Monday, June 28, 2021


I-eh, I don't have too much to say right now. I've been trying to watch a few other things, but I've just been busy lately. I'm glad I'm taking some time off and not pressuring myself to write on this blog too regularly, but I've been too busy to watch much. On top of the films here, I finally got around to "My Neighbors the Yamadas" one of the late Isao Takahata's films. It's a good one, but I wouldn't put it up there with his very best films, but I was happy to finally get that off my Netflix queue.

I also got to around to the third "Barbershop" film, "The Next Cut". I actually also got around to the second movie earlier, I liked both of these films, I guess "The Next Cut" is better then the sequel, but honestly, in hindsight, they both felt like, extended ideas for that "Barbershop" sitcom that never really worked. That's not a negative btw, but it's kind of an interesting thing to think about, how some people might revisit previous films when new situations might come up in reality and see what and how those characters might react. It's kinda weird, that's usually the kind of sequels I specifically hope for, and yet, I'm always kinda surprised and yet underwhelmed by them. 

Anyway, eh, let's get to this batch of reviews. I actually watched something really recent for once, so let's get to 'em.  

IN THE HEIGHTS (2021) Director: Jon M. Chu



 At an early one-act staging of Lin-Manuel Miranda's "In The Heights", one of his friends noted to him that the musical seemed like a "hip hop version of "Rent"." Now, this might be a controversial opinion these days, but I actually love "Rent", so I would probably be okay with that, but yeah, I don't think that was or should've been the inevitable results of this musical. Nowadays, "In the Heights" is kinda known as that other Tony-winning Broadway musical Miranda's known for, and yeah, "Hamilton" is much digestible to a wider audience, but "In the Heights" put him on the map in the first place. I remember hearing about it when it first broke. It wasn't the darling of the Tonys that "Hamilton" was, but it still won Best Musical, and it deserved it. 

(Although I probably would've voted for "Passing Strange" instead.... [He says as he ducks under his desk, behind a brick wall, guarded by a wall of police shields,  while putting on a bulletproof vest, a football helmet, and carrying a mace and a lightsaber] I'm gonna get a lot of shit for that Broadway Hot Take!)

Ever since then, the musical has been in the rumor mill for a Hollywood musical, with several false starts until finally, after "Hamilton" hit it big and Jon M. Chu, the director behind "Crazy Rich Asians" jumped on board. It was supposed to be released last year, with "Hamilton" getting released in 2021 oddly enough, but COVID-19 delayed the release of "In the Heights" 'til now, and oddly enough pushed up "Hamilton"'s release. So, essentially for most of America, this is gonna feel like a strange early work from an artist who became world renown later, it's almost like listening to Nirvana's first album "Bleach" after you've listened to "Nevermind" a hundred times over. 

Anyway, the main idea behind the musical was that Lin wanted to just tell the story of his Washington Heights neighborhood, and more importantly, tell a Latino story that doesn't involve any of the typical negative cliches of ways that this minority is generally portrayed. No gangs or violence, no stories of gentrification and have the story be about them trying to keep their culture around, etc. etc. It's also weird for me having watched this film, right after watching "The Forty-Year-Old Version" because the musical in that movie feels exactly like the compromised parody version of "In the Heights" if everything about it had gone completely off-the-rails wrong in trying to tell the story. 

So, for that, he pretty much nails it. It's nothing overly complicated but we get multiple tales of life in the Barrio. Our main character is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the local bodega owner that everybody in the area matriculates through. He's got a crush on Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), as aspiring fashion designer who dreams of moving out of the Barrio and down the A Train to the other side of the island, trying to get nice apartment but struggles because of her lack of a credit score. While she's trying to leave, Nina (Leslie Grace) is trying to find her way back after secretly dropping out of Stanford, which upsets her father Kevin (Jimmy Smits) who runs the cab service where Benny (Corey Hawkins) works dispatch. Usnavi has dreams of heading back down to the Dominican Republic where a hurricane has destroy his father's old beachside bar. He tries to get Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) to come as well as Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), his good friend and employee to go down with him, but things get complicated.

One difference in the movie from the play is that there's more of an emphasis on not only immigration, but also DACA, the Dreamers Act that's constantly in trouble of getting eradicated by Congress. Sonny's an illegal immigrant who's paid only in cash, which Usnavi didn't know until his father Gapo (Marc Anthony) informed him on. There's actually a lot more emphasis on expectations of being a Latino as well as the tribulations of it. Nina doesn't fail at Stanford so much as she just got tired of always being accused or search when something went missing, or how at a diversity dinner, people thought she was one of the staff. Her father, who had to struggle is happy she got the education he didn't and would rather sell the company his worked so hard to build from the ground up to let her succeed in school, as oppose to having her come back and use the knowledge she has gained in order to help build and defend the Barrio at home. 

Something that is kept and is fairly typical of neighborhood stories from Broadway, especially ones about minorities is how the neighborhood is constantly changing. The Bodega might be going, the Salon where all the most gossipy of the girls gossip is closing, half of the cab building has already been sold to an outsider. New York neighborhood do have a way of changing quickly and suddenly, so there's always a need for stories like these on the stage. Kevin, at one point, mentions to Benny, whose got a huge crush on Nina and wants to pursue that relationship, about how when he bought the cab company, it was a bar called O'Hanaran's and how the whole neighborhood was Irish. 

In that way, much of the movie will probably remind film people of Spike Lee "Do the Right Thing", the first couples hours of it anyway, if for nothing else but how the emphasis is how the movie takes place on an unusually hot Summer weekend and it's a neighborhood story full of life. Full of wonderful modern characters, exuberant colors and some eccentric and wild dreams. It's a musical love story to a neighborhood and the people in it, and you know, it might be a little bit too much wild-eye romanticism for some, but I'm happy to see it. Even the addition of the framing device kinda works in the end even if it's a little different in the stage version, cute adaptation.

Also it's the rare movie that doesn't lose points from me, and arguably gains some, for a post-credits scene that actually doesn't suck and is pretty decent, so extra kudos for that.

THE WHISTLERS (2020) Director: Cornelio Porumboiu



Narratively, "The Whistlers" is about as trippy a genre reimagining as I've seen in a while. Trippy in the sense that I can barely make out anything that's going on in the film, but I was utterly fascinated from the first frame to the last. It's a crime thriller that's has enough twists, turns and double crosses and confusing plot threads to challenge a Raymond Chandler expert. I'm debating whether to even try to explain what happens in this film, or frankly whether it even matters if I do. I'm going to go out on a small limb and say it does, but that's mainly because of the filmmaker. This is the latest from Corneliu Porumbolu, the Romanian New Wave filmmaker who broke onto the international scene with the surreal dark comedy, "12:08: East of Bucharest". I've liked everything I've seen from him so far including his previous feature "The Treasure" which I don't think I got a chance to review here. 
Describing his films, especially in relation to this film in particular is kinda difficult. The main thing he kinda seems to do is strip down the expectations of both the society of the universe he's making, and also, satirize some of the cultural and societal norms, of his home country of Romania.. It's hard to explain.

"12:08: East of Bucharest" isn't that entertaining in the first half-hour, forty-five minutes at first, but the last half-hour or forty-five minutes, or maybe even an hour; it's been awhile and I gotta rewatch that film, involves our two main characters being interviewed for a TV broadcast special as witnesses to a revolution that happened in the town after the nation, except, according to everybody else, it seems like it didn't, and it mostly seemed like the main character just stumbled out of the bar drunk, right around the same time Romania gained independence from Russia and his normal scene just got interrupted by celebrations that were flowing in from Bucharest where the real revolution occurred. "Police, Adjective" also is kinda forgettable, except for like the twenty minutes where a discussion between two police officers about what exactly being a cop entails ends in them, basically arguing, literally over the dictionary definition of police.

I guess that's one reason why he's chosen a corrupt cop, Christi (Vlad Ivanov) as his main character here. He's a corrupt cop who's working on a heist/scheme that involves so many layers of deception that I'm not even gonna explaining the plot, except to explain the title, "The Whistlers". Part of this scheme involves him going to La Gomera, which is apart of the Canary Islands where he meets up with Gilda (Catrinet Marlon) a femme fatale who we see in a flashback he met in Bucharest and is a crook that's being followed. Cristi is there to learn Silbo Gomero, an obscure language of whistling, yes whistling, that's native to the island and provides a good secret code so that the supposed bad guys can communicate with each other. This helps because he's also a corrupt cop working for an even more corrupt cop Magda (Rodica Lazar, in the film's most captivating performance). Her objective is to use all the tools of her trade, legal and illegal, mostly illegal though, in order to steal the money that's apparently at the center of this very complex crime. 

This story would actually be pretty damn confusing if told normally, but Porumboiu takes the extra step of telling the story non-linearly. If you could follow it, god bless you, but to me, the confusion was the idea, we're supposed to get swallowed up in this overwhelming cloud of corruption and confusion, like an impenetrable wall where the only way to know what's going on is to create or use some tactical language or code that the corrupt officials won't pick up on. Still though, there's definitely themes to pick up on. Cristi clearly represents Romania in some way, and they whistling in code could be any manner of tools in which one has to work around a corrupt political system to get anything done. 

I do also find it interesting that I can't really think of too many movies with corrupt female cops. Madga's by far the most interesting and memorable character and Lazar's performance is one of the most compelling of the year. I'm leaving a lot of stuff out, there's several other characters who we follow, locations like a hotel where the clerk keeps playing classical music in the lobby, there's the several video camera footage sequences and other espionage acts that we see from several differing angles. This movie's a globetrotting labyrinth of crime that crosses lines of law, class, society, privacy, and all other manners of borders. In many ways it feels like a more classic film; we even see two characters meeting at a theater playing an old John Wayne film, helping us with that illusion that this kind of story feels like it's from another time and place, but it seems so much stranger. The movie begins with Iggy Pop's "The Passenger" and that's how I think we should feel watching "The Whistlers" just sit back, and watch as we enjoy the ride. 

POSSESSOR (2020) Director: Brandon Cronenberg


Well, well... it looks like the acorn hasn't fallen that far from the surrealist virtual nightmare-fuel science-fiction tree, that's probably not really there.

Before I continue, I should note that this is the theatrical cut I'm reviewing, I believe...; I know there's an "Uncut" version out there, but I was able to get ahold of this version first, so that's the version I'm reviewing here; I don't know and haven't looked up any differences between the versions, so I'm not gonna compare them.

