Thursday, January 28, 2021

NEW PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON STREAMING IN LIGHT OF NBC-UNIVERSAL'S RECENT MOVES.

I've been thinking a lot about this blogpost I wrote around the time I first started this blog, way back in 2011. It was literally "Streaming Movies Sucks...", and was more-or-less a repudiation against the notion that streaming was the future of cinema and DVDs, or some kind of physical hardware wouldn't die out  and would remain, if not the dominant form of at-home viewing media for movies, a major part of it. You can read it at the link below if you're curious:


Frankly, while I do think many of the points in the article still essential hold up and remain essentially part of my perspective worldview; most of the article feels like it was outdated for its time, and now feels like an attempt by me, a kid who was literally brought up in a family-owned video store chain, trying to express wish fulfillment on recapturing and keeping alive much of the past. (All that said, I might be the last holdout, but in many cases I still prefer DVDs.) 

Obviously it's outdated, and nowadays if I'm not streaming Youtube, I'm streaming most anything else. It's also, generally better then it used to be, although admittedly, I'm still more then capable of challenging the internet and seeking out the one thing I can't find on streaming, and often can't find on DVD either. My Netflix queue has really gotten out-of-control. The main reason I'm bringing this article up is that, the main objective that I have always taken, is that, when it comes to media, I want whatever the best and most succinct option is for anybody and everybody to see whatever they could possibly want to see, whenever they want to see, and preferably, for as little as humanly possible. To me, ideally, streaming would be more attune to a library; everything that can be available, is clearly available, and all under the same roof, and it's all essentially, at most a very low price, unless you're overdue, in which case, you owe, maybe a dime. (And I'm not sure that last part is something I fully endorse.) Obviously, that didn't happen with streaming; instead, what I feared/knew would happen, happened; film is a business moreso then an art, and now, there's channels for half the companies that make the media, much less distributing it, competing with the distributors, who are also now making media to compete with other media producers. If I wanna watch everything I absolutely want, instead of clicking on one thing and searching through a computer catalog (That's what search engines for libraries used ot be called; I'm old, I remember card catalogs.) I have to get subscriptions to Netflix, both streaming and DVDs-through-mail, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO MAX, CBS All-Access, which will become Paramount soon, Disney+, Apple+, Criterion Channel, Showtime+, Peacock, ABC, ESPN, Discovery Plus, CNN and every other cable channel on my Roku, plus like, two hundred other assorted streaming channels, in order to get, most of what I actually want to see. (Not to mention I don't know I want to see until I actually see it. People forget that part too often.)  

As great as streaming is overall, it's not now, nor has ever been ideal in my view. It doesn't provide the ability for the most people to watch anything they possibly could watch, plus anything they might not know they want to watch until they see it, right at their fingertips, without ultimately hitting and killing them in their pocketbooks. That's why I still will claim that when all is said and all is done, DVDs are better, just make sure there's always a hard copy available and all of streaming's faults seem moot to me. 

That said, streaming, is good, and frankly, it's getting better. I'm not naturally a Capitalist, but I was thinking about how good streaming is now, and I was thinking about that, strangely because of a couple moves that NBC-Universal did this week. Their streaming service, Peacock and they have a couple things I like. For one, it's the best way to watch MSNBC live on a Roku. For another, they have NBCSN, or at least they do for now. They announced that they're getting rid of their sports network. They're not selling it, it's just ending as a channel. 


Frankly, even though it mostly only had Pro Football Talk, as well as it's only major sporting events signed up being the NHL, Premiere League Soccer, NASCAR and the one that really killed them this year, the Olympics, I like their formatting of most of their shows and preferred them to Fox Sports Net and CBS Sports, and they were miles ahead of Stadium, which frankly barely counts as a sports network, and I thought given the right placement and motivation behind it, could've competed with ESPN, but let's be honest for a minute, that was never happening. I'm sad about that, and it's not like sports are going away; NBC's moving much of the NBCSN programming to channels like USA, which has a longer history of airing high-profile sporting events then people realize, and will survive on Peacock in a slightly variant form. Then, Peacock, NBC-U's streaming service, speaking of "Sporting Events", sorta, bought the WWE Network, World Wrestling Entertainment's streaming channel just a few days later.


I've talked occasionally about being a wrestling fan over the years; I still keep an eye on it from afar, but I haven't followed it intensely since like, I don't know, fifteen or so years at lease, and when WWE were gracious enough to make some of their older Pay-Per-Views free this year at the begining of the pandemic, I watched a lot of the PPVs that I missed when I was a kid during the Monday Night Wars and couldn't afford back then. It was nice, mindless nostalgia and I got to see a lot of the matches that I always wanted to see and heard about but didn't get around to until now. (Shrugs) Most of it was from '96, and that wasn't the greatest year for the WWE, and frankly, as I suspected, Pay-Per-View wrestling shows was then and probably still is usually an overrated buy, and my suspicions were mostly confirmed. But, Peacock's free essentially; this will be a premiere service they offer, so I'd have to pay for most of it, but that's still nice add. In fact, I like how a lot of nice additions are made to the major streaming services. Amazon is probably the best with this, but Roku picked up Quibi recently, which you know, everybody has rightfully made fun of Quibi's failure, but you know, that shouldn't effect the products they produced. 

Essentially, we're coming along to the peak of streaming in this current model. It's not gonna be everything, but inevitably, a lot of movies, TV shows and anything else are going to be on fewer and fewer streaming channels as they pick up whatever they can. And things might move from one to another; I was confused and baffled by everybody getting so upset at "The Office" moving from Netflix to Peacock a few weeks back, because was a better network for them and it was cheaper. It was literally free; plus it's the network that "The Office" originally aired on, NBC, and frankly, as I pointed out on a recent blogpost, Peacock lacked a surpring amount of NBC's better and most important shows, and anything that alleviates that problem; I'm in favor of. The link to that blog is below: 

https://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2020/06/the-teenkids-sitcom-and-how-to-classify.html

Also, I should point out that, it makes a lot of sense that the WWE would be on Peacock; they have a long history with NBC, mostly through Dick Ebersol's longtime friendship with Vince McMahon, so yeah, why not. (It's a better partner then with Disney, which was the rumor for awhile, and their association with FOX is fairly new and incomplete at the moment, so yeah, WWE Network on Peacock, good idea overall.) Other streaming options are picking up other things too. If I wanted to watch an old "MTS3K", I can go on Pluto right now, or Shout Network or a few other easily accessible streaming sites. The streaming sites that don't survive, eventually get deleted, which sucks, but some of the ones that are halfway decent and have legitimate material worth saving, hopefully they end up somewhere with less stuff falling into the crevices of of time and dying out. On top of availability, preservation is also important, and streaming can help with that as well. Like I said, I think DVDs and other physical media, but streaming can certainly help in preservation a lot too. You never know. 

In essence, Peacock's recent moves represent both of these extremes the preserving of classic old material like the WWE, and ending something that's not competitive like NBCSN, but still preserving and keeping the aspects of the network through other means. There's always gonna be a new competitor in the market as long as there's a market, but as long as there is a market, it's ultimately good if the few swallow up and absorbs the others; it's good for the viewer and the audience. It's a rare case that happens and there are indeed issues with it, I don't like how HBO Max somehow doesn't have every "Looney Tunes" or even every "South Park" of all things... (Seriously how did HBO of all fucking networks became the channel that edits everything?! I can't believe this is the channel of "Real Sex". [I know, it's not all HBO's fault, a lot of it is just, the problematic issue resounding from the fact that, film is a business....]) but you know what, especially as this pandemic has revealed, streaming is good, and is getting better all the time. 

I regret that childish declaration now that "Streaming Movies Sucks"; not that I'm not still standing behind many of the observations I made of the time, but it just feels so shockingly short-sighted from me now. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

MOVIE REVIEWS #178: "DA 5 BLOODS", "CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION", "CORPUS CHRISTI", "JUST MERCY", "BLINDED BY THE LIGHT", "DIANE (Jones)", "OFFICIAL SECRETS", "GENESE (aka GENESIS)", "EXTRA ORDINARY" and "CRAWL"!

Oh, it's a new day, yes it is. It's the last hours of the Trump administration as I'm writing this and everyone sane is excited. Thank fucking Christ too. These last four years have just been, the worst. And we're gonna be feeling the effects of Trump's incompetence and corruption for years to come, and not just in the fact that white supremacists are still around, 'cause they've really fucked everything up; we're gonna be struggling to fix so much that's been systematically and maniacally broken. 

(Sigh) Well, we've got a long way to go, and a short time to get there, but it's nice to feel like we're on the right road for once, again. As to me, I've been catching up on a lot of TV shows and movies. I've got a lot of those to get through, mostly I've been watching those cult documentaries on HBO Max honestly. I watched "The Vow' and "Heaven's Gate: The Cult of Cults", . I actually liked that new "Harley Quinn" animated series a lot, even if it was a little too insider, and they really make Commissioner Gordon seem like a schmuck. I always finished "Carmen Sandiego", that was intense, but great! I finished the latest season of "The Crown", that was frustrating honestly. 

