Friday, January 21, 2022


"Dinosaurus Imperiosus", 1905 paper, eh...- what paper, "On the Origin of Species"? No, that don't sound right. Dinosaur, eh, imperious, oh, imposing,- T-Rex? Imperiosis, imposing, large in size oh, mammoth! It could be a Wooly Mammoth? Right? Oh no, that's not a scientific name. What's a scientific name for a mamm-, nah, it wouldn't be that. It's gotta be Tyrannosaurus Rex then, what is a tyrannosaurus rex?

Whew! Got it this time, barely! I almost tripped myself up outthinking that one.  


I miss Alex Trebek. I've been watching "Jeopardy!" since I was a kid, and it's still the greatest gameshow of all time. I actually once dressed up as Alex Trebek for Halloween back in first grade. I don't have a photo to prove it or anything, but trust me, it was, cute. It's one of the few times I actually enjoyed my Halloween costume. I don't watch regularly anymore, but I also to at least watch once in a while and I always try the Final Jeopardy question on Youtube every night. His passing in late 2020 hit me hard, and like everybody else that's even a moderate fan, I watched a lot of the guest hosts who came in, both in homage and as pseudo auditions over, and I also spent time watching any Alex Trebek footage I could find, for instance, one of his last projects was the TV documentary "Game Changers", which aired on BUZZR where he interviews some other legendary and more recent game show hosting greats and gives us a brief overview of the history of the genre. Somebody posted it on Youtube if anybody wants to look for it, and it's also on for free. It's light of course, but if you're a gameshow guy/gal or just fascinated by TV history, it's worth looking up and enjoying, and it's nice to see some of the last interviews with people like Monty Hall, Regis Philbin, Alan Thicke, who people might be surprised has a game show history, (He hosted a little, wrote some music for some game shows, and was even a writer on the early '70s version of "The Joker's Wild") and of course, Alex Trebek himself. He loved being a game show host and he was good at it, and "Jeopardy!" would be a lot different without him. Literally, 'cause people forget that the original version of "Jeopardy!", that aired for eleven years, while still the same basic game, still felt much more like a traditional game show, and from some reports Art Fleming, didn't like the direction that the show and Trebek had taken the series. 

Under Alex, "Jeopardy!" wasn't just another trivia game show, where the idea was to just win money and be on TV, with lights and prizes and whatnot. It was more about the questions and answers, or the answers and questions I should say. The show became intellectual in it's approach, America's Nightly IQ Test as it's often been called. It's not regarded in the same way as other game shows, it's become a part of our daily routine and our culture in a way that's virtually unprecedented. It's something that's high-minded, intellectual, competitive and challenging. It quenches our epistemophillic urges. It's not a flash-in-the-pan, reality show, it's not a tense gimmick that shamefully prolongs the time and agony like "...Millionaire" or some or "Deal or No Deal" or whatever, it's your daily mind test and under Alex Trebek, he kept it about that. It means something to be good at "Jeopardy!" as opposed to being good or lucky on other game shows. 

So, how the hell did they completely bobble this transition? 

I know, I'm, mostly late to this, but can we go back and really take another look at how poorly this was handled? 'Cause this really needs a look back. I don't think anybody reasonable thought that this search for the next host of "Jeopardy!" was going to be done, well, I mean, Alex is irreplaceable, and there was never going to be a 100% surefire solid choice that was going to satisfy everybody, but even still, how did this thing get so mangled and jumbled up? 

So for those, who didn't pay as much attention during this time, after Alex's passing, it was announced that there would be a rotating list of guest hosts for the show while they seek out and determine a permanent replacement, and ergo, these guest hosts, would ergo, in-a-sense also be considered pseudo auditions for the job, but that is jumping a bit because I don't think everybody who guest hosted was expecting or hoping to get the job. Some were, but some were there to just fill in and in essence honor and pay tribute to Alex, and maybe just try some new challenge. That doesn't mean any of them were good or bad, and it's understandable; anybody who loved "Jeopardy!" and loved Alex Trebek would like to hold down the fort for a little while as their own personal tribute. This was obviously the case with Ken Jennings and Buzzy Cohen, two former legendary "Jeopardy!" champions who filled in, and Jennings had been a Consulting Producer on the show for the last year before Alex's passing, and also, he just has more-then-enough game show experience to fill in, as he's often been used as a professional contestant or expert on several game shows since his, as-of-this-writing, still-record 74-game winning streak on the show. (Although Amy Schneider looks pretty damn unstoppable right now), but others like Katie Couric, Anderson Cooper, Savannah Guthrie, Robin Roberts, I suspect, probably just thought it would be an honor to fill in Alex's seat. (Some guest hosts, including Mayim Bialik who currently, along with Ken Jennings, rotates as the show's regular hosts, did the gig under the condition that the show match the contestants' winning and donate them to a charity of their choice, so there was incentives beyond just, auditioning for the gig for some of these guest hosts as well.)

There was one indisputable misstep in this guest host search when Dr. Memhet Oz was guest hosting; much of this revolved around his complete hypocrisy and position as a snake-oil salesman, among many of his personal scandals he's had, but he also wasn't particularly good at the hosting gig as well. After a petition, Levar Burton got an audition as host for a week; he did okay and I suspect given a longer time might've gotten used to the gig; he definitely, image-wise seems like a good fit to replace Alex, who was known both for his education astuteness and his pleasant and beloved demeanor, but that doesn't necessarily mean someone can be a good host. 

I do actually, want to get to that point more, later on, but in terms of other oddities with the guest host rotation, Aaron Rodgers stands out a bit, 'cause while I did think he did better then expected, this gig, which he was confident he had a shot at getting, seemed mostly to be done because he was in a contract dispute/disagreement with the Green Bay Packers, that inevitably subsided, for now, but there were definitely a couple people who took the audition part of this gig, and saw career-advancement too. So, it wasn't just people filling in because they loved Alex. 

Inevitably, the job went to, Mike Richards, the show's executive producer. So, the guy who was in charge of the search, picking himself for the gig. That was the first red flag, but within days, there were a bunch more. I'll leave this "The Ringer" article here, as one brief summary of Richards's escapades and shenanigans in front of and behind the camera, and not to mention on his podcast that he did years earlier, and...- I don't know exactly how to say this, but the more you look into Mike Richards, the more it seems like he might be the reason for all the worst aspects of all your favorite game shows over the years. 

I'm not even exaggerating and it's not even just "Jeopardy!"! For an anecdotal example, he was also, before resigning or getting fired, whatever technically it was, the executive producer of "Wheel of Fortune" at the time, "Jeopardy!" longtime sister show, and- well, the last time I talked about these shows, on this blogpost back in 2019, I was very critical of "Wheel of Fortune" and how that show has seemingly gotten lost in a bunch in a bunch of it's own gimmicks that seem to overtake any of the actual enjoyment of solving puzzles. Well, I can't help but notice, that since Richards's departure, "Wheel of Fortune" has slowly started making some noticeable changes. They got rid of the Free Play wedge, which honestly sucked anyway, and thankfully they didn't replace it with anything studiper, Pat Sajak no longer makes a Final Spin when it's necessary, which is minor change, but it's something, and as much as I think they use too many of the Toss-Up Puzzles, they actually made them slightly more interesting offering an extra $4,000 for anybody who gets three toss-ups in a row. I think that kinda ruins it a bit making the toss-ups almost as important as the actual gameplay, but I still kinda like that twist. And they tried to change the music, and then they changed it back, 'cause that was a bad decision but, it's a start and it looks like they're working on getting the game back to some of it's original basics. I don't think Richards was entirely to blame for everything that had made "Wheel of Fortune" unwatchable in the last few years, but even there, you can definitely see that his removal from the program has led to some improvements. 

(Oh, also, if you check Wheel of Fortune's Youtube page, there's a lot of Maggie Sajak. Yeah, Pat's daughter. Yeah, remember when Pat missed tapings 'cause of a surgery and Vanna had to host for a week? Well, they his daughter fill-in for Vanna while she hosted for a few episode, and I think ever since then, they put her in charge of social media, or whatever. This has nothing to do with Richard, but yeah, whenever Pat retires, she's taking over; they're basically grooming her to take over, and it she seems like the kind who wants that kind of gig. I'm calling it now, so be prepared for that inevitable nepotism controversy.) 

Now, all this said, let's play Devil's Advocate for a second here, was Michael Richards, a bad choice for host of "Jeopardy!" Well, most every list I can find that ranked all the Guest Hosts had him near the top of their lists. I know quite a few people who thought he made a very good host. If you watch those episodes, he certainly wasn't incompetent, as he probably shouldn't have been since he was the show's executive producer. He had lots of game show experience behind the scenes even before he worked on "Jeopardy!". Also, he had hosting experience. 

Yeah, this wasn't his first game show hosting gig, which, admittedly I found surprising, 'cause I don't remember him hosting either. And then I looked up what he hosted and now I know why I don't remember him hosting. 

