Friday, April 1, 2022


I feel like, before I get to the reviews, I should give some final thoughts on the Oscars, and more specifically, the "incident" that everyone's talking about. Despite posting my Oscars Post-Mortem blog, I feel like I've said less about it then anybody and yet, I don't feel like there's much more to say. I mean, I do have things to say, but is it my place to say any of it? Everybody's given an opinion of some kind, some more elaborate and eloquent than others. If I have to narrow down to one so far, I'd say that my favorite is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's thoughtful and sobering take. Yet,... I don't know, I don't think I have to add to the conversation.

I mean, basically all the takes, including the good ones are basically just, "It happened; it shouldn't have", and frankly there isn't much else that needs to be said in that regard. What's left to talk about is the whys and hows of how it went down, and what could've been done better and what to do about such an incidents in the future. 

And, I guess, what to do about Will Smith, 'cause, yeah, there's gonna have to be some repercussions for him specifically, and frankly if this latest story about him refusing to leave after being told to is true, which, I'm going to be blunt here, I'm not entirely buying that it is; I fear that that could be the Academy trying to cover their ass, and doing it badly, and yes, last checked, there is disputing stories on this point in particular, but let's say that that's the case and it's confirmed and he was in fact asked to leave and then he didn't, like, this is going to be bad. I mean, relatively speaking, but still, it's going to be bad. 

I mean, relatively bad. I mean, there's isn't much they can actually do. Chris Rock doesn't want to file a police report and I can't particularly blame the L.A. Prosecutors' Office for not going out on their own without one. I mean, hypothetically they could and Will Smith could possibly spend up to six months in jail and/or pay a fine up to $1,000, and frankly, considering all the media circus and bs that would entail for potentially, just a 1,000 fine, yeah, I get why the Prosecutors are not in a rush on this one. 

Also, it is only a slap, and while that may be an embarrassment and a black eye on the Academy, trust me, there's a lot worst. Like, if this is the thing that gets leads to somebody's behavior getting their Oscar taken away from them, then the Academy will lose what, if any, credibility it has left, 'cause trust me, while some of you might have the more obvious names that the Academy has honored on the tips of your tongues that have behaviors that some might consider inexcusable, the Polanskis, the Allens, the Weinsteins, etc., ummm, yeah, that's a lot of other names that might not be so well-known that are just as bad if not worst in many cases. (My favorite would be Joseph Brooks, who won an Oscar for writing the song "You Light Up My Life", which, well, that fact already probably means he should immediately sent to Hell, but-eh, yeah, I dare you to look him up one day and then tell me with a straight face that it's Will Smith is the one that needs to be stripped of his Oscar for bad behavior.)

So, what would the Academy do? There's not much they can do, but let's say, consider this a recommendation to them; I'd probably strip him of his membership temporarily, say three years, and probably not have him allowed to be at the Oscars for a five years, minimum. He loses voting power and influence within the organization, and he also would be banned from the proceedings for awhile, but with good behavior and meeting the appropriate conditions, he'd be allowed back in, I'm sure, under a zero tolerance, or close to it, policy on behavior. There'd also be a long talk about, a lot about the show in whole honestly, as well as, just what they failed to do to allow for something like that to happen as easily as it did, 'cause I would say that the Academy also had a lot of screwups of their own in this, and they need to be open and honest to themselves of what they could've and should've done better, and frankly that can be part of a larger talk about the whole show itself, which, yeah, could've definitely been better....

That's just the Academy though. They're a group; a who's who collection of people in Hollywood, there's not really a lot they can actually do. SAG, on the other hand, a union organization, where they also have some interesting bylaws with the potential for more substantive punishments, I would recommend that his membership be suspended for at least a year, which means, among other things, that he wouldn't be allowed to work on any SAG-approved projects, which are basically, all of his projects, and also, I would either suspend/block any residuals that he's owed, or would've otherwise gotten for the next three years,  either that, or have that residuals money for his past/current projects for the next three years, be donated to whatever is considered an appropriate charity. This would be projects he's currently working on, as well as all his past projects, and I suspect other union like PGA that he might also be apart of, take similar actions.

This will not bankrupt Will, obviously but it's a punishment that will definitely not be light on him and hopefully it's substantial enough to indicate just how bad his actions actually were, while also won't be so severe that people who want to use those Polanski, Weinstein, Spacey, etc. etc. etc. names that the Academy have honored and rightfully should be admonished for condoning their abhorrent behaviors, they're not complaining about going too hard on Will, or too soft on those others,... yada, yada, yada,.... I don't think he should be banished from either group, I don't think he should have his awards taken away, I don't think he should be in jail, so, to me, this feels like an proportionate and appropriate deterrence. 

Also, to quote Oscar host Amy Schumer, "There's a genocide going on in Ukraine and women are losing all of their rights... and trans people." So-eh, maybe this is the last time I, or any of us, focus on and talk about one multi-millionaire hitting another multi-millionaire over a stupid joke. 


Anyway, let's talk about movies now, a much more artistic and fulfilling distraction from the horrors of real life we should otherwise be focusing our prime energy on. We got some big reviews, including some Oscars winners and nominees, this time, so let's get to those.

