love hockey, which we're cool with, they have good beer, which we're really cool with, eh, they have a lot of maple syrup, and a shocking amount of maple syrup, especially since one of the world's biggest and most expensive thefts of all-time, which is showcased in this film, involved the theft of millions of it. Like eight figures, millions of dollars worth of it. Um, we know there's a kind of culture there, but defining it exactly would be difficult. Even when Canadian chefs came together to define "Canadian cuisine", eh, they really come up with much of an answer. To quote the wonderful Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, "They have the same as American cuisine, but I don't know any American who says that they'd go out of their way for Canadian food." Anyway, Robert Cohen is a longtime TV comedy writer, who one day got fed up for being made fun of too much for being Canadian, and decided to do something about it, and that was to take a cross-country trip through Canada. Basically, it's a road movie of Canada, filled with interviews with many famous Canadians, mostly celebrity friends of his, and a look at the some of the quirks and perceptions good and, eh, not-as-good about Canada. I-eh, I can't think of too many bad perceptions of Canada. I mean, when-eh, the big disagreement even within the country is whether Quebec is weird 'cause they still insist on speaking French, you're doing okay. Hell, Canada and the U.S., here's something I did know, on top of being the longest border between two countries in the world, it's the longest peace-time border between two countries of all-time, we haven't fought each other since the War of 1812, where they did burn down the White House, which ranks as their most notably and memorable military accomplishment and even then, they basically did it fairly pleasantly all things considered. They tend to be nice, they bring that up; they apologize a lot for some reason, I didn't realize that per se. Apparently they're TV is notoriously bad, in both production quality and regular quality. I-eh, I don't quite know how to respond to that, 'cause of most my experience with Canadian television is pretty positive. "SCTV", "The Kids in the Hall", "Slings & Arrows" is one of me favorite shows, then again, I'm not familiar with "The Beachcombers", which is apparently their equivalent to "Gunsmoke" in that it lasted forever and nobody actually likes it anymore. Oh wait, I just did a check, it's no longer the longest-running show on Canadian television, it was beaten a couple years ago by-, by,- really? It was beaten "Degrassi"! "Degrassi"'s been on the air since 1980!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? (Scratches head, long thinking pause) Oh-kay, um, I legitimately have no idea how to respond to that. Wow! Okay, eh, moving on, um, this is a fun, light-hearted, and ultimately not-that-informative a documentary, it's basically a fun little trek across the country, jokes put in when possible and ultimately, not that deep or anything. It's got some interesting things to say about Canadian identity, how for instance, the constant having to explain how something's a Canadian version of blank, and quirks like that, and it's fun to say a huge list of past and present Canadian celebrities, many you might even realize are Canadian talking about the country, (Although Canadians will remind you when someone is a Canadian.) and that's about it. It's like a light episode of "Anthony Bourdain..." without the emphasis on food as much, but still, this is light, delightful fluff, and I can't complain about. I would like to see a more in-depth look at Canada history and culture and elsewise at some point, but this is fine for now and for what it is.

