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.

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