Anyway, "Possessor", this is the first film I've seen from Brandon Cronenberg; he is the son of the great Canadian director David Cronenberg, who is one of those filmmakers that we really should talk about a lot more then we actually do. He's actually hard to describe in a few sentences; his most (finger quotes) "normal movies" have come later in his career like "A History of "Violence", "Eastern Promises" and "A Dangerous Method", that doesn't mean he's still not capable of coming up with something utterly batshit insane, like one of the very worst movies "Cosmopolis" where Robert Pattinson spends the whole movie in a limousine in a traffic jam trying to get a haircut while his whole existence keeps getting worst. I've seen and know people who defend that film, and I kinda get why. He's always compelling whatever he does, whether it's something more traditional like one of the better Stephen King adaptations with "The Dead Zone" or adapting William S. Burroughs fever dream novel "Naked Lunch", or remaking "The Fly", or a movie about people sexually aroused by car crashes in "Crash"... The guy's capable of doing or at least trying anything. Personally, I'd probably argue that his best and most fascinating film is "Videodrome", a movie I wrote a Canon of Film piece on years ago, and is one of the movies that's probably more influential then people realize. It's noted as the idea of where modern virtual characters and that constant struggle to determine the difference between the real world and the world of the medium collide; it's a very Marshall McLuhan version of a horror nightmare; it's one of the best films of the eighties.

Anyway, Brandon broke onto the scene a few years ago with "Antiviral", a sci-fi film about celebrity diseases being sold to fans for their own injections- HOLY FUCK!!!! Okay, "Antiviral" is one of those movies that's been stuck on my Netflix queue forever, and I never really thought to look at the description before, but yeah, I think I really have to get to that one. 

But, yeah, this is what I'm talking about, the Cronenbergs have interesting minds and it seems like they can do anything. And they seem to have interesting thoughts, on the mind iteself.... One thing that "Possessor" in particular has in common with the father's work is his fascination with characters having their mind or even their entire body taken over by outside forces. This pops up in the father's films all the time, "Scanners", "Dead Ringers", arguably "Videodrome"; if there's one common theme that you can kinda spin through David Cronenberg's work, it's that he's incredibly fascinated with the ways of how the mind works and how and why it's able to be manipulated. I mean hell, "A Dangerous Method" was about the relationship between Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud, so this is something the father has thought greatly about for decades, and now it seems like an early motif for Brandon with "Possessor" a movie about a hitwoman who's job is to possess the minds of others in order to pull off high-profile assassinations.

The assassin is Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), and she's recently gone through another routine assassin process. She inhabits and commits a horrific murder while invading the mind of another person around the suspect, and eventually, she helps the person she's inhabiting to kill themselves before they're captured, or worst, they try to fight and re-take control of the body themselves, before Tasya herself gets hurt, 'cause yes, you can be hurt and in pain while taking ahold of another person. Even if that doesn't happen though, the mental aspect of the job can also be traumatic as Tasya has memories and recalls of the violence during intimate moments with her family. She's apparently one of the best at this, even though her boss Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who used to be a "Possessor" and stresses that she really shouldn't be trying so hard to both have this job and raise a family. 

Naturally, something goes wrong on her next mission, where she possesses Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott) who she's supposed to control enough to kill both his future father-in-law, a CEO named John Parse (Sean Bean) as well as his fiance Ava (Tuppence Middleton). Things go wrong though as the CEO survives the attack but Ava dies. Then Colin begins fighting back against Tasya, forcing her unable to make Colin kill himself. Instead of blowing his brains out with a gun, he stabs his skull right where the implant device is and this creates issues for both Tasya and Colin as they fight for control of the body and each of them are essentially within the same head. 

This is clearly a really dark sci-fi horror film idea that is surprisingly subtle in much of its core details while minimal in its approach. Andrea Riseborough continues her indy cred streak of taking some of the riskier and more complex indy roles out there; I found it no coincidence that Jennifer Jason Leigh playing her boss felt like a passing of the torch to some degree. Christopher Abbott's performance is a tricky one here, for obvious reasons; it's kind of a strange dual-role on his part; I'm not entirely sure how well he pulls it off, but it's definitely a challenge that he pulled off quite well. It's an odd film overall, which feels like par for the course for the Cronenbergs. Part of me hopes that he has other ideas and areas of interest so that his work can be more distinguished and different in the future, and the other part of me wants to see him make more movies that I can imagine his father making. Neither option is fair to him, so I'm gonna try in the future to not think about that with his future projects. As for this film, it's a solid intriguing, literal mindfuck of a sci-fi horror thriller. I'm not sure it's a home run or anything, but it's an intriguing film, one that leaves remnants of past films with just enough new ideas and twists on the themes to make intrigue to keep seeing what this young filmmaker will come up with next. 

SEAHORSE: THE MAN WHO GAVE BIRTH (2020) Director: Jeanie Finlay


I don't normally now, nor ever have had that much use for Barbara Walters's old "Most Fascinating People/Persons of the Year" lists; not that they have zero true relevance to the particular zeitgeist they represented, but mostly because I don't think of Barbara Walters's thoughts on who the most fascinating people are, was a particularly good barometer on the year, (Besides that, they usually were just whoever the hell she was able to interview that year) That said, I did consult them for this film. Specifically 2008. Cause even though such lists are trivial-at-best and most get narrowed down to the pop culture behemoths, once in a while if you look through these lists years later, you'll find a name or two on there and go, "Wait, who the hell is that, and why the hell were they on this list?", and that's why I went digging into them, 'cause I wanted to remember one such name, Thomas Beattie. 

Thomas Beattie was mostly known in 2008, as "The Pregnant Man". He was the first public openly transgendered male to give birth. He was born a female, but had had top surgery, and was living his life as a man, including having a wife who was unable to get pregnant due to a hysterectomy so he gave birth instead, eventually to four children before he and his wife divorced a few years later, which itself lead to several twists and turns in the legal precedent case involving LGBT rights that I'm not even gonna pretend I'm knowledgeable enough on any level to even follow or understand, and he's still an equal rights advocate to this day, but mostly, he was the man who got pregnant to us. A tabloid fodder for the time, that actually, wasn't even new. He wasn't even the first man to give birth, just the first one to be public about it and tell the story from his point of view, through publishing articles, appearing on television for interviews, and even having a documentary about the birth of his kid Susan air on The Discovery Channel. 

Now, "Seahorse: The Man Who Gave Birth" is not about him, although I wouldn't particularly mind a movie about Beattie and how he's doing now. It's about another man who was born female and has gone through gender reassignment transition, and his attempts to get pregnant. Freddy McConnell is essentially England's version of Beattie. He's a multimedia journalist who realized he was trans in his early twenties. However, Freddy as he goes by now, didn't have a hysterectomy as he was interested in having kids one day, especially since he was gay, it makes sense to keep the female organs and as he begins his thirties, he decided to pursue getting pregnant. Director Jeannie Finlay documents this journey, from his early struggles to get pregnant, which can be difficult after taking hormones more a prolonged period of time, but not impossible as some believe. The movie does feel like a bit of a modern reality show that's a little too scripted at times. There's no like, separate interview segments or anything, but McConnell is definitely a subject who won't ignore the camera like most cinema verite subjects might've in the past. We instead get his running dialogue as we progress from hormones to other medications, through strained relationship both with his lover and his family, the entire process from fertilization until the water birth, which comes with an odd choice about showing the water moving, that's a little odd. 
Seahorses of course, are famous for being the one mammal where the males actually give birth, as oppose to females, so the title is a bit on the nose, but appropriate. The film is compelling; McConnell is an interesting, talkative person, who's very open about how he feels, and all the ways his emotions are entangled. He has a lover at one point, but after some complications with some of the surrogate aspects of the ordeal, he's soon out of the picture. There's some strained relationships with his family, as he only communicates important life changes like these through e-mails. His best insight is when he mentions how it's become clear to me that his body really is telling him that he's a male who's doing that something very weird. Yeah, I can't imagine what actual feelings he's going through, but it must be a strange kind of painful. "Seahorse..." is an interesting document on this, fairly recent and new, yet, not-as-newsworthy phenomenon that will become more common in the near future. 



You know, usually I don't mind not knowing too much about a subject of a documentary before going into it, so that I can learn more about it, but I usually do need to know a little something about the subject before I get into it, just to know a little bit of what I'm going in with. And to be honest, I had no real idea who Shane McGowan is going into this film. 

I don't know how I missed him; eh, The Pogues are just not a band that I was overly familiar with, and the Irish Folk Punk scene is just not something I'm too familiar with. If you asked me before the movie what an Irish Folk Punk band was; I probably would've smart-alecky said, "U2". Based on the title, I halfway thought Shane MacGowan might've been a boxer for all I knew. Honestly, I still don't know much of his music or influence too much even after watching the film; I didn't recognize a song of his until "A Fairy Tale in New York" which is a song I like and that's when I kinda got, "Okay, this is what an Irish Punk song sounds like." Mostly though I got a sense of Gavin MacGowan, an aged Irish drunken punk who's basically beaten his body with drugs and booze to the point of basically being a wheelchair-bound, floppy-headed version of his former self, and I think that's probably how he'd want it. 

I basically watched this film the same way I'd watch a performance of somebody telling me their life story, like in a one-man show or being interviewed about their, which is kinda what this movie is. The film by Julian Temple, who's directed several music videos and documentaries, basically lets Johnny Depp, the film's main producer and Billy Gillespie among others, just interview MacGowan, along with several other modern interviews, plus some archive footage, and even some animated sequences, mostly reserved for stories of his troubled youth. He was definitely always an artist, and always a punk, but he loved drinking and drinking songs, especially at the Irish pubs that obviously surrounded him. He often talks about drinking as though there's some kind of difference between drinking to get drunk and drinking just to drink. Something that, from my experience in similar conversations, is very Irish. 

However, there's a deep passion and rebellious in him. Most of his songs were about the perils of the world and while they could be jovial, they could also be angry. He was a punk, and you wouldn't think Irish folk and Punk rock would have that much in common, but really they shockingly go well together. They have a lot in common, Irish folk is full of working class songs that are itself just songs about either the horrors of the kitchen sink life they live, or drinking to forget about those kitchen sink lives they live. They're both rebellion genres and they're both protest genres, and they both don't need a lot of chords. Just a few major notes to repeat and some good lyrics and you got a great punk song and a great drinking song. 

I get why it's called "A Few Rounds" with him, not because of the drinking, but because every kind of conversation with him, feels like a battle. Artistic and confrontational to the nth degree. That's why I like the comparison to a one-man show kinda performance with him, because it doesn't feel like a truly in depth bio, but just a brief visit with a guy who's gotta a lot of stories and enough beer to tell them. Pulling out every thought or idea from Shane feels like a boxing match, and yet the guy's the same kind of classic Irish writer who pours all his emotions into his work, and then seems like he wants to fight the rest of the day. MacGowan's an interesting character, and what I heard of his music, sounds good. I can't appreciated the film the way I say, appreciated, say "Mystique: Michael Hutchence" though, who was somebody I knew a little more about both personally and musical, but if you are more familiar with MacGowan, it's a decent celebration of him and his work. I'm sure people familiar with him will enjoy this film immensely. 