I also watched a lot of other films that I'm not reviewing here, like the "Tiger" documentary on HBO, that was good. As was the Bee Gees's documentary they had; "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart", that was sad and touching, and a great reminded of just how much great music they've made.

I also got around to "Small Axe" Steve McQueen's five-movie collection of West Indies immigrants in London. It's gotten some love from several critics group since each movie had screened separately at film festivals before being combined for the Amazon miniseries, I get why, but I think it's a miniseries, not a movie. Also, I'm not sure why everyone loves "Lovers Rock" among those films, that was the one I found the least interesting of the group of films. If I have to rank them, I'd probably say "Education" was my favorite, but the other three were just as good, but I thought "Lovers Rock" was kinda boring and forgettable. The music was good, but yeah, I like the others better. Still, this is a great series; reminds me of "The Decalogue" and anything that reminds me of that is a must-watch. 

Anyway, I think that's everything I've been going through. I'm finally healthy also btw. Well, I'm not healthy-healthy, but I finally tested negative for COVID-10, so yeah, me! Alright, let's get to the reviews!


DA 5 BLOODS (2020) Director: Spike Lee

★★★★1/2

 

I once said that Spike Lee is one of the few directors whose bad movies I'll happily sit through. That's absolutely true, and I have; Spike is always a fascinating director, but I gotta confess he isn't always great; that said though, when I said that statement, I had a particular film in mind, "Miracle at St. Anna". It was the first time he made a war movie, and it's interesting. It's an interesting failure. It's a mess of a narrative that seems to have flashbacks within flashbacks that get so lost in its ideas that you forget about the absurdity of the main narrative, which involved a modern-day murder that seemed to harken back to actions during World War II. He had a weird fascination with having then-modern films have recalls back to WWII back then, which was a bit odd 'cause it made half his characters seem like they must've been decades older then they look; I heard "Inside Man", one of his rare big-budget studio films had that weird dynamic. Oddly that's one I haven't seen yet..., but he's had other films that had some similar ideas about time as well; his remake of "Oldboy" comes to mind, and I think after watching "Da 5 Bloods", I finally got it. I always wondered why he framed past wars in the present in some manner; I didn't think it worked with "Miracle at St. Anna", but it was interesting, and it makes much more sense here, 'cause the fact is that, history is a study of slow, incrimental change, and the past always has a greater impact on the presence then we realize. We're getting a lot of that realization beaten over-the-head in light of the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the Trump's Insurrection last week; these events don't happen in a vacuum, and Spike Lee knows that. And wars are like that as well, so yeah, war stories should be framed that way as well. 

And that's where we meet "Da 5 Bloods", four surviving African-American Vietnam Vets who have returned to Vietnam today. Paul (Delroy Lindo), Otis (Clarke Peters), Eddie (Norm Lewis) and Melvin (Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) are apparently on an approved assignment to go back to Vietnam after possible remains of their fallen leader of the squad, Stormin' Norman (Chadwick Boseman). The plan is somewhat funded through a Frenchman Desroche (Jean Reno), who they connect with through an old Vietnam acquaintance of Otis named Tien (Le Y Lan)

Paul's son David (Jonathan Majors) is also tagging along, worried about his father, who's been suffering nightmares, and has become a Trump supporter, complete with a MAGA hat that he wears backwards as the five head out into the jungle, lead by a local travel guide Vinh Tran (Johnny Tri Nguyen). They also run into a trio of members of a charitable group devoted to land mines, Hedy (Melanie Thierry), who David tried to hit on at first, as well as Simon (Paul Walter Hauser) and Seppo (Jasper Pakkonen). The thing is, the Bloods aren't just there to find and return their fallen comrade to the States. 

They're also out there to collect, gold. Yeah, despite everything about this being a war movie technically it's much more direct influence is John Huston's great film "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", a movie, that I've written on here before, but I guess I haven't.... I could've swore I did, but... hmm, I guess I didn't. (Note-to-self....) It even quotes the movies most famous line at one point, at a similar point in the story in fact. 

The movie gets harrowing and predictable, and yet, unpredictable as the group slithers deeper into the jungle and things get more and more out-of-control and more people get thrown onto the pile of just how fucked up a situation they're in. More gets brought up about each of their pasts and why and how they got back to this place. How we got here. Spike Lee, like  I said, always places the wars of the past in a greater, modern context. And a greater context of African-Americans having to fight in America's wars at higher rates then others, fighting and dying. And living, and what happens after that. Oddly, I think I actually prefer Paul's decent into gold fever madness more then I like old Bogie's Fred C. Dobbs character's decent, 'cause as much as I like "...Sierra Madre", I always felt a bit like that came out of nowhere, and just seemed to be an arbitrary plot addition. Here though, it's setup and well-earned, it's fifty years of going mad, silently, culminating in this one complex attempt at getting the gold, colliding with the horrors that that gold cost him years earlier. 

"Da 5 Bloods" is probably not among Lee's very best, but its a strong second-tier Lee, and homage both the classics of cinema that Lee's a student of, and his more quintessential stylized approaches that we just expect from him now. Like I said, even his bad films I can sit through and be engrossed in, and this is still a damn good film. It's a classic idea, told in Lee's unique and original way, and it's one of his very best, and whatever your thoughts on the film, you're not going to leave the movie feeling unfulfilled.


CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION (2020) Directors: James Lebrecht and Nicole Newnham

★★★★1/2

 

I think one of the things that I think conveniently often gets forgotten is how so much of the modern world that we know today, genuinely had to be fought for. It seems unbelievable that, all the way to my lifetime, we didn't have requirements for all buildings and properties to have handicap accessibility. It sounds and nowadays feels like something that should've just automatically existed, but like all Civil Rights laws seem to be, it wasn't an overnight revolution; it took decades of advancements, setbacks, protests, and surprisingly, most of it began, at, camp. 

Camp Jened to be exact. The movie begin with an introduction from the film's writer/director James Lebrecht a noted sound designer in the L.A. theater scene, and one of the participants in the camp. It was essentially a summer camp for the handicapped, but this was in the early '70s and basically it became a summer-long woodstock for the majority of them, which was badly needed for a bunch of teenage disabled kids, going through their hormonal urges and little normal interaction with kids their age, much less kids with other disabilities, this was an important place for them. It's pretty normal now for kids these days, but back then they often weren't allowed in public schools since they didn't always have a program for them, and the ones that did weren't always great. That was also often the best case scenario. The movie shows highlights of Geraldo Rivera's infamous Willowwood expose, one of the few good things Geraldo was involved with... Willowwood was an understaff and bad-conditioned home for "retarded" kids; a lot of them based on the footage, I highly suspect may have misdiagnosed autistics; just trust me on that one; I can tell, and some probably had many other conditions.

The first half of the movie is often about the camp and the people involved and who were there, and it's a direct line from there to the beginning of the Disabled Rights movements. Nixon vetoing the first bill after declaring it would be too expensive. 

Once it finally was passed, it wasn't implemented, and they had to sit-in protest outside Joe Califano's office in San Francisco, he was Carter's Secretary of Health, Education and Welfarem and frankly his behavior was just obnoxious in hindsight. It literally took an electricians strike at ABC of all things in order for him to reverse his decision and authorize the law! And even that was only for federal buildings, and not private proterties and businesses.

It's so bizarre how strange this was. I know, hindsight is 20/20, but its amazing what they had to do. "Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution" basically documents that struggle from the beginnings at this camp to modern times, where it's generally accepted that there's ramps around every building and things are designed specifically for accessibility for the disabled. It's a pretty fun documentary as well, 'cause more then anything else, it shows the growth we and they made as accepting them as human beings. It's sounds like such a stupid and miniscule achievement when you say it out loud, but that's what it is. They had to fight to be accepted because they weren't. 


CORPUS CHRISTI (2019) Director: Jan Komasa

★★★1/2


Admittedly, being American, when I hear the term, "Corpus Christi", I'm half-expecting a movie about the coastal Texas city that I think of as being the home to the late Tejano superstar Selena. (I grew up in the '90s.) I think the term is actually just the Latin phrase for-eh, "The Body fo Christ", and usually "Dead Body of Christ", but it's also the name of a Feast in Christianity, celebrated in June in commemoration of God's turning of water into wine. It's got a lot of other connontations, and a lot of them are examined here.