His first gig was something called "High School Reunion", a reality show that lasted six seasons over two runs on The WB, and later on TV Land. IMDB says he only hosted for four episodes, which is probably why I can't find a clip of him hosting it, and that kinda makes sense though; this was a dumb reality series that's basically some re-working of "The Surreal Life" or "Real World" or "Big Brother" or whatnot,... basically, his job wasn't necessary to begin with; those shows rarely had a host in a traditional sense either so.... 

He apparently had better luck, with, (Sigh)  "Beauty and the Geek".

Oh, why oh hell, has this show, been so lovingly preserved on Youtube no less, with every single episode of this series, across three different continents! (Sigh) Man, so much reality out there just does not age well, and I can't find foreign episodes of "Top Chef" to save my life, but this whole series is wholly available. Unbelievable. 

Anyway, he hosted the last three years of the American version of the show, for whatever that's worth. 

He also then hosted a very short-lived GSN reboot of "Pyramid" called "The Pyramid". Yeah, I did find an episode of that.

This isn't a particularly beloved reboot of "Pyramid", but it's not awful, and he's not terrible; there's definitely been worst versions of this show over the years, most notably the one Donnie Osmond hosted. (Which wasn't mostly his fault, but yeah, that version sucked.) 

He then hosted another briefly-run GSN show called "Divided". There's a few, not-so-great clips of that on Youtube, but "Divided" was a reboot of a pretty bad UK game show that also didn't last particularly long. Game Show Garbage did a pretty decent write of how bad that version of "Divided" was, (Although the clip he used of the three contestants so unable to come together that they lost all their money has been since taken down for copyright.) but basically, it was a far worst version of "Greed", that used altered versions of  the worst aspects of "Friend of Foe". Richards, is kinda okay in this, although he did, for some reason decide to wear Buddy Holly glasses for this hosting gig; I have no idea why....  

I do have a weird point that I'm making with this, and it's that, the thing is, Richards was one of the few people that they had guest host, who actually had game show hosting experience. There were a couple others, if you stretch game shows to reality shows (Which I would not) but like, nobody remember Anderson Cooper hosting the first two seasons of "The Mole" and something called "The CNN Quiz Show". Naturally, I'm still glad that Richards's no longer in the positions he had and his hopefully cancerous presence will no longer be in the game show world anytime soon, but I think it's important that, there was a decent chance that had the he not be so scummy to in-a-roundabout way fix the audition process for himself, there's a decent chance he could've won the hosting gig anyway. 

I don't entirely blame him, btw, although he clearly could've done a little better with the guest host audition process, (like why couldn't say Ben Bailey from "Ca$h Cab" been offered an audition? The guy who's hosted the best non-"Jeopardy!" trivia game show in the last couple decades, and had hosts that show while driving a cab!!!!! I think he could've handled "Jeopardy!") but frankly, there just isn't a lot of game shows out there anymore, and nor are there a decent group of game show hosts out there anymore.

Okay, that's a bit facetious, obviously, there are, game shows and there is a decent list of people who've hosted and possibly could hosts game shows if given the opportunity, but, certainly not like there used to be. Certainly not when "Jeopardy!" first went on the air. 

Not-to-mention that, "Jeopardy!" is not an easy game show to just come in and start hosting, especially without hosting experience. I don't know if it's the most difficult, but it's not an easy one. There's a lot of talking, you have to be both quick and paced when asking 61 questions/game, while occasionally keeping things lively and fun, while also keeping the game intense and serious, and especially true for the version that Alex had cultivated. 

That's another thing, it's hard to remember Alex hosting anything other then "Jeopardy!", but even if my lifetime, he hosted several game shows, and he hosted each one differently. My personal favorite Alex hosting gig, believe it or not, isn't "Jeopardy!", it's when he hosted "High Rollers" and looking back, while it was never a great game show, he hosted that show amazing well. 

This Alex Trebek looks and feels like an eccentric croupier running a high-stakes craps game, which is what works for "High Rollers". Back when daytime television especially basically was the domain of game shows, and there were dozens of game shows on the air, hosts worked on several different game shows, and depending on the show, they had to be particularly malleable, not just them fitting into the dynamics and aesthetics of the game show, but them fitting the game show into their own strengths as well. One of my favorite non-Trebek examples of this is Jim Perry, a very underrated game show host, who's most-known in America as the host for the original run of "Card Sharks" and the syndicated reboot of "Sale of the Century", which are the most remembered versions of both those shows. Two very different game shows and he hosted them so differently, that, for years I watched both shows and never realized that he hosted both of them. "Card Sharks" he had a similar vibe to Trebek on "High Rollers", as a friendly, Vegas-like card dealer, but then on "Sale of the Century" a show centered around shopping and prizes, and had a gimmick of tempting a contestant to sacrifice points in favor of a special automatic prize, he seemed more like a debonair salesman you'd see trying to sell you jewelry at a high-priced Rodeo Drive store, or on QVC late at night. In hindsight, I consider that an incredible hosting accomplishment, especially since he did both those shows, one after another, ("Card Sharks" from '78-'81, "Sale..." from '83-89) and while also hosting "Definition" a long-running game show up in Canada at the same. 

Trebek hosted several game shows before "Jeopardy!", hell, he hosted many of them, after "Jeopardy!", but he didn't host any of them, like he hosted "Jeopardy!". Also, there used to be several more game shows and game show hosts out there, who had experience like he did, and nowadays, most of them have passed on, other have retired, and game shows, for the most part, their just aren't as many of them, and therefore there's fewer hosts. And no, hosting reality shows, and hosting game shows, are very much two different things. Some people can do both quite well, Jeff Probst is a good example of this, (Another guy who I'm surprised didn't even get an audition week or two, especially since he hosted the good, albeit short-lived, "Rock & Roll Jeopardy!" spinoff on VH1 back in the day. [Yeah, "Jeopardy!" has more spinoff then you'd think it does.]) but they are very different skillsets. And it's not always a sure-thing on who can translate from one kind of hosting medium to another. Or any kind of entertainment medium to hosting a game show. 

Ken Jennings going from contestant-to-host, is a bit unusual although not unprecedented, although the only true example I can think of is Mike Reilly, a former 5-time "Jeopardy!" champion (Back when there was a 5-day champ limit on the show) who hosted a very short-lived bad game show version of "Monopoly" back in the early '90s, and the less said about him, the better. That said, he's had more then enough game show experience, and "Jeopardy!" experience and name credibility and skill to pull it off, and so far, he's doing a good job. Mayim Bialik, who had a surprisingly a decent amount game show experience beforehand, mostly as a celebrity contestant or panelist though, she was one of my favorite comes in when she's not scheduled to work on her current sitcom "Call Me Kat" comes in sporadically between runs of Jennings, and for special events and tournaments, so there's no permanent named yet, as of this writing. 

And even, neither of these hosts have evaded controversy either. Ken Jennings, has had several gaffs on Twitter over the years, here's an article detailing most of them, here, certainly nothing as obnoxious as Richards has had, but some that aren't particularly good. He's apologized for them, and in general, I suspect he's learned his lessons from them, although there is suspicion that the reason he's not named the permanent host is because of some of these gaffs and yeah, some of them are pretty insensitive. I think they were mostly poor attempts and humor, in my opinion, and I suspect he's more aware of what he says on there matters. 

Mayim Bialik, has had several controversies over the years, during this time as well. Hers are a little more uncomfortable to write about, but... firstly, she wrote an op-ed on Harvey Weinstein in 2017, that was particularly tone-deaf, admittedly, and leaned more towards victim-blaming then it should've, and said, perhaps intended in a more self-deprecatingly manner then it came out..., her words, that since she, "was never a 'perfect ten', and therefore wouldn't be subject to that kind of predating"

Ugh, to be fair, she's not the only person I've heard who's talked about her in terms of how she isn't particularly good-looking, so if I know people who've focused in on that, for whatever reason, then I'm sure she's probably endured that for much of her life and career, however unfortunate that is, but-yeah, she backpedaled heavily on this, and she frickin', and I hope I don't have to explain why that is a bad perspective on this is, but yeah, that's a bad op-ed take, mostly since I don't even want to type it. 

She's also written a bunch of parenting books, and is known for promoting something called "attachment parenting"; I- whatever, I don't know what that is...- I'm not looking it up, but apparently, within some of these texts, she mentioned that she was an anti-vaxxer. Which, oh boy, is it a bad time to be that... except, she's not. This complaint that's come up, I contend is bullshit, believe it or not.