READY OR NOT (2019) Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett


So, there's a movie out there that I absolutely hate called "You're Next". It's directed by Adam Winguard and it's a really bad movie; in fact, it made my #1 spot for the Worst Film of 2013, and I did not think that that was a remotely controversial opinion, but I have gotten a lot of pushback from that choice ever since, mostly from people who have claimed that I completely missed the point of the movie and that I should be enjoying the movie as a sort of Grand Guignal surreal comedy horror spoof and not so much judging as a literal horror movie. I have genuinely never understand this argument, 'cause, well, A. most of "You're Next" wasn't funny, it was just stupid, but also because while there are parts of the movie that are obviously stupid, the fact that the two bad guys are obviously stupid enough to have an argument over whether or not they should have sex with a guy they just killed in his bed, is I get it, part of the "humor" of the film, but the movie wasn't shot like it was aiming for humor. Besides grand guignal aren't usually movies that, while they might have some over-the-top aspects to them; in my mind Stuart Gordon's "Re-Animator" is the ultimate horror-that's-more-appealing-as-comedy film, but they're usually unintentionally comedic. "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" gets put in the grand guignal category a lot, and I don't find that movie too comedic at all, until the very end, but most of the film is legit scary and haunting. That said, it's finding the comedy in the unintentionally comedic that makes a grand guignal. When you're taking a genre horror, that's normally treated seriously, but can also be view ironically through a comedic lens, and then adding intentional humor to it, to invoke those kinds of notes of humor, that's what I would call "camp". And in hindsight, that was the ultimate problem I had with "You're Next"; it failed at being camp, by trying too hard to be a horror comedy. It really thought it was one thing, when it was trying to be another.

Now, "camp" is a word that's kinda controversial and difficult-to-explain term in film circles itself, with many different subgenres and sub-definitions of it out there itself, some would consider grand guignal as it's own form of camp. That said, there is an image and picture of what I would think of as camp, and "Ready or Not", another horror film that definitely is aiming more for this odd mix of camp and grand guignal, that's actually very similar to "You're Next", I think also kinda failed to thread this needle, but not nearly as badly as "You're Next". Still though, while I watched this weird movie, I kept coming up with one particular question that I think by any standard, would make a movie "camp'.
That question: Would this movie be better, if everybody in the movie, was played by a drag queen?

Okay, maybe not everybody, but definitely a few of the main characters, they should've been played by drag queens in this film, right? And who knows, not everyone who is a drag queen is out, maybe Henry Czerny is secretly a drag queen? 

I know it's seems like I'm joking here, but honestly I think this is a movie that needs more camp. Now, "Ready or Not", begins at a wedding at a very exquisite old money mansion. Grace (Samara Weaving) is a former orphan who's fallen in love with Daniel (Adam Brody) who's the black sheep of a family that made it's money in producing games. It's a fun family, Czerny plays the current patriarch Tony. His wife Becky (Andie MacDowell, in a role perfectly suited for her) is his wife and they're happy to be hosting the wedding, and also for afterward, bringing Grace into the family by having her play a game with them. It's a tradition that they explain and dates back decades to the benefactor who provider them their funds and luxury lifestyle today. The game she picked from the thing is Hide and Seek. 

They play it a little differently however, as they try to find, and then kill her. Hopefully, without accidentally killing too many of themselves. There's some strict rules to follow, which the family debates over while they search throughout the creepy version of the mansion from "Clue" to find her, but eventually, it's revealed that they have until dawn to find her, 'cause of some deal their long distant relative made; I assume it's a deal with Satan. 

So, thinking back on modern horror, the obvious films I think might get referenced here are stuff like "Get Out" or even "Parasite" to an extent. The obvious symbolism could easily be narrowed down to the struggle of those trying to join the upper class and the class itself pushing them down, or a sharp satire on the upper crust themselves and how they will destroy and devour those below them. There's other films you can probably through in there, and I get that; that's probably some of the inspiration, at least the big inspiration for why this was positions as a major Hollywood, especially since these two directors, former rocker Matt Bettinelli Opin & cinematographer Tyler Gillett has only directed one other feature film 'til this, but for me, looking at this material and the way it's trying to be presented; this is a John Waters film to me.

Like, seriously, this movie just needs a lesser budget and Divine to be somewhere, probably in Andie MacDowell's part, which is unfortunate 'cause she should also be in more John Waters films, but still. How far different is this from say, a couple being horribly disgusted that they're not the most horribly disgusting couple out there? This kind of sardonic logic and over-the-top absurdity feels like Waters at his darkest and most subversive, and that's why I'm kinda torn on this movie. I feel like there's a movie that I want to see out of this, and the movie we got out of this. Both are interesting, but while some of these comedy horrors are aiming for that grand guignal camp that I think a lot more fail at it then people realize, Waters is always camp. If anything, he sometimes is at his worst when he isn't going for camp; I think that's kinda why "Serial Mom" of all things, never worked for me. Kathleen Turner is great, but that's too Hollywood for Waters and she is no Divine. Or any kind of drag queen, except for that time she played one on "Friends". 

Anyway, "Ready of Not" feels like that kind of movie with a concept Waters would just take and keep moving towards a more-and-more ridiculous and absurd degree, but it would be genuine and purposeful, and true camp. "Ready or Not" isn't going for that, but I don't think it's goals with the plot are completely unsound choices, but it's still the wrong plot for the narrative. It's a slight pan for me, officially, but it's still an interesting film, and one that I'm kinda curious to see how people might react to in the future. The ideas in here aren't unsound, it's maybe too well-directed, it's well-made, and I think the actors know the kind of movie their going for, but I think this is a story that could've gone much more over-the-top then it even is, and that idea intrigues me more then the movie itself did. 

Still though, can you imagine this as a John Waters movie where every rich character is a garish drag queen of some sort and tell me this film wouldn't be better?!

SHADOW (2019) Director: ZHANG Yimou


Okay, let's get some of the good stuff out of the way, 'cause there is a lot of spectacular here. Most especially in the filmmaking. ZHANG Yimou is one of the world's best directors and he's been Mainland China's most famous are most successful filmmaker for awhile now. Most people might know him best for the amazing Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics; he's an incredible artist who's been at various times beloved and admonished in his homeland. "Shadow" is full of many things that make a great ZHANG Yimou film. He often makes period pieces with incredible cinematography and production design, and on this note, we might be looking at his very best. The cinematography and production design is meant to emulate black & white Chinese Ink Wash paintings from the 3rd Century A.D.; and the effect is startling. It's creates a stunning effect where it looks like a black & white movie for most of the film, but the movie is indeed, actually in color. The production design also has some amazing details in it. The costumes, the choreography 'cause there's a lot of great fighting scenes in the film too. 

All this is genuinely, some of the best I've ever seen; I'm stunned this film didn't get any Oscar nominations in the technical categories. 

That said, I'm very narrowing this down to the cinematic and technical achievements, 'cause this film is a confusing mess of a movie. I think it's arguably Zhang's worst film. He's not necessarily incapable of bad films; he's incapable of a bad-looking film, but he's made some messes over the years. For every "Raise the Red Lantern", or "Hero" or "House of Flying Daggers", he's had a few missteps. I thought "Curse of the Golden Flower" was a bit of a mess for instance. I think the last film I watched of his was "The Flowers of War" which was up until "The Great Wall" the most Western movie he made, and he's been making more and more western narratives or using more pronounced western stories for years now. I think most people thought he kinda started to lose it a bit with "A Woman, A Gun and A Noodle Shop" which was actually a direct remake of the Coen Brothers' "Blood Simple"; now I actually kinda like that film despite myself, (And I'm actually somebody who's never been huge on "Blood Simple" to be honest.) but I can say safely that, I don't particularly love the direction his work's been going. He was always capable of these action epics, but he was also so strong at the intimate personal stories and that's the Yimou I generally prefer. 

Like in this movie, there's some nice intimate moments, like when Ziao Li (SUN Li) is tending to her injured husband Ziyu (Deng Chao), who lives in a hidden cave in her house as he's suffered from his injuries for decades. I should explain a bit, the movie takes place in 3rd Century China in the city of Jingzhou, which once upon a time was a disputed territory between three kingdoms. Commander Ziyu lost the battle for control decades ago to Kingdom of Yang, led by their King (Ryan ZHENG). Twenty years later, while for the most part of things have been civil, Ziyu had suddenly challenged for a rematch against the man who he lost the duel for the city twenty years ago, General Yang (HU Jun) for a rematch. This infuriates and there's a lot of complicated finagling after this, all the King's attempted whim, including attempts from the King to sell his sister to Yang's son, like literally as a concubine.... 

Anyway, then it turns out that Ziyu isn't actually the real Ziyu, but a replacement that's been groomed essentially as a body double. Hidden to represent Ziyu in public affairs while the real Ziyu is hidden and ignored, tended to by his wife.

This gets even more complicated when the double is challenging for control again, and then gets involved with Ziyu's wife and all... It's-, it's complicated, frankly. And honestly, at some point I just following everything and kinda just let the movie happen. The movie happening is great to look at, but did I care or even try to follow any of this. I mean, maybe it's just that I'm not that familiar with Chinese folklore and history, but I'm sorry,  this movie is a mess of an absurd narrative. It feels like it's trying to be some kind of mythological story, and it does touch on themes and idea that I've seen ZHANG work with successfully over the years, but this movie started off somewhere interesting and then kinda fell off a cliff and into a strange mess of an absurd historical fantasy narrative of it's own design. There's ways to do this kind of dobbleganger narrative but I couldn't tell you how they thought they were doing it here. Usually when you do this, it's either a deep reveal, like in the flawed but interesting Christopher Nolan film "The Prestige", for instance, but there's some political narratives like this as well over the years, and fictional political ones, "The Man in the Iron Mask" is probably the most famous to Western audiences, and it's not that unusual today; dictators are infamous for having doubles. This is probably inspired by some story that I'm not overly familiar with..., and I think there were interesting ideas and themes here, but there's too much going on. "Shadow" I think went for epic when they really should've gone with intimacy here. Zhang can do both, clearly, but he can confuse when to use which at the right time. "Shadow" still looks amazing though. Honestly, this feels more like a WONG Kar-Wai film then a ZHANG Yimou film, or a least, what I think of as a classic ZHANG.  

ROLL RED ROLL (2019) Director: Nancy Schwartzman


You know, I've heard and even used occasionally the shorthand of somebody being so, for-lack-of-a-better-word slutty, referring to someone having been with the entire football team.... It's an easy punchline, it's an easy joke, but I do have to admit that, there was always something a little off about that image to me. Like, I get the idea of the fantasy of that, but like, in reality, just, why would the whole football team, like, be together? Or not even together, just with the same person? Like, not all boys are that easy, and even if that's not true, a football team, or hell, any sports team of people, is a collection of many very different personalities and people. Like, not everybody, even figuratively would or even should hang out together like that, outside of their work. I mean, I'm not an athlete, but I was on several Little League and youth basketball teams growing up and was on trivia teams in Junior High and High School, and honestly I can't imagine too many of us actually hanging out regularly with each other, like in any real social capacity, not for very long anyway.