 "Corpus Christi", which earned an Oscar nomination last year for Best Foreign International Feature, ([Sigh] I feel like I'm never getting used to that) is a clever little, dramedy about a recently-released juvenile convict, who was released from the detention center at age 20 to go out into the world. Daniel  (Bertosz Bielenia) has a job lined up at a sawmill in a local town, but he also, through the help of the prison chaplain, Father Tomasz (Lukasz Simlat) he's become a converted Christian and wants to join the clergy. This is apparently impossible given his record. Anyway, before he goes to work, he ends up going to church, and through a clever enough lie, ends up going convincing the parish that he's the new priest that's come. He, has a collar on him, so, he goes with it. 

This is a funny premise, and the idea of seeing this quiet but unconventional young man trying to BS his way through seeming like a priest, and then becoming quite a popular priest, is a good starting point for a lot of different kinds of movies. This one, takes a more introspective and somber approach. The townspeople, especially the youth, who are all similar-in-age to Daniel are dealing with a strange car accident that left a lot of them dead. He particularly gets close to Marta (Eliza Rycembel) after getting caught in the middle of the town's conflict over whether or not one of the victims of the accident, an older gentlemen who died in his car alone and appears to have been impaired while driving, should be buried in the same cemetary as his six teenage victims, an issue that's divided the town and the church for months.

Daniel's an interesting character. I was trying to think of any other particular film with this kind of narrative about somebody who dives into intricacies of the church without properly being apart of the church in a traditional manner, but most of those movies were more straight-forward comedy; they essentially used religion and faith as the punchline. Daniel is that rare imposter who's striving to not only be genuine but faithful. He struggles, although his non-traditional approaches to preaching as well as the actions that are particularly unusual for a man of the cloth. It all does begin to crash down, but you feel sad for him; he tried to better his life and existence in a way that frankly more people and criminals like him should, but society brings him down. Perhaps he does keep the faith. To paraphrase St. Augustine, Daniel probably wishes that God make him good, but not quite yet. 

I enjoyed "Corpus Christi", but I think I like the idea of it, more then the film itself. Directed by Jan Komasa, who's work I'm not familiar with until now, I worry that he might be too subtle with some of the implications of his ideas but I like that he has them and gave me a movie to actually think about. 


JUST MERCY (2019) Director: Destin Daniel Cretton

★★★★1/2

 

Near the end of "Just Mercy", Bryan Anderson (Michael B. Jordan) the "big city" Harvard lawyer who came down to Monroeville, Alabama, and talks about how, a few miles from where they're standing were some of the worst crimes against humanity, ever. It's a place where slaves were brought in and traded. African-Americans were lynched; the Ku Klux Klan ran the town. He's seeing how ingrained the town is in racist past. It's not a new observation with these sort of southern small towns in movies like these about blatant miscarriages of justice, that yes, usually involve racism, however, if the town's name, rings a little bit of a bell for you, it's probably because it's the hometown of Harper Lee, and it's town that "To Kill a Mockingbird' is based on and their biggest tourist attraction is a Mockingbird Museum dedicated to the book, which the locals often note as being one of the country's greatest monuments to Civil Rights. I'm sure it's great, of course, but with all do respect to Harper Lee; there's a certain amount of irony, that we'd probably call either twisted or sardonic if it wasn't just outright sick and disturbing, in the fact that this town's idea of an idealized Civil Rights hero, is a white lawyer that didn't even win his case, and who's client was, summarily executed despite being innocent. 

(By the way, in case I never have a chance to bring this topic up again, but "To Kill a Mockingbird" has always been a little bit overrated; I can't be the only one who thought that even before we found out Atticus Finch used to be a Klansman. It's still pretty damn good, but hmmmmm, I think it's time for a slight re-evaluation of that work's greatness. [Oh while we're at it, now that it's in public domain, can we finally admit that "The Great Gatsby" is really isn't "The Great American Novel" that it gets claimed; in fact its probably of Firtzgerald's weaker works....])

"Just Mercy" is an intense, sobering look at the early creation and beginning of the Equal Justice Initiative, the Montgomery-based non-profit and their goal of either getting innocent people off Death Row, which, there's way more people on Death Row who are innocent then people realize, but they also provide them the legal counsil for death row inmates trying to get their sentencing reverse to life in prison. 

The movie, based on Stevenson's autobiography, tells his story of the institute's early days as well as the eventually freeing of Walter McMillan (Jamie Foxx) an African-American man who spent decades on Death Row after being convicted of murdering a young eighteen-year-old white woman named Rhonda Morrison. The case was extremely flimsy, they had gone a year without an arrest and Sheriff Tate coersed a confession out of the main witness, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake-Nelson) a longtime criminal himself who was serving a life sentence at County Jail before he came forward with his admittance of lying on the stand, interesting, without making and deal for a shorter sentence. A new case was still rejected, despite that and more new evidence, including evidence that the police withheld from the original trial, including several statement that proved that McMillain wasn't anywhere near the woman, who he had never met, when she was killed, but the State Supreme Court eventually overturned the decision, forced a new trial, which didn't happen as the court concurred that with Stevenson's motion to drop the case for lack of evidence. 

I just gave away the main story of the movie, sorry, SPOILERS, but the movie isn't about the result so much; I mean, it is, but it's more about the difficulties and challenges of both going through the Death Row system, whether one is guilty or innocent, and the struggles of trying to manipulate through a court system, especially local court systems, that, while perhaps based on supposedly unbias readings of the law on paper, in action are frankly completely bias, and often racist ejudications of justice lead to such regular occurrances as innocent men on Death Row. Innocent black men mostly, as well as black men, getting imprisoned regularly. Living in that more decrepit part of what can otherwise generously be called a "town". It's not that the law is the reason for the problem of the society around it, but society problems are definitely reflected in the law system is has, and death row itself is one of those problems.
 
There's a lot of statistics that reflect this; but beyond even the moral aspect which, yeah, it's immoral, basically for people to even be on Death Row, the evidence is often not as clear or flimsier then usual, 'cause if there was a lot more evidence, the defendant would probably settle for a reduced charge. Even when they're not innocent though. 

The movie focuses in on other stories as well, like Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan) a former Vietnam soldier suffering from severe PTSD who built a bomb that ended up killing a woman. He didn't intend to kill her, or anybody, but they show a lot of Stevenson's struggles trying to get him off death row, but those actions were even more futile. I tend to like movie about the struggles of the law, and this is no exception, and the intensity of the story and the fear and tone of the world; it reminded me, not so much of "To Kill a Mockingbird" as it does, "In the Heat of the Night" frankly. There's threats and phone calls, but it's a black lawyer from not around here trying to do what nobody else could and everybody who said they could had failed them before, and against a system, led by a young new D.A. Tommy Chapman (Rafe Spall) who despite being a former defense attorney, was convinced enough to not pursue and fight the charge, mostly through being friends with the General who seem to mention how much the family of the victim was horrified. 

We never do have a representative of the family in the movie, and not too many people who claim that they just don't want to bring up the incident. Honestly, writing this review in the middle of an attempted insurrection et. al. well, a lot of this sounds distressingly like white people trying to cover up their sins, in order to keep being allowed to make them. 

As to the film, it was directed by Destin Daniel Crettin, the young filmmaker who made "Short Term 12" a few years back about the inner workings of a foster treatment center; that explain Brie Larson's appearance here as a supporting work as the EJI's co-founder Eva Ansley. The film is intense and nerve-racking; it's intent is to make us feel angre and frustration until we find some relief like many of these films. As to what puts it above other, the performances, especially Jamie Foxx's I think stand out. Michael B. Jordan's calm and quiet confidence while confronting the blatant systemic racism in the system. Like literally, there's simply just pure racist actions done, like having a doorman outside a public courtroom to block McMillan's family and other African-Americans from enterting until there were no seats in. 

This movies takes place mostly in the eighties and nineties btw. It doesn't feel that dated though. "Just Mercy" is a really strong, albeit conventional film about the perils of our justice system that are still being fought today, documenting the birth of the modern anti-execution debate and process. It's properly more of an important film then a great one, but it is a damn good one. 


BLINDED BY THE LIGHT (2019) Director: Gurinder Chadha

★★★


Boy, what to make of this movie. Well, I guess I got knock out the biggest elephant in the room, in that, I'm a huge Springsteen guy. I can't help it; my family's from Jersey, it's practically in my blood. I probably own my Springsteen albums then I do any other artist, and I listen to him more then I listen to most anybody else. "Born to Run" as far as I'm concerned, is the greatest song in rock'n'roll history, and in many ways, like the main character, Javed (Vivelk Kalra) in "Blinded by the Light", I was heavily-inspired by his music when I first came across him when I was, like, 12 or 6, however old I was, and for the most part, it hasn't really ended. So, on that note, I get it. I get exactly the kind of, inspiration emotional pull that Springsteen's music can have on people, especially people who seem to be stuck in the one-horse towns where even the horse seems dead. 