Now, I'm very pro-vaccine and anti-vaxxers have been an arch-enemy of mine, much longer then this latest chain of anti-COVID vaccine morons out there, so keep that in mind that if I've giving leeway here.... I mean, she's a neoroscientist, so she knows about vaccines, and knows the science of them, and the thing is, while we like to think of science as an absolute, there are, at high-levels, disagreements though, and from everything I've read, her stance, is not anti-vaccine, in the sense that most of us would think of it. In fact, she's very pro-vaccines, however she is critical in certain situations about the amount of vaccines that young children get, and yes, I don't know what the standard is now, but I do remember that once-upon-a-time, the rule was that children needed to get eleven vaccine shots by the age of two. That does sound a little overprotective on the surface. Now I don't think I would advise anybody to wait, just because that sounds overprotective, and she doesn't either. She mentions having done her own research, and I tend to trust that she actually did research as opposed to say Kyrie Irving's definition of "research", and while I don't necessarily agree, I can understand where she's coming from. Certain vaccines might not actually be as necessary, at least at the age that they're recommended or instructed to be given at, or a disease that a vaccine protects, might be so insignificant in it's current form that needing a vaccine for it, might be over-protective. This position, is not one I agree with, but I certainly don't find it unreasonable. She's not anti-COVID vaccine, at all, she doesn't think vaccines cause autism or any other bullshit like that, she's got actual criticisms of vaccines that aren't entirely made up and even have some real scientific backing to them. She still vaccinates her kids and herself; this criticism of her is severely overblown and people who raise this critique of her are not doing it in good faith. 

There's also another questionable controversy with her, about her endorsement of Neuriva which is a bit of a scam brain-improvement supplement. See, this and some of these other controversies with Jennings...- while I think this is a legitimate criticism; I mean, if I'm knocking Dr. Oz for being a snake oil salesman, then yeah, Dr. Bialik selling her snake oil should be knocked too, but this mostly comes out of a notion that a celebrity promoting a questionable product is somehow below the level of a "Jeopardy!" of Alex Trebek in particular. 


Is it?! I mean, I love Alex Trebek, but he had sponsorships too. I'm sure Colonial Penn was good for him, and several of the people who had insurance through them, but let's face it, they're an insurance company, I'm sure somebody, somewhere has a horror story about them. 

And there's a couple others that you can argue about with Mayim, casting Dustin Hoffman in her feature film directing debut that's in post-production after he had been #MeToo'd for instance..., or her beliefs in Zoroastrianism, which I think it more benign then some might...- there's definitely an argument to be made that she's perhaps a bit too toxic for this job, I think it's still overblown,.., but that's not  the main issue. The main reason why this search was just, never going to be smooth, is really that, well, nearly anybody compared to the beloved vision of Alex Trebek is gonna seem lackluster in comparison. 

And by accounts I can fine, he lived up to that image. Trebek was beloved, he was ideal and was to most was pretty infallible. That's not remotely true, he had stumbles along the way, he had to correct his political stance once after an article made him seem like he was a Republican, when he in fact was an Independent who had voted for both parties over the years. He did a reportedly bad job as a debate moderator in the 2018 Pennsylvania Gubernatorial election, so much so he apologized for it. Obviously these are strange, minor blips on an otherwise illustrious career  He was good at being non-political, non-controversial, granted it was easier in a pre-social media age, but nah, Trebek was genuine and loved. He was personable, he was admirable, and for too many, I think trying to imagine anyone who doesn't live up to Trebek's high standards will always fail for them. I think that's just too high a standard, especially with so little options of people out there, who just don't have the game show hosting experience, at least, not right away, to master hosting "Jeopardy!" 

We're not gonna find a suitable replacement for Alex Trebek, but I think we're well on our way to finding a suitable "Jeopardy!" host, whether they stick with Jennings and Bialik together, or eventually pick one or the other, it seems like, Trebek's legacy of what he made "Jeopardy!" will continue on. And I especially feel that way knowing the Mike Richards is nowhere near the production anymore. Also, I think we've just got too big of a devoted "Jeopardy!" fanbase who are willing to protect his, and the show's legacy. It is fair to say that it is unlike any other game show ever, and as long as they keep that consistent, the answers, the questions, the daily doubles, the great contestants, and find a good talented host that epitomizes a fraction of what Alex was, then, I think "Jeopardy!" will inevitably make their way through this and be okay. I've mentioned before how little "Jeopardy!"'s changed over the years, this is a big change, but just because the host is changing doesn't mean the game will change, and thank goodness for that. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022


Well, this has already been a foreboding new year already. Betty White's passing right at the end of 2021, seemed like an unreasonable thumb-to-the-eye to end the year, but since, just in my industry, we've lost Sidney Poitier, Peter Bogdanovich, John Madden and Bob Saget and we're barely a week and a half into the year, and those are just the big headliners. Marilyn Bergman's, the legendary Oscar-winning songwriter, along with her husband Alan, have written more songs for movies and in general, then many people will ever realize. Dwayne Hickman was one of the stars of "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" which is one of those older TV shows from the early '60s that was actually way more ahead of it's time then they probably themselves realized at the time.

Then there was another weird, young Korean actress death, KIM Mi-Soo, who was working on a Disney+ series at the time of her sudden passing at age 29. She apparently on a Korean drama called "Snowdrop", which I've actually heard of,- but other then that, I'm not familiar with her work, but those who've even a glancing amount of attention towards it know that there's been a disturbing amount of young Korean performers, across seemingly all genres of fame, that have died, mostly by suicide in recent years. I don't know the cause of KIM's death; it's not been revealed yet, and it was incredibly and perhaps it's unrelated to this trend of which, some of which were linked to Korea #MeToo movement revelations, which was perhaps more disturbing then our country's ones in many cases..., and, I don't know what it is exactly, but there's definitely something that's way too toxic going on in the Korean entertainment industry right now. I really should not be hearing about so many young deaths at the same time, from the same celebrity sphere. 
I should also note that we love Robert Durst as well, so I guess there's some hope that Death's performance will improve this year, but so far, I'm not overly impressed with his work. 

As to me, I'm trying to get ready for Award season, but it's a struggle this year, so bare with me, if I'm behind. I'm hoping to do an Oscar nomination predictions and analyses, but it's not set in stone at the moment. Life's getting in the way more then it used to, but I guess it's better then death getting in the way.... 

Anyway, I've got some movies to review, so everybody stay healthy, get your COVID shots, take care of each other, and you know, try not to die, most of you. Let's get to the reviews!



You'd think after all this time, we'd have a somewhat clearer view on the vision of Lee Daniels, but..., I don't know. The guy's more elusive and trickier to grasp onto then I think we may realize. I think we have a tendency to look at African-American filmmakers in this country to try to find why the material they work on seems more personal to them, but that's often because the best ones are pretty outspoken artists who do often seek out personal projects that reflects their emotions, politics, personality, personal history, etc. etc. Daniels, well, I won't say that he doesn't do that, but it's harder to identify. Part of this I think is where he came from in the entertainment world. 

He had a weirder path then I think most people realize; he started late into film, and then, came at it originally, from the casting world. I honestly can't think of too many directors who worked in casting, but it explains a little bit. He also, didn't go into directing immediately either; he was a businessman originally, and a successful one at that, so his natural next jump once switching to entertainment was to producing and creating a production company. So, he kinda backdoored his way into directing and being an artist, and came from some of the more superficial aspects of filmmaking. So, yeah, they're not as obviously political or personal as say the Spike Lee's or John Singleton, or even the Ava DuVernay's of Hollywood. 
They're definitely not soulless projects though, far from it. 

So what are some motifs of his? Well, he came up in casting, can you see his background in casting in his films? 

Um, yeah, you really can, actually. He definitely has a tendency to make some unusual casting choices, most notably with musicians and unknown actors. He's directed three African-American women to Oscar nominations, one of them had never done any acting before, another won an Oscar for a dramatic role despite being primarily known as a stand-up comic, and this latest one, Andra Day, as the titular great, Lady Day, in "The United States vs. Billie Holiday", was a musician primarily. 

Music, that's another key. On top of often casting really against type in many occasions, he often casts musicians in his acting roles. That's another part of his casting tendencies, but is music a leitmotif, and a regular motif of his as well? Yeah, kinda, one of his productions was the TV show "Empire" which revolved around the music world. His films are also usually heavy with African-Americans, naturally he's African-African, but not always. "The Paperboy" is a strange exception. What's in that movie that seems to bleed into his other work though....?

Well, there's definitely some interests he has into, what we'll generously called the taboo side of sex and sexuality. Daniels himself is gay, and basically has been on the outs with certain members of his family since he was a teenager because of his coming out. He's not public with it, but yeah, there's a lot of disturbing sexual tension even in his more innocuous films like his debut "Shadowboxer", and certainly, they were subjects at the center of "The Paperboy" and especially his breakout film, "Precious...". 

I haven't thought about "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push" by Sapphire" in a while, but that was based on a book written by an openly bisexual African-American, and was about suffering through incestual rape from a parent. Sexuality and repressiveness have played a role in most of his work until now. When you look at it like this, his previous film, "Lee Daniels' The Butler" (A title he didn't want and really shouldn't have) is his most normal project, until you remember he was a producer and producers know that biopics do better then people realize, both in profits, and especially at award season. They can be crowd pleasers and that's the business side of his filmmaking identity. 

I'm mentioning all this, because it's kinda how I think he ends up being an obvious and yet curious choice for a film about Billie Holiday, a sexually promiscuous and adventurous musician, who people were constantly trying to get repressed, both for her outspokenness and her race. Also, she's one of the most famous singers in the world, and a name that's guaranteed to get people interested in a movie about her. Hell, there was a Billie Holiday documentary called "Billie", that was released the year before; Billie Holiday is still a major name, and is still amazing. Andra Day isn't even the first actress to get an Oscar nomination playing her in a feature film, Diana Ross pulled that feat for "Lady Sings the Blues". I've seen the recent documentary, but I can't compare biopics here, since I haven't seen "Lady Sings the Blues" yet, but I can look at other Lee Daniels films, and definitely see why he would be interested in this. It's got a lot of things that he's good at making compelling, and a lot of things he's interested in. 