This might, also just be me because, I just hate parties and get-togethers and such. Never liked them, don't have a lot of great experiences with them, and I'm probably just not a people person in general either. Like, even when I was hanging around and watching and hanging with friends of mine who would drink too much and all, I-, I never felt like I was apart of that. Partly 'cause I don't really drink much, even in situations where it's socially acceptable and never really have, but also I just don't get it. Like, I don't get how or why drinking and drugs makes things more fun. Or, no, I actually get that, what I don't get is why that's appealing to anybody. Obviously it is, but no, it's just not how I relate. Even in high school, I didn't get it. I got drinking in high school, mostly because there were so many idiot kids around I had to deal with that, yeah, I probably needed something to get through some of the really frustrating days dealing with them, but-eh.... (Sigh) 

I'm losing my train of thought here of where I was going, but I thought I'd rather open this review some kind of personal anecdote of my warped view of social protocol, because "Roll Red Roll" is a story of, underage, rape, and the football team that both perpetrated the crime, and those adults in the community that protected the teen. I guess there really aren't too many great subtle transitions to a subject matter like this, but I was trying.... 

So, Steubenville, Ohio, population, about 18,000; it's part of the larger Metropolitan Statistical Area with Wierton, WV; it's the country's 335th largest such MSA, and essentially, you could call this whole area as an extended suburb of Pittsburgh's greater Metropolitan area. It's not a heavily populated area; this city known mostly as the hometown of Dean Martin and as the home of one of the state of Ohio's most famous and successful high school football programs, which is what the movie "Roll Red Roll" is mostly focusing in on. The title is the crowd's famous cheer for their team, the Steubenville High School Big Red. This is a high school football town, that protects it's players and the players have occasionally committed some pretty horrendous acts, apparently. We'll get to that, but we're talking about one. 

In 2012, two high school football players, Trent Mays and Mal'ik Richmond were arrested for raping a sixteen-year-old girl who we'll call Jane Doe, at an August post-practice party that apparently stretched through several different parties and houses on that night. Already, I'm getting some "Euphoria"-like horrors in my mind. The police seem to be investigating thoroughly, but the story itself is hidden by the press and we hear on the local sports radio and talk about how, supposedly the actions weren't catamount to rape. It's all the cliches of toxic masculinity rape culture that you can imagine. However, one local true crime blogger wasn't taking it. 

Alexandra Goddard begins researching the football players Twitter accounts and other social media and begins posting texts and tweets and pictures of the incident where the young girl was apparently drunk to the point of unconscious and then perform several degrading, humiliating and sexual acts on her. And bragged about it, especially in the case of Tyler who genuinely seems like a true sociopath. The more she posts, the harder it gets for anybody to truly claim their innocence, but the more the town goes after her, and one of the parents of the accused sues her for defamation at one point. 

Then, Anonymous got involved. Yes, that Anonymous, they hacked the school's website as well as several others and posted a 12-minute video of the kids drunkenly joking and celebrating the assault. I'm not even gonna explain the jokes or the contents of any of these pictures, 'cause they're pretty horrific. Eventually, this was the last straw and eventually more people came forward and not just other kids with evidence or counts of other incidents, although yes, there were other previous incidents that were either unreported or in the case of some of these football players, other alleged similar rapes they either committed or were involved with, as several other women begin telling their stories from decades of hiding and protecting this culture.  

"Roll Red Roll" is basically another true crime documentary but it uses the formula to profile a town that's succumbed to rape culture. It's explained pretty succinctly, the town protects the young boys to a detriment to the young girls. Alexandra knew this intimately and just didn't stop reporting it and good for her. The two boys actually did get convicted eventually; it was in juvenile court, so the sentences weren't huge but then, in relation to another assault both the kids and many of the adults who covered the crime up also got prosecuted, including some of the coaches in the program who really didn't seem to understand what the hell even rape was, and his justification for not punishing the students which, really A. he shouldn't have been the one who's job that was, but B. was incredibly stupid. 

The thing about "Roll Red Roll" is that while, while it certainly makes Stuebenville look horrible, the thing is that this probably happens in a lot more places then we realize. You know, one thing that's annoying as hell about America is how much the myth of the idyllic small town has been portrayed and promoted, when in reality, it's more likely that a small, cut-off community is where more coverups, corruption and particularly evil behaviors can thrive. Cities have more people looking out for each other and yet they're often depicted as being far more dangerous, and while I think there have been some exceptions to that stereotype, I don't actually think that's true. I'm not saying that something like this couldn't happen in a large city either, it's very likely it has but it's a lot easier to find outlets that could be more forgiving and helpful in a city, as well as more likely to fight surrogates willing to help take on your case or grievance and fight alongside you. It's a true act of bravery to stand up to a small town leadership in most of these cases.

We do have one tool to protect those who are trapped in such a town or situation though, social media. Getting the message through, as well as being a tool to get the idiot kids caught and convicted is more essential then ever. "Roll Red Roll" is a sharp, smart reminder and realization that even in places like Steubenville, we are not alone and we will have tools to reach out and stop those who've commit these heinous acts and those who are willing to go to extreme lengths to protect them, not because they think what they're doing is right, (although it's scary how often they do) but because they believe they're powerful enough to get away with it.

Friday, June 18, 2021



Producer: David O. Selznick
Director: Victor Fleming
Screenplay: Sidney Howard based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell


There's several drawbacks to having written most of these years before I actually post them. For one, for a lot of these, my writing is just dreadfully amateurish and now I just want to rewrite the reviews entirely anew half the time, which is, yes the case with this review. However, also more importantly, a lot of the times when I wrote these, there was one general consensus about a film and I was writing with that perspective in mind, and over time that consensus idea has changed somewhat dramatically. It pops up from time-to-time, sometimes I can see their points, sometimes not. For instance, while there are several modern aspects that date "American Beauty" and some were surprised that I did put it in the Canon awhile ago, I really had no difficulty with either making that decision, nor did I try to retroactively change that ruling or any other particular one. Possibly because it was easy to defend; the type of films that wouldn't have been made had it not been for "American Beauty" inspired a good deal of the American indy film market, as well as much of television since then, plus, I still think it's an amazing film that holds up pretty damn well, despite the fact that it's a film that won a sexual predator his 2nd Oscar. 

I'm definitely not condoning behaviors and perhaps with changes in time and perspective I'll view some films that are currently favorites of mine differently in the future, and perhaps I might later regret one or two of these posts... (Part of me's already does feel like I was stretching immensely by adding "Guys and Dolls" not too very long ago) but I don't have that problem here. Mainly because I've never considered "Gone with the Wind" a favorite film of mine. 

It is my mother's favorite film though, so I am quite familiar with it. I've seen it a good amount of times. I even bought some rare collector's edition versions of the film, with like loads of special feature and it came in a box with like, a ridiculous amount of extra material. If I wanted to see the TV movie sequel "Scarlett", I could do that. Unsurprisingly though I also wrote my original Canon piece years ago, and the current public perception of "Gone with the Wind" has changed quite a bit over those years, mostly it's leaned more towards my perspective that it's a technically great cinematic achievement, but it has some enduring troubling aspects about it, and boy that's an understatement. It's not exactly the most horrific piece of film that's more essential then it is good, that's probably "The Birth of a Nation", which I'm just gonna keep putting off as long as I can, but it's up there. It's got it's own problems. Not just in what the movie depicts and how, but also how it's been viewed in America ever since.

"Gone with the Wind" has been American shorthand for great cinematic achievement for forever it seems. It's the stallworth of the best of what represent the Golden Age of classic Hollywood cinema. It's the film that won all those Oscars in America cinema's supposedly most glorious and greatest year, 1939. A year that the Oscars celebrated with the 75th Anniversary of a few years back by having Pink before "Over the Rainbow" in tribute to "The Wizard of Oz" and there wasn't one damn mention of "Gone with the Wind". Nowadays the film was supposedly cancelled by HBO Max when it reality, it was justifiably pulled temporarily while WarnerMedia put up an appropriate disclaimer about how the film's depictions of glorifying slavery and the Antebellum South were indeed racist products of their time and that should be considered as such. People were outraged, mostly by those who I imagine never genuinely sat through the movie. 

Let's be real for a second here, "Gone with the Wind" had long already begun having it's greatness being heavily depreciated for years now, and it's going to continue. AFI, when they last re-ranked their greatest films list, dropped it from 4 to 6. They haven't done a new list in a while, but I wouldn't be shocked if next time it falls out of the Top Ten completely, at least, maybe fall out of the Top 20. More damning though, the film also was nowhere to be found on the last Sight & Sight poll, either Critics or Directors' lists; in fact, it's never made that list! Not once since they started polling in 1952, has "Gone with the Wind" ever been beloved in the international community, nor in the filmmakers community to be honest. When's the last time you could pinpoint a movie or filmmaker who you can claim was legitimately influenced by it? This film is pretty much only beloved and considered great, in America and much of that can be attributed to our perverted views on the past both then and now, and how it was promoted by the Hollywood machine at the time. 

Well, really the David O. Selznick machine, because it was his new studio that promoted everything, and I'm putting his name above the director because it really is his film. (Some argue it's barely Fleming's as a director; he was the third hired for the project.... The story of the behind the scenes of the film have several documentaries about them, it's too much to completely get into here, but it is genuinely fascinating; you should all look it up sometime.)  

The opening of "Gone with the Wind" was a huge, nationwide event and adjusted for inflation, it's still the highest grossing film of all-time, and it's not close btw; it's gonna hold that record for a long time still. My grandmother used to say that while most Saturdays, she'd go down to the theater and watch a double-feature with cartoons and newsreel and shorts footage for a dime, "Gone With a Wind" itself was a quarter. It basically was the first real blockbuster that we know and consider them now, and I wouldn't be too surprised if we aren't in the future going to see more film releases like that, especially now that streaming has become so much more relevant then theaters; it'll be only the big budget comic book movies and whatnot that'll be the huge events and cost twice whatever the regular tickets are overpriced at now. In the future, that's basically gonna be it's biggest legacy in the future. 

For now, it's still a clinging symbol of the Lost Cause myth, a rallying cry for people who both think the South will rise again and for those who believe starting a culture war because they don't like that their racism is going away in their media is a cause worth fighting for. 

So, is the movie actually any good?

Ummm, well, um, yeah. I mean, yeah, you can't look at it straight and blindly accept the damn thing, but there's a lot of greatness in the film. I don't believe David O. Selznick was trying to preserve the horrors of Antebellum or reignite slavery or anything of that sort by making this film; I think he just wanted to do justice to Margaret Mitchell's best-selling work, that he happened to buy cheap right before it became the biggest bestseller of it's time, the best way he knew how. (As to whether the work or Margaret Mitchell's politics or intentions with the piece hold up today, eh, that's a more difficult question...; she a complicated person herself.... Again, I'm not getting into that here either.) "Gone with the Wind" was also the first Best Picture Oscar winner to be shot in color, and it's Technicolor is still looks glorious. This was an epic project; the comparison to the comic book movies of today is actually more accurate then you might realize 'cause "Gone with the Wind" was the Marvel of it's day, only way more popular. (Actually there's a lot in common between Marvel films and "Gone with the Wind" fanatics, if you ever want to learn the controversy and outrage over Vivien Leigh's casting, you should check out Be Kind Rewind's video on her, which I might just post below here..., but yeah, there's a lot of similarity between the extremes of the fanbases.)  He wanted to get all this right, so he basically made the most expensive film ever at that time. Large elaborate sets that were burned down to depict the burning of Atlanta. Hundreds of extras, the costumes, the sets. Tara is as much a character as Scarlett O'Hara (Oscar-winner Vivian Leigh) really is. And frankly I will say that, while "Gone with the Wind" has certainly fallen out of favor as a classic great film, I don't think Scarlett as a character has, which is good; it's the best reason to watch the movie.

Scarlett I think symbolically is supposed to represent the rise, fall and resurgence of the South, but mostly, she's a frustratingly annoying bitch. A study in contradictions. A power-hungry social climber who can't stand for anybody to not constantly be fawning over her. She marries three husbands over this time, and yet is deeply in love with Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) her lover from when she was a teenager who ended up marrying his cousin Melanie (Oscar-nominee Oliva de Havilland) and yes, they are first cousins, so, just on that note, "Ewwww!" and "Are you sure, Girl", 'cause he's also very wishy-washy and boring to begin with, plus Melanie is deeply admiring of Scarlett who is the literal belle of the ball in her own little world. Besides, she could get Rhett Butler, who's way-the-hell better then Ashley! Eh, mostly; I'll get into that.... 

I think honestly that's why most people who enjoy the film enjoy it, because she's such an unlikable character that were genuinely happy whenever something awful gets back at her. I like Ray Romano's joke comment about Rhett Butler's (Oscar-nominee Clark Gable) final line to her, about how he's been putting up with her B.S. for like four hours! Which, yeah four hours for us, but a few decades for him. Although that said, even considering how awful she can be, there's a few things that Rhett, who's loved her from the beginning despite knowing better of himself, that eh, probably also should get this film cancelled today. Yeah, there's a pretty huge indication that after a particularly volatile argument between them that Rhett just, rapes Scarlett one night. And she wakes up in incredible blissful denial the day after, and it's kinda framed like this was something she needed.... Uh, boy that is something that's kinda forgotten about the film.... 

Yet, I don't think all these, in hindsight awful things in the film are really as awful as storytelling devices. I mean, essentially "Gone with the Wind" is basically a soap opera. It's over-the-top upper class melodrama; Scarlett is the Civil War era's, (or more specifically 1930s depiction of the Civil War era) version of Erica Kane. So there's going to be egotistical narcissistic tendencies mixed with over-the-top dramatic events, like rape, war, marriages, deaths, being rich enough to be the belle of the ball and poor enough to have to use the drapes as a dress. I'm kinda surprised she didn't have a heart-to-heart moment while trapped in the woods and confronting a wild bear. (Not even in the top 25 strangest things that happened to Erica Kane, btw) By any modern sense of reality these are terrible approaches to the material, but the material itself, is fine. There is something fascinating about seeing a rich debutante continually get her comeuppance and then constantly continue to then rise and gain above her station. Hell, it wasn't even the first major Hollywood film with this narrative; Bette Davis won an Oscar the year before for "Jezebel" which was basically to some extent a quickly-made "Gone with the Wind" clone; it's like how every teenage vampire story suddenly got made into films around the time "Twilight" hit it big. There's a lot of appeal to these kinds of characters and seeing them go through these sorts of narratives. 

And the movie has some incredibly great scenes. My favorite is the famous overhead pull back crane shot of Scarlett, searching desperately for a doctor to help Melanie give birth, who's in labor and she searches for a doctor, any doctor to come over and help Melanie give birth. Instead, she's surround by the wounded and dying soldiers from the Battle of Atlanta, and this crane shot keeps backing up and backing up and backing up and Scarlett gets harder and harder to see in frame and the depth of the dozens and dozens of injured soldiers just overwhelms the screen until we pass a torn and battered Confederate flag look still flying over what's left of the Confederacy. And still Scarlett's trying desperately to get the Doctor to come for Melanie. Like, this shot alone is just great, no matter what else anybody wants to say about the film. There's no special effects here in this shot, it's just a great shot that only Hollywood could do at the time. 

The movie did earn Hattie McDaniel her Oscar, the first nomination and win given to an African-American performer, even though she's playing, a literal Mammy. Yeah, this was controversial even at the time too, Mammy was a derogatory stereotype, yes even then, but she is damn good in the film, and she's right about making more money playing a maid then being a maid. Didn't mean she was allowed into the ballroom to sit with her castmates though.... 

"Gone with the Wind"'s complicated legacy is always gonna be there no matter how we parse this. It might have the greatest lead actress performance and character of any film, and yet, that character is a representative of our worst inclinations as a country. It's Golden Age filmmaking at its finest and yet it celebrates and glorifies the Confederacy, slavery, sharecropping essentially as well, and it's hero is one who survives the war and leans into exploiting our and her most Capitalistic urges. Hell, it's probably one of the few really great classic Hollywood films with a truly unlikeable protagonist. It's never also not gonna be a relic of a complicated and troubled past that frankly is still too present in this country. That's probably why it continues to rank so high despite all the obvious issues. It's one of the most referenced and quoted movies you can find. Despite the issues with the story, the story does speak to Americans. Just like us, it remains complicated, full of contradictions and hypocrisies and tells a story of our history, for good and for bad. 

I just wish it wasn't such a prominent perspective of our history, 'cause it's- it's not the only document of it, we have plenty of others, some much more progressive, important and relevant to our modern times. Although I can't immediately think about what would be a northern perspective of this film, or what the alternative is. I'm not sure why that is in hindsight, this wasn't just the South's lost it was the Union's victory over rebels and traitors to the country. Even the ones I can think of that take place in the North also simultaneously tell the South's story, like John Jakes's "North and South" for instance. It's weird actually; I can't think of any other war where there's almost no beloved pieces of literature devoted to glorifying the winning side, much less one that so constantly is portrayed as a glorious defeat. I really can't explain why it's the one we so relate to; I don't think it's just Lost Cause sympathizing, the story just aches for us. There's a part of Americana that will seemingly always exist with this film, perhaps haunting over us moreso then it does represent us, but it's one that we simply can't complete shake off of us either and simply trying to ignore it completely also seems to be completely the wrong approach. 

Clearly, the film's most famous line is a lie, cause whatever else we think about the film, frankly my dears, we clearly still do give a damn about it. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


Ummmm, not much to actually say or add this week. The only real thing of note on this blog is that I responded to a comment that's a few months old. I've been busy working on other projects mostly, but I did get to some films I didn't review here. I enjoyed "The Levelling" a British indy about a family that has hidden drama that gets revealed and brought to the surface after a sudden death. I also saw "The World Made Straight" which I didn't like much at all. It was about a young man who was dealing with his family's history of violence and it took place near where a famous Civil War Battle took place, and was trying to be about the overall circular legacy of the place, but I thought it was a mess. 

The most enjoyable thing I watched this week for me, was a TV Movie, "Game Changers" which was one of Alex Trebek's last non-"Jeopardy!" projects. It was a documentary from BUZZR about the history of game shows and includes some delightful interviews, both with and without Alex with some of the other legendary game show hosts around. I'm a sucker for stuff like this, and I felt like watching some Alex Trebek stuff. His passing has been very sad although it's been enjoyable seeing the guest hosts on "Jeopardy!" over this time. Personally, I think Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric and Mayim Bialik have been my favorites, but I still miss Alex Trebek so it was nice to see that. 

Anyway, not much else. Let's get to the Movie Reviews. 

SAINT MAUD (2021) Director: Rose Glass


You ever notice that the most zealous of religious fanatics tend to be the ones who, seemed to live life, let's say, a little more self-destructively then others originally. Sometimes, they had hard lives put upon them instead, or in many cases, as well, but you can usually presume that their behavior, must've been somewhat destructive beforehand. It's basically trading one for of excessive, sometimes addictive but always destructive behavior, for another. And of course, they had destructive lives, that's why they end up as religious zealots. I mean, once you finally do hit rock bottom, that's when you're looking for anything to literally speak to you and lead you on a new path; and that's when religion most becomes an acceptable avenue for you, hitting you at your most vulnerable. Their perfect audience.

"Saint Maud" takes that idea, to an interesting extreme. Checking Aja Romano's Vox review of the movie, and she mentioned the historically documented sublimation of psychosexual desires that were manifested as religious ecstasy among nuns in medieval convents, which eh, sent me down a disturbing internet rabbit hole when I read that..., but yeah, I guess that's what first-time writer-director Rose Glass is essentially going for. "Saint Maud". It's a film getting compared to the classic religious horrors of the '70s like "The Exorcist" or "The Omen", and this is a more typical comparison but honestly the movie that I feel is a better comparison is Lars Von Trier's "Breaking the Waves", where Emily Watson's character goes down a complex religious-based sexual rabbit hole after her husband's accident leaves her incapable of making love and he gives her permission to look elsewhere. It's a horrific character study of a women who's trust in faith leads her downhill. "Saint Maud"'s different because the religious trust in it's main character isn't inspired by external factors, it's completely internal. Viciously internal. 

Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a nurse who, after a horrific incident at her hospital eventually takes work as a private nurse. She's also suddenly become completely devoted to God who's power seems to have overtaken her mentally. At one point, her devotion to God seems practically orgasmic in nature. She often sees strange gruesome images and depictions in others and herself, but she's also convinced that she now has a higher power. Her apartment, as much as it is, is quite minor and bare, almost like a nunnery. She's convinced herself that it's her duty to convert others to the ecstasy of God that she feels.

This, goes about as well as you imagine, although, she thinks she's having some success with her current client, Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) a dying former dancer, who she has a moment or two with and then devotes herself to converting her, believing it's her destiny and what's she supposed to do to please God. She even changes her name from Katie to Maud, thinking it's more saintly. Okay, several saints do actually change their names in life, that's kind of a thing, believe it or not, but there are several saints named Katherine, so-eh, I don't know if Maud is that much more saintly. 

Eventually, he falls out of favor with her after confronting Amanda's friend Carol (Lily Frazier), first attempting to throw her out of her house after one of her regular visits, which is sexual with Amanda, and then later after she comes back and Maud throws a fit at a party and gets fired. She's also, despite everything, seems to be struggling to also simultaneously devote herself only to God, but also keep herself social, sometimes to a disturbing degree. I better warn people that there's a scene of sexual assault in this film that might trigger some people in the film, although the more interesting thing we actually learn in that film is how promiscuous Maud was before this conversion. 