Yet, is it a good idea to make a movie about someone being a huge Springsteen? Well, I'm not normally in favor of promoting fandom, even Springsteen fandom, but its not really fandom so much as cultural appropriation that the movie's about. Now that can also be troubling, but it's really more, how it's about that..., and that's also kinda cringy to be honest, but it's cringy in the same way that any cultural appreciation kinda is. especially with this film. It's one of those very well-wourn classic narrative, especially regarding cultural clashing like this, especially for stories about,- well the obvious go-to comp would be Bollywood, but Pakistani cinema and art is heavily influenced by that genre of film, the Asian Subcontinent region in general. The son, wants to do something against the wishes of their stringent parent, in this case, his father Malik (Kulvinder Ghir), who wants Javed to get a good job, while Javed wants to go off to college to be a writer. He's a Pakistani who's father moved them to Luton, England when he was young, and he's now a teenager in the midst of the Thatcherism England, and it feels like it, and it's apparently especially hard if you're a foreigner, which yeah, sounds right. Although apparently nobody listens to Bruce Springsteen in 1987, which I call bullshit on, 'cause that was the year he released "Tunnel of Love" and that hit #1 on the UK charts that year, but-, I digress, I get it. Bruce wasn't the hottest he'd been, and most people like his neighbor and best friend Matt (Dean-Charles Chapman) is a musician who's far more inspired by the new wave and post-new wave pop of the era, which he probably has a better claim to being of the moment, although he does trust Javed more with his lyrics, and protects him against some of the more racists thugs that populate this area of England at the time. 

Anyway, it's through a fellow Pakistani student Roops (Aaron Phagura) that introduces Javed to The Boss and from there, Javed begins to get the inspiration and self-esteem to start standing up for himself and getting writing work for both the School paper and through the help of his English teacher Ms. Clay (Hayley Atwell) among others in and outside his family. He even finally gets a girlfriend Eliza (Nell Williams), and occasionally manages to get the entire to break out in a musical dance number to "Born to Run", oddly, and all the while the family is struggling to get by and his father struggles for work after getting laid off. 

It's fairly predictable from here, but there is something inspiring about seeing something in another culture that's essentially rejected in another, and that embracing of other opportunities that don't seem presented to themselves in their own upbringing can be enticing, and in many ways, it's a critical progressive aspect to this modern world. That something that Gurinder Chadra understands; you might remember her as the Kenya-born British-Indian filmmaker who most famously made "Bend It Like Beckham", another movie about somebody defying several layers of societal and familial culture to try to achieve a dream, in that case, a young Sikh woman who wanted to pursue professional futbol, back when that was a thing in America strangely enough but not really an accepted thing in the UK or much of Europe back then. She's made other cross-cultural fairy tales, my favorite being "Bride & Prejudice" a fun, modern Bollywood-esque retelling of the Jane Austen story that was ironically an American and British produced film. It's an interesting take honestly; one of my big issues with fandom is that most fans of anything I noticed, my own fandoms included is that I suspect most people become fans of stuff that mostly confirm their own personal biases and not-so-much get inspired to seek out and learn something new, stuff that might challenge or give them a different view or perspective on life that might not be one that they share. In that sense, I might find "Blinded by the Light" a little difficult to watch because I think anybody that's a superfan obsessive of anybody can just be nails-on-a-chalkboard frustrating; I mean, as much as I love Springsteen, I don't think I need somebody screaming the lyrics to "Badlands" in front of my face while I'm sitting in a diner, even if the prick deserved it, I'm happy at least that this is a story about fandom helping expand it's character outlook and outreach into the world, so for that I'm recommending it. 

I do wish they would've found a way to use "Atlantic City" on the soundtrack though. That one never gets enough love. There was like three or four places it could've easily fit, and it would've been great. 


DIANE (2019) Director: Kent Jones

★★


Honestly, I wasn't even gonna review this film. Mostly because I thought it was a 2018 film, but even after I realized my error there; I couldn't imagine what the hell I'd have to say about "Diane". I was actually shocked to look up the reviews and see how much praise this movie got. I'm reading some of these glowing reviews of the movie, and I'm kinda just wondering if I saw the same movie they did. It's possible, there's a couple movies out there called "Diane" for some reason. (Man, I've been getting angrier and angrier at generically-titled films lately.) But, no, I saw the same movie as they did. And I've seen quite a few movies like "Diane" lately. 

"Diane" is the latest in an indy-subgenre that I'm gonna start calling "The Blythe Danner Indy". Blythe Danner doesn't have to be in them, but I'm using her 'cause she's been in a few of these in the last few years. Basically, it's a movie that's a minor, slice-of-life narrative centering around and older female character played by a legendary established actress that's either a love story or some other similar narrative about coming into their own, later in life. It usually involves several other older female actresses, perhaps an older male actor or two, often as a love interest, (although that's not in this one) but the supposed groundbreaking, life-changing events are fairly minor in terms of drama and narrative. Basically it's kinda the direct opposite of the "Quirky Parker Posey Indy", where you hire Parker Posey as the lead and she becomes as crazy as she can to turn the movie into something. Here, you get a great lead actress in this main role, in this case, Mary Kay Place is the titular Diane, and you watch her in a more slice-of-life narrative trying to stay and remain as normal as possible while some unexpected or crazy stuff happens to/towards her. "Diane" is a little stranger then the normal versions of the Blythe Danner Indy, but I think it qualifies, especially since the main distinction of this genre is that, these movies generally are just boring. They don't usually outright suck, but they're just non-existent practically. Little happens and things that do happen, happen at a snail's pace.
 
"Diane", is,- well it's far from the worst offenders, but it's still bad. She's a mother who tries to take care of her son Brian (Jake Lacy) a heroin addict in his '30s who's fairly unreliable and bad at hiding his struggles and addictions. She's also constantly concerned with her cousin Donna (Deirdra O'Connell) who's in the nursing home dying and has a disturbing past with. She has other daily rituals and a group of friends she hangs out with, mostly Mary (Estelle Parsons) and Bobbie (Andrea Martin) with whom she does volunteer work with her church. 

This is one of those movies where there's a plot device that, I generally like, but it's rarely done particularly well. I don't know if it's done great here, but basically, at some point midway through the film, we learn essentially all the major past histories that have, maybe, sorta, kinda led to the current status between these characters, kinda,.... Does it actually? I don't want to give it away, but, eh, like the movie itself kinda admits how not a big deal this even is at one point. I mean, it's not, not a big deal, but it's...- I don't know. I feel like I was supposed to be like this great reveal, and frankly I was just finally amazed something actually happened at all, and it still happen offscreen years ago.

There are other stuff that happens that are even more surprising. The son is missing for awhile, but he eventually returns, the friend eventually dies, etc. etc. The son shows up clean, with a wife named Tally (Celia Keenan-Bulger) who's one of those overly-religious people you meet at NA meetings that try to "save" everybody. Then later, um..., we see Diane, take some heroin...- what the hell!? Like, this movie has ways of surprising you, admittedly, but it just kinda comes so far out of nowhere. 

I get that the movie is messy to show the more subtle nuances of the daily rituals of life, but there's ways to do that without just letting the movie drift from thing-to-thing. I guess the movie really depends solely on whether or not you find Diane interesting enough to begin with to find these revelations and actions thrust upon her, compelling. Mary Kay Place won some Critics awards for her performance here, and she does give quite a strong performance as she always does and has for decades. I'm glad there's still some starring roles like these out there for older actresses. The thing is though, she isn't that interesting. Even the revelations about her past, like the movie never feels like it's aiming to give us a complete portrait of her, it's just casually drops facts about her past as plot developments. She's supposed to be a mystery that we find out about as we go, but it doesn't do this particularly well. I like the idea of slowly revealing details of the past with a character while we're experiencing their present, but I also think that generally only works well also, when the main character is also in the middle of interesting actions or development. My favorite movie with this is Alexander Payne's "Sideways", which is full of these well-timed reveals and developments that add to the main character depth, but Diane just isn't a particularly interesting character. She doesn't do much, and except for her son's addictions and her friends being sick or dying, there's not much to her. Basically the whole movie is relying on us caring about this one questionable mistake she had in her "past", and we get hints of that past, but I don't know, I didn't even find that too odd or strange. 

The movie was directed and written by Kent Jones; he did that documentary "Hitchcock/Truffaut" a couple years back; this is first non-documentary feature and apparently more people were impressed then I was. I can see an interesting movie here somewhere, but it's mostly just this vague idea right now about an older woman with a past. Perhaps, if the movie wasn't so varied, maybe start the movie near the end and have the whole movie be about this confrontation between her and her new daughter-in-law as Tally tries to recruit her for her evangelical church and life and not just manuevering around to all these other aspects of her life first? Yeah, that's the problem; this movie doesn't really start 'til like forty-five minutes in and then the conflicts and resolutions kinda just feel like an afterthought. I guess Jones wanted to develop the character enough, but I don't know; the whole point of these movies is that, you cast a great actress and she can walk on screen and immediately know how much of the world she's carrying on her shoulders and here. It just comes off as meandering when there's too much of this in the beginning. It's sorta interesting, and a strong performance in the center of the film, but this script needed a few more runs before it should've been made into a film. 


OFFICIAL SECRETS (2019) Director: Gavin Hood

★★★1/2


Yeah! This is what I wanted to watch during the middle of Trump's attempted coup on Democracy, a movie about how horrible and corrupt the Bush administration was in sending us into an illegal war in Iraq under false pretenses that they were an immediate threat to the country because of an illegal nuclear program that they didn't have. 

(Sigh)

Me and my Netflix queue have no sense of timing. A-ennnnn-ne-way, yes, people want to put a bright light on W. these days, mostly only because the next GOP President was so much more monstrously worst, but it's hard-to-forget and really should be remembered, just how he managed to somehow get away with his shit. And it was all bullshit, and it's essentially the GOP's and Trump's same playbook. Start with a lie, keep telling and insisting on it, make sure your propaganda outlets keep promoting the lie, until everybody believes the lie, and claim their "Un-American" or some variant of it, if you don't believe the bullshit lie, even if all proof and evidence supports that their lie, is indeed, a lie, and by the time everybody realizes it's a complete and utter lie, we're fifteen+ years into an unwinnable conflict that we really should have never been in, especially since, we were/still am already in the middle of one of those, and that one had at least, some moral and tacticle justification to it. 

Yeah, Bush was awful, as well as all his GOP compadres, (And some of the DEMs that voted for the war too.) so was Tony Blair however. Now as an American and a Liberal; I tend not to blame Blair as much with the war; I kinda consider him more as one of W.'s victims in his lies, and this movie, "Official Secrets", it kinda explains that position, but it also points out that, the UK, or the UKUSA, (pronounced Yo-kuza) were basically going along with the U.S.'s will. Thankfully, no one else seemed to be, which is why they were trying to bribe/blackmail or otherwise force other smaller countries UN representatives to vote for the invasion after Colin Powell's testimony to them. (Sidenote: Colin Powell recently announced that he's officially switched political parties and is now a registered Democrat; I'm not terribly surprised honestly.) This film tells the story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley) a GCHQ translator/spy who was the UK whistleblower who released a top secret e-mail about the US and UK's effort to dig up dirt on the UN voting members. It took awhile after she gave the email through a few trusted friends and sources before it ended up in the hands of Observer reporter Martin Bright (Matt Smith). Interestingly, the Observer was actually fiercely pro-war, but the story was too good. It got off to a rocky start, first just proving that the email was what it was, having to prove that its something that could've been written by the NSA, then finding the original author in the NSA, which is damn near impossible when they're not trying to hide stuff. 

Meanwhile, Gun's life becomes a bit of a living hell. Her husband Yasar (Adam Bakri) at one point is nearly deported after she reveals herself as the leak, and even the Official Secrets law, which was changed during the Thatcher administration, is particularly striking. I don't know if you, a whistleblower, is still not allowed to talk about what you already blew the whistle on to your lawyer, for fear of an extra charge of whistleblowing, but that better have changed, 'cause that is the most bullshit thing I've ever heard. (Also, Thatcher was, the worst as well! I may have mentioned that a few times on my Twitter recently when I talked about this latest season of "The Crown", but its still true.) 

The movie was directed by South African born-director Gavin Hood, you might remember him most of his Oscar-winning film "Tsotsi," but in recent years, he's made an onslaught of intense political thrillers like the underrated "Rendition" and "Eye in the Sky", as well as some more traditional big-budget popcorn fare like "Ender's Game" and X-Men: Wolverine". I think this is his natural strength, but the movie can be a little flawed. I particularly hated the use of the score, sneaking in on us when it wasn't needed to underline dramatic points; this movie should've been more "The China Syndrome" then it was. I also think the first parts of the movie where much better then the second, but there's more then enough good here to recommend and its an important enough story to be told. I wish I had to gotten at practically any other time period, to appreciate it outside of current events, but it's still a solid well-acted must-tell feature from a reliable director.  


GENESE (aka GENESIS) (2019) Director: Phillippe Lesage

★★1/2


One of the most pointless and inaccurate critical reviews of my work I ever got was from this classmate of mine in one fo my first screenwriting classes. I had written a short sci-fi screenplay about a naval submarine on a recovery and rescue mission of a previous submarine that has sunk. Without giving too much away, there's a reveal at the end where it turns out that the ship they were looking for, wasn't anywhere near where they went out to search for it. Anyway, others in the class got to review and write Reader's Reports for their work, a job I enjoyed for them, and while, surprising for me, most of their critiques of my short were positive, there was one who didn't particularly like it, and the constant refrain in her notes was the phrase, "What is the point of this?!" 

Honestly, I can pretend that she was entirely wrong, but objectively speaking, my script didn't have much of a point. That said, it's art and art doesn't need a point. I can list dozens of the greatest films of all-time and many of them have no real point or need to exist. Overall, that is a dumb criticism of others artistic work; not everything that's ever been typed out and printed has had a point in existing; they're not all "Poor Richard's Almanac" or anything. 

That said, I kept finding myself asking that question in regards to "Genese" or "Genesis"; I've seen the film under both titles. Of course, when you're asking, "What is the point of this?!", you're not really asking for an excuse for something to exist, what you're really asking is for the person who created the art to explain why they decided to make it. As to my script, I quickly shat out a two-page version of it years earlier in a Marine-Biology class of all things, and the teacher liked it a lot, so I figured, "Well, if she likes it, I guess I should expand it for class...." as to why this film exists...- well, I guess I can speculate. The film was written and directed by Phillippe Lesage, I haven't seen any film of his before, so I can have to go by seeking out reviews and summaries of his previous work, but it seems that he likes to make coming-of-age films. Nothing wrong with that. This film, has three different "Coming of age" stories, all revolving around young love. 

The distinct gimmick here is that he's showcasing three different young romances over the film. The main two are Guillaume (Theodore Pellerin) and his high school crush on his best friend, a sorta, hockey player named Nicolas (Jules Roy Sicotte), and with Guillaume's half sister Charlotte (Noee Abita) and, well, first with her boyfriend Maxime (Pier-Luc Func) but they end up going with others after, I guess agreeing to an open relationship...? Honestly, none of the guys Charlotte ends up with seem particularly good for her, and one is downright sick. (I better note now that there is a rape scene in this film, for those who might be sensitive to that.) I think the reason that the movie kinda troubles me a bit is that these romances, kinda drift in and out a bit. For instance, for all the inflections we get between Guillaume and Nicholas, we end up mostly listening to some obnoxious teachers most of the time. Lesage is French-Canadian, but I'm definitely getting some Truffaut vibes, especially early Truffaut from him. That would the third relationship, a 12-year-old at a Summer camp, Felix (Edouard Tremblay-Grenier) and much of the last third of the movie, in a Haneke's sorta way, is about the close relationship with a young girl named, Beatrice (Emilie Bierre) he has at summer camp. I'm told this is a callback to an earlier film of his called "The Demons" in a way that's somewhat similar to how Truffaut would constantly return to Jean-Pierre Leaud's Antoine Donnel character. There are connections between these characters and stories, but I get the sense that this third part was basically his "Antoine and Collette". 

There's other things that struck me the wrong way, like his weird use of very particular songs on the soundtrack, often repeated, including Topps's "Outside", which I think he's trying to use the same way as Sofia Coppola used music in "Lost in Translation", particularly Air's "Alone in Kyoto". I guess the inspiration makes sense. I guess there's a wonder I have of why these three romances, these stories. They obviously mean something to him, but what? I read some what think it's a commentary on youth romances..., eh, I can kinda see it, but I think you can make that claim with any movie that's about young romance. Personally, I think you could've done this with one of these stories, but three? I mean, it can work, the rule of three is always best, but I'm not entirely sure of how these are connected. Maybe with the his previous film, this would make more sense but this should also work together as one on its own. 

Also, why is it called "Genesis"? Like, "Genese" or "Genesis" as in birth? Beginning? Eh, I mean I guess it's all first loves, but I think the only point he's then making is that, people's first experiences with love and romance, often happen at different ages? Is that his big observation on the subject? I don't know, it feels weak to me, that said. Perhaps I'm missing the greater message but I also don't think, whether his reason for telling this story, he didn't necessarily picked the best way to tell it. I won't stop anybody from watching the the film, but it leaves me with too many questions for me to recommend it. 


EXTRA ORDINARY (2019) Director: Mike Ahern & Edna Loughman

★★★


I can't say that I laughed too much at "Extra Ordinary.", written as two words, and sometimes with a period at the end, sometimes not, I'm not sure on that, but I did chuckle a decent amount. I'm not quite sure how to describe the movie; I guess essentially with its structure it's a rom-com, but it's also a comedy subgenre that I've seen very mixed results from in the recent past, it's a supernatural comedy. In this case, most of the supernatural stuff is ghosts. So, spiritual fantasy, comedy, I guess. 

It begins with a montage from one of those old-style TV docuseries you might see about ghosts hauntings and sightings, one other such apparitions. In this world, the unexpected shaking of a tree branch or a slight movement or pen or pencil rolling to the other side of the cup their sitting or, a dish suddenly being thrown across the room, are all, not just signs of ghosts trying to communicate, but actual ghosts who are communicating and often frustrated with the humans they love. Obviously, some people are more capable of connecting or even if necessary, possessing though in the otherworld. The main two characters experience that. First is Rose (Maeve Higgins) a driving instructor who's the daughter of a famous, ummm-, I guess the word is medium, technically, although that sounds wrong in this case but I probably just watched John Edward when I was younger..., anyway, her father Vincent (Risteard Cooper) was a famed medium until an accident during a possession accidentally ended in his death, and Martin (Barry Ward) a single father who's wife continues to literally control every aspect of his life from beyond the grave. His daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman) is insistent that he get help with getting mother to move on from them and he seeks out Rose, even though, she's sworn off using her skills.

She doesn't help him out, but they both do feel a slight spark from their meet cute. Before they can seriously consider a relationship though, Sarah gets a possession spell put on her by Christian Winter (Will Forte) an old American rock star who's moved to Ireland for tax reasons while he works on his comeback, which now involves sacrificing a virgin to the Demon Astaroth (Jed Murray). This is the part that I smirked at joyously the most. There's a lot of strange ideas in movies and sometimes in real life, about rock stars dealing with the occult, and it's a trope that I never really think works, so it's fun to see it mocked here. This character in particular, is such is a perfect parody of a certain kind of failed rock star. I like his one hit song, it's like a parody of somebody trying to turn cover by "Stairway to Heaven" and "Knights in White Satin" at the same time. 

As for the film itself, it's mostly a device to go from one gag about ghosts to another. I liked some of the ideas, like a ghost who gets annoyed that his wife keeps putting non-recyclable trash in the recycling bin. Or that a dead wife will still be telling her husband what to wear everyday, long after she's passed, and physically hurt him if he tries to defy her, still. A lot of its funny, it gets a little too over-the-topo at the end which includes what technically is one of the strangest sex scenes I've ever seen. That said, I didn't love the jokes about older ghost movies as much, although they were kinda funny with how the one who can talk to ghosts hasn't seen any of the pop culture stuff about ghost and ghostbusting. Still, this movie was a quirky and light comedy. Some good performances in it, enough laughs and nothing that was offensive or anything. It's not extraordinary per se, but it's a decent little movie. 


CRAWL (2019) Director: Alexandre Aja

★★★


This is one of those, "How did you end up on my Netflix queue again?" movies for me. Not that its bad or anything, I'm recommending it, but it's basically just a pretty well-executed better-then-your-average Sci-Fi channel B-movie. (Shrugs) I guess that's why it ended up there. Eh, it works for me. Great trash needs to be appreciated too and this is some mildly entertaining trash. 

"Crawl" is the latest horror thriller from horror director Alexandre Aja; I haven't gotten to too many of his other films, but some of them seem interesting, and this film, is simple and creative. It's basically a locked-in horror, an aspect of horror that I think is very underrated. We all know the idea of horror is that you can't escape the thing, but I think literal places where you can't escape but I like stuff that comes up with locations and places more creative then say, a cabin in the woods. In this case, our characters are stuck in the middle of a hurricane, in Florida, and under a house. That's inventive, and it's simple. Try to survive the storm and all that comes with it. That's the objective for strained father and daughter Dave (Barry Pepper) and Haley (Kaya Scodelario). Haley drives down from the University of Florida where she's in trouble of losing her swimming scholarship in order to see if her father was able to get out before the hurricane. She finds him, eventually, in the middle of the storm, unable to move, under the house, which is now populated, by alligators. 

Or are they crocodiles? Or are they both. Sorry, I'm behind on my genus studies of large lizards. Anyway, it's intense for awhile. The movie's less then 90 minutes long, so not too much of a while, but it's an inventive premise and both of them have to figure out how to survive this, if they can. Preferably avoiding, drowning, or getting eaten or killed by chomping alligators. It helps that she's a swimmer. There's some good special effects and some thrilling moments. Eventually it turns into the camp that it is, but even that's pretty cool. There's ultimately a lot of good drama in the film. There is one stupid sequence, that has nothing to do with the main two characters. It involves a groups of idiots floating down the street in a small boat in the hurricane, trying to steal anything they can from one of the abandoned stores, including an ATM machine of all stupid things. Yes, seriously. It's the middle of  a category five hurricane, the town's abandoned, everybody else has left, and they're trying to rob a store of candy and hot dogs and an ATM machine that probably has no money in it. They get what they deserve, but that's five-to-ten minutes of the movie I could've lived without. Also, can we all agree just agree that after "Barbershop" did the ATM stealing thing, that we don't really need to do it anymore in movie; I thought we all kinda already agreed to that, but I guess not. 

Anyway, "Crawl" is a fun, mildly-intense special effects horror. It's done well enough. There's not too much else to say or add, it's an interesting idea for the genre, it's done well enough. It's nothing worth thinking too deeply about, it's basically what I want in a movie where people are trapped in a hurricane that's infested with crazed man-eating alligators that seem to know how to break your cell phones at the worst possible time.  

Friday, January 15, 2021

CANON OF FILM: "IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT"

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967)
 
Director: Norman Jewison
Screenplay: Stirling Silliphant based on the novel by John Ball

Flipping through Roku channels a few weeks back, I stumbled across some obscure old movie channel that maybe had a dozen or so films available on it, and surprised by the quality of some of the titles, as a check to see if the channel was still working, I clicked on "In the Heat of the NIght" to check to see if the channel was worth keeping or deleting. I ended just sitting there watching the whole movie again for like the tenth or twelfth or however many times I take a regular pilgrimage back to Sparta, Mississippi. It's constantly amazing to me just how easily I can get sucked into "In the Heat of the Night". Perhaps it was kizmet this time, that I chose to reimmurse myself with it in this, the Era of Insurrection in the Dying Days of our most racist and incompetent President. I have genuinely worried lately that these last few years of my movie reviews, especially the movies that are more political just have greater resonance now then they will in the future, or that because of the times we live in that many of my perspectives on cinema might be off sometimes, or perhaps tainted by this era; the film analysts of the future are gonna be fascinated with our reaction to films during these last few years. 

That said, I don't think anybody's ever thought of this film as dated; arguably it feels more revelatory now then ever, even some of the goofier parts, like when Virgil (the great Sidney Poitier) fights off a gang of White Supremacists with a giant steel pole in an empty garage. Hell, I watched the film "Just Mercy" last week, and that movie which took place mostly in the '80s and '90s seemed like it wouldn't have been that out of place if you told me that it was in the same universe as "In the Heat of the Night". Perhaps it's just eye-opening for white people like me to think that this movie still feels like it's plausible today. Somewhere in some small southern town, some black man is getting racially profiled unjustly right now, (or some large city or, frankly anywhere in this country) and they're not lucky enough to be Virgil Tibbs. Perhaps the most fortunate aspect of the film is that unfortunately, the film seems to be timeless.

The Best Picture Oscar winner of 1967, one of cornerstone years of American cinema, “In the Heat of the Night,” is as intense a movie to watch as it has ever been. In a small Mississippi town, a man has been murdered, but not just any man, a rich man from up north who was going to build a factory and give about 1,000 residents jobs, including African-Americans. With limited police capabilities, the cops start looking for suspicious characters, and at a train station, they find a man in a suit and tie who obviously isn’t from there. Not only did they racially profile a black man, but Virgil Tibbs , is a fellow police officer, and apparently the best homicide detectives in Philadelphia. Gillespie (Rod Steiger in an Oscar-winning role) decides that since they have him already, he might as well see how good a detective he is. This isn’t exactly what much of the townfolk would’ve wanted, but the threat of no factory being built is perceived as possibly a bigger problem than a black man looking into the murder, and besides, he’s leaving in a few days anyway, if he can get out alive.

What may make this film feel so strong today is that that director Norman Jewison decides to follow the investigation of the case, and not dwell on the racism, at least not in the narrative of the film. Something that nobody recalls when thinking about the film is that, it's a fairly straight-forward mystery procedural. When the ugly face of racism does pop its head out, either between the characters naturally or from outside sources, it gets even more suspenseful because it's interrupting a legitimate investigation. The most notable example of this is when a lead suspect named Endicott (Larry Gates) is interrogated. He owns a cotton field where most of workers are Blacks who pick cotton in the fields, and has a ceramic statue of a blackface clown on his walkway. During one line of questions, Endicott slaps Tibbs, and Tibbs surprises him and everybody else in the audience by hitting him back. This is a landmark moment in film, the first time a white man hit a black man, and was hit back. Maybe a lesser actor, but you can’t do that to Sidney Poitier. At this point, he was already the first Best Actor Oscar winner for his roles in "Lilies of the Field", and had, in general become the stoic figure of the first true African-American movie star. I try to seek out at least one of his movies to watch a year; he's one of my favorite actors and seems the standard-bearer of indelible poise and quiet personal strength. Arguably, no one has ever had a more powerful onscreen presence.

But he hadn't hit someone back though; in fact, before the film, he was often criticized by the Black community for often seemingly portraying the "good negro" in most of his films. It's true, he rarely played villains and most of his characters were ovely-idealized portrayals of African-Americans, often un-sexual, sometimes seeming too ideal to truly be believable. He wanted to make sure that no matter what, his characters would make a good positive examples of what African-American can be, since there often wasn't other positive portrayals of Black people in film. Just earlier in the year, he starred in "To Sir, with Love" where he played a beloved Bahamian teacher in the lower class end of London and in "Guess Who's Coming for Dinner" as a young Black man trying to earn the respect of his girlfriend's liberal parents before marrying her. Both of those are good films; I've even written on "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner"? before in this Canon, but they don't exactly evolve Poitier beyond this perception, until "In the Heat of the Night", until this scene in particular

I can probably poke holes into the investigation and how the murderer was eventually found out, but like most great mysteries, it’s about the investigation process, not how its results or the improbabilities of the investigation. Still though, there's such a haunting, claustrophobia to the movie that's seriously underrated. I love the matching shot Jewison has with a twig of a twig of a cotton branch being spun in Poitier's hand with this amazing POV shot of a tree being fed into a shredder. I'm not sure why Norman Jewison's name does get mentioned much among the great directors; I guess its because it's hard to fit him in a genre box, since he wasn't necessarily an auteur director and was often more a go-to filmmaker who could do a little bit of anything, but god damn, his directing career stretched five decades before he retired after his last film "The Statement" in '03, and he made a lot of good and sometimes great films. "In the Heat of the Night" is probably his best, but I wouldn't begrudge anybody who'd put "Fiddler on the Roof" or "Moonstruck" up there instead, and that's saying nothing of "The Cincinnati Kid" "The Russians are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!" the original "The Thomas Crown Affair", "Agnes of God", "A Soldier's Story", "...And Justice for All" and probably his last really great film "The Hurricane", just to name a few.

His filmmaking is quiet and intense here, but if there's something that really elevates the movie from groundbreaking to all-time great, that isn't credited enough, and I mean that literally, it's Quincy Jones's score to the film. It's not technically an original score that's arranged, I guess...; he's credited with the "Music by" label specifically, but that lush orchestral jazz and R&B sound just enraptures the mood of the movie. I'm fairly convinced that the main reason that the movie, two decades after the film, got a TV drama series adaptation was because that title track is just too soaring and stirring to only use for one piece of media. (There also were two Virgil Tibbs sequel films that, honestly I find pretty unwatchable; I usually forget they exist until someone brings them up.) That's what's put this movie over-the-top, a more traditional classical score would've just not felt right, but this more modern take on the delta blues, especially with that Ray Charles howl, it makes this story feel more real. Like there's nothing else to do in this town but to try to sweat out that balming, fly-sticking humidity, without going on a crime spree, and its been that way for years.

"In the Heat of the Night" is that weird crime story, where the movie is intensely about the solving of the case and yet it's the last thing anybody thinks about with the film. It's that perverse intensity too, where racism boils through a town that nothing else seems to matter. I know people who've seen the movie several times, and couldn't off-the-top-of-their-head tell you, "Who did it?" Or for that matter, "why did they it?" I didn't even discuss it once here, and considering the answers to those questions, that's actually quite shocking. You'd think that'd be a weakness, but that's actually a big strength of the film. The best mysteries are never about the who, but about the how of the investigation and this movie is like a journey into a horrible and disturbingly still realistic world than an analysis of the world itself. It’s no coincidence the town is called “Sparta,” and Poitier’s character is named Virgil, although most people call him something else..., but not here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

SO, I LEARNED ABOUT "SHIPPING".... I HAVE SOME THOUGHTS..., MOSTLY, "YIKES!" BUT OTHER THOUGHTS AS WELL..

So-eh, you might notice that, despite having as many options for streaming as I do, I tend to find myself back, searching for stuff on Youtube more then anything. I drift through a lot of different Youtubers for difference reasons, some I probably watch too much of, some I probably watch too little of,... anyway, I look for a lot of things there, but I do look for a lot of entertainment stuff; history stuff, anything else I can comment on or just learn about. Sometimes I dive a little deep and I find out stuff I didn't know about... A lot of this involves minutia detailed circling around fans and fandoms, often of stuff that I'd never heard of or looked into much before. I don't know everything and I can't just cover anything, so anybody that seems intelligent and talks about stuff that I don't know or in some cases, frankly don't want to look up more closely, believe it or not, I try to seek out. They put in the work that I wouldn't; if feels like the least I can do, and often its rewarding.

Not all of this is entertainment; for instance I'm learning a lot more about MLMs and how other companies and such are absolute shit from Illuminaughtii's Youtube page, (I know MLMs were pyramid schemes already but now I'm diving into the "business" of it; I guess) but usually I do dive more into entertainment and that includes, believe it or not Fandom stuff. And as far as I can tell, the big Youtuber for that is that I've found, that I can somewhat tolearate is this woman, Sarah Z. (The Z is pronounced Zed; I think she's French-Canadian? I might be wrong about that.) 

 

She-uh, she's interesting; she's also very thorough and knowledgeable about subjects, that um, well, frankly I- I just... , well, I mostly wish I wouldn't go through these rabbit holesa at all, but apparently she's okay with doing it, which makes me worried about her frankly, 'cause some of these experiences with these little infighting debates withub these fandoms are just- so insane. Like, really insane, scary...- Seriously, fans, and fanfiction people, like OMG, what is- why do people not see that fandoms are evil and cultish?! I swear!!!!!!-

(Deep breath) 

Okay, I had to calm myself down there for a second. I won't go into all her stuff; 'cause frankly I can barely understand or follow most of it; the only things she's done that I found that I really had an opinion on were her recent piece on "Supernatural"'s finale, which-, look I- I know its popular and I know friends who love the show, but I have no idea why anybody would watch this garbage! Seriously, I don't get it; it's just a dumb down-for-idiots redoing of "The X-Files" and mostly the worst parts and ideas from that show; I legitimately have no idea how this show lasted like, (IMDB search) OMG 15 YEARS!!!!!!!!! WHY!?! HOW!?!?. I- I don't get it, but apparently people liked it, and boy did they have issues with its finale, and much of the show in general. 

There was also this earlier video she did on "Sherlock" which is the other show I know about and have opinions on...,  I mostly liked the show, but, oh boy, apparently there was a lot about the show and showrunner that I didn't know about, 'cause apparently not only were there fans obsessed with shipping characters, and "Supernatural" is guilty of that as well, btw, but-eh, yeah, there's an issue when "creators" or "producers" are like, purposefully trying to stir up, encourage or mock them, frankly any/all of this shit, and people behind those shows were doing it to varying degrees. It certainly explains some of the stupid shit on "Sherlock" especially the last two seasons that went completely off the fucking rails..., but yeah, needless to say, I'm starting to think that anything after "Coupling" that Steven Moffat did is probably a lot worst then we think it is. (And even "Coupling" kinda lost it in its last season, but I'm gonna give him a pass on that 'cause there were extenuating circumstances, and it was still pretty good.) 

More importantly then that though, WHAT THE HELL is "SHIPPING"?! I-eh, I-, WHAT?!?!?!?!

No, seriously; I never heard of this, and I kinda wish I didn't, but like,...- well, okay,  that's not technically true, I have, um, well, sorta heard of this; I never knew it by this word, but I also never heard of it becoming this obsessive and troubling before so.... 

Basically, the idea of "Shipping", in this context, is that, there's a piece of media that someone likes. Then they take two, or more, character from that piece of media, (or sometimes medias [sigh]) and then in fanfiction, or just in one's own minds, pair these characters into a relationship. Like, on the surface, there's nothing wrong with this, but-eh, the things is, most of the versions of this that I'm kinda familiar with this idea, are stuff where, it's clear that some of those "shippings" are a possibility, if not a probability. You know, the reasons, for instance I care about eh, Ross & Rachel from "Friends"-, actually that's not the greatest example, um, let's use instead, ummmmmm, what's a pair that took forever to get together, ehhhhhh, Tony and Angels from "Who's the Boss?"...- so, for instances, the reason I care about, Tony & Angela possibly getting together is that the show and the subtextual and textual storylines between the character is specifically about the sexual tension and chemistry between them; its clear that we care, because they're making us care. That's the story they're telling, which, from what I can tell, isn't always the case in a lot of these situations on some of these shows, or kinda is, or they're trying to make it seem like it is to stir up the fans when it clearly isn't....- it's confusing.

They actually list a couple example of this on Wikipedia, from shows that-I, um...- um..., hmmm.... and they have a couple others that I looked up...- ummm.... Tsk...  

(Sigh)

Okay, I'm just gonna admit here, that in my notes, I wrote down to write about "My Own History on Ships? If Any?"..., 'cause I kinda figured at some point during this I would come to a realization that I did indeed think about shipping characters together like this with favorite shows of mine that do kinda correlate with this concept; sorta as a way of proving myself wrong. Show that I'm improperly overly concerned with this form of fan behavior and exaggerating the downfalls of this behavior as something that's a much more normal media interpretational behavior as oppose to something much more fringe and lascivious, which, even despite having heard and been introduced to some of the more extreme examples of this behavior recently, is probably true. 

So essentially, I'd be saying that this article is essentially me freaking out about something that I shouldn't necessarily be freaking out about as much as I am. I write a lot of stuff like that, and sometimes I do want to undercut myself in my own criticisms and rants because, you know, I should be able to challenge myself and my own opinions, thoughts and behaviors, et cetera. et cetera. 

That said though, I gotta be honest here; I'm not coming up with anything. I've been working on this idea for an article for a few weeks and I've been seriously drafting and writing this article for a few days now, and I- I thought something would've occurred to me that, "Oh yeah, I did used to want or think So-and-so would get with So-and-so at some point, but-um, maybe that's why I am freaking out a bit at this because I just don't have this experience at all, at least not the way these fans apparently have and continue to do....

Is that too weird? I know I'm against partaking in most fandom activities, but that doesn't mean that I haven't participating in some extent to a few of them, a lot of the time, that's part of why I'm against them 'cause I know and understand that they're not good things to do... but-eh, I, I think this is one that I just haven't....- I guess I just don't have this experience. 

Am I the one that's weird here for not doing this? 

I feel like I'm actually the weird one in this case, 'cause as much as I am kinda irked by a lot of this, especially if you really go deep into it, but I really can understand the idea of wanting one person to get with another and certainly I do want characters to inevitiably get together..., mostly, kinda.... Like, I don't- I don't think any ideas I would have about who should get together with whom, that I should be the one that leads the show towards that direction however. (Unless I'm actually in the Writer's Room of course.) Just because I would want two characters two characters to be together, that doesn't mean that they should, or that it's even a good idea. Like I said, when the "Will they or won't they" aspect of their characters is clearly written into the series, or even like, subtextually part of the series, then I kinda get it. However, um, honestly, I can't imagine it elsewise, and certainly not to an extent where I'm calling the BBC pissed off that some TV show wasn't a special secret episode of "Sherlock" that would explain everything!!!!! Seriously, that apparently happened 'cause they were reading (fingerquotes) "secret clues" into a series that genuinely didn't have much of them! ([Sigh] Fans are such the worst, I swear to God; I genuinely can't understand how I'm the only one that's so anti-fans....)

(Clears voice embarrassing)

Sorry. That said though, maybe the reason I seem to not be particularly good at reading material like this, is that I never had to look for relationships this way in media. 

From what I can tell, this trend, whether it gets out of control within the fanbases or not, originally started with gay and lesbian viewers and fans of media who, essentially had to create fictional ships, because, well, there just weren't gay and lesbian relationships actually portrayed in film/television media for them. 

Now this, I get. Cause this idea of trying to seek out alternative interpretations of the text through symbolistic meanings of subtextual clues, that was often how you seeked out those relationships, and frankly, that's how homosexual characters and relationship were often written into media. The first time, I actually remember hearing about this, was with Xena and Gabrielle on "Xena: Warrior Princess". That's not a show I ever watched much of, but I did have some friends when I was young who watched the series specifically because they wanted to read the material as symbolically depicting a lesbian relationship between Xena and Gabrielle, and from what little I have seen of the show, yeah, I thought that was a pretty reasonable interpretation of the show. 

Now I've since been told some of this in "Xena...", again, the writers apparently intentionally played up for the "Fans", which, I cannot stress this enough; I have absolutely zero respect for anybody who does this. The absolute last thing writers should ever do is listen to the fans, and possibly an even worst extention of listening to the fans, they should absolutely never be trying to queerbait them like this. If you want to create a subliminal homosexual subtext then just create it; more then that, fans are awful and you should never be trying to please them. (And certainly not trying to trick them like this! Seriously, that is fucked up!). It doesn't even make sense, they're already fans because you know, created something they already like, why would you then look to them; they didn't know they'd like it before it was created, why would you want them now to have influence on it now. You didn't need it before you didn't have any...!? 

(Sigh)
 
Sorry, believe or it not, I am trying to limit my raging against fans in this piece, but trust me, it's hard.

Anyway, that said, I at least still get it with "Xena..." some of it might be exploitative fan service for the sake of fan service (Eye roll), although I think in this case, and others, even with that, you can argue that it was still basically written into the subtext of the series from conception, if not at least early on. It was certainly the best and closest example I could think of a gay relationship portrayed on television at that time, keywords, "relationship" and "at that time". There were gay characters and a few controversial moments on television previously, like that post-coital scene on "Thirtysomething" or that cutaway kiss, from...- was it "...90210" or "Melrose Place"; I get those two confused still.... Even when "Ellen" came out as gay, she didn't come out as in a gay relationship, at least not on her show. I know the first gay couple that were regulars on television were on as far back as the '70s on a very obscure Norman Lear show called "Hot L Baltimore", (Yes, it was based on the play) but that show lasted like, a month, maybe. In terms of something that lasted and had a cultural impact that was truly a non-sublimineal gay relationship, at least on mainstream television, you still had to wait 'til, um... at least until "Queer as Folk". Personally for me, the first one I really remember was Keith & David from "Six Feet Under"; that's the first one I really cared about anyway, but "Queer is Folk" is basically the beginning of regular portrayals of that, and even that show and its pseudo-spinoff "The L Word", especially "The L Word", could really dive head-first into over-the-top soap opera territory at times.

 (Note-to-Self: Remember to write one day about how they so badly fucked up Mia Kirshner's character on that show; that needs a whole piece of analysis in itself someday.) 

Other then that though.... Well, I guess there was eventually also Willow and Tara on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", which ummm.... you know what, I'm already fearing that I'm pissing off enough people with this post, so-eh, let's just not get into my thoughts on that series, shall we? 

Nowadays, well, it's clearly better on that front; there's whole networks devoted to LGBT programming and outside of them there's now plenty depictions of LGBT relationships over much of television, so it's a lot less necessary to strive to read media through this "Shipping" lens. Clearly though, that doesn't mean it's still not happening, and again, on the surface level, you wanna see people get together; I get that. Other then that though, ugh, I don't know... I'm certainly not big on the fanfiction idea, but I'm generally questionable of fanfiction, so my thoughts could be too bias. I guess theorizing about a series future isn't awful either in theory or wanting some things to happen on a series between characters..., but yikes, at its worst and most ridiculous, when it leads to...- like I didn't like how everybody had to break into teams for "Twilight", but you know, at least "Twilight" was about the sexual tension between those three characters. 

For me, extreme fandom is extreme no matter what it is, and I believe fandom itself is extreme so.... More then that though, I really have issues with creators and writers of TV shows frankly encouraging or promoting or especially baiting these fans. Like even beyond what some of these people do when they seem to like the medias are trying to, at least seem like they're trying to connect their little fantasies about the series into the show, that's just bad. Like, that should just not happen, period. Don't pretend or insinuate to them that it could happen, and certainly don't force it or make it seem that me and then piss them off by not.... Honestly, especially if you know they're devoted and gullible...; that's just fucking evil, doing stuff, just to fuck with them. Just, do the program!? I hate fans influencing/forcing the creators of their favorite art and media to pander to them and make them influence it more then the people actually creating, but the artists also shouldn't be creating and shifting their art just to bait them either. Both approaches hinders the art in the same way, but more then that, with the latter you're basically backhandedly insulting your audience, even if they don't know it.

As to shipping characters itself, I can understand it, if not appreciate it, and I think it does have value in certain situations, like as a way for repressed or mitigated groups and individuals to find representatives of themselves in media where they otherwise can't find them; if I was in that kind of position growing up, then absolutely, I can see why I would do that with my favorite shows and characters. 

Other then that though, I-eh,...- yeah, not really a fan of it; I guess you can say.