THE FAREWELL PARTY (2015) Directors: Tal Granit & Sharon Maymon


So, you know what's really funny? Assisted Suicide! Titled "A Good Death" in the original Hebrew, the Israeli film "The Farewell Party", took quite a bit of chances with this story about people at an old age home, trying to help a man end his life by constructing and finding a suicide machine. The person dying, but not quick enough is Max (Samuel Wolf) and as he asks for the pain to stop, his wife Yana (Aliza Rosen) asks for help from Yehezkel (Ze'ev Revach) who already spends some of his spare time pretending to be God on the phone, literally. for fun, but now, he and his wife Levana (Levana Finklestein) have to find a mercy killing machine and dispenser. This is surprisingly funny much of the time as they struggle. It's not, great, I kinda found it slow, myself, most people I think fell for the concept more than the movie itself; the movie remain 14 Israeli Oscar nomination, and to be fair, it's pretty good, it's got it's moments. Definitely in the sardonic route, although if you didn't know what the MaGuffin, I'm not sure this couldn't be confused for anything else. For those who aren't too familiar, the hand-made killing machine, was invented by Jack Kevorkian, and basically, the idea is that everything would be set up in a way for the patient, to flip the switch, and inject him/herself with the euthanasia concoction. These machines are more handmade and primitive than people probably realize and that doesn't make them any easier to find, in fact it's more likely that they'll have to be made and finding and operating one, not difficult, but you have to get the appropriate drugs to fill with it, and set the machine up, etc. I think there's actually more material her for comedy than the film really let on, and that's what's ultimately disappointing to me. Maybe a slight shift in tone would've helped as well. I think I expected a little more broadness; I've seen this film referred to as a "commercial comedy", I don't know exactly what that is or why this film, but I think it could've been a little more broad however, in order to undercut even more, the tragedy of the situation. Still, there's a lot of interesting ideas here, and I laughed quite a bit, so a tempered recommendation for me.

WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL? (2014) Director: Sion Sono


Eh, well I quit. Fuck this, this movie's not reviewable, Why the fuck did I just watch? Oh dear. You know a lot of shit a couple years ago when I said "You're Next" was the worst film of the year and a bunch of people told me, "I didn't get it, it was supposed to be a comedy!" Yeah, they're wrong on that, that film was stupid no matter what it was trying to be, but I was thinking about it watching this film because, "You're Next" was one of those movies that wasn't ridiculous enough to actually be a comedy, but "Why Don't You Play in Hell?" there's no other option, this has to be a comedy. It's a comedy on like ten different levels, most of them pretty meta, a lot of them are just ridiculous and trying to explain, anything about it, is pretty much a lost cause. It's gory and kinetic and action-filled, and a bloody mess, literally, is a labyrinth of a multiple narratives coming, together? Together's not the right word, clashing maybe? Let's see if I can make any sense of this, um... it begins with a stupid toothpaste commercial. (There's a sentence I never thought I'd say.) The young girl in the commercial, is Mitsuko (Fumi Nikaidou) who, let's see, is a gangster's daughter who's mother's in jail for several counts of murder. She wants her to be a star however and this leads to her family trying to achieve that. The other, sorta thread, involves a young filmmaker Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) who has a filmmaking crew that call themselves the Fuck Bombers. They also find a future star, Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi) as they run into him while beating up Yakuza and they try to film it. This film crew, are the most delusional film crew I've seen in a while. I mean, they're a devoted crew, they love the act of filmmaking; I don't know how much they actually know how to go about it. They're a guerrila crew without a vision. Anyway,  from, I'm not even gonna pretend. There's dozens of flashbacks and imagined scenes and a lot of violence and blood and gore, and decapitated human body parts. This is how over-the-top absurd trash is done right. Meta to the nth degree, a plot that's as pointless as it is impenetrable, and an overlord of several twisted demented and perverted characters shoving this material together, somehow. And, I enjoyed it. I can't explain it, or understand it, or why it exists, or what point is being made, although I'm fairly certain there's a metaphorical parable about filmmaking in the movie, but what that is, I don't know. What would I criticize of this movie if I could? It's too much to criticize, It's like watching "The Jerry Springer Show" at a certain it gets so over-the-top and ridiculous that eventually there' no criticism anymore, it's just is what it is. It's the first feature I've seen from Japanese director Sion Sono, and maybe it makes more sense in context of his filmography. He's clearly talented, but I mean, this is a movie that's just, well, I'd call it "eye candy" but you don't normally see eye candy that's so filled with blood spewing out of it, but essentially, it's just a crap put together that looks and seems cool, in one abstract surrealist mess. I don't know if that's good or anything, but it's what it is.