Actually, we don't really learn a lot about Maud's past. Just vague surreal imagery at best, and I can finds hints of the past with some interviews with Rose Glass. It's a pretty astonishing film debut. It originally came out on the festival on 2019 and made a lot of awards shows in the UK last year, only now getting a release in America, getting a limited theatrical release before streaming on Amazon this year, COVID having heavily effected it's release. The movie is somewhere between "Black Swan"'s surrealism and "Breaking the Waves" dissection of religion along with a few hints of "Black Narcissus" melodrama. Personally, I think the movie could probably have been helped by a few more rewrites myself. I think it would stick with me more if there was a more fully realized characters in the lead, similar to "Black Swan" in fact, but that's a nitpick. It's an impressive, ambitious debut either way; one of the first really good film of this year, at least in America. I want to see more of Ms. Glass after this, I suspect she's got more in her. 

PINOCCHIO (2020) Director: Matteo Garrone


So, as an Italian-American, it's become clear to me that for some reason, the big Italian entry into the canon of children's story is "Pinocchio". It's not necessarily the only one, some people trace the origin of "Little Red Riding Hood" to Italy, and yeah, there are parts of that story that I can totally buy as Italian-inspired, but really, "Pinocchio" is easily the big one that's clearly Italian-inspired. It's arguably as big and important a story that Italy's introduced to the greater culture, say, any major famous Italian opera you can name. I'm fairly certain there's been dozens of operas based on "Pinocchio" too. This story has been adapted, and still is being adapted all the time. This isn't even the latest adaptation, there's a few current "Pinocchio" projects still in development, including an adaptation by Guillermo Del Toro, and that's not even counting the rumored, upcoming live-action Disney remake. Hell, this is the second film called "Pinocchio" that stars the most famous of modern Italian actors, Roberto Benigni! In the first one, which he wrote and directed himself, he played the titular Pinocchio. He was 50 at the time and despite being pretty accurate to the original Carlo Collodi novel, that was probably a bad idea. I love Benigni but; I don't think he gets nearly the credit he deserves, and I don't agree with most of the backlash that's gone against his best and most famous film, the Oscar-winning, "Life is Beautiful"; I consider that film a masterpiece, but yeah, his version of "Pinocchio", and well as the last film he directed, "The Tiger and the Snow", yeah, not great. 

Now though, director Matteo Garrone, one of the better and more interesting Italian directors out there right now, has decided to put out his attempt at a live-action "Pinocchio" and in a somewhat ingenius and clever move, he's cast Benigni, this time as Gepetto, which is already a much better idea then him playing "Pinocchio". That said though, has a live-action "Pinocchio" ever been a good idea? 

I presume the Italians in particular would love if there was a universally accepted homegrown film adaptation of "Pinocchio", but it's not coincidence that the very best version has always been Disney's most famous one. It's one of my favorite of the older Disney films, but honestly, I kinda wonder and question how much that one even works half the time, 'cause "Pinocchio" is a very dark story. Frankly, I think animation works the best because of how truly surreal it is. I mean, think about it, a wooden boy named Pinocchio (Federico Lelapi) comes to life and then, goes through Hell! Like, damn near literally; in fact you can argue that his journey is worst then hell in some versions of the story, and the original version was much more tragic and horrifying then most people realize. Arguably animation is both the only medium where his story should be told because of that, and Disney's is arguably the best version because of how honestly sanitized the story, and it's still full of body dysmorphia, Kafkaesque species transformations, several villainous characters trying to use or control this young person, and even the main characters getting swallowed whole inside a monstrous sea beast! If there's any other infamous Italian story that "Pinocchio"'s really inspired by, it's not an melodrama opera or any other kind of children's story, it's "Dante's Inferno"!

I'm honestly kinda stunned in hindsight that "Pinocchio" not only remains infamously popular today, even with Disney's version saturating the market, considering how really dated the story is. I guess you can update it, although this film isn't going for that; it keeps itself pretty close to the original context, but "Pinocchio" is a turn-of-the-century piece that was specifically written to be a horror story for young boys to keep them in line and to not run off and be on your own before you're ready. That's why the story shows every horrible thing happening to Pinocchio over time and how those effects hurt himself and others. He goes to a marionette puppet show instead of to school one day, and instead, he gets kidnapped and taken for the show and nearly gets burned alive by the show's owner Magniafuoco (Gigi Proietti), this after previously getting his legs burned off after falling asleep at a fireplace. A Fox and Cat (Massimo Ceccherini and Rocco Papaleo) convince him to bury gold coins so they can become a tree, and when he does he gets attacked and hung by a tree. He plays with Lucignlo (Alessio di Domenicantonio) and his toys, he gets turned into a donkey and sold into the circus, and then is thrown off a cliff! And of course, his nose grows when he lies to the Blue Fairy (Alida Baldari Calabria as a child, Marine Vacth as an adult, which begs another question of just how long this journey has been that apparently the Fairy started out younger and got older over the story!). These aren't lessons and actually feel more condescending by modern ideas of storytelling to me. I know a young enough kid will believe that if they don't go to school and try to learn to read they'll be turned into a donkey, in basically in the same ways they'll believe that Santa Claus is real, but, still, like I think only really young little boys. 
I can't imagine this story, however told, and it's told fairly well, would ever have the same impact on modern kids then it does here. 

That said, I think I'm clearly in a minority overall, and if you're gonna redo "Pinocchio" this isn't a bad adaptation, really. The film got nominated for two Oscars, for Costumes and more notably, Makeup and Hairstyling, which is quite elaborate and somewhat frightening at times, but I was impressed with it, as well as for the costumes. I'm not sure the film entirely works; I'm not sure there's ever not gonna be something that's a little off-putting to "Pinocchio" to some extent, especially a live-action version. I'm still hard-pressed to seriously consider panning it though. I've seen more misguided attempts at telling "Pinocchio" then this one. It's way too long and perhaps suffers from being way too accurate to the story, but it's technically got a lot of good ideas there, some really well executed ones. I can see all the ways this film would put off some viewers, but eh, I've seen it done so much worst. And frankly, it's a hard story to judge by modern standards anyway, so I can't completely look at it like that anyway. It's a good retelling and it's really sharp in combining practical special effects with modern technical visual effects. There's some strong performances here, from a very good cast, and some direction. It stills reveals the flaws in telling the story of "Pinocchio" in a live-action medium, but no more then the average interpretation does. So, it's a mild recommendation, knowing that you know what you're in for. Knowing that while the movie is definitely weird and off-putting in ways, remember "Pinocchio" is already weird, surreal and at times off-putting to begin with. 

PALM SPRINGS (2020) Director: Max Barbakow


So-eh, suddenly remaking "Groundhog Day" has become a good idea?

Honestly, this revelation in recent years is one that I genuinely didn't think would happen. "Groundhog Day" is one of those weird movies that, traditionally had such a unique idea and premise behind it, and happened to be such an instant beloved classic, that any kind of copying it, basically automatically to negative comparisons. I'd seen more then a few attempted twists on the theme or just an outright steals over the years and none of them ever came close to working. Some of them aren't terrible, but few of them are remotely memorable, and if they are, they're for the wrong reasons. Redoing the "Groundhog Day" plot basically amounting to working, in one-off parody TV episodes of a series, at most, the same way that say, that's mostly the only way anybody can do a retelling of "It's a Wonderful Life" now. 

And now, for those thinking, I'm talking about all movies and ideas about being stuck in a time loop, no, I'm not. "Source Code" for instance, isn't a "Groundhog Day" movie, because it's using a futuristic premise where a spy has to pull off a complicated time travel save in the past, through an artificial created time loop in a world where time travel is possible and is trying to change the future by altering the past; that movie has more in common with say, the "Terminator" sequels or especially something like "12 Monkeys'. "Groundhog Day" is very specifically about a character who's stuck reliving the exact say day over and over again and having to go through all the emotional sprawls and pitfalls that sudden discovery entails. That premise shouldn't have been this hard to continually pull off until now, but Bill Murray and Harold Ramis just so nailed that one that I honestly didn't think we would. 

However, in recent years, that's changed quite a bit. Doug Liman's action thriller "Edge of Tomorrow" with Tom Cruise, is one of the better action movies of the last decade and it uses the premise ingeniously well to tell a story of a male and female soldier caught reliving the same battle constantly, with no real way to both survive and save as many as they can by preventing disaster. Last year's Oscar winner for Best Live Action Short Film, Trevon Free's "Two Different Strangers" is probably the best use of the "Groundhog Day" formula I've ever seen, finding incredibly horror and symbolism in the story of a young African-American man, trying to get home to feed his dog, without getting killed by a racist cop who targets him while he's just walking down the street. (BTW: That totally deserved to win last year; it was easily the best short film; I know some people hate it, but they're wrong.) Hell, it even worked on television, as not just as a one-off episode, as a whole series with Netflix's "Russian Doll". I was doubly-convinced it was a stupid narrative to ever actually try to make a television show out of, especially after a horrible attempt to make a serious drama with the narrative conceit of "Groundhog Day" in the 2000s called "Day Break" that starred Taye Diggs. (Man, I feel sorry for him; he should've had a lot better leading man roles, in film and television.), but somehow, for one season anyway, "Russian Doll" worked too. 

So, the great comedy has been adapted well in recent years, as an action-thriller, an emotionally metaphorical short about the inherent systemic racism in America's justice system, and into an eight-episode one-season sitcom. Now, here's "Palm Springs" an attempt to turn the great comedy, into a-eh, well, great comedy. Oh-kay, a little less inventive, but still promising. Actually, "Palm Springs", has a few distinct twists on the genre. I had a friend of mine on Facebook point out that he liked that one of the advantages of the film is that the story begins in the middle of the daily time loop and not beforehand. That's true enough for Nyles (Andy Samberg), but that's not actually true enough for Sarah (Cristin Millioti). Nyles ended up going through a portal found in a cave that was unearthed after an Earthquake after he escaped from a wedding that he doesn't really want to be at. He's mostly known by the others at the wedding as Misty's boyfriend, and Misty (Meredith Hagner) is cheating on him, and seems fairly obnoxious and unfaithful. The wedding is for Sarah's sister Tala (Camilla Mendes) and her boyfriend Abe (Tyler Hoechlin); Sarah's the Maid of Honor technically, but hates it as her family seems to have particular disdain for her and her behavior and to be fair, it's not entirely unwarranted as we discover. For now though, she decides to escape with Nyles to the desert and the next day, she ends up in the same time loop as Nyles. So she's basically discovering all the benefits and effects of living the same day over and over again while Nyles has been living the same day so much that he at this point, barely remembers his life before the time loop started and has become fairly defeatist in his approach.

This to me, is the real biggest twist from the "Groundhog Day' formula is Sarah, the fact that somebody joins the main character in the permanent time loop. Well, actually, there's a third person Roy (J.K. Simmons) who's also in the loop after he partied with him one night, and is trying to kill him every other day or so, but now he has somebody to go through the loop with and they eventually begin to form a bond and eventually form a complex relationship. This is an interesting idea, I've seen relationship stories or rom-coms in multiverse-like places before, "Wristcutters: A Love Story" comes to mind, and technically this is an improvement on "Groundhog Day" which is a romantic-comedy technically, but it's one that if you truly think about isn't that particularly deep, and actually makes Andie McDowell's character seem fairly shallow in hindsight. That's okay in that film, because it's not about her, it's about Bill Murray's character and the despair of utter loneliness and fragility that living in a time loop entails, and it's only through constant and continuing improving upon himself and his character change do we see how being in the loop equates to his personal growth. "Palm Springs" has both a defeated, lonely character and an active character who's still fresh in the loop and is both searching for a way out but also a way to enjoy the experience, Sarah figuring that since nothing matters and they're just gonna wake up the next day in the same place anyway, then they can do anything. Nyles actually has a more emotional response, constantly bringing up that while the world around them isn't real, pain is real, and indicates that it's better to suffer in quiet desperation as oppose to putting oneself through real emotion or physical pain or trying to escape or get out. 

That's technically a new, interesting addition to the formula; in fact I can't think of any other time loop film that deals with the excruciating feeling of pain that this kind of emptiness and loneliness can cause. Even "Two Different Strangers" wasn't about the physical pain of getting shot or killed deals with and "Groundhog Day" only deals with it as an aside and not through the main character himself, who does suffer pain, in his several suicide attempts, but it's still superficial compared to the idea of actual hurt. That's something that stuck with me through, and the journey that both these two distinct, different characters go through, both together and separate and why and how they go on these journeys is the powerful aspect to the film. 

The movie got the most praise and attention for its writing and first-time screenwriter Andy Siara does write a really sharp, tight script, but I think the real trick to his work is that he's figured out that the real trick to these kind of time loop films isn't the quantum physics of it all, but in finding strong main characters to go through this, as well as good actors Samberg and Milioti in particular give very strong performances here. It's also a solid directing job by Max Barbakow who's mostly been known for short films and documentaries up until now; this is his first real mainstream project as well.

You might notice that despite all my praising analysis for "Palm Springs" I'm still barely giving it a recommendation though..... 

Yeah, this movie's kinda more interesting in hindsight then it actually is to watch. I got a couple laughs out of it, but the movie does kinda lose something in a few places too. For one, the fact that Sarah is so insistent on trying to find a way out, does kinda make the movie fall into that trap of trying to figure it out when there really isn't much of a need to. Also, there's something odd about the whole setting of a Palm Springs wedding that's kinda limiting to me. I get why this helps for making a film on a budget, but it does hinder the possibilities. All the other films I can think of that didn't have a whole city of Punxsutawny to explore usually had a good reason why the characters couldn't escape from their routine as much as others. There's talk about how Nyles at one point did travel everywhere he could to get as far away from the wedding, but he's now in a more defeated state, but mostly the wedding idea as a setting just isn't as interesting a place in general to hold this kind of story as well. I could see how it can be torturous enough to explore a cave, but it isn't the most compelling and it's only kinda casually explored as it is. There's one really good revelation that's kinda finally revealed involving the wedding and guests, which gives us real insight into one of our main characters, but other then that, I kinda wonder if there were other possibilities of get-togethers that weren't as well explored. Also, the movie kinda rushes to its ending fairly quickly as well. The film's only about 84 minutes or so, not counting the credits, and it kinda rushes to a finish that seems, eh, it's not quite deus ex machina; well, I guess "Groundhog Day" kinda had an arbitrary deus ex machina of a conclusion as well, but, eh, I think most of these movies have a small issue when it comes to seeing this as a problem that needs to be solved moreso then a new condition that has to be experienced, and yeah, this movie, does eventually fall into that trap. 

Also, while I keep talking about "Groundhog Day", 'cause it's the obvious point of comparison and like I mentioned before, the fact that people trying to copy it are actually good is a stunning revelation, the movie that "Palm Springs" actually reminds me the most of is Morten Tyldum's "Passengers". Now that movie was, bad; it was a complete mess of a film, although I think I was one of the few who was probably nicer to it then most, mainly because I liked the core idea of two people stuck in an abandoned foreign place they don't have the key to and there's struggles to survive and endure. It also had the more similar narrative of one character first being alone in this void for an extremely prolonged period of time, and then the second, possible romantic interest character then coming into the same void and both of them having to react to their own approach to the situation. "Palm Springs" get a lot right that "Passengers" got wrong, but it also kinda just feels like it gives up on the ambition nature of the plot and just becomes a romantic-comedy. 

Despite everything, I ultimately found "Palm Springs" good, but underwhelming. I mention the script being tight, and that's admirable, but it might be too tight; I feel like the movie gave me no room to breathe and explore, something that both "Groundhog Day" and even though it ultimately failed, "Passengers" allowed for. I still enjoy the movie enough to recommend, but I think there could've been more here. 

MISS JUNETEENTH (2020) Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples


I gotta confess something; until a few years ago, I never heard of Juneteenth. I went most of my life without ever hearing about it. I can come with a bunch of reasons why that was and some would be my failure and some would other aspects of our society's failures, but either way, I'm fairly certain that on June 19, 1867, when the slaves of the Galveston, Texas area were informed of their freedom, two years after the end of the Civil War, I'm sure one of their priorities was making sure all their youth knew how to identify a salad knife. (Which I don't think is actually a thing, like, not at a dining room table; I think there's a lettuce knife, but that's a preparation knife; I think that was just made up in the film, which, good joke.) 

So, I don't know the intricacies of Juneteenth, but I do know quite a bit more about pageant culture. I grew up during the last era where it actually mattered to some degree; I watched quite a few Miss America and Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, even once watched a combined Miss Teen Nevada and Miss Nevada pageant that, for some reason, aired on local TV that year. It was still a big deal, well into the '90s, and in some areas of the country, there still is a major pageant culture, especially in the Southern United States. I-eh, I don't really get why anymore. I know they're still pretty big these days internationally, but it's an American tradition that's trying to cling to relevance. Yes, there's a lot of benefits to them, if you do well in them, most of the major ones are scholarships or reward-based, but there's also several smaller local pageants all across the nation and many of them have different intentions and standards, and this is where we end up with this film, "Miss Juneteenth". Now from what I can tell, this is a fictional pageant, but I can definitely see a pageant like this existing somewhere. Set up by local leaders in the Ft. Worth, Texas African-American female community, the pageant has a lot of prestige behind it. Former winners went on to become major professionals and figures in the African-American community (or married to some of them...) and the winner gets a full ride college scholarship to an HBCU of her choice. 

One of those former winners is Turquoise (Nicole Beharie); she's not one of the past winners who carries a lot of prestige. She's currently working as a waitress at a local barbecue restaurant run by Wayman (Marcus M. Maudlin) after years struggling as a single mother to Kai (Alexis Chikaeze), who she had in college, forcing her to drop out of school and raise her. Now, she's old enough for the pageant herself and despite how lowly the other pageant people look out at her, always with faint praise about how well she did when she won, she's determined that Kai can do well and deserve the opportunity she got to improve her life. 

There's a lot of cross-generational wires being crossed in this film. Kai clearly isn't as interested in competing in this pageant, but reluctantly does so seeing how important it is for her mother, tries to go along with it as the mother struggles to pay admittance fees as well as getting a custom-design beauty gown for her, plus a lot of the regular bullshit she gets at work, both her first job as a waitress as well as her other job working for Bacon (Akron Watson) a funeral home operator who has a crush on her. She meanwhile is still seeing Kai's father Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson) even though he's often in precarious positions and they're technically separated, but he's still part of Kai's lives. He's the one who starts backing her up when Turquoise gets upset at Kai for having a boyfriend, Quintavious (Jaime Matthis) and recognizes that Kai doesn't really want to compete in this pageant, but Turquoise is determined on that front. She even sacrifices the electricity temporarily to try to pay for that custom made gown. 

She's also though, still a strict pageant mother, including forcing her daughter to have the same talent skill that she had, which was, um, reciting Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Women"..., which um..., kinda seems like a weird choice to me. Like, I get why Maya Angelou would appeal to this crowd, but that poem, is very specifically written, not from a perspective of someone who, would probably not be competing in a beauty pageant, let's say... I mean, I guess I can kinda see the counterargument that if somebody with a beauty queen look performs it that well... Anyway, that's neither here nor there, but it's also clear that Turquoise should be more empathetic when we meet her church lady drunk of a mother Charlotte (Lori Hayes) and how she didn't exactly help out Turquoise when she was in need. 

There's a lot of other details going on surrounding the movie at the edges though. The fact that, the only major white character is the owner of the dress shop that Turquoise is buying that aforementioned dress from, and she seems to be absolutely relentless when, due to unexpected circumstances, she can't afford to pay for the custom-made dress at the time it's finished. There's also distinctions between trying to borrow from a white bank and a black bank, and this is a modern-day tale and it's a modern-day issue.
The film was the debut feature by Channing Godfrey Peoples a very talented young Ft. Worth filmmaker who made it out to USC, and she seems to be starting off by starting with what she knows, at least tonally; I have no idea if she's a pageant girl or not, but it feels authentic. "Miss Juneteenth" more then anything puts me into this little slice of American life that both feels languishes in cultural significance and still reveals the artificiality and hypocrisy within, not just in the White America, but also within the hierarchy and social norms of Black America as well. It's one of the stronger debuts I can remember in a long time, and Nicole Beharie gives a powerful performance. I saw a couple people compare her work and this film to Andrew Bujalski's "Support the Girls" which had a great lead performance from Regina Hall; I think that film and performance were both better, but I get the comparison and that's a great compliment to me as far as I'm concerned. "Miss Juneteenth" feels a little tight for me, all things considered; Peoples was apparently working on this script since after film school, and for a slice-of-life, it's a really tight script; which I think holds the movie back a bit. Sometimes a movie doesn't need to be so refined. That's another minor nitpick though; this is a wonderfully impressive and fascinating film. 

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA (2020) Director: David France



Man, Russia is so big. I mean, that's not a revelation or anything, but I don't think we truly realize just how big it is, and how strangely diverse the population actually is. Chechnya for instance, is a good example; for a country that for so long we've reigned down a complaint that they were godless, Chechnya is a very religious area. Not just any religion though, they're a Muslim nation. Except for the nation part; they're technically apart of Russia still, despite many recent attempts to gain independence. Right now, the country is run by Ramzan Kadyrov, a Putin-installed murderous sociopathic dictator who's been running the area since 2007. Most people in America, especially if you watch John Oliver, might remember the time he lost his cat. 

Ramzan Kadyrov has several, several, several human rights violations against, one of the latest ones involve, just flat-out killing gay people. 

There's not much else I think needs to be said about that; the police and other authorities torture and kill gays, and under the promotion of "cleansing" the nation, (Man, there is never a good scenario where a politician of any kind uses that word) he also insists on the families eliminating that influence themselves, and that also happens (In particular, that often happens to lesbians, women, let's say, don't have all the rights men necessarily do in Chechnya.). It's been happening for awhile, and continues to happen, but also, when it started happening, underground railroad groups began popping up to get gay people out of the country, and the movie follows these people and their struggles to protect Chechen gays and in some cases, their more accepting families, who if they don't disown or perhaps even kill their gay family members are themselves persecuted, as well as document any footage they intercept of them being persecuted. They have several different channels and routes and there's a lot that can happen on the way, if they can find a way out. 

You might be wondering how we get these behind-the-scenes of these of, refugees who are indeed essentially being treated as criminals in their homeland and seeing them as they call for help, or even go to dire situations even while in the hands of those who are trying to protect them, why they would agree to be filmed for a documentary. Well, technically, they didn't. Director David France, who made one of the best documentaries of all-time, "How to Survive a Plague" which documented the rise of the AIDS epidemic, used deepfake visual effects to complete adjust the facial and body figures of those in the film who they're protecting. I've heard of this process before, it's usually mostly used, for fake celebrity porn, which, frankly I've always found fairly disturbing no matter how you approach that use, but it's effect here, well, honestly, I didn't recognize it. The movie was on the Oscar shortlist for Best Visual Effects and if you didn't tell, I wouldn't have known that, 'cause I didn't recognize a thing, and that's probably it didn't get nominated, which is also kinda bullshit. The whole point of great special effects in general is supposed to be that you don't recognize them. And frankly, considering how and why they were used here, that should also be commended.

The movie tries at times to document some of the more noteworthy incidents, like Chechen pop star Zalim Bakaev's disappearance in 2017 among others. Mostly it focuses on the inner workings of the LGBT underground and some of the tactics they use to combat and ultimately, hopefully saves the lives of LGBT members of the community. 

A few fought back, one young man did make himself known, Maxim Luponov, actually revealed himself, told his story publicly and went to court. The government and Kadyrov specifically said they weren't telling the truth, to no surprise, that's what's expected. Some we watched managed to escape, others, well, we don't entirely know about. David France's advancement of the technology is groundbreaking, the kinds of documentaries that can be told now has been expanded immensley. As to the film, it's hard, but essential-to-watch. I'll probably always have difficulty considering anything David France does on its own merits again after "How to Survive a Plague" since that could easily rank as one of the greatest and most important documentaries of all-time, but "Welcome to Chechnya" is still powerful. It's one of those reminders that when we hear the headlines on the news of some horrible travesty of human rights that there's so much more going on, not just politically, but literally on the ground both with those enacting it, and with those combatting it. It's one of the year's better documentaries. 

A THOUSAND CUTS (2020) Director: Ramona S. Diaz


Nothing happens in a vacuum. That's something my old sociology professors would say. We all like to think that, but it's true, when something major and horrific happens, back then we'd talk about 9/11, nowadays, we'll discuss January 6th with the same level of sobriety, as well as T----'s whole Presidency and how we brought out the most authoritarian and vile aspects of the GOP. The thing is that even that was years in the making and much of his rise also coincided with the rise of other similar authoritarian rulers throughout the world. India, Brazil, and in this case, The Philippines. 

Rodrigo Duterte's murderous regime has been running The Philippines for a few years now and "A Thousand Cuts" details the telling of the story of his regime, both in how it came to power through the same manipulation of social media tricks that Cambridge Analytica was used for... (Yeah, CA used these tricks on other countries first, mostly ones without strong government, third world, supposedly, and they worked there as well.) and more interesting, showcases the journalists who've reported on Duterte and how he's gone after the media. Most specifically Maria Rezza, the award-winning journalist who's been the main person Duterte's attacked. She was one of the journalist named Time's Person of the Year in 2018 for confronting dictatorial regimes and Duterte's personally attacked her. As of now, the Princeton Educated Philippino-American is fighting an appeal after being convicted of Cyberlibel against Duterte. The most interesting stuff in the film is following her over this time. She's the CEO of Rappler Magazine, and we see the personal side of her, before and after her world notoriety continues to rise. We follow her on speaking tours across the world, all the while, continuing to go back to The Philippines to confront and cover Duterte and the barrage of misinformation and attacks on the free speech, as well as the genocide that he's committing under the guise of being tough on drugs. 

There's not much cinematically interesting about "A Thousand Cuts"; it's a Frontline documentary which, except for the voiceover is what you basically expect. Ramona S. Diaz has become a strong documentarian in recent years and is good at profiling interesting people, and Messa definitely belong in that category. She's a tiny little woman with a screechy voice who seems insistent in both her interview approach, there's a lot of clips of her interviewing Duterte, who openly brags about killing and other things that make this populist outsider even more sociopathic and psychotic then even T----, plus she's as vigorous in her defense of the Press as well. She's one of the few who does keep fighting and that's made her a symbol in The Philippines and to the world. She's right, to paraphrase and adapt that most famous of Holocaust quotes, "First they went after the journalists, and we don't know what happens after that." Honestly, it's such a sign of not just weakness and corruption, but simplicity and intellectual ineptitude to attack the press for criticizing them; you better have proof against fact reporters, then, it's just bullying, and it never works. Sometimes, I think bullies don't get that you can't just call someone a liar and make it untrue, like it's not just their only weapon; that'd be one thing, but it's like it's already their only strategy. You'd think people who work so hard to gain power and systemically murder the poor, would have better strategies to combatting criticism. 

ALWAYS IN SEASON (2019) Director: Jacqueline Olive


Did you know that there was such a thing as Lynching Reenactments? 

Seriously, lynching reenactments, it's a thing. In Monroe County, Georgia at least, where every year to commemorate the Moore's Ford Lynchings, where two African American couples, George and Mae Dorsey and Roger and Dorothy Malcolm were apparently taken and beaten by a KKK mob, shot dozens of times to death, and then hung near Moore's Ford Bridge. Nobody's ever been charged or convicted of the crime, even though then-President Truman ordered an FBI investigation. Grand juries were convened, and there's several witnesses who've come forward with varying degrees of accounts of the incident, and the case had periodically been reopened and closed. The reenactors, African-Americans who oftentimes can't even find enough local white performers to play the members of the mob, so they put white sacks on there heads to emulate the Klan, perform this reenactment every year as a reminder to the crime that's occurred and the injustice that's continued to rain over it. 

"Always in Season" talks about Moore's lynching and the current ramifications of that, but it also takes a much more modern look at the recent lynching of Lennon Lacy. Yes, lynching are still going on; in fact, during the buildup to the 2016 elections, Lacy was one of a couple dozen accounts all across the country of black young men being found having hung themselves by a tree. All the deaths have been ruled suicides, almost none of them certainly are. The movie focuses on the death of Lennon Lacy, which supposed suicide that was so boggled, probably on purpose, that we'll probably never know what actually happened, even though, as the movie shows as it investigates the case on its own, we kinda essentially know what happened. We learn mostly about Lennon through his mother, the one who's most prominent in continuing the case, as well as an NAACP lawyer who gives us background. We also get a sense of Lennon's friends as well as the town around them, and how ambivalent some, like the local paper seem to be. 

The reasoning for the framing is to show just how common and recent, and in some cases, current lynchings actually were. We get interviews with people who actually witnesses lynchings as kids. How common the practice was in the South, how regularly and often nobody was ever punished. How it was used by the KKK and others whites basically as a way to keep the African-Americans in line. This is also why the reenactments are so interesting and controversial. They can barely find white people to be in it, and both communities are split on whether or not they should exist historically or rather, people should keep bringing up the lynchings in regard to the past or just move on and stop bringing them up. Part of me thinks, in regards to the re-enactments, I kinda wish they'd stop doing those Civil War re-enactments others in the area love to thrive in. However war and murder are two different things, and lynching is a third altogether. Nobody was alive anymore from the Civil War, there are people alive who've seen and participated in lynchings, and arguably some still are trying to return to a time where they were a common way of keep the Blacks in line. It's not the main tactic, nor do I think lynching ever was, although they certainly used to be proud enough to through pretty big parties around it when they did do it. 

Lennon's case, is being blamed on a suicide, purportedly because those who investigated claim that it was a combination of factors for a supposedly emotional kid who had a breakup with his first love. He did have a girlfriend, a much older woman; he was 17, she was 32, and they do talk with her, and boy did she seemed scared to talk. For one thing, while it's not illegal in the state of North Carolina, where the age of consent is sixteen, it's definitely looked down upon. She's also a troubled addict who's had a rough. There were also nearby neighbors who clearly are on the more KKK side of the extreme, and there were friends of friends involved. I don't know exactly what's missing, but she did remind me a little of Carolyn Bryant, the woman who claimed Emmitt Louis Till whistled and attacked her at the grocery, which decades later, she admitted was untrue. She also reminded me other troubled women who seem to be surrounded by lousy people all their lives. She tells a story of a nice May-December romance, and also indicates that both were trying to get away from each other. Either way, it doesn't seem like this was the kind of breakup that would end in a suicide. Also, he was beaten up pretty badly based on his bruises for it to be a suicide. And he had different shoes on. Also, nothing in his previous activities indicated to anyone the possibility of Lennon committing suicide. 

Also why would he hang himself by a tree? I have heard of suicide clusters where young teens and 20-somethings kill themselves by hanging themselves from a tree, but it's usually not African-American who've been apart of that. Besides, hanging oneself by a tree, also seems particularly rare and unusual; I literally can only think of one example ever in a piece of media and that's from the New Zealand film "Once Were Warriors"; so it shows how unusual that is. (And that suicide was a completely different kind of teenage suicide). 

You know, that's so disturbing and heartwrenching with stories like these, is how it really shows just how incompetent the police in this country really are. How they really are just a weapon for those who wish to exorcise they're power, feel these weak-ass little power grabs over others, whether it be for racist or other purposes, but mostly for racism. Police don't solve murders because they can't, they don't solve them because they don't want them solved.

"Always in Season" takes these two threads of the past and present and merge them to complete a horrific history tale, one that's still morphing and continuing today. Things do not happen in vacuums; neither do any historical events, or even personal ones, nor do they only effect us in the past. Racial prejudice and violence doesn't just end, and suicides also, just don't happen suddenly. Neither do lynchings. The power in the film, to me, lies in how harrowing and disturbing the documentary is, just by giving out the details. Both the imagined and created ones for the re-enactments and the counter ones about how a modern-day lynching plays out just as similarly, all because people in power can. "Always in Season" indeed.