DUNE (2021) Director: Denis Villeneuve


I've spent a couple days trying to figure out what angle to take on this latest adaptation of Frank Herbert's "Dune". "Dune" has seemed to be something of a white whale for many filmmakers. Famously, the surrealist Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to take a shot at it, but his epic production faltered from a lack of funds, although the documentary, "Jodorowsky's Dune" that detailed the pre-production process of the film is one of the best documentaries of the last decade. David Lynch took the first feature film adaptation of it, and that version has been derided, basically since it's original release. There's been some miniseries in the past that have tried to dive into the franchise as well since then, but this version, from Denis Villeneuve is the latest and by for the most successful and beloved theatrical adaptation so far. The thing is though, as beloved and important as "Dune" is, I-eh, I don't really think I get it. 

Now, don't go, "Well, you have to read the books," which, no, I haven't, and all...- look, I've had "Dune" explained to me before, and several times in fact by people who actually do know what they're talking about, and I do understand why it's important, and why it is an important and influential piece of literature. And yes, there's a lot of meaning and symbolism in this series of stories, and I think I've got a decent hold on most of it, at least the important parts of the early books, and yeah, from a philosophical and analytical perspective, and even from a storytelling perspectives, in terms of the books, yeah, I get why it's so highly regarded. 

Story-wise though, I don't really get it, as a movie....

That's always been the issue with the franchise, it's one of those stories that everybody kinda regarded in the past as not really filmable, which on the one hand is really bizarre, because in terms of the actual story and series of events, it's really not that a bizarre story at all; the story, at least for this first book in the franchise, is a straightforward superhero's origin journey essentially. Not only has many aspects of "Dune" been co-opted into other seminal cinematic science-fiction pieces, but "Dune" itself, one of it's several layers, was how much it was a very critical critique of much of the classic storytelling formulas in fantasy and science-fiction, especially the chosen one narrative, which, honestly, yeah, it can work occasionally when done well, but generally I hate that narrative, and "Dune", in particular the second book, is an amazing depiction of just how horrific and fascist that idea can really be. 

Yet, how do you tell that story effectively, in a couple hours visually, without, just literally telling that story, and then, like bait-and-switching? How many people would even get it? Like, are there movies that pull off that genre pull of the rug? Eh, I guess there's a few movies, "The French Connection" did that with the cop movie, but that's also a less complicated film-based genre; "Dune" only works when you understand the full complexities of it, and even then, it's more about those complexities then that twists? That's the thing that's just troubled filmmakers, and frankly, I think it would've stayed troubled if it wasn't so seminal to the literary sci-fi canon and there was just so many people hoping and insisting on there inevitably being a good "Dune" movie? 

Well, I guess, we'll have multiple movies, which, ughhh, already this film's on my bad side since, like it's predecessor, it insisted on sequels without the first one being a hit yet, (Yeah, the original Lynch version was intended to be the first of a franchise, with several sequels planned..., that seems so bizarre when you say it out loud now....) but, since "Dune" basically doesn't exist unless it's in volumes, I'm letting that slide. But, that begs another question of getting the tone of the story correct. I don't have that frame of reference necessarily, but apparently this one, is at least, close enough efficient for those who do have the reference. It's earned a bunch of Oscar nominations, including Best picture and people were pissed the Denis Villeneuve was snubbed for Director. Personally, I kinda get why he snubbed. He's certainly not a bad director here, in fact I'd be hard-pressed to say he's ever actually made a technically bad movie. 

Villeneuve's been a weird director for me, right when all the Nolan fanboys were suddenly turning into Villeneuve fanboys, was about the time when I was getting bored with him. Well, except for "Arrival", that's his absolute masterpiece. That was also a sci-fi film from him, and that was a fascinating movie about language barriers between alien species as they struggled to figure out how to communicate with each other. It's kinda the sci-fi film that people who hate sci-fi would like, so naturally I loved it, but it's also pretty realistic and true-to-life. We're more multicultural and multilingual now then ever, but you know, we're still struggling to cross that Babel-sized bridge between language and cultures in many ways. 
It's also a great example why, after I thought about this for a few days, I realize a simple fact that, Villeneuve is just a terrible choice of director for "Dune". Hear me out...! 

He's not a bad choice, 'cause he's a great director, but "Dune"...- Okay, I haven't talked that much of the story of the film yet, mostly because it's not that different from the Lynch film. It's still the story of Paul (Timothee Chalamet), the heir of the House of Aetreides, it's still the distant future, there's this Game of Thrones-ian family space battle for the ruler of the spice planet,- it even has the worms.... honestly I still kinda have trouble getting interested in it, but basically, it's just a much more straightforward and grounded depiction of it, then the much campier and absurb Lynch film, which for the record is a boring and unwatchable disaster, but I kinda get where he was coming from more. Even keeping this dialogue and saying it as believably as realistically as possibly, like, c'mon, am I the only that doesn't laugh at how it's "Spice" that drives this thing?! But that's not why Villeneuve's wrong for it, it's because he is too down-to-Earth and too realist of a filmmaker. His best films, "Incendies", "Arrival", "Prisoners", they're great stories told cinematically incredibly well, but they live firstly in the unlikely plausible universe. Even his more sci-fi films, and those that do play around with more sweeping dreamy tones, like "Blade Runner 2049" and "Enemy", they're not that out there for their genres. "Dune" was published in the mid-60s and does have a lot of themes that represent that time, the Cold War paranoia, imperialist exploitation, fossil fuels shortages, the horrors of a prophet-based hierarchal leadership,...  and a lot of that stuff is still today, but it's also really surrealistic. There's a lot of strange stuff that pops up, and they occur here as well, but most of them, are just treated as other integral parts of the universe, but it's much more Conradian then that. The "spice" that, yes, will probably never not be hilarious to me, but that said, the spice, which is a byproduct of those giant sandworms, is both used as the fuel that's needed for interplanetary space travel, but it's also a narcotic that has effected the entire universe because of how it's become so constantly used, and it effects the tone and mood of the journey. So, yeah, this was definitely made in the '60s, when Timothy Leary types confused acid and marijuana highs for greater journeys into the subconscious, and the story reflects that. 

Now, I don't think that aspects the story works visually, certainly not with Villeneuve, 'cause like, when you're going down into the deepest darkest parts of Africa or into this great vast unknown away from civilization, it actually feels like a journey, and here it just feels like you're being pushed around a world that you don't know. I mean, it's better then Lynch, who is a surrealist which made sense on paper, but all his best films, really do take place in dreamworld and logic, what's appealing about this kind of tale is coming across and finding out all the unexpected and crazy stuff along the way. That's why film's best Conrad hero is still Capt. Willard from "Apocalypse Now", but that kind of self-insert character, doesn't exist in "Dune", it's just a world that's under the influence of this hallucinogenic spice, and it's not even your perspective on this hallucinatory world. 

Man, this is why Jodorowsky should've been the guy who made "Dune", all his films are bizarre, surreal mindfucks, but they're about that strange shit that pops up and you see on these journeys. By comparison Villeneuve is competent, and yet, I think he's not right for this material. I don't know if it could ever be great on film, but Villeneuve is not it. And that's a shame, 'cause this film is impressive. He worked hard on this. The filmmaking is amazing. I love the sequence where they're flying over the vast sand desert and they spot an approaching and aggressive sandworm and they're trying to get the Fremon workers safe, it's compelling in it's own right, at times, but it's not as compelling an adventure as it could be. That's probably my ultimately regret with "Dune", both theatrical versions. 

Maybe I'll like Part Two better, when it comes out, supposedly in a couple years, but for this movie, for it's part, this movie only did get through, like half the story of the first book, ending with Paul's embrace of the Fremon's culture and religion in his fight against the House Harkonnen, but I'm much more, ambivalent then anything else, and ultimately that's a bad place to be for any film. 

THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (2021) Director: Joachim Trier



I gotta admit that I haven't exactly kept up with Joachim Trier in recent years, but I have managed to see all of what's now being called his "Oslo Trilogy", which..., (Shrugs) I don't know, kinda sounds a bit like picking three Woody Allen movies at random and calling them his "New York Trilogy", but ehhh, whatever. The first of these was his big international breakthrough, "Reprise" a tale of the ups and downs of two young Oslo writers trying to break onto the literary scene. I thought it was, okay, but I didn't exactly think much about it afterwards, other then I thought it felt autobiographical. I could definitely imagine him and his co-writer Eskil Vogt being self-inspired somewhat with it. The second, in the trilogy, was "Oslo August 31", followed a full day and night out for a recovering heroin addict who has a day pass from rehab for a job interview and decides to revisit and possibly tie up any loose ends. I saw that movie on several Best of the Year Lists, and I even had a close friend of mine who ranked it number one that year. I don't know too many people who've talked about it since though. I remember talking to my friend who did rank it so high back then about it years later and he had forgotten that he had placed it that high (Shrugs) I think in hindsight, I underrated it myself, and in hindsight seems like it's rare straightforwardness and bare bones is more of an appeal to me then some of Trier's more original and dreamlike aberrations in his storytelling and editing that sometimes overtook much of the appreciation I had for "Reprise". 

There's some interesting aberrations in "The Worst Person in the World" too, a movie that I've seen a lot of reviews not really explain it well, but talk in vague generalities about how "real" it seems, and/or some weird variant on how the movie explores that, without actually about the plot or the story. To be honest, I wasn't getting the appeal when I looked into the movie. After watching it, I get it now. I don't know if I love it the way some people do, but I get it. 

Dumb title aside, and yeah, I don't like this title for the film, the movie is about Julie (Renata Reinsve), and the film, basically follows her around for a few years, her late twenties-to early thirties. In some way, I do get how this film connects the other two movies, they're all about Oslo of course, but like "Oslo, August 31", it basically just follows a single character on their strange, surreal, meandering path through life and on the other hand, like "Reprise", that path is basically filled with life emotional turmoils and pitfalls. For Julie,...- well, I've seen her compared to other such film heroines who seem to constantly be going from one career path to another, one man to another, one aberration to another even, Noah Baumbach's "Frances Ha" has been pointed to a few times, which I think I need to rewatch, 'cause I was in the minority on that film and think it's one of his weaker ones.

 However, going back to Woody Allen, and I actually think he is a good comparison to Trier believe it or not, two of my favorite characters of his seem to fit Julie well to me. One, on a more literal level is Dianne Weist's Holly from "Hannah and Her Sisters", who is that rich family's messed up relative that always seems to be on the wrong path on her own. Except for the cigarettes and the occasional acid trip involving a cartoon cat's butthole though, Julie isn't a recovering addict, but it fits her. The better comparison though, is Scarlett Johansson's character of Christina in "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" though, a character who constantly explores and then tires out of every situation she finds herself in and surrounded by, and eventually, as the film's narrators observed,  that she would always "...continue searching, certain of what she didn't want." 

I love that description, and yes, it describes Julie incredibly well. She's constantly switching college majors, switching careers, and either switching boyfriends, or thinking about it while she's trying to move in with her current one, as she's basically only certain of that which she doesn't want, whatever that may be. She first ends up with an underground cartoonist, Aksel (Anders Danielsen Lie) but ends up flirting, and then leaving him later on for Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), a guy she met after she crashed a wedding and then reconnect with later after a random encounter years later, and then, I think in a "Vanilla Sky"-level world-stopping flashback through the streets, in her mind...- I'm being snippy, because I usually hate these things from Trier, but it actually does work here more then it misses, and yeah, I can see why some people could really relate and love this film, as some emotional document to a transitional time period in one's young life. I can also see why some people could hate this film because of how it's a plotless, meandering, naval-gazing meandering on transitional from young adulthood to, slightly more mature, older adulthood that's equally just as meandering, plotless and naval-gazing. 

Julie's isn't necessarily likeable on the page either but Renate Reinsve's performance really shines through the glossy veneer and makes us interested in seeing, not necessarily whether or not she succeeds, 'cause I'm not sure what exactly success would even be for her, but more-or-less, what happens to her. I can definitely think of some close friends of mine that she reminds me of, and in a way, I wonder if that's really the inspiration behind this "Oslo Trilogy", I think they're mostly just three stories about the characters that are the kinds of people that Joaquim knows or grew up with or hung around, or perhaps just passengers they run into along the way and found interesting to follow what happened to them. Some of them had particularly frustrating journeys to the fame they wanted, others got caught up in their own demons and couldn't get out of them and straighten their lives out, and some, like, Julie, while not the worst person in the world, is that mess of a person who you could easily be tertiary friends with at parties and such, and also I imagine, you have times where you just want to just get away from her for how annoying she can frickin' be. She's at times really selfish, at times a liar who bends the truth, more emotional and instinctual then she is thoughtful, I know I was hating her when she kept switching majors from medicine to psychology to just becoming a photographer. Especially med school, that space is limited, and they mention how she's well-off enough that she can just keep finding a new career. Hell, technically, you could argue that this movie is about a girl who wrote one sex article that went viral. (And technically I hate her for that 'cause that means that she's had one more successful article then I do.) 

Maybe the title is right after all, and she is "The Worst Person in the World", just have to look closely enough to see it. Still don't want to look too closely though, as least she's a likeable enough person to be so terrible. 

ASCENSION (2021) Director: Jessica Kingdon



"Ascension" is one of those kind of tonal poem documentaries that are always a little hard to tell how to criticize for me. Sometimes these kinds of movies can blow me away and amaze and inspire me, the films of Ron Fricke, especially "Samsara" for instance, which I still tend to think of as the best of these films, to sometimes outright hating and being angered and pissed at some of them, like the films of Jennifer Baichwal which constantly make my Worst of the Year lists and that I seem to be the only person in the world who has a real genuine opinion of any kind on her. "Ascension" isn't quite in the upper sphere, but it's still quite good. 

The film, the first feature-length directorial effort from producer Jessica Kingdon is a quiet and observant look at modern China. It's promoted as being a look at "The Chinese Dream", and the title is how the country is heading towards it's modern industrial world. It's also just, a look at the day life of people working and living in such a world, but China's place is very much in transition, and much of their modernity still feels like serving the rest of the world. I can't help but think of all the industry workers, especially those working on the assembly line for the sex doll shops, that's gonna be the most eye-popping of the images, although I also found it intriguing just how precise they were being taught the ways people served at a dinner, and how to eat at a fancy Western restaurant. 

The subtext is basically how capitalism is finding it's way and making it's mark in this modern, still technically Communist China, and showing this strange contrasting of tradition and behaviors. It's weird, you'd think the natural recourse would be to take capitalism and bring it more towards their more typical and traditional teachings, but instead China has become a willing master and serving the rest of the world. It's basically a look at how one culture learns and becomes a master at another, and this goes from all the way to the top to the bottom. I don't know how much we're learning or are meant to learn, but the longer the movie went on, the more I felt like I was caught up in this world. 

The best of these kinds of movies strive to give you a greater overall sense of the world by combining so many of these images. Like the graduation ceremony at the vast waterpark where you can really see just how many people there are. Young people, about to enter this vast adult world, all expecting to be better then before, and who knows what this generation is gonna end up doing or changing about the future, or how many are also gonna end up, wiping clean a plastic dolls breast before they put the head on. Or in the sweatshops making "Make America Great Again" merchandise. 

"Ascension" sees how capitalism effects and changes, basically everything and everyone. It's basically showing how the modern Chinese Dream is basically them creating the American Dream for us, and trying to emulate it for themselves. It makes for a unusual and questionable "Ascension" to, whatever this form of a greater power in the world is. It makes me feel as though there's so much of the world that's out of our control and hands, and that trying to take a hold of it, can lead to us, just getting sprayed with water coming from above. The American Dream has often been compared to somebody pissing on you and telling you that it's raining. Never really thought that the people pissing on you would be trying to change themselves to impress and fit in with the rest of the world too. I think the movie tries to give you the absurd ennui feeling of living in this world, and it succeeds even if the "Ascension" may only be one of the mind or of propaganda. 

THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020) Director: George Clooney


George Clooney, let's be blunt, has not made a good movie in a while. Directing, acting... I mean, I haven't seen "Suburbicon" yet, or his latest "The Tender Bar" which does seem to be getting good reviews, but just in general, it's been a long while. It's not that I don't think he's been properly inspired necessarily, or that he's been letting things go since there's little for him to actually gain from him doing anything. We all know he's got the riches, the lovely saintly wife, the Italian villa that he's been at.... I wouldn't blame him, if say he were to just go headlong into the Burt Reynolds faze into his career, where he just doesn't care at a certain point. but I don't think that's it. Like "The Monuments Men" was an interesting subject, but it wasn't an interesting movie. So was "Leatherheads", another interesting subject, but not a compelling or memorable film. It's so weird, 'cause his first two outings as a director led to some really compelling films and both happened to be about a subject he knew very well, television. "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and "Good Night, and Good Luck." are completely different films, but they're both about television, something that's been ingrained as an interest to Clooney since his youngest days. Ever since then, it's not that I don't get his inspirations for his projects, but I feel like they've just, not been good inspirations for movies. And especially when it comes to science-fiction films lately,..., well, on that genre he's not the only one.

There's been a few good filmmakers lately who've been making sci-fi movies lately, especially movies about characters traveling in space that have just been bizarre bad films. Recently, James Gray's "Ad Astra" made my worst list from 2019, but there's been others. Claire Denis's "High Life" had more intriguing elements to it, but is a sci-fi film what you really expect from her? Although even directors that you would've thought would've gotten it right have gotten it wrong, like Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar". All these films, as well as "The Midnight Sky" seemed to be trying to get to the same kind of thing though, that being the long distant loneliness between traveling through space and how much that kind of severe isolation. That ennui of loneliness being a metaphor for several things. Grief, anger, pain, regret. And weirdly, Clooney's film is actually accurately timed, 'cause "The Midnight Sky" is about a post-apocalyptic Earth that's been taken down by some mysterious thing that's taken out the majority of the population. It's specifically not a pandemic, but I can't imagine that idea not coming to those who caught the film late. So, there's another layer to this as Clooney himself plays Augustine a scientist stationed in the Arctic Circle, one of the last places that hasn't completely been taken down by the unnamed thing that's caused the apocalypse, and is trying to contact the Aether an interplanetary spaceship that have been out on a mission to find habitable planets to expand. He's the last one who's remained on the science station, well, almost, as a little girl named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) also was left behind when others were evacuating. Not sure where they evacuated, probably underground somewhere, if they were able to even do that. 

That's the main conflict for me, there's some minor conflict as we get on board the Aether. There's a great all-star cast of a crew, and apparently some flashback scenes which shows that Augustine has a connection with the ship's communication director Sully (Felicity Jones), but honestly, one of the problems is that, on the screen, most of this feels like naval-gazing, all these reflections on life and the journey home, and the struggles of being alone both on Earth and in space. 
Is there a way to do this well? There has to be right? Yeah, I can think of one, Tarkovsky's "Solaris". Which was remade by Steven Soderbergh once, and that film starred George Clooney, in a similar role to the one he's got here. I could easily see this film as some sort of pseudo-sequel to that film; even the fact that there's the little girl with him, and how she shows up in the film, feels like something that could've been a mirror reflection of a similar arc that involved his character in that film. 

Apparently, this film is based on a novel, and I can see how this film would probably work better in that medium. That's another issue with some of these really over-symbolic-based sci-fi films, the medium is just often wrong. Some things that seem amazing in books and have greater emotional meaning there, don't really have that much power on screen. For instance, there's a character played by Tiffany Boone, one of the members of the crew of the ship, that ends up dying on the voyage. Sorry for the spoiler, I was a little more upset that even in this movie, the African-American actor is the one that dies, but her death doesn't have the ultimate weight it should since, while we do get a little look into her life beforehand, and we haven't gotten enough info to care about her, it's still a very tertiary character, and we're dealing with people who we know are going to a home that isn't there, but they don't. It's good when you can really get inside those characters one at a time, paced, like a novel, but doing this on screen can be difficult, and it can be particularly tough when this is done with science-fiction where things that could seem important and powerful in a novel can come off as silly. 

As for "The Midnight Sky", I can see why Clooney would be attracted to this material but I don't think it's a great inspiration for him and it's ultimately a pretty uninteresting movie. Perhaps all filmmakers want this one sci-fi experiment out of their system, but at least lately, I haven't found a reason to really care or appreciate them.

CANDYMAN (2021) Director: Nia DaCosta


Forgive me, older horror/slasher are one of the few blindspots I have in my film purview. I've seen what most would generally consider the most important films and prescient films in the genre, but it's a genre that I haven't dug too deep into, which I need to get 'cause it's also a genre that's constantly getting re-evaluated. the more recent re-evaluations of the genre typically now involve analysis of race, especially African-Americans places in the genre. Most of this is obviously being sprung by the success of Jordan Peele's work as a director and producer in recent years giving new life to the genre as a whole, but there's definitely a lot to evaluate and analyze in terms of African-Americans places in the genre. 

Before I watched the new "Candyman" film that's produced by Peele, I decided I should probably watch the first "Candyman" film at the very least, 'cause I just don't know much about this franchise, or this character. So, for a brief couple sentence thoughts on the first film, I thought A. we need a lot more Virginia Madsen in, like everything, then we do, but also, it was a decent horror. There's a couple things that are interesting about it; I like the subtle commentary about housing projects that are repurposed for more well-off and white renters while the less kept ones still are populated by both African-American cliches and those trying to just live out their everyday lives. Also, um, why is that stupid remake of "The Wicker Man", the movie with the bees meme, when this movie exists, 'cause holy god, BEES! WTF!? Somebody should've warned me about that! Bees are fucking scary-, that's why that meme never worked btw, it's legitimate torture.

Mostly though, I felt it was, basically what I always presumed it was on the surface, a decent horror movie that I could see being a fun rental on a horror movie night back in the early '90s, but I can also see how the film could be something that probably could use a reinterpretation. And the original franchise as a whole looks compelling. The sequel, "Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh" is a prequel that I suspect might even be better then this film. It's got an origin story for the titular Candyman, and the film was directed by Bill Condon, who actually has become a pretty damn good filmmaker over the years. The third, was a straight-to-video film, "Candyman: Day of the Dead", that looks a little schlocky to me. It's trailer promotes that it starred, Donna D'Errico...? Whoa, that name sounds like a flashback, why do I know that name? (IMDB search) Married to Nikki Sixx,- oh yeah, Baywatch babe, right? Yeah, I remember now, Playboy Playmate, back when that mattered. I forgot how much, like the eighties, was still like, all around, in the '90s, and...- eh, anyway, commentary for another time with that. 

Now, to this new "Candyman" film, which is technically a sequel, it's definitely a more complete film. The movie takes much of the mythology of the original and then basically goes about reinventing it. Hell, the movie is even about how art is changed and reinvented. The main character is Anthony (Yahya Abdul Mateen II), a young Chicago artist who becomes inspired by the urban legend of Candyman (Tony Todd, reprising his iconic role) and uses it as inspiration for his next gallery show. He even begins looking into the original movie's mythology by visiting the now-gentrified Cabrini-Green projects where he gets stung by a bee, and runs into resident and local laundromat owner William Burke (Colman Domingo) who relays the original myth, as well as tell of his own encounter with the Candyman as a child. 

The exhibit is originally a success, but then, of course, two people, the gallery owner Clive and his way-too-young-to-be-his-assistant-or-his-girlfriend assistant/girlfriend, Jerrica (Brian King and Miriam Moss) naturally tempt fate and pay the price right at the gallery and in front of his mirror exhibit piece entitled, "Say My Name". As he gets more popular and Anthony's girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) begins helping him climb up the artistic ranks, which have their own layered commentary on white art vs. black art, as well as the hierarchy of art exhibitions and publicity..., but that bee sting keeps expanding and things keep getting worst. And more people start ending up dead. Mostly white girls though, 'cause apparently stupid white girls playing stupid white girl games and getting killed is just a thing in these movies. (Admittedly I get the appeal, but ehhh....) Eventually,  Anthony finds out through his mother Anne-Marie (Vanessa Williams, reprising her role from the original film too [And no, not that Vanessa Williams, there's another one out there.]), that Anthony indeed has a secret past both with the original projects, and with the Candyman. 

From there, I'm not sure I want to give away too much. The movie was co-written by Peele, but this is the second directorial effort from Nia DaCosta, the filmmaker behind "Little Woods" a few years ago. I didn't get around to that movie until recently, so I didn't get a chance to properly review it, but I personally preferred that film. It was a tale of two struggling sisters, as they both to have to deal with their pasts as they have to begin deal in Oxycontin along the Canada-U.S. border to get out of several layers of poverty. This movie, has certain depths as well, and I think most of what it says is worth saying, but it almost feels like it's just laying in the commentary. Not in a bad way, but I almost feel like the movie is too much circling upon itself, almost like it's merely existing as a commentary on what the original film/franchise meant, or could mean, or meant to some.... It's almost the opposite of that, "Ask me what it means" meme that I think Nostalgia Critic started bringing up with Shaymalan movies, it's just, "Let me tell you what it means!", and I just don't think that makes it as interesting as it could be. 

It could also just be that, while symbolically the Candyman has some deeper significance and meanings, as an actual horror movie villain, he's not exactly that interesting. I mean, his name is interesting, and they make some reference to why he is called "Candyman" despite how most every other interpretation of him and his origins seems to have nothing to do with candy, (and also, to kill one urban myth, but the story about razorblades being hidden in Halloween candy, that's not a thing that ever happened and is a long-disproven myth.) the story is, kinda just not compelling. Him showing up through conveniently placed giant holes in the walls of buildings, only being seen in reflections when you say his name multiple times, and only in front of a mirror...? (Shrugs) Like, even the hook for hand thing; I mean, I guess it's convenient for when you absolutely positively have to disemboweled somebody really fucking quick, but it's not exactly the most menacing presence or the most haunting. Honestly, the best scene in the movie for me, was kinda the best scene in the original film for me, when somebody uses a conveniently placed mirror in order to summon Candyman as a way to get him to kill everybody around him, knowing that he'll, for one reason or another, will help them. 

Still, while I feel "Candyman" is kind of a second-rate horror villain in terms of entertainment, but I'm still recommending the movie. There's enough here to talk about, but I've seen better from the people behind this, and I hope to see more of that later. 

SHIVA BABY (2021) Director: Emma Seligman


Crinnnnnnnge. So much cringe in "Shiva Baby". 

Apparently that word is out of vogue at the moment, at least it seems that way in how every other reviewer and/or critic, especially the streaming ones have try to shy away from using that word. I'm not sure exactly why; I'm sure it's been meme'd-to-death now, but I think it's a good word to describe it, since I spent basically the whole runtime of the 77 minute film, pausing the DVD player a few moments at a time while the movie ends up placing it's main character in one awkward situation after another. And there ain't much more awkward in American comedy then a Jewish girl lying to her family, and then turning the "Oh shit!" up all the way to eleven. 

In this case, the lie for Danielle (Rachel Sennott)-, well, actually there's quite a few lies, but the big one is that she's been earning money as a-eh, um...,- you know, I just realized I don't actually know the word for this...- let's see if Google actually can help me here on this one.... (Google search typing) "What do you call someone who has a sugar daddy?" (Presses enter)

Ohhh! A "Sugar Baby"!?!? Ahhh, so that's why the title! Ah. I- I thought something completely different.... 

Well, anyway, yeah, while her parents, Joel and Debbie (Fred Melamed and Polly Draper) are paying for her college education where she's getting a degree in, eh...- well, they're kinda confused by what exactly it is too; it's supposed to be some kind of her own created major, something about feminism...- anyway, she's been, um, making her way on the slide, getting money from a sugar daddy, Max. (Danny Defarri) I-eh,...- I was looking up whether or not being a-eh, (sigh) "sugar baby," is technically a prostitute..., ehhh, it's-, it's actually a really muddled debate from what I can glance, I'm finding various answers here. I guess by most legal definitions, it's not, 'cause sex is not always traded for money, although, the first scene clearly shows that's not the case for Danielle, but...- god, even looking this shit up is cringe, and I haven't even gotten to half the plot of the movie yet.

Anyway, the sugar daddy, shows up at the shiva she's at. Also, his shiksa wife Kim (Dianne Argon), is there. Also, is their new baby, because she's a shiksa and she didn't know not to bring a kid to a shiva. 

A shiva btw, is the Jewish mourning period, and, Danielle's stuck at her parent's friends-, I think-, I don't know remember who's shiva this actually is, and Danielle doesn't really know either, and she's stuck there, with her sugar daddy, who happens to be a son of a friend, of her father's, or something or another. Some distant relative that matters to everyone around her but she barely remembers. Everybody remembers her though, and all the things she's supposedly up to, and keep questioning her. Oh, including her ex, who's also there, Maya (Molly Gordon). She's around and asking questions and there's a whole thing there, and around every corner is more of this slow-moving, cringe-inducing farce just closing in on her, like the one uncomfortable passenger stuck in the middle seat of an ever crowding, overflowing minivan. 

"Shiva, Baby" is pretty clever in it's gimmick and for that it's a recommend. It's the debut feature from Emma Seligman, based on her original short film, and Rachel Sennott is young and up-and-coming actress/stand-up who gives a strong and understated performance here. It's a cute and assured little indy that holds up pretty good for an extended short. It's very simple and yet very observant, and it's just total cringe for the sake of creating shoulder-rising, head-turning-away cringe. I wince and shrug my shoulders up to my cheeks just thinking about how cringe this film is. 

WET SEASON (2021) Director: Anthony Chen



I remember liking the previous Anthony Chen film I saw, "Ilo Ilo", a lot. It was a touching tale about a relationship between a young upper class bratty ten-year-old and the maid that took care of him while his parents were unable to due to their schedules and getting caught up in modern worklife. Chen is one of the premiere filmmakers from a country we surprising don't hear that much about in the filmmaking world, Singapore. 

You'd think we would, the country is a very beautiful and fascinating mix of several different cultures, and it's a pretty profitable part of the world, so you'd think filmmakers would be more common; I mean, it's about the size of Hong Kong and that country's got decades of influence onto the world cinema, and yet, only really recently, like, within the last 30 years or so, has Singaporean filmmaking really started to get it's film production engines together. Anthony Chen's second feature film "Wet Season," in that perspective, seems like a good film to look at as one that tries to see the cultural conflicts and multi-ethnic wonder of the city-state. 

Taking place during the "Wet Season", a long, protracted time during the year where Singapore is caught up in the monsoon season and sunlight is basically a non-entity, we meet Ling (YEO Yann Yann). She's a Malaysian-born Chinese teacher who's in the middle of a fairly frustrating life. She's giving herself invitro shots while in traffic jams trying to conceive a child for a husband that's really if ever present. At home, she takes care of his sick and dying father-in-law (YANG Shi-Bin) who's unable to speak since his stroke. Her husband Andrew (Christopher LEE), is not only always away, for reason we'll find out later, but he's also kinda incompetent as a husband, so she's often the one who has to show up to events alone where he's supposed to be, and basically run the household for him. 
In this swarm of depression, she inevitably befriends one of her students, Wei Lun (KOH Jia Ler), at first, helping him through an injury. He's a martial artist and we first see them connect at a doctor's office where he's recovering from a broken foot. Eventually, they start hanging out together as both of them seem to have some troubled lives. 

Then things get even more complicated, and eventually and rather disturbingly, they begin an affair. This is difficult enough without realizing that they were the same two actors who were the leads in "Ilo Ilo", but this becomes way more complicated for all the obvious and regular reasons, as well as the more complicated ones. Chen has a way of getting to some complicated emotions, and these tales of May-December relationships are both nuanced and subtle up close yet complex and powerful from a distance. I think I prefer "Ilo Ilo" a little more, but Chen's coming up with an interesting vision. For me, he is modern Singaporean cinema, both in terms of tone of his films and inspiration for his subject matter. Perhaps that's a narrow view of him and/or of Singapore and it's cinema, but so far I've liked what I've got. 

THE SHADOW OF VIOLENCE (aka CALM WITH HORSES) (2020) Director: Nick Rowland



I gotta admit, it does always surprise me a little when I hear about just how much, in some peoples' cases, violence, is genuinely just, apart of peoples lives growing up. I don't just mean, domestic violence, of course I am counting that, but just the fact that there is such a natural aspect from people to always be involved or be acquainted with violence, is kinda just foreign to me. I'm not saying there wasn't violence around, but it wasn't something that I would think of as common or something that was just apart of my life or upbringing; it wasn't something that came up naturally and when it did happen, it was usually regrettable on almost all counts afterwards. It kinda also just surprises me, in terms of just, logic, if somebody or some people are genuine that violent, how are they always around in civilized society, much less, in your house?! I know I sure as hell wouldn't be; somebody would've likely turned me in and I'd end up in prison or some kind of asylum or whatever, if I don't end up dead. I guess that's the thing that I find so bizarre, that essentially, violence in places like these, I'm thinking of the lower class areas of places like Baltimore, where everybody I've ever heard about from there, except maybe for John Waters, talks about how violent the city is, or in this case, rural Ireland, violence is just something that's protected and accepted by and with the community within. Maybe I'm just such a loner from the outside world that I always imagine myself being in the lone apartment or house that no one knows and is not effected by the outside stuff like this, the guy who doesn't bother anybody and nobody bothers me, kinda guy, that when I see world's like these, I always wonder exactly how everybody just becomes so intricately involved in this cycle of violence. 

Also found under the title "Calm with Horses", British filmmaker Nick Rowland's debut feature "The Shadow of Violence" is a brooding, and haunting look into this world. You're dropped right into it immediately, and then brought into a situation that, one can reasonably say, is a situation that could probably end in violence. That job belongs to Arm (Cosmo Jarvis) the enforcer of the local family clan that runs the town, the Devers. The patriarch Paudi (Ned Dennehy) asks for Arn and his handler Dympna (Barry Keoghan) to deal with Fannigan (Liam Carney), one of the members of the "family" that's overstepped his bounds in some pretty unspeakable ways. Although, not necessarily non-familial ways. Arm basically considers the Devers his family, and they supposed consider him and others as such. "Blood only means that you're related," they say, "Loyalty" is what matters, 'cause of course it is. 

(Eye roll)

Anyway, despite his appearance, and his history, Arm surprisingly doesn't seem able to ""deal" with Paudi properly. Arm's conflicted with struggling to connect with his young son, who his ex-wife June (Simone Kirby) wants to get enrolled in a special school for him. It's not said, but he's clearly autistic. Arm's not autistic, but he always seems to have trouble connecting to others, on top of connecting to his son, but yeah, he's clearly an outsider who's still curse by his past as a boxer that gets mentioned occasionally. Mostly, it's another one of those films where the guy realizes way too late that he's really in the most trustworthy of groups, but can't break out of the lifestyle. It's a pretty damn good one though, and I like how it goes about it by creating this character that actually is compelling the more you think about him. Arm is slow, and basically built to be a bruiser, and has had no problem being an on-call enforcer for most of his adult life after his boxing career hit the skids, but he also finds out, that he isn't comfortable being a killer, which is bad for him, since he's surrounded by killers, but even though he's slow, he's able to be creative and try to outthink and outmaneuver the family when they're coming after him, at least for a little while. 

He grew up in a violent world and as he struggles to stop, he also has to come to terms with the fact that it's also the only world he knows and knows how to move about in it. It's a fascinating world, and a fascinating character and in some ways that's all that's needed for these kinds of gritty gangster films. I've seen a lot of these, especially ones from the Isles, I tend to find them more forgettable and less distinctive then some, even good films. "The Shadow of Violence" actually manages to get you thinking and caring long after you watch it, and that's a skill I can appreciate. 

ORDINARY LOVE (2020) Directors: Lisa Barros D'Sa & Greg Leyburn


Most of the critics seem to like "Ordinary Love" quite a bit. Those who don't seem to really hate it. Truly, some of the more vicious reviews I've read for a movie that's generally liked, I've read come from this movie. Mike LaSalle's of the San Francisco Chronicle seems to spew venom on the page for this film. I suspect he's one of those people for whom there's a very thin line between minimalist and manipulative. 

As for me... (Shrugs), right as I was getting into the movie and not just using it as background noise, was about when the movie ended, so I backed up and started over, and basically ended up at the same point afterwards. It's not-too-special, yet not that great either. Basically, I looked at the film as two of our best actors, performing, and that's basically what I got. As to the story, it's about a middle-aged husband and wife, Tom and Joan (Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville) who are still in love, and then, she finds a lump on her breast and we see them as they go through the chemotherapy. Well, she goes through chemotherapy, and they talk and struggle. Mostly to each other, sometimes to others going through similar struggles. They occasionally mention their daughter who's passed away, and some of the grief they have through that, and some of the rituals they've formed in light of her passing. 

Other then that though, the movie, plotwise is pretty non-existent. I can see people getting upset that this is just a movie about a couple in love in the twilight of their days and feel like, even the struggles with cancer are arbitrary. I can also see people really touched by this. They might be tired of traditional romances that think love ends in marriage or that the phrase, "For better or worse", doesn't mean that the movies should ever show those worst parts, or have their worst parts shown, but not actually see like, the destruction or end of a marriage, or a deep divide and reconciliation to keep it going. There isn't husband vs. wife conflict, it's two against the world, and that's fine in some cases when we feel like we're emotionally involved with the couple. I can see the argument either way, we only get introduced to these two, and suddenly we get cancer and not much else; I get why people would be angry with that. On the same token, yeah, but these are two great performances, and that's enough for me to care about them.

Plus, it is sometimes to just see a good story about an older couple in love. That's all I want sometimes, a nice, lovely tale about two people who seem real and believable. It might not be much more then a park bench play on paper, but that's good enough for me. It's a lovely little film, and when I'm in the mood for it, I can definitely get caught up in the emotions of it. It's "Ordinary Love" and that's what it gives us, and in the right mood, I can find that extraordinary.