NATURAL BORN KILLERS (1994) Director: Oliver Stone


Yeah, I finally got around to "Natural Born Killers" among other aforementioned films this week. This film has been on my radar of course for years, but it's always been a bit of an anomaly to me. Stone, especially later Oliver Stone, had never been one to try to aim for timelessness in his films, he's usually on the zeitgeist or at least thinks he is and he's trying to portray the events of the time. And this movie screams 1994. Reading old reviews of the time, and it's interesting how they take it as a warning about the future, and honestly that future, twenty-plus years later, eh, we've been inundated with warning after warning about where the media has gone and how our celebrity-obsessed culture will lead to our downfall, and it's not that any of those claims are wrong; I think it's just that we've now, for the most part adapted to it. Celebrity culture already has a tendency to be caught up in waves, and like waves, a lot will hit the shore for awhile, and then eventually it'll get caught back up in the Ocean by the next tide and suddenly I'm watching a movie that supposedly about the possible horrors of the media dramatizing sex and violence and turning mass murderers into cult celebrity icons and frankly, all I end up seeing is a who's who of names that feel more like they were dug out of a time machine. Are any of you even familiar with names like Tonya Harding, Lorena Bobbit? I'm sure you know all know who O.J. Simpson, and I'll take a bet and say most of you found out about him before that recent miniseries, but do you all really understand the visceral reaction and flashbacks people of my generation will have when confronted with that name? Or any of these names? As we have since moved from a television culture to internet culture to streaming culture, to now, a Facebook culture, half of this movie will just seem weird too you. Hell, if you're an actual film scholar and historian, you'll probably look at this and laugh on another 'cause it's not like America doesn't have a long history of romanticizing all of our famous outlaws, that's been happening forever, most prevalent, it happened during the Wild West. In film terms, not only are there hundreds of westerns, many of them showcasing and profiling the most vicious of killers and bank robbers in positive lights, but there's plenty of movies that were in some way about how the media perceived them. Probably most notably, when comparing it to "Natural Born Killers" is "Bonnie & Clyde", who were also romanticized by their adoring public. Hell there was a string of these back in the '60s and seventies. "The Sugarland Express", "Boxcar Bertha", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Smokey and the Bandit"..., yeah, like I said, this stuff isn't really new. So, what about "Natural Born Killers", is it any good? Or was it ever? Well, it is curious to see the credits, in that Quentin Tarantino is listed for having come up with the Story, which I totally believe, but he's not listed as having any credit with the actual script, which I totally believe. This is an Oliver Stone film for sure, and it's purpose is to bring a nightmare kaleidoscopic lens on the media and it's culture, while using his own modern Bonnie & Clyde archetypes that were raised on the perversions of classic television as well as the brutal realities of horrific reality, and watch them go on an onslaught of a murder spree, and watch the American public eat it up, shortly after the Super Bowl for the biggest ratings. The couple, Mickey & Mallory Know (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) on top of being perfectly cast and quite great in the film. They're the right on iconic with inert stoicism that led everybody in the nineties to look inward and spew out a sarcastic comment while sitting on the couch watching MTV, waiting for the next Soundgarden music video to play. The supporting roles are pretty good, most of it's just good casting. Need a tough jailer, bring in Tommy Lee Jones, need someone over-the-top to be a TV reporter, Robert Downey, Jr., he works. Rodney Dangerfield and Edie McClurg are interesting picks casting against type as Mallory's parents that work out well. Somewhere in their dialogue I can see the specs of what might've been on an original Tarantino draft of this script, especially in Tommy Lee Jones's character. If this comparable to another Stone movie, it's probably "Talk Radio", which was also a nightmarish media-based dive into the deluge of the worst of Americana, but somehow that movie has become more and more prophetic and timeless. Not that "Natural Born Killers" isn't prophetic, but I think it's warnings of a future have been proven more hollower than it intended. That's not enough a sin to pan it by any means, it still works as a film and definitely one that needs to be watched, especially if you want to take a look at what the '90s were like for a lot of us. It really only fails when compared to the precedents that were set by other better films that came before with the same warnings, but yeah, I can see this placed near the top of the second tier of those films in some peoples' calculations, including mine.

No comments: