(15 HOURS LATER)
Well, I slept longer than I intended there.
Alright, so much for being on time, but I'm still posting this, relatively on schedule. I've been a lot of older films lately, or at least films that are too old for me to consider spending the time writing reviews of them, anymore. So that's why I'm somewhat close to on-time despite my apparent,- well, based on how long I was asleep, coma, apparently. For instance, I'm finally gotten to the "Ip Man" series. I've seen the first of them, although it sure feels like I started it years ago. This is a series of martial arts movies from Director Wilson Yip that are based on Master Yip, the legendary Wing Chun master who taught Bruce Lee. I'm not sure why, other than that fact,- well, I guess he's a major figure in the martial arts world, but there was a run of movies about this guy. "Ip Man" was the first and now they're making a fourth in this series, which is one of two series of movies called "Ip Man", and there was also the best movie about the guy, Wong Kar-Wai's "The Grandmaster" a few years back, a movie that I really like and considering how I tend to not like Wong Kar-Wai's film, that's saying something. Mostly, these are movies that are basically excuses to make martial arts movies. (Shrugs) I guess if it's your thing, you'll be interested in them, (Oh, there's also a TV show about him too now.) I think "The Grandmaster" is the one to watch honestly. but at least these aren't terrible or anything. I just don't see the real appeal honestly.
What else? I got around to "Beneath the Harvest Sky". It's a decent coming-of-age story, a la a "Angels with Dirty Faces" kind of dynamic, I guess with the main teenagers. I also got around to "Cheap Thrills" another minor film; this one was basically that episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents", "Man from the South", you know the one with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre and they're betting on whether or not one of them can a lighter to work ten times straight, only taken to a stupid, ridiculous extreme. Did you know that Hitchcock episode was based on a Roald Dahl story, btw?! He was more twisted than anyone realized, wasn't he?
On the more fun side, I watched "Drunk, Stoned, Brilliant, Dead: The Story of the National Lampoon". That was fairly light for a documentary. I also watched "Blind" a character study from the Norweigan screenwriter Eskil Vogt; he's the guy who wrote "Oslo, August 31", "Reprise", most recently "Thelma" among other films. This was his directorial debut, eh, I mean I admire the ambition, but trying to convince blindness in a visual medium is really tough; I'm not sure it worked here.
I was also underwhelmed with two much-older films, Sydney Pollack's sprawling epic "Jeremiah Johnson" starring Robert Redford as the titular mountain man. (Shrugs) I guess that was in an American myth sort of way, but it was way too long. I also finally got around to "Chariots of Fire'. I'm honestly a bit confused as to what to make of "Chariots of Fire". I'll say, it's a very British sports movie; I literally can't imagine an American sports narrative like this, and we invented the sports narrative. It's kinda hard for me to believe that won the Best Picture Oscar over- (Checks Oscars) HOLY CHRIST! How the hell did it win over those films? It beat "Raiders of the Lost Ark", it beat "Atlantic City", it beat "Reds"! It beat "On Gold-, okay, that one's kind of an iffy nominee, but still! Really Academy? This was Best Picture good in that year? (Shrugs) I don't know, maybe I'm just looking after seeing thousands of parodies but it feels kinda, oh-kay? Wow, the Christian so nice to the Jew, he let him run in his race instead of him, after he ran earlier? Like I-, Okay, Britian, you need to get better at sports so you can have better sports movies. No wonder your biggest Olympic star after Abrahams & Liddell was Eddie the Eagle. (Okay, fine, Tom Daley. I know you have a great sporting trdition. Don't write me letters, it's just a joke. Go Team GB!)
Alright, before I get myself in any more trouble, let's get to the reviews. Let's start with
STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI (2017) Director: Rian Johnson
Despite my more typical ambivalence towards the "Star Wars" franchise, there are actually a lot of parts about "Star Wars" that I like and a lot of them were in this movie. The conflict with characters like how Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) are constantly at odds with their own beliefs and religion and whether or not they're making the right decision, whichever that decision actually is. I love these conflicts, both figuratively and literally in "The Last Jedi"; to me it's what really makes the franchise and these movies, the idea that these characters are actually struggling to find their true selves, whether that means they're good or evil.
When the movie's not as interesting, is when you get to, in some cases, the literal nuts and bolts of the battle. As we're constantly switching between multiple different people and places, (And BTW, the editing of the movie is very questionable to me. I mean, I get some of the-eh, my editing lingo is a bit fuzzy, but those diagonal swipes, the Kurosawa-type ones, they kept using. Uh, I-, I think those were questionable in this film in particular) and, there's a lot going on, but there are definitely parts that more interesting. The main storyline involving Finn (John Boyega) basically involves him and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) having to sneak onto a Dark Side's ship that's in the middle of an attack on the First Order, that's being circumnavigated by Poe (Oscar Isaac) and commanded by Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and basically sneak onto the ship and circumvent the system so that their to follow or track the First Order through the tracking device...- honestly, this-, I hate to use the terms "technobabble" or "Mumbojumbo", but you know, they're doing the technobabble stuff, although they do get help from an interesting rouge character named DJ (Benicio Del Toro, and boy, it's nice to see him in a good role again. Is it just me or does he not show up in enough films?)
The really interesting conflict is between Kylo Ren and Snoke (Andy Serkis) his-eh, eh, I guess the current "leader" of the Empire, I think? (You know, for something that's as simple as the light and dark, I genuinely have a lot of trouble following the politics of "Star Wars". I oughta rewatch that Lindsay Ellis video on it.) They're basically having this, bizarre relationship/disagreement about Kylo's role in the First Order that's part father/son part-mentor/mentee and meanwhile through some kind of weird Jedi magic, Ren is also trying to guide Kylo to the Force, while she is also on the other side of the Universe seeking out Luke who's supposedly "Last Jedi" and the Guardian of the Ancient Jedi texts and she's seeking his counsel and trying to get him involved in war, while he's also having a crisis of faith, not only over his past with Kylo Ren, but also over whether the Jedi, which he somewhat accurately identifies as a failed and dying art/practice/religion/whatever-the-hell-it-is, and whether or not it is. There's a little too much of all this, and the parts are better than the whole, but overall I actually enjoyed how these inner conflicts were all examined with different character and different angles and perspectives and how that leads into what happens with the climactic battle scenes.
The stuff that doesn't work for me, there's a Frank Oz which, makes sense in the story I guess but, I don't know what happened to his Yoda but it's sounding more like his Fozzy Bear than it's ever had. Laura Dern's character I think is confusing and pointless, except for one scene that writes her out of the movie basically. Personally, I've never been in love with "Star Wars" the way others have. I've appreciated them more than I liked them, still and not convinced that despite their popularity they actually have real relevance in pop culture; (Literally, everything you can point to about and with this franchise, somebody else, did first and usually better and except for the fact that "Star Wars" is popular, I really don't see why it's important.) however I never really thought there was much bad or harmful about the franchise, until recently when I saw that "Rogue One..." film, oh, and-eh, I'm finally watching the prequels, and yeah, I didn't write a review of it, "...Attack of the Clones" sucks. ("The Phantom Menace" is still okay and gets way too much crap. Haven't seen the third one yet.) I mean, I know there are some people who have recently taken umbrage with the fanbase, but like all fans and fanbases, they're utter garbage and always have been, so that's nothing new to me, and frankly, I don't give a shit about whatever-the-hell their issues are.
As to where that leads "The Last Jedi", it's the movie I probably like the most of this new group of "Star Wars" films, although "The Force Awakens" is probably technically a little better.
THE FLORIDA PROJECT (2017) Director: Sean Baker
So, some of you may have noticed that occasionally when I'm watching something nowadays I try to tweet out an occasional non-sequitur related to whatever I'm watching. (My Twitter is @DavidBaruffi_EV which btw, you should be following already.) Anyway, as I was watching "The Florida Project" I took a second to pause and make this observation on Twitter:
30 Minutes into "THE FLORIDA PROJECT" and I've come to one realization: KIDS who GO OUTSIDE to play all day are ASSHOLES! Seriously, kids need to stay inside and watch TV, MOVIES and play VIDEO GAMES, you'll be nicer, you might learn something and they won't be bothering others.
So, I got some shit from that from some friends. One FB friend of mine, one who btw generally who thinks he understands what comedy is but is often sorely mistaken, responded with, "This is the worst piece of film analysis I have ever read in my entire life, congrats!"
Well, first of all, I don't think too highly of people who think true film analysis can be accomplished in a paragraph. ([sigh] My own early work included) Secondly, I clearly said I was only thirty minutes into the movie, so I hadn't made up my mind yet as to my thoughts and opinions on the film at the time of the tweet. Thirdly,- well, to those who have seen the movie, am I that wrong here? Maybe not with the movie in its entirety, but in general and from my experiences, this is accurate. The kids who played outside in my day, and this wasn't like back in the '30s or something when it was either go outside or do nothing, this was the '80s & '90s, when even for the poorest kids there were plenty of legitimate indoor options, it was always the ones who were always playing outside that made me the most nervous and got me in the most trouble, often by making me do things that, not only would I not think of doing, but I wouldn't even know that they were bad enough things to do that would get me in trouble, until after I was talked into doing them, usually by the outdoor kid, who was frankly, usually an asshole. And keep in mind, I grew up in Vegas, you didn't go outside to play too much, because it was too fucking hot out, so the ones who did, yeah, their might've been something wrong with them, even outside the fact that they probably didn't have the best of parents either.
The main character in this film, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is one of those outdoor kids, and one of the first things we see her convince her friends to do is to go across the way to a nearby monthly condo rental place and spit on one of the resident's car. Why?
They're asshole outdoor kids, they come up with stupid things to do I guess. I seriously don't know, and these kids do a few things that I genuinely don't know why exactly they did them, other then they're kinda assholes. I mean, even after they're told to clean it up from the car's owner, they act like it's not even a punishment or anything; it's just the next game they're playing. I guess that's very childlike and I'm supposed to be inspired or enchanted by this and to be fair if I was living in some run-down monthly motels, even with cable TV, I'd probably be seeking out other things to do. "The Florida Project", named after the early codename that Walt Disney gave to the project that would inevitably become DisneyWorld, takes place in Kissimmee, Florida, and begins with the song "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang, which is a much more subtle reference than people might realize, since Celebration, Florida, is the name of the famous master-plan community/town that was created by Walt Disney and the Disney Corporation and is often the home of a lot of DisneyWorld employees and is technically apart of the greater Orlando-Kissimmee area, but this movie takes place more in the run-down area of Kissimmee that is right down the road from Disney World and you may have heard of the town from those old commercials from about fifteen years ago as it promoted itself as being centered around every Central Florida tourist attractions. I've never been to Disney World but I'm told by those who have that this area is a strange, decrepit tourist trap area and it looks like it.
Moonee's mother Halley (Bria Vinaite) is difficult to explain. She's young, immature, impulsive and depending on the situation is either a hustler who whores or a whore that hustles. And yeah, she often lets Moonee basically run around the area which is populated by, what I'm told are symbolically some decrepit areas that all seem to mimic famous places in the Magic Kingdom, including Moonee's motel which is called the Magic Castle. It actually exists and is shot on location and mostly with unknown or lesser-known actors in most of the roles, many of whom are actually people who live in the area. This is very similar to Writer/Director Sean Baker's previous film, "Tangerine". That movie was also about a friendship between two young people, in that case, two transgendered sex workers. Here, it's mainly a friendship between Moonee and Jancey (Valeria Cotto) a young friend who lives at a different motel across the way. Moonee began with a third close friend, Scotty (Christopher Rivera) but after Moonee's playing got way-the-fuck out-of-hand one day, his grandmother Stacy (Josie Olivo) made sure he didn't play with her anymore, but Moonee and Jancey become and remain fast friends.
Trying to describe the film's plot is difficult 'cause there's really a subtle story that's happening at the edge's of the screen, very similar in some ways to one of my favorite movie's in recent years, Scott McGehee & David Seigel's "What Maisie Knew" which shows a movie that's mainly shown from the perspective of the titular little girl while the grownup drama, she's only vaguely aware of. There are some great sequences highlighting that in the movie like when Moonee helps her mother with, what she thinks is an innocuous bikini selfie, while she's actually putting a hooker ad on Craigslist. It's not entirely that insular though, Willem Dafoe earned an Oscar nomination as the motel's landlord and he's an interesting character as well. Oddly though, the slice-of-life film that "The Florida Project" mostly reminds me of is Terrence Malick's "Days of Heaven", a movie that's also about a young Girl's changing world and how she kinda sees it changing at the parameters, but only somewhat understands everything that's happening and it's completely out of her control.
The final scene, which has been heavily debated on, reminds me of this the most, it essentially ends the same way "Days of Heaven" did, with two young friends running off to the world that they're forever gonna know and remember. I personally loved it, and even though other symbolism probably went over my head, I love how much it represents the end of one world for Moonee and essentially the beginning of another. The more I think about "The Florida Project", the more I reflect on a lot of how brilliant it is. As somebody who's only got limited theme park experience, I didn't quite get a lot of the symbolic representations of rides that flew over my head. but I suspect the deeper I look into the film, the more I'd appreciate it. With his recent collection of films, I think it's very fair to rank Sean Baker among the best directors working today. It's not just that he's good at slice-of-life films, and is absolutely great at capturing these realistic, complex and interesting friendships, but his fascination with those who live on the outskirts, essentially places literally and figurate that we generally think of as being fairly glamorous is fascinating. He's able to spot an interesting film subject before others can, and he finds new and interesting ways to show the lives of those characters. He's quickly becoming one of those filmmakers who I can't wait to see what new project they come up with next and "The Florida Project" might be his very best yet.
THE BREADWINNER (2017) Director: Nora Twomey
So, there was a movie that came out about fifteen years ago called "Osama"; I believe it was the first Afghani movie to be made after the fall of the Taliban, the first I was aware of anyway. For the first story to tell from that country, they told a tale of a young girl in a family who has lost all the male members to death or war over the years, so she has to go out disguised as a boy in order for the family to survive Taliban-controlled Kabul. I happen to rewatch it not that long ago, it still holds up pretty well. It's an interesting choice for a first story to tell from the land, interesting, simple, predictable, and probably inevitable. I'm not surprised that it's not the only telling of it, in fact,I wouldn't be surprised if every other film that takes place in Afghanistan, especially ones taking place in the Taliban-controlled era, will have some mention, if not be based around this story.
"The Breadwinner" is a new telling of that narrative. A better one in my mind, although it is a western one, so that might annoy some but I don't have an issue with it. It's based off of a Canadian children's novel by Deborah Ellis, who wrote the screenplay, and it seems natural to me that it would be. The main character is Pavana (Saara Chaudrey) a young daughter of a poor family who's patriarch Nurullah (Ali Badshah) a former professor who lost his legs in the Soviet war, have a small blanket of stuff they're trying to sell in order to buy food. He teaches Pavana to be the storyteller in the family, or tries to, but after he's turned into the Taliban by a disgruntled former student of his, Idress (Noorim Gulamgaus) Pavana has to take over the stand at the market, disguised as a boy. She does struggle when she can to figure out a way to get her father out of prison, especially with help from Shauzia (Soma Chhaya) a former classmate of her's whose also disguised as a boy to help go out and feed her family. In the meantime, her mother Fattema (Laara Sadiq) struggles to reach other relatives, hoping they can leave Kabul as quickly as possible and go live with a male relative. When she's home, Pavana tells a story, that's shown in a slightly different animation, and entertains her little brother Zaki (Lily Erlinghauser) with a tale of the Elephant King.
Naturally, that tale has parables to the situation they're in, but in many ways "The Breadwinner" is a parable itself. It's a warning of what can happen to those who under threat of Taliban control and what was like, and it tells it in a way that I think is more powerful than it probably in any other format. Somehow, the animation makes this story seem more powerful and tangible than similar feature films I've seen that try to show or explain life under Taliban rule. The film was directed by Nora Twomey, who was a co-director on "The Secret of Kells"; I think I was the one who genuinely didn't care much for that movie or it's animation style, but I think it works effectively here. 'cause instead of telling fantasy and myth we're telling modern history through a child's eye. It's a thousand times more powerful and poignant. It's a sad common tale, so common that unfortunately one day in the future it's gonna become a classic tale, that's told really well.
THE INSULT (2017) Director: Ziad Doueiri
There's a saying I love in Sociology, nothing happens in a vacuum. I think this is a good rule for writers and storytellers too. Basically, it means that nothing happens without something else previously happening. Generally, this is used in terms of explaining drastic major events like 9/11 for instance. Ideally, we'd like to imagine that about 20 Arabs were brainwashed by Osama Bin Laden and they decided to fly planes into buildings, but that's not the whole story. There are reasons they attacked us, things we did to them and others, which led to a situation where Bin Laden could take advantage of and thrive, and so on and so forth; at least, that's how I learned it. "The Insult" at it's core, is basically an example of this principle being played out.
At first, we think or believe that what happens is simply an isolated event, one that supposedly happens the way we'd imagine it if we read about it in a newspaper or something, in a vacuum. Two people exchange words, over a pipe installation of all things, and things got out of hand. But, is it that simple? Well, yes, and no. And yes, and no. (Sigh) So, Tony Hanna (Adel Karem), a garage owner is annoyed at the nearby construction that's going on in and around his home and his neighborhood. He gets into an exchange of words with a worker, Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha) and Yasser at the end of the exchange calls him a "fucking prick". (Shrugs) Seems simple enough, but this Tony then demands that Yasser apologize for his statement. He doesn't get it, at least not at first, but Yasser's employer and family are concerned and after a few attempts, Yasser goes to apologize but instead ends up injuring Tony, after he said something that he wouldn't even tell the judge in court at his own trial over the incident. The case is eventually thrown out because it's hard to figure out who harmed who first, and Tony's gutter wasn't up to code and needed replacing and he was perfectly willing for the state to come in before and fix an electronic issue he previously had. This makes Tony even more angry, and he appeals, still demanding an apology, and after he injures himself more from working too soon after getting out of the hospital from Yasser's attack, his pregnant wife Shirine (Rita Hayek) while trying to collect her husband to the hospital, goes into premature labor, and now both her and their newborn kid are fighting for their lives.
So, what exactly did Tony say that caused Yasser to attack him? To paraphrase, (Deep sigh) "I wish Ariel Sharon had exterminated all of you."
Okay, I need to fill in some blanks up 'til now. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film, making it the first Lebanese movie to receive that honor. Now, my modern history of Lebanon is a bit cloudy, obviously, most are fairly aware of how volatile the area's been over the last four decades or so, basically, this started with the Lebanese Civil War. Tony is a Christian, and yes, there's a lot of Christians in Lebanon, and is a member of the Christian Party led by Bashir Gemayal who was President when the war was fought and was later killed by a car bomb. Hanna is seen watching old speeches of him. Now Lebanon, is the country currently with the highest population of refugees and Yassir is a Palestinean who's lived in the country for decades, as a refugee. The Lebanese Civil War was much more complex than this, I'm not even close to describing all of it's intricacies but for our purposes here, Gemayal's group had a lot of conflict with the P.L.O., and the movie is about how those feelings have essentially remained over the years.
The appeals trial, where both sides have lawyers this time, actually demonstrates the generational conflict by making Tony's lawyer Wadji (Camille Salemeh) a Christian who fought in the war and Yassir's lawyer Nadine (Diamand Bou Abboud) his daughter who did not grow up with the war and doesn't relate to the conflicts and pains of the past. (Although she should still have conflicts of her own; she's not that young and Lebanon hasn't exactly stopped being a war zone entirely since then, but we'll let that slide.) This is a courtroom drama essentially, one that's really over a dumb name-calling and two people who are too prideful to admit that they both overreacted and are in the wrong. I have no idea whether this was based on a real case or not, but it's a powerhouse courtroom drama that dissects both sides and their experiences and their reactions, trying to determine who's more at fault. Yeah, like anything else that's in the Middle East, it's complicated, but it's fulfilling anyway. It's painful and there are several twists and turns in this and I've left a lot out, 'cause a lot of this is about discovery as well. We get the basic situation, but as we constantly learn more of what happened, and why, we become more fascinated by it.
That's a really common theme in Doueiri's films. This is the third film of his I've seen, and they're all great movies that are fascinated with exploration of it's subject matter, discovering the secrets of what his characters don't know. The first film of his I saw, "Lila Says" is one of the most underrated coming-of-age films made this century so far, and his previous film, "The Attack" was just as devastating as it followed a husband who lost his wife in a suicide attack, only to discover that she was the bomber herself and hid a life from him that he nothing about. If there's anything positive this movie is preaching, it's empathy. Yassir and Tony are very similar characters and types and despite a large age difference, they've both come to this place having survived incredible hardships that have shaped their worldview; in another world at another time, they might've been friends. For now, however, they're a garage owner and a foreman getting into a fight over a gutter, and nothing more, except it never ever actually is, nothing more.
MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND (2017) Director: Ana Asensio
The first startling thing I noticed immediately with "Most Beautiful Island" was the opening credit, an Orion logo. Anybody my age grew up with that, especially if you practically lived in a video and certainly still has several VHS tapes where that logo starts the film, but it's been awhile since I've seen that. The brand was revitalized by MGM recently as a distribution label and this film is one of the first to be distributed from them. The Samuel-Goldwyn bluescreen logo is a relic of an earlier time too, but the Orion logo is fairly jarring; it's like suddenly running into a TV show from twenty years ago that you used to watch all the time but had completely forgotten existed until that very moment when you saw it again.
The "Most Beautiful Island", of all islands is Manhattan apparently. Not my first choice, but okay. Anyway, the film is the debut directorial effort from Ana Ansensio, who also plays the lead character Luciana, a recent immigrant from Spain who's just learning the New York hustles. She works a couple jobs and lives in a run-down apartment where there's tape covering a hole in the bathroom which covers up an intrusion of cockroaches. (Literally, that's what a group of cockroaches are called, an "intrusion". Fun fact.) She then gets talked into taking a sketchy one-day job from a trusted friend of hers, Olga (Natasha Romanova) and, I'm really reluctant to describe anything else that happens in this movie. There's an obscure indy-French film it kinda reminds me of called "13 Tzameti", where the main character, unknowingly follows an invitation that was originally intended for someone else, only to find that he is a participant in a game of Russian Roulette. (Good movie if you can find it and you're interested) Now normally I wouldn't reveal that twist, but it's about thirteen years old and while there's something weird and disturbing about this job and what exactly Luciana has been tricked by her friend into joining, I will say that it's not russian roulette or anything that violent, but it is something that's very "Eyes Wide Shut" in its approach, the mysterious hidden places, and get instructions and outfits and underground doorways and stairs, and-, it's all Kafkaesque journey into the underworld.
When you find out what it is, which we don't until these young foreign women also find out...- well,- I guess it was foreshadowed and it's certainly exploitative and I'm sure a bunch of other things I could call it. I don't quite know what to make of it however; I supposed it's possible that it's based on something that probably happens in some twisted part of the backroom elite, but I guess I can't help but to think of worst. It probably also has to do with the predictable nature of it's plot. While we don't know exactly what Hell Luciana is walking into, we suspect pretty early on that she is indeed walking into it. The main crux of the movie is not what she ends up doing, it's that she was tricked into coming there to begin with one of the few people in the whole of New York City that she believed she could trust as a friend. I hate to think that that's about the only real insight and story the movie gives us, but that's honestly about it and I think it could've done more. Still, I'm gonna recommend it; for a first film it's got it's moments and is truly thrilling. I have no idea why Ana Ansensio wanted this to be her first feature, but at least she puts herself out there for it and it's clearly she wanted to tell. Maybe it's more personal and nightmarish for her than it would be for me? (Shrugs) I can only speculate on that, but I hope she's got more in her, perhaps more of this character even. I'd like to see what happens next to someone after going through something like that, and not just
HUMAN FLOW (2017): Ai Weiwei
I really wanted to like "Human Flow" and I do, and I appreciate what the great Ai Weiwei's trying to do, but honestly, I think he would've done better if he chose to only focus on a singular refugee crisis instead of, well, all of them. And yes, there's a lot of them, and they should be profiled and elaborated on and explained in every historical context imaginable, including the context of finding them a goddamn place to live, but doth that a compelling documentary makes.
For those unfamiliar with Ai Weiwei, he's indisputably one of the most important artists of our time. This is his first feature documentary of his I've seen, although he's made several of them it's probably the least known genre he dabbles in. On top fo the several art forms he's a master of, incuding the selfie believe it or not, he's also a human rights activist who's been threatened and arrest by the Chinese government several times over the years. He currently lives in Berlin, and there are movies made about him that I'd recommend you go see to get a brief introduction to his work and importance. He's a big influence for instance on Ye Haiyan aka Hooligan Sparrow. In "Human Flow", which I suspect Ai knows is somewhat of a provocative title, he goes around the world showing the refugee crisis up close. The movie spans 23 countries and four continents, each one with dvery different but equally painful narratives on how these people became refugees and how the rest of the world is completely incapable of dealing with it properly. There's definitely some refugee camps that are better than others, but it's still a refugee camp, no matter how much it looks and seems like a large city.
I'm recommending the film but it's honestly either not long enough or too long. This might've worked as a docu-series where we spend like an hour in each refugee camp, or like I said, follow a particular family or character for as long as possible, but I get why he's done it this way. He's trying to show the true scope one of the biggest problems in the world today. It's ambitious and it does its job, showcases the refugee crisis. I'm just disappointed that it's not more entertaining in some way. This is a film that at 2 1/2 hours can beat you down and I don't think it needed to. It could've found more of a balance I believe.
THE DEVIL'S CANDY (2017) Director: Sean Byrne
Okay, I actually have some Facebook friends who are in the Oz Indie scene, which is this indy horror scene in Australia. I don't know much about it per se, but I thought something was a little odd about "The Devil's Candy" and it was when I learned Director Sean Byrne is from that scene it kinda clicked. That scene is very gore, camp and shock heavy metal inspired and "The Devil's Candy" is definitely an attempt to a heavy metal version of a more classic horror story. "The Shining" comes most to mind because it's based around a house and the father character, Jesse (Ethan Embry) a successful painter who's a goth rocker with a rock'n'roll family, start to go a little bit insane.
Apparently, the house he buys with the help of a commission from a bank that he's working on, was cheap because of past murders that occurred. That doesn't scare them off that much, but the son of the victims of that heinous crime is still around and Ray Smile (Pruitt Taylor Vince) is coming, and is possessed by the devil to kill children. Which is unfortunate since Jesse has a daughter, Zooey (Klara Glasco). Also, Jesse's wife Astrid is played by Shiri Appleby, who I love her on "UnReal", and she's fine here.
I guess a horror movie doesn't have to have more than just a bad guy and a lot of style, but I kinda feel like "The Devil's Candy" just doesn't have much more than that. If you like gore and metal and your fears being toyed with, I guess there's nothing wrong with "The Devil's Candy", but I'll be honest, I wanted more out of the film. Basically it's set-up and a little bit of tension, a lot of bloody action leading up to a climax. I felt like I was just waiting for everything to happen instead of really getting invested. It's style over the substance, which is a shame 'cause I've heard good things about this director's previous feature, "The Loved Ones", which actually does sound unique and different and this long-delayed sophmore effort, that apparently kept getting cut after screenings until it was officially theatrically released two years later at barely a 75 minutes long, it feels like a half-thought out idea. I've been criticized at times for not liking or even getting a lot of popular modern horror, I still occasionally get a random post from people finding out that I gave "You're Next" ZERO STARS and thought it was the worst film of the year. (I stand by it) and even more recently, I'm told there's an audience for the godawful Karen Kusama's "The Invitation" that I equally panned. Admittedly, that film has a little more going for it than this one and "You're Next", and I can be lenient on horror and slashers if they're done well enough and keep me interested, but I'm also in a post-"Get Out" world when it comes to horror, and that kind of game-changer makes the mediocre look worst and the absolute shit smell nastier than I remembered. In that respects, "The Devil's Candy" is mediocre. and just because the soundtrack has favorites of mine like PJ Harvey and Metallica on the soundtrack, doesn't really change that. I mean, it's cool that it does, but I'm judging the movie.
KICKS (2016) Director: Justin Tipping
God damn Michael fucking Jordan. Do people even know who he is now? I mean, the must know, but do they really know? I buy that Brandon (Jahking Guillory) probably knows, but he's fifteen years old and lives in modern times in the Bay Area; does he really know? So, I don't keep a secret that I am a Philadelphia sports fan and that most of my all-time favorite players and teams are the teams I cheer for. That said, like most people who've watched and from what I can tell, covered sports, they're not so limited. If there's a player I at one point cared about as much as my personal favorite teams, it's Michael Jordan, and as for teams, the '90s Bulls are the gold standard for me. Not the Shaq & Kobe Lakers, definitely not the Patriots of the last two decades, hell, not even this past season's Vegas Golden Knights. Those Bulls teams and Jordan top them all. I watched them, I followed them; I followed Michael Jordan; if they were on TV, you didn't miss that game. LeBron, Curry, they're great, Jordan is the-, as they say now, the GOAT, Greatest of All-Time. I'm far from the only one with this sentiment, by the way and it's more impossible than people might realize to explain how Jordan impacted, not only basketball, but pop culture at large. And for this, I have to damn him, because thirty years after he played, people are fighting and even killing, over his goddamn shoes.
It's true, all the other kids in those pumped up "Kicks", would trade them for Air Jordans in a second. I don't know what the status of sneakers or shoes were before Michael Jordan, but I never heard of people getting beat up or hurt over shoes those sneakers came out; I certainly don't remember it happening before Air Jordans. Shoes weren't named after famous celebrities before then, and boy did they pick the right celebrity. Without context, this may seem strange to some that a group of kids,- not even kids, adults, would beat up and gang up on a kid, just to take his shoes, but I've seen and heard this scenario too often for me to dismiss this as fantasy. I distinctly remember an episode of "Family Matters" where a teenager got shot at her high school over her sneakers.
Let me repeat that last part, 'cause you might've skimmed over that, "FAMILY MATTERS", has an episode, where a character gets SHOT at SCHOOL, because of her SNEAKERS. Yes, the one with Steve Urkel! Look it up if you don't believe me, but, that happened! That was in the '90s, and sneakers are probably three times bigger now than in some areas of the country. Brandon saves his money to buy the Air Jordans, out of the back of a van. He then gets jumped by a gang led by Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) some big shot, drug dealer I suspect, although his house looks like any other in the neighborhood except there's some pretty X-rated parties going on in the kitchen while his toddler son watches TV in the living room. Brandon wants thos shoes back. He's a short kid and he knows that those shoes make him somebody, and if nothing else, they'll be good to run in, someone he believes he'll be doing for awhile. (Probably accurate) He recruits his friends Rico (Christopher Meyer) and Albert (Christopher Jordan Wallace) and together they put the word out he's looking for Flacco and begin the journey to find him, which requires a trip into the depths of Oakland and they begin matriculating through the area searching for him.
This includes a couple visits with Brandon's Uncle Marlon (Mahershala Ali) an ex-con who's essentially the spiritual guide of the film, although he does give a good performance the little he's seen onscreen. "Kicks" is from first-time writer/director Joshua Tipping and you can tell how personal the film is to him. The film does veer into some strange bits of surrealism, like the astronaut that seems to follow Brandon around, as well as the inner monologue throughout the movie. I-, I don't hate all these ideas, but it's clear that it's a first-time filmmaker with these, but still, there's a lot to "Kicks" I like. It's a personal unique vision and I hope he's got more in him.
Goddammit Jordan, why did it gotta be the shoes.
GLASSLAND (2016) Director: Gerard Barrett
I've been looking through the reviews of Gerard Barrett's film "Glassland" that are out there, I keep re-reading Matt Zoller Seitz's on rogerebert.com. Not because I'm in agreement or disagreement, but because it's written in a way that's-, well, I don't want to call out a critic for being too autobiographical in their review of a movie, but if I were to bet, I'd say a lot of what he's saying sure sounds like he's writing from the experience of having had a close personal relationship with somebody who's an alcoholic, or at least somebody with a similar addiction problem. I don't want to say it's a negative to have some personal connection to a film either and lord knows it's not like I don't use my autobiography in my reviews and writings; I use a lot more of my backgrounds than I think most people ever realize, and I certainly don't think it's a negative here.
I get it, I know a few people with issues who at times I can be uncomfortable being around despite how much I love them. (I mean, it doesn't help that I'm generally the most straight-edged of my friends out there.) "Glassland' is mostly about a relationship between an alcoholic mother, Jean (Toni Collette) and her grown son John (Jack Reynor) a Dublin cab driver who periodically has to drag her lifeless overdosed body to the hospital to get revived, only for her to go back to her manic-aggressive drunken self. Most of the rest of the movie basically could be leftover scenes from a Eugene O'Neill or Sam Shephard play. It's all good character kitchen sink drama stuff, as John has to first convince her mother that actually needs help and then has to figure out how to give it to her, if it's possible. That part, which involves him using his taxi driving to help some criminal underworld people do, something; it's not entirely clear, is kinda brushed aside except for the fact that it's what helps him fund the rehab he wants his mother to go.
I actually kinda wonder if this was an abandoned play at one point and they just didn't really have enough for a full play so it sorta extended into a barely ninety-minute movie. Again, I don't this is a bad thing; if anything that's a smart choice, but it does show the story's weaknesses. But the movie is about the acting and this is well-acted. No surprise of course, Collette and Reynor are great actors and Will Poulter also has an extended character here and Collette in particular is strong, although I think she struggled a little bit with a Dublin accent. Honestly, the fact that the film is Irish is fairly inconsequential, which-, I'll go for the easy joke, is a bit surprising considering the subject matter is drinking. (Rimshot) Honestly though, this story could've taken place anywhere. It's also one of the very rare examples of a film being about the perils of alcoholism that's not primary told through the perspective of the alcoholic. That's enough to recommend it; I wish there was story, sure, but let's be fair, when it comes to alcoholism, there generally isn't more to the story, not in real life anyway.