Is it any good? Ehhh...- well, kinda...- 


Honestly, I'm probably being generous with this review, 'cause this film is a mess. 
First thing though, Andra Day, is amazing in this film, let's get that out of the way. I was actually stunned at the bravery of this performance. She doesn't quite sound or even look much like Billie Holiday, at least, the one that we have from the images we have of her, but I definitely felt the world-weary beaten down, indescribable ache of pain and sadness that Billie evokes from her. I'm not gonna compare Billie Holidays, but this is a damn good Billie Holiday for what the movie's trying to do. 

The movie itself, is much more, ehhhh.... It's centered around Holiday's struggles with the law, most notably, the FBI's drug task force, especially by Harry Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund) the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who was specifically out to get Holiday. I don't know the exact history and reasons behind all this, although the movie speculates, that this was about her image as a possible Civil Rights Leader, speaker for the African-American populace, and for, "Strange Fruit" her best and most important song that she first recorded that protested lynchings, which he thought was un-American. (Really, it's probably mainly that she was black, and the framing of "Strange Fruit" in this context is, probably a storytelling device. I mean, I'm sure they didn't like the song, but yeah, they were more after her for being black; it didn't really matter what she sang about) 

A lot of this also revolves around her relationship with an FBI informer, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes). Anslinger did send African-American agents to follow and even infiltrate Holiday, who he definitely was trying to prosecute, mainly because she was a high-profile Black celebrity. Seems pointless to plant drugs on her though, she was a junkie after all.... Eventually Fletcher starts to feel empathy towards Holiday and begins to see the racist hypocrisy in Anslinger's actions towards her.  

There's a lot of revisionist history in this film, but there's also just a weird issue of the framing of the movie. I get overlooking a lot of the more nuanced aspects of Holiday's personal life; you can get bogged down in her life and their should be like five or six films about her, but the movie doesn't know how it wants to tell her story. Like it begins, with an interview, that they kinda go back around to a couple times with a character played by Leslie Jordan, but that gets abandoned eventually. We see Holiday in flashback scenes, mostly through Jimmy Fletcher's perspectives at times. There's a weird television show scene, where it seems like Holiday's the most depressing guest on "This Is Your Life" or something of the sort, which, as far as I know didn't happen, but yeah, why would you do an episode of that on her? 

Also, Natasha Lyonne has an extended cameo as Tallulah Bankhead, which, I mean, for someone like me, that's kinda fun inside baseball knowledge for classic Hollywood people, 'cause yeah, Bankhead and Holiday knew each other, and were both addicts, were both great artists and both were bisexual and yeah, they almost definitely did sleep together at one point, but, like how important is that relationship to Billie Holiday's story? Like, maybe enough for the one scene regarding the use of the elevator in a hotel, but like, should her character have been brought up again afterwards? This really should've been the equivalent to the Jude Law as Errol Flynn one-scene appearance like in Scorsese's "The Aviator". (Admittedly Tallulah Bankhead and everyone she slept with is a fascinating thing to talk about though, [And by "everyone" she slept with, I mean, she slept with ev-er-y-one!!! Everyone!!!] but does it belong in this movie, the way it's shown in this movie?)

Daniels, has never been particularly good at narratives; he's always been more interested in getting the heart to the emotional pain and torment then telling a really good story. In some ways, "The United States vs. Billie Holiday" is just using Billie Holiday in that way, as a vessel to depict the kind of emotional turmoil that perhaps Daniels can affiliate with the most, and struggles to get the mainstream to fully appreciate his depictions of it. He's had a lot of pain in his life, and I think he's tried to seek out ways to depict in that will allow the masses to empathize and understand, but that might be a foolhardy goal. The reason "Precious..." is still his best film, is because of how personal the original story was, and in trying to find other stories through the guise of more supposed popular genres and images and names.... Oddly, the filmmaker he most reminds me, now that I dissect him a bit is Tyler Perry, another African-American filmmaker who's life did start from immense pain and he has since become fixated on telling his stories through a shiny veneer that feels both familiar and personal and most of the time I don't think his films work, 'cause of that compromise. Daniels, I actually don't hate any of his films, in fact they all have enough really good parts in them that I can't bring myself to pan them, including this one, but they never work as a whole. These extremes he's trying to hold together..., that's a tough needle to thread and there's always something missing and they're often just way too messy, and this film is no different. I'll probably at some point, stop giving him a pass, but eh, the good in his films are still good enough, and let's be fair, if anybody's life deserves to seem like a confused mess, it definitely can be reserved for Lady Day. 

GREYHOUND (2020) Director: Aaron Schneider


I don't know why exactly I'm surprised that Tom Hanks would write a World War II movie. It's not like it hasn't been a personal subject for him for years, but it's still somewhat surprising. Hanks's scripts up until this point, have been much more light-hearted, at least in terms of the theatrical feature film route. His writing and directorial debut, "That Think You Do!" is still a lovely beloved tale of a '60s one-hit-wonder band. "Larry Crowne", which he also directed, and co-wrote with "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"'s writer Nia Vardalos, was significantly less interesting and memorable, and felt almost too much like some bad sitcom plots shoved together and somehow got the biggest stars in Hollywood to star in them. (And it's better left forgotten). That said, he has written more dramatic work, mostly in teleplays for the miniseries he's produced, including a particularly beloved episode of "Band of Brothers". So, no, this is not unthinkable, but still,- something does seem odd with this one. 

At barely 90 minutes including credits, "Greyhound" is very stripped down and bare for a World War II movie. We get a brief introduction to Hanks's main character, Captain Krause, talking with Evelyn (Elisabeth Shue, in basically a glorified well-lit cameo) and then, we're on a World War II submarine, and shit's about to go down and continue to go down. 

The movie details the Battle of the Atlantic, and yes, this is a section of World War II that for various reasons hasn't been that dramatized before, so kudos there. Krause is the Captain of the U.S.S. Keeling, and most of the movie takes place in the Mid-Atlantic Gap. This is an area of the Ocean called the Mid-Atlantic Gap where the subs are essentially on their own. There's no help through the air, and because of the German's ability to hear radio signals, their essentially relegated to radio silence, unless of course, there's no other option, for fearing that the Germans would take advantage of any assumed weakness they can detect, which they would. Meanwhile, they're orchestrating a strategic attack on their own anyway, and the Keeting, or "Greyhound" as it's known through their radio call sign, is shot directly into the middle of it. The rest of the movie, is essentially,  a deadly cat-and-mouse game between the Germans and the Americans, with the Greyhound in the middle. 

Occasionally, you'll run into a movie where, the people who are real history buffs, and I mean, the real hardcore history buffs, not just the people like me who are quite knowledgeable about history but generally more about the over-arching narratives of what happened and why, as opposed to buffs who care about the most minute and intricate details of events, those people, are gonna really like and appreciate a movie, but show the same movie to a general audience, and sometimes to people who are more film buffs then history people, and they're gonna be, way more underwhelmed by it. In my mind, the most quintessential example of this is "Tora! Tora! Tora!", which probably is the best movie out there ever about Pearl Harbor, and from everything I've ever heard, it's distressingly accurate, but it is not that fun to watch. It's made by good filmmakers but not necessarily great ones, and the look of the movie, especially considering when it was made, just seems too old-fashioned even for the time and has certainly not aged well. "Greyhound" is basically that, but not as good.

This is one of those weird cases where a war movie suffers from not being an epic, or at least not feeling or seeming like an epic in scope. "Greyhound" is relatively short and very astute and knowledge about it's story, but it's just so intricate and detailed that I feel like that I have to be a seaman on board the ship itself to even known what I'm talking about with the film. I guess, to me, it's the difference between reading a Patrick O'Brian novel, and watching "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World", it's not one or the other is better, but it requires a lot more work and knowledge to appreciate the intricate details of the novel, while the movie, you can appreciate the authenticity and the accuracy, but there's also a lot more to grab onto. Mostly the characters that are interesting admittingly, but there's more even beyond. 

I don't want to bash "Greyhound" because it doesn't go for character; it's intentional that we barely know anything about anybody; it's showing that heroes are other, these humble, quiet, nameless men who put their lives on the line in the worst of situations, often against their will and better judgment, and, (Sigh) yada, yada, yada, and- I hate to be dismissive 'cause there is something to that, but does it rarely make for good films. Especially war and action movies, when if you're really not caring about the people and characters involved, it just feels like watch computer effects battling each other. It's not that bad, for one the special effects are way better then that, but it's close enough to it that I have to pan the film.
I don't want to blame director Aaron Schneider, who is a really good director, despite seemingly never being able to make a damn movie. He won a short film Oscar in 2003, and he didn't get a job to direct a feature length film famously for six years after that with "Get Low", despite being a fairly successful regular cinematographer as well, and that was the last time he directed anything until now, and that eleven year gap is amazingly even more shocking and depressing, but this just isn't a good film, and while it's competently made, I can't help but imagine he deferred more towards Hanks's vision of the story and just handled the parts that would be a little more technically difficult for him to pull off. "Greyhound" is technically successful for being what it sets out to be, but the entry point to appreciate that is just way too deep for most people, and I suspect for those who are at that entry point to appreciate it, I can't imagine they're just gonna be blown away by it, or absolutely love it, and I'm not convinced it's worth the trouble to dig deeper to try to appreciate it.  

THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021) Director: James Gunn


Is it weird of me that I genuinely don't see a real difference between "The Suicide Squad" and the Avengers? Really, aren't their origins, basically the same? Group of powerful superpeople are brought together, despite some underlying tension between them, by some mysterious African-American government representative, to save the world from an impending disaster? Yeah, they're villains, I get that..., but does that actually make it different? Really? They're in the position of heroes, they're our protagonists, so does it actually matter that they're villains technically? It's not all the Avengers are particularly saintly or anything, some of them have always seemed like outright pricks to me. I mean, I heard John Cena, describe his character, Peacemaker, as a "douchy Captain America", and my next immediate thought when I heard that was, "So, he's Captain America"?

Is this why I can't get into this; it's basically another Avengers movies, and I didn't like any of those to begin with, and I'm just sick of them now? I know, I'm in the minority on that, but you know what else? Why do we have another Suicide Squad movie; I thought everybody except me hated the first one? Is this why it's called "The Suicide Squad" instead of some variant of "Suicide Squad 2" We're just adding "The" to the title of things now, to delineate between films that are just a couple years old?

(Annoyed sigh)

Before we go any further, yes, I did indeed recommend the first "Suicide Squad" film, not because I thought it was good or anything, I thought it was good trash. It was entertainingly stupid and to paraphrase Pauline Kael, sometimes you gotta give that an appreciative pass sometimes. And I might've been the nicest critic out there for the film; I couldn't even find people who were happy for that film's Oscar nomination and win, like, everybody else apparently thought that the film was so bad that even a Makeup Oscar was just too far for the Academy?! Seriously? It wasn't Best Picture or anything, it was for Makeup and Hairstyling! And it deserved it! The makeup and hair were great in that film!!!!! "Suicide Squad" was that despised and that unholy bad, really?! It's the category that "Bad Grandpa" and "Norbit" got honored at the Academy by, this was not an unreasonable nomination or win.

Now that I'm off that soapbox, anyway, enough people bitched and now, we got a second shot at this. What do I think of it?


Ummm...- it exists. 


Tsk. I mean, it's not the mess the first film was; it's a more competent movie. It's also, mostly a boring movie. Like, I get why it's getting a lot of positive reviews and especially if you hated the first one, but I found it a lot less fun.
So what's changed? Well, instead of Deadshot, we have Bloodshot (Idris Elba), who's a little less Will Smith and a little more Idris Elba, especially with regard to the relationship with his daughter, Zoe (Shailyn Pierre-Dixon), who he does go on this mission to protect, even though their relationship is pretty strained. There's Ratcatcher 2, Cleo (Daniela Melchior) a sleepy millennial who is able to control rats...-, especially her personal rat Sebastian (Dee Bradley Baker), okay. There's King Shark (Sylvester Stallone) a giant shark who is this movie's Groot, and Polka Dot Man (David Dastmalchian) who can fire polka dots at everyone when he imagined them as his mother. (Shrugs) Sure, fine. Back, are Waller (Viola Davis) still as much a maniacal ballbuster with very questionable motives and a disturbingly sadistic approach to, eh, putting a team together. And Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) is back, can't forget her, she's still the best part of these movies. 
I haven't seen her solo film, that "Birds of Prey..." yet, so I imagine I'm missing something that influences her actions in a scene where she's taken prisoner by the Corto Maltese government, and she's seduced by Dictator Silvio Luna (Juan Diego Botto), but I think I get it, and she's still the best Agent of Chaos maybe ever created in literature, and she does that perfectly here too. 

The crew are sent to this Island nation because there's been a power struggle and dictator change, and they need to destroy a tower that house some stuff that the U.S., with permission from the previous administration was working on, mostly led by a crazed scientist Gaius Graves (Peter Capaldi). 

It's an okay mission and there's enough entertaining twists and turns that on paper, it does feel like an appropriately exuberant and over-the-top mission for the Squad. The movie does have some cool effects and some weird gags, like one where chapter texts are placed in random effects, like they're walked on in dirt, or created by smoke, or blood in the water. I get what they were trying to do there, and it's very James Gunn, but I don't know, I didn't like them. I can't explain why that effect didn't work on me; I think it just took me too out of it. It's weird, the more ridiculous and comedic stuff, outside of Harley's stuff, and I guess a Starfish, even though I kinda thought the "Alien"-style facehuggers references was kinda obvious, it didn't really work, and everything else was, so competent that it was just boring. 

Yeah, that's right, James Gunn was behind this one.... I don't have any issues with him; I've liked some of his work I've seen, like the film "Super" for instance, and I liked both of the "Guardians of the Galaxy" films he did, and hell, even "Tromeo and Juliet" is inspired if nothing else. He's fine here as a writer/director. Do I get why there's a beloved and devoted fandom behind him and his work, no. He's fine, I have no issue with him, but, I find him just okay, and this is just okay as well. 

Maybe if I didn't have a "Suicide Squad" to compare this too, I might think differently, but, mostly I just found "The Suicide Squad" underwhelming. It's more well-made and it does a decent job and trying to, "fix" the problems with the first film, but I don't know what that leaves us, other then just another movie where a bunch of super powerful people come together. This is one of those movies where I wish there was a number between 2 1/2 and 3 STARS, and not like 2 3/4, or create more idiotic decimal point ratings for movies like other critics, including some I like do that I think is just annoying and pedantic, I mean like a real number that's a numerical representation of blah. If I could give this film a variable for a star rating, I would; I just was not effected by this, and considering how much the last film that this is a pseudo-sequel-reboot-whatever of, that's kinda startling in of itself. I guess I prefer chaos and insanity to competency and sameness, at least that's what I prefer in my suicide squads anyway. This movie is technically better on every front from the first film, and you might appreciate that, but, I just couldn't care at all. I want the film to feel as insane and ridiculously dumb as the premise of this film is, and the first movie, as derided as it is, did that.  

LUCA (2021) Director: Enrico Casarosa



I have a feeling I'm gonna get some hate for this one. I haven't felt this nervous about giving a negative review to an animated movie since I thought "Spider-Man:: Into the Spider-Verse" sucked. (Which it still does btw.) I don't think this'll be that polarizing but giving a negative review to a Pixar film is definitely taking a gamble. Maybe this is just a side-effect of higher expectation though; if somebody else made "Luca", eh, maybe I'd give it that extra 1/2 out of generosity, but ehhh, something was just way too off on this one. And I don't think I'm that outside the box here, despite the high RT rating, if you actually look closer at the actual reviews, which btw, you should always, not just look at the damn score...!, but I digress, you start to see a lot of mediocre positive review. A lot of 3-3 1/2/5s, a lot of B's not a lot of A's. There's a lot of, "It may not be the best Pixar movie..." out there, and no it's definitely not that. 

What is it, exactly though? Well..., it's "The Little Mermaid"?!

Well, okay, it's not "The Little Mermaid" it's definitely a lesser tier version though. Not that that's against the rules or impossible; I'm one of the ones who liked Miyazaki's "Ponyo", but "Luca" doesn't seem nearly that inspired. In fact, by far, the biggest problem with "Luca" is how genuinely uninspiring it is. Yeah, the formula is getting old, but even with the Pixar sheen making it look as good as it can possibly be, and telling it better then probably anybody else, I can tell when they're phoning it in. The titular Luca (Jacob Tremblay) is a Mediterranean sea monster off the coast of the Italian Riviera; he's our Ariel. He wants to go and see the world above the water, where the people are. His family, especially his parents Lorenzo and Daniella (Jim Gaffigan and Maya Rudolph) want him to stay down in the Sea, and after he goes up one-too many times, and gets caught, they threaten to have him move in with relatives further below, into the darkest visages of the Sea, and he runs up. 

He's befriended another fellow Sea Monster, Alberto (Jack Dylan Grazer) who's always gone after from his family and lives on his own island where he can basically do what he wants. (So, he's our Peter Pan...? I guess...) Mostly, he wants to get out of this place and that requires gaining/building/finding a Vespa. (I mean, sure, it's Italy, you have to have a Vespa, I'll allow this. I mean, you need your "Roman Holiday" shots.) 

So, these Sea Monsters, apparently, when they're wet, wet by water, they're in their natural blue form, but once they're dry, they turn human. I'm sure, there's a joke here I can make about "Gremlins" but I've actually never seen that movie, but eh, okay, I guess that's this film's way of writing out the Ursula character. Anyway, I found this confusing, 'cause while they do find good ways of joking with their more blue, Mystique-like sea monster forms, like, how's rain's effecting them, and such, I personally couldn't stop thinking of all the loopholes this causes. I mean, assuming Sea Monsters, like humans, are about 70% water themselves, is it a skin condition where if they're dry on the surface they're blue? And what can they drink that doesn't have water in it? All that pasta they eat, that's boiled in water, right? And usually, there's a little water in the pesto sauce too? 

Eventually, they make it to this small seaside Italian town, Portorosso, in the Summer of 1959, where, the whole town is obsessed with finding and killing sea monsters. Including Ercole (Saverio Raimondo) a local bully, who drives around on his Vespa annoying everyone and brags about being the multi-time winner of, something called the Portorosso Cup, and he belittles his biggest rival, Guilia (Emma Berman) who's known for throwing up during the grueling race, mainly because she doesn't usually have a team with her. She is this film's Vanellope von Schweetz. Yeah, this weird movie, which has already been through five Act I's in the first thirty minutes, suddenly turns into a movie about a race. And a weird triathlon one at that, that involves swimming, then, pasta-easting, and then biking. 

Yeah, I-eh-, um, I kinda- I guess there's something very Antonioni about Signora Marsigliese (Marina Massironi), the overseer of the race, and the representative of the pasta company that sponsors it, but this is still...- like, why does this movie suddenly have a racing climax? 

Like, one of the criticisms I've seen of "Wreck-It Ralph" is how the movie turned into a very conventional narrative, and that, with all the possibilities of the video game worlds, they basically went into a car race direction, and not even a real game, but one they made up. Okay, one, the world of Sugar Rush was clearly amazing and just too cool to dismiss, but also, yeah, there's almost always a racing game in, even the shittiest arcades. This wasn't that unusual a turn of events in that movie. They even used that game, to explore many lesser-known but fascinating aspects of video games, making my enjoyment of it, more compelling and appreciative, even though, I myself, am not a big gamer. "Luca" turning into a racing film though...- just feels so tacked on. They make up, this bizarre race, as a climax, which I just don't get. The movie is about teenage frustrations. Like, the Guilia and Luca relationships and the relationship with Alberto and Guilia's fisherman father Massimo (Marco Baricelli) are really nice, but they don't have to swing into this artificial conflict. There's enough there; their hiding their true identities and motives, there's a town that would be after them if they knew the truth about them, Luca's parents are looking for Luca, Alberto's got a sad backstory, Guilia's from a broken home and splits her time between two countires and she struggles to make friends... They really couldn't figure out some other conflict to have here? 

"Luca" feels way more confusing and antiquated then I think was intended. I don't know if I'd argue it's the worst Pixar film, I haven't seen "Cars 3" yet, and I don't remember a damn thing about "The Good Dinosaur", but "Luca" feels like it might be the least inspiring of all of Pixar's movie, at least, the least inspiring one that doesn't have a number in their title. The movie was written and directed by Enrico Casarosa, and he is an Italian-born animator, most known previously for the short film "La Luna", and clearly he's basing this movie off his homeland and yeah, it's a good love letter to Italy, I guess. I like a lot of the movies that he is kinda alluding to here, and perhaps this story is more personal to him then I'm seeing on the surface, but personally, I feel like if this film started anywhere real, it must've gotten bogged down in either too many re-writes, too few re-writes, or just too many bad notes from above that got shoe-horned and forced into this. There's way too much going on for me to care, and to be quite frank, this is just not as compelling a world by Pixar's standards for me to care or be interested in. I mean, I'm Italian-America, I have an affection for this world, in most forms, but it's almost too ordinary. Compared to everything else Pixar's done, what exactly is the appeal of this world? The sea world? They're not there most of the time, and they've done that better. The Italian Coast? Like, yeah, that's cool and all, but it doesn't seem that new or interesting. 

I'm struggling with this; is there a metaphor I'm missing here, like this is a parable about the immigrant crises in Italy? The Sea Monsters myth is actually apart of Italian folklore, and I'll concede my bias here, pulling from local folklore and myths does feel like it's getting way too overused in animation these days, but in "Luca" I just see that as another place of obvious inspiration without any real additional thoughts on where to take it and how to use it. There's clearly some Fellini and other Italian filmmakers influence, as well as some obvious Miyazaki influences here, but like, it just, literally feels like a movie poster in a scene without, like just a reference, without like using them to make greater points or meanings; just hanging a poster, which, that's..., that seems innocuous, but hanging movie posters is a big motif in Italian neorealism and French New Wave, most specifically for our purposes "The Bicycle Thief", but it's no extra layer or meaning here, it's a poster, and this whole movie feels like a poster hanging without a meaning. There were decisions that needed to be made and I think they just made too many wrong ones, or the very least ones if nothing else. I found "Luca" mostly baffling. I could see what they were trying to put together but worst then that, I couldn't understand why they were putting them together. 

CENSOR (2021) Director: Prano Bailey-Bond


I am more-then-familiar with the film ratings process in America. In Great Britain, not-as-much, so I did need to do a little research on this. Like, I've heard the term "Video Nasty" before, but before "Censor" I never looked into the history of it, and-eh.... so, this was actually a thing.... So the beginning of this review is gonna be some history and background, 'cause I'm gonna want to remember this myself. 

So, while in America we have the MPAA, the group that determines the movie ratings and in a sense, does in fact "Censor" movies before they're released to the public at large, (I know they want to just seem they just give a rating, and going into the details of they do censor films would be a whole blogpost in of itself, but they do censor films, don't be fooled by that.), in Britain they have the British Board of Film Censors, or the BBFC. and it actually pre-dates most of our most ancient Production Codes standards, and is still around today. Now there's been a lot of controversy with the organization over-the-year, but more importantly for our discussions, there's been several eras where the organization has had to evolve and adjust. Where kind of in a big one right now with streaming services, and how there's been some debate on how to give ratings to films and whether to consider them as films for the purposes of streaming. In the '80s, in Britain and to a lesser extent, to America, the availability of video, led to questions about rating straight-to-video projects. In the early '80s at one point, there was this thought that independent filmmakers could skim over the theater process altogether and begin making and selling movies on video, having them made to go directly to the customers. This could be done, cheaper then film, and also, more germane to this discussion, this could be done to evade the censoring boards, allowing for more explicit content on video then on film and for that matter, in theaters and on basic television. (At one point, it was actually a novel idea to actually transfer theatrically-released films to VHS, and early video was actually more interested in finding titles to be released exclusively on video cassettes. This seems so unbelievable in hindsight now, but there was a thought that people wouldn't go to the theater if they can see the movies at home on VHS, so movies in theaters didn't normally end up on VHS for the first early years of VHS machines being readily available) So, with that being the status, low budget, no classification or censoring board, and getting your titles to audiences directly at home, naturally, the horror genre was one of the first, and one of the biggest to begin taking advantage of this, and there is a long list of straight-to-VHS horror titles that flooded the bottom shelves of early video stores, that, were innovative in their own ways, but definitely strived to stretch the boundaries of traditionally-accepted good taste.
Nowadays, I've heard these films referred to as "Shot-on-Shiteo", which is probably a more accurate title then "Video Nasty", but in the UK, video nasty was the common term at the time. 

Now, this being the '80s though, in both Reagan's America, and again, more germane for this film, and Thatcher's Britain, there was a also weird trend of upheaval among a portion of the populace, after certain events led people to believe that there were-, how do I explain this shit...- basically people wanted something to blame for shit that happened, and a lot of that blame fell on the same old stuff they always blame when. Books, music, early video games at that time, Satan, the Devil, although those last two, that was mostly in America, but movies as well, and video nasties in particular, were one of the things getting blamed, and this put some pressure on the BFCC and new regulations and laws were eventually enacted for them to start censoring and classifying material on video, and it is in that cultural landscape where "Censor" takes place.

I haven't even gotten to the main character of this film, and already, it's actually kinda intriguing. I can't say that I've ever seen a movie about a film censor before. It's definitely a unique choice of a character, frankly being a film person, we don't particularly like or get most censors. They pick over a film or even a trailer, or any piece of art and determine whether or not the slightest frame of an image is something that's possibly objectionable to the most minute number of children (Or at least, the idiot parents of those children) who may or may never see the movies to begin with. The censor is Enid (Niamh Alger), and she's apparently one of the more reserved and stricter censors for them. 

However, the video nasty scandal is beginning to take hold, and a movie that she gave a pass to is being blamed for a local murder known in the tabloids as the "Amnesiac Killer", which is causing some strains within the organization. 

Meanwhile, Enid's parents come to her with a Death Certificate for her long lost sister. Enid was the last person to see her young sister alive, years ago when they were in a forest. She's however, either forgotten, or can't remember events surrounding that day, including what happened to her, but she swears that she must be alive still, and is upset at her parents' insistence on moving on. Then, she screens a movie that appears to depict a violent event that's strikingly similar to the situation around her sister's disappearance, one that has a striking and grossly bloody conclusion. It shakes Enid enough that she begins seeking out other films from the elusive director, Frederick North (Adrian Schiller). His movies are definitely violent, however she also becomes convinced that the actress in the film, Alice Lee (Sophia La Porta) is also her long lost sister. 

Apparently, she's had aberrations like these before, but she isn't deterred. She seeks out the Director, and eventually, through her own determinations, as well as some kind of Lynchian visions that she has, she ends up finding her way onto North's latest film set, which is being led by his producer Doug Smart (Michael Smiley) and where her similar looks to the actress does seem similar enough that she's actually confused for her, and finds herself in the movie itself. (I actually wasn't sure if she wasn't just playing multiple parts for a little bit.)
It gets weird and convoluted from there. Thinking back on it, I'm not actually sure most of this works. There's two clear inspirations in this movie, one is David Lynch, and most specifically, "INLAND EMPIRE" David Lynch. This movie is about the lines between what's produced as fiction and what's depicted in the real world, and how that line is far more blurry then people realize. Really, if you ever look up actual tortures and horrors that people have legitimately inflicted upon others in human history, then, seeing people upset or frightened that some disturbing act getting filmed or other recreations in fiction, it's usually outcome comical, especially considering how tame these act when recreated actually are. (So, like yeah, Michael Myers has a knife, yeah, I want to see the next masked horror monster that kills teenage girls for having sex to be armed with a heated iron breast splitter. [What?! That was a real punishment for adulterous women once, look it up.]) 

Anyway, the other movie "Censor" is clearly seeking to evoke and aspire to is Peter Greenaway's "Berbarian Sound Studios", which was also about the mood of the film, and dealt with the blurred line between horror movies and real life. That movie also was more about the tone and mood then the plot, which I think fizzles out here, even within the context of the surrealism that's peppered throughout the film and eventually climaxes at the end. The film is the debut feature from Welch filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond, and it's a loose expansion of her short film "Nasty" that also was about the video nasty era of VHS and the panic that ensued in the UK cause of them. The movie is too interesting to pan outright, although I can see a good argument against it. I've seen some critics go head-over-heels for it too, and I do think that's wrong as well. The movie does seem like two different films that don't really come together, but I like both of these ideas. And, it does come together enough, the idea of a censor, somebody who watches movies specifically to seek out the most obscene, vile, and horrific content, just to complain that they shouldn't be in there, thinking about what kind of person would be in that, as well as what effects somebody, during this particular era, constantly seeing all this death, gore and destruction, seeing how that effects them, both in the regular world, and perhaps mentally as well, it's enough of a thread to keep the movie, even when you think back on what happened, and you realized how many of the strands got left on the cutting room floor. There's been an interesting horror renaissance in independent British cinema in recent years, with films like "Saint Maud" and "His House" among others that has thrust the Isles into the world spotlight and Ms. Bailey-Bond seems like she's started off riding that wave well. I hope she continues to have just as interesting subject matter and ideas for her films in the future. 

THOSE WHO REMAINED (2020) Director: Barnabas Toth


Hungary's submission to the International Oscar category in 2020, "Those Who Remained," the second feature by Barnabas Toth, is a tender and quaint meditation on two lives, separated by two decades in age, but brought together through their shared horrors and grief of being the lone familial survivors of the WWII concentration camps. Yes, it's a Holocaust, but it's a post-Holocaust film, and more then that, it's mainly a character piece about two people trying to return to a normal life, discovering that such a thing as they knew it, is never possible again. 

The film begins shortly after the war in the office of an OBGYN named Aladar (Karoly HAJDUK) and he's looking over one young woman, Klara (Abigel SZOKE), a teenager who's growth has been stunted after surviving a concentration camp. Aladar, himself survived a camp and lost his wife and kids there. The two from a strange friendship over the course of five years, with Klara, finding enough peace with him to begin trusting Aladar as sort of a father-like figure. Klara's meanwhile in denial about her parents' demies as she continually writes letters to them, that we get told in voiceovers about how her life's going. Eventually, she spends so much time at the Doctors, that he ends up adopting her part-time, and there is this disturbing appearance of these two becoming closer and closer to each other. She does have an intimate scandalous moment at one point with a similarly much older man, but not with Aladar. He's actually protective of her, and as she gets older, the movie progresses it's story over a five-year span overall, and she continues to act out, both in good ways and bad ways. 

I like how she begins dressing up and making a huge show of going out with friends, even wiping off lipstick when she leaves after Aladar disapproves of the color, only to then, come back to his place shortly thereafter. It's not even that clear at times whether she's actually leaving to party with friends, or if she's just trying to go through the motions of trying to act out and rebel out of obligation. They do end up having a private too close moment in the middle of the night, after some horrific memories creep into their dreams, but it isn't as romantic as it looks. It's more that need and desire for closeness between two people who no longer have those around them for which intimate moments are possible. There's a brief moment of recognition from Klara too, about how it's harder for those who stayed, and survived, then those who either managed to get away, or at least tried. That's something I never really thought much about, how World War II really separated Europe in ways that many in the West might not be able to comprehend; people weren't just separated by their families because of the atrocities of the Germans taking them away, but also, those who saw that trouble was coming, and managed to get away and leave the continent, possibly forever, leaving those love ones who either couldn't or didn't leave, alone to fend off and survive. 

"Those Who Remained" is a lovely, solemn little film that, still feels somewhat under-developed in my mind. The film is more episodic then I think it needs to be, and at barely over 85 minutes in length, not counting credits, despite everything, I feel like there could've been more done with it. It's only the second feature from writer/director Barnabas Toth, a French-born filmmaker who's worked most of his life in Hungary. He's dealt mostly and mainly in short films prior, some that have received huge amounts of acclaim and this feels like it's a good short film that had to stretch to be a movie, or like something that should've been a long miniseries cut to a more manageable; I'm not sure which, but I feel like there was more room to dwell on the grief that these two old souls feel and live with, and I also think being young in post-war Budapest at a time when society was trying to get back into a vibe of a more fun and lighthearted world, seems like a fun era to explore, and I don't think they did enough of it. Many of the camps' survivors were young children who saw some horrible things, there had to be a few who came out of that and hit puberty shortly afterwards decide to excess and try to kill the pain of their losses through partying, sex, drugs, and eventually rock'n'roll, and I think that contrast with a more older survivor who now lives with his medical textbooks where a family used to be, could've had more possibilities. 

That's a high-minded criticism of the film though, and dealing more instead, with the insular world or grief is more then a valid choice as well. "Those Who Remained" got me thinking, and I can definitely respect it. Toth is a talented filmmaker who perhaps should've just gone one more time through the creating process on this film, but still a very emotional and solid film.  

THE REASON I JUMP (2020) Director: Jerry Rothwell




I have been dreading getting around to this film, probably more then any other film I've ever seen. 

I'm not sure how that statement is going to sound to some of you, both those familiar or unfamiliar with my personal life. No, I have not read NAOKI Higashida's book, "The Reason I Jump", but I have definitely heard of it. NAOKI's memoir was written when he was thirteen years old, and was translated to English a few years after, and was the first detailed account ever of what it was like to be a non-verbal person with severe autism. I've talked sparingly about it before, selected links below:

but for those unfamiliar, my brother Robbie is severely autistic and is especially non-verbal. When I'm home, I'm watching him. Even now, as I write this. He needs 24-hour care and at times I've documented some of the tolls that's taken on me. So, if you're asking to yourself, "David, is this is a subject that's so personal to you, and provides something so precious as insight into what your brother might be thinking and trying to communicate and how he thinks among other things, why wouldn't you seek out and read this book?", well, here's the answer: fear. 

Excessive horror and fear. Fear of learning about everything that me and my family have been doing wrong, everything we could've done better, things that maybe we should've done more of to help Robbie be better, things that maybe he would've liked and appreciated, realizing things that he was trying to say and now doesn't try to say anymore because we were just too unable to grasp what his problems was. These are thoughts that have constantly crossed my mind, often, like apparently NAOKI describes in his book, the difficult manner in which time and memories don't work in a straight line for people like him, and memories can come flooding back and emotions can overcome me in thinking about some of these events. (It's possible, though I've never been officially diagnosed, [And I don't plan on finding out for sure] that I myself may have some form of autism or more likely, Asperger's Syndrome, so some of these revelations could even relate to me.) That kind of overwhelming sweeping emotion and pain, and just utter disappointment in myself, it's something that I frankly, made specific efforts to avoid. 

And now that I've actually gone through this movie, which is based on the book, which is periodically told to us through narration while also following several families around the world and the autistic people in their lives, now I've got to thread a new needle, where I don't give details of every memory that gets evoked in this movie, every behavior I recognize, every recall of a heartache that I've suffered and floods back to me, and yet still talk about how much those details are so important and distressingly accurate and emotionally overwhelming in their effectiveness. I come to film and entertainment often for the escapism, and this movie can seem like a shotgun blast to the heart of my real life, and more importantly, not only do I not want to describe all these painful thoughts and memories to you guys, even if I did, I wouldn't want all of you to be burdened with my emotional traumas. 

It also means, that I don't know how to review this movie. I think it'll be a fascinating curiosity to most of you, and I think that's good. For me, I can explain in great details why things like bubbles and trampolines or just waiting in the car are triggers for me. I can maybe give an anecdote or two of some of Robbie's more troubling misadventures I've had with him through varying periods of his thirty-one years on Earth, like the ways Naoki describes wanting to go out and keep going, or in our world, the reasons why every door in the house has multiple locks on them, but no matter how I describe that, you're not gonna be effected by it the same way I am. 

And also, that still would make this review, more about my emotions and feelings and you know, I can describe those anytime, just like any of you can talk about them. My brother and others, they cannot. Naoki himself even, while becoming an accomplished author since the book came out, he still struggles. I don't know if my brother will ever be able to use a letterboard like some of the people in the film eventually learn to use to communicate, or maybe at one time in his life, if we able to put more effort into teaching him, we could've, but...- like I said, I don't want to discuss my own disappointments or failures that this film can stir in me. The film is about trying to understand what's going on in the mind of someone like him, and if NAOKI doesn't represent Robbie or the autistic nonverbal person you know, I'd say that right now, this successfully represents people like better then anything else I've ever seen. I hope in the future, this movie will be looked at as the first open door into not only understanding this kind of severe autism, but the first step in eventually finding a world where this kind of autism is accounted for and understood enough by everyone that everyone will eventually not only will we be able to communicate well with non-verbals like NAOKI and my brother, but that it'll be natural for all of us to do so because of how we've adapted the world to make it more adaptable for them to live and experience it.
(Note: I've forfeited my rating for this film, only the second time I've ever done that, after "Life, Animated" which not-so-coincidentally was also a documentary about a person with autism. It's not a fair comparison, but "The Reason I Jump" is a far better film and an absolute must-watch, but yeah, my biases might be too deep for me to properly rate this film, so I'm not going to.) 

WHITE RIOT (2020) Director: Rubika Shah


America has a habit of having a narrow look at the world, often really only looking towards it's own singular narrow history and not much deeper. (And often we're not even good at that) The opposition to the expansion of Civil Rights and Equalities, particularly for those of minorities, in America for instance, was never really identified in America as being a Fascist movement, even though, in hindsight, it not only totally was one, but it clearly foreshadowed the current fascist outbreak that we're still currently dealing with right now. But, fascism, in our mind, wasn't an American thing, and the fight for Civil Rights was framed, not as a fight against fascism and fascists but as a fight against racial prejudice. In Europe though, that was exactly how it was framed. 

In these recent times where fascism has reared it's ugly head again, Rock Against Racism has gotten back into the news after some comments from, well, some of the same musicians who gave their own fascist comments back then, most notably, and probably most curiously, Eric Clapton. Clapton's one of my favorite guitarist, but yeah, his sporadic and yet, apparently consistent, four decades later, spurts of racist outbursts, particularly against Blacks, is particularly disturbing, not the least of which because he's a blues guitarist. His idol was B.B. King, one of his biggest hits, "I Shot the Sheriff" is a cover of a Bob Marley song, and just in general, the guy's entire career in music, a career that's earned him three Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions, is basically him, a white Brit, stealing and coopting Black music for himself, and that's something that got mentioned in the early memos and press releases from the RAR. 

"White Riot", titled after The Clash song, documents the rise of the RAR in the fight against the then-rising Fascist party in England, known as the National Front, and in particular, documents the planning and production of the 1978 Victoria Park concert led by people like The Clash, X-Ray Spex and Tom Robinson, as a confront and fight against fascism. Originally, in light of those original Clapton comments supporting a National Front politician's campaign, Rock Against Racism was actually more specifically about keeping fascism out of rock'n'roll. This was especially prevalent for the then-burgeoning punk rock scene that was bursting, 'cause while their were of course, true punks that were as counter-culture as the hippies before them, the genre was becoming a popular one among the skinhead and fascist communities, and among some of their artists. Their constant use of Nazi paraphernalia, probably most memorably by Sid Vicious, as well as others trying to infiltrate the community and sound. This is why Red Saunders and Roger Huddle formed RAR and when the National Front continued to grow, they would work together with other groups to limit their influence and strength, eventually leading to their defeat at the polls in 1979, when the party was at it's most influential. 

That's the thing with fascism, it's never been popular. It always claims to be, but statistically, it's practically never outright won anything, even Hitler only came to power with less then 1/3 of his country's vote, and it's not popular now, but they don't want you to mention that. That was one of my takeaways, they're all basically the same, they want to take power and control everybody, disregarding every aspect of a democratic society, and just want to eliminate all those they don't want, and in most cases, it's usually racism or some other very stupid prejudice guise they have. In the National Front, they believed in some kind of "Pure Britain" bullshit. 

As to the movie itself, it's fine. I don't think there's a lot special, other then the fact that the timing is good and it's an important reminder of just how long we've been fighting these motherfuckers and how much further we have to go, as well as how genuinely disturbing it can be to realize how easy some very smart and talented people can get caught up in movements like these. Music I tend to think of, historically, especially rock'n'roll as a medium that's very left-wing in it's progressive nature, as a whole, but that's definitely not always been the case. That said, I don't think the film is anything particularly special, some good early footage and interviews, as well as some modern-day talking heads, and it's nice to see a young Joe Strummer at the very beginning of his peak. (The Clash might've been the most important band of the 1970s, I really need to dive more into their back catalogue some day.) Other then that, honestly, I didn't find much to be impressed with the doc, filmmaking-wise. It's a story worth telling and it's told well, but not much more then that, not that it needs to be. Just the reminder is good enough for me. 



I don't think The Band gets mentioned a lot these days. Actually, come to think of it, I've rarely, if ever heard too many people mentioning just how great The Band is. I mean, everybody admits and concedes their greatness, but in rock'n'roll circles, even classic rock'n'roll circles, I can't say that's there's a lot of people who will list The Band as their favorite group or artist. Dare I say, they're kinda footnotes in most peoples' minds when it comes to the greatest bands of all-time. They themselves started as footnotes, originally starting as a backup band for rockabilly star Ronnie Hawkins, playing as The Hawks, and then most famously, under the name Big Pink, backed up Bob Dylan starting at the infamous Newport Jazz Festival where Dylan plugged in and went electric. They spent a whole year getting booed as Dylan faithful hated his move from folk to rock. 

The other big thing I think of with the group was the concert documentary "The Last Waltz" that Martin Scorsese made, which documented the final all-star performance of the group and their prime members. The group known firstly as being a backup band, and their most famous moment, is the band's ending. That's a weird legacy for a band that's probably more influential then we even realize. In this documentary, "Once Were Brothers...", we get a pretty good deep dive, led by Robbie Robertson of course, into the band's history and a lot of their amazing. 
Personally, my favorite song from them is "The Weight", a great classic southern rock standard that feels like it's so much older then it is. If there's one distinguishing note in The Band that people might gravitate towards is this sense of Americana roots that their best work reveals. Strange considering that most of the band, was from Toronto.

Their sound was more flexible then people realize. They had several previous names, most notably Big Pink, which explained the name of their debut album, "Music By Big Pink", which is also arguably their best album, but everybody just kept calling them The Band, when they were recording and working with Bob Dylan in Woodstock, most notably on what would be called "The Basement Tapes". They just made great music and were amazing musicians who seemed like they could do anything and work with anyone. 

The movie, which was apparently made by some friends of Robertson, and focuses on him as they don't even interview Garth Hudson, the only other surviving members of The Band, at least, in The Band's original form .Yeah, The Band actually did go on in various incarnations after Robbie Robertson left the group after "The Last Waltz", it wasn't steady and there were several other side projects but mostly headed by Levon Helm, The Band's drummer and I'd argue best vocalists, and did release new albums well into the '90s. Helm was an interesting character; he wasn't Canadian, he was an actual Southerner who toured with them when they were The Hawks, and while it seems they originally left on good term, Helm got angry with Robertson claiming the he took way too much unearned songwriting credit for much of their later work. I have no idea if this is true, but the movie takes Robertson's side, and I find him believable. 

The Band started out as a much more egalitarian group, everybody was a songwriter, everybody was a musician, everybody had roles on all their songs. However, as they continued on, the other members of The Band had their own vices, most notably Richard Manuel and Rick Danko's heroin addictions, led to them being less and less involved and inspired. Robertson thrived in it, while Helm did do much of the arrangements of songs, which, ehh, kinda means he had an argument, but it was strange how many of these claims came up long after Robertson was out of the group. 

Robertson and Helm never really got back together until Helm was literally in a coma on his deathbed and I guess this movie is about Robertson trying to, express his perspective and maybe make up for that fact, or to save face? (Shrugs) I honestly didn't care about most any of that, I just liked getting lost in the group's and era's music, and admittedly I think it's probably better to just watch "The Last Waltz", but I still liked the film. I've had songs like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", "Strawberry Wine", "I Shall Be Released" and "This Wheel's on Fire", since I saw this movie and getting woven up into their work is an experience. I think a reminder and history lesson on The Band is always welcomed. I think the movie loses it's power the more you think about it, but for the moment, the movie holds up and sweeps you up into the era and the great music. More of their music should be heard and more omnipresent then it is at the moment, and not just their "hits" that have survived.