Monday, April 24, 2023

"POD MEETS WORLD" and why it's different than all the other WATCH-ALONG PODCASTS.

So a few months back, as per usual, I fell out of bed and stumbled to my computer, and checked my Youtube. I remember thinking how annoyed I was getting at my algorithm giving me too much of the same boring videos, but then, like, four or five rows I saw something different.... 

("Pod Meets World." TGI-The Happening. Five hours ago.)


Well, I guess I am more of a Podcast guy than I think I am, but I don't normally listen to a lot of podcasts. And when I do, they're usually, not the full podcast, they're usually just clips. I like clips of podcasts more than I like most podcasts. I even go to sleep a lot of the time to Youtube clips of Jim Cornette's podcasts. I've occasionally listened to a podcast episode or two from some widely varied people from Bret Easton Ellis to Penn Jillette to Richard Blais to Kevin Smith. Most of them were good, even though sometimes I feel like listening to full podcasts is like listening to a bunch of random ads spliced before, in the middle of and after the actual interview/parts of the show that you're actually trying to listen to, so mostly, I prefer to catch podcast material through, like Youtube or Tiktok clicks, like the "New Heights" podcast clips, that podcast from NFL brothers Jason Kelce and Travis Kelce. I never listen to a full episode of it, but I love checking for clips of it. Same with those animated clips from "Office Ladies", which is one of many Watchalong podcasts that have come around in recent years. These are podcasts where, the hosts, usually including at least one or two people who hopefully were somehow involved with the television show that they're talking about, and then they go, literally, episode by episode through a TV series talking about a specific TV show, and often offering some insight into the show, and often involve having interviews and guest co-hosts with people associated with the show. Some of the good ones have some reasonable critical analyses of episodes as well. I have listened to the majority of one of them, "The West Wing Weekly", which is a pretty damn good podcast. Still, my initial instinct is that, A. We just have way too many podcasts, in general, and B. Watchalongs in particular, and kinda,- they're interesting in concept, but I already feel like we have way too many aftershow programs for TV shows. I maybe watched one or two for a few shows I like, if they might have somebody interesting on, but mostly I've got negative thoughts on the subgenre. If it's a show I like I either feel like I'm being preached to by the choir, never mind how annoying it is if it's a show I don't like, but it's either feel like I'm being preached to, or annoyed by people who are technically preaching to me but are also critically nitpicking to the point of obnoxiousness over a show they supposed love. (I mean, I could be that way too, but, eh..., do you really want that, on things you like? That's fun when you want to bash something, not when you want to praise something.) These aren't bad these things, but most of the time I feel like they're for, and often by, the extreme superfans and so even when it's for a show I know exceptionally well, I don't dive too deep into those podcasts, "The West Wing" exception, but-eh, obviously and apparently I clicked on this when I saw it. 

"Pod Meets World" stars Danielle Fishel, Rider Strong and Will Friedle, three of the stars of "Boy Meets World" the '90s sitcom, that, I have had some very complex feelings about over the years. Now, back when it was on the air, I felt very alone in praising how good the show was. It's hard to explain entirely, if you didn't grow up with it, how separate the TGIF block of television was to the rest of television, especially for kids and teenagers at the time. I knew kids growing up who basically were only allowed to watch "TGIF" because their parents worried about television that potentially wasn't as family-friendly or family-concerned, at least in terms of primetime television, but even still, if you were a kid, you always watched "TGIF", and "Boy Meets World" was,-, um, not the beloved series that it is now. I distinctly remember conversations of everybody talking about the lineup and the conversations were mostly about "Full House" or "Family Matters" or "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch" as being the more compelling series on the block at various times, and I felt very alone in- not-so-much in defending "Boy Meets World", 'cause most everybody liked the show, but nobody thought it was, like the greatest show, so I was usually the only one around who really praised it. And to be honest, I didn't necessarily think it was great either, but I think it was very good, maybe one step below it great, very good (Shrugs), and I often called it the most underrated show on television at the time, which mean, that, to me, it was above-and-beyond, for a TGIF show.

After it ended, I saw the show appear in syndication  and I thought I was vindicated by seeing how well the show actually fit next to other recently rerun shows of the time that were much more acclaimed, but then, it actually started to get really popular through those reruns. I even once saw it pop up on a Top 100 Television shows list, and it was in the Top 50, and- that's when I started to think, "Okay, back up a bit, this was a good show, it was not a great show!" I participated in one of those polls, and I not only didn't put it on my Top 100, I don't even think I seriously considered it. I was kinda stunned how overly-praised it was getting, then, and then it got a sequel series on Disney Channel, and that show was pretty well-acclaimed as well, people were even pissed when that got canceled. All this really just felt so bizarre to me, all this praise for a series that used to be the show I was technically championing back in the day,- well, it took me aback. I thought it shifted too far in the other direction and passed me even. 

People might wonder a bit how I'd think it went from underrated to overrated like that, but you gotta realize, even at the time the show was on the air, in my mind, and a lot of other peoples in fact, there was really only one, really great, child-centered coming-of-age sitcom, and one of the biggest drawbacks to "Boy Meets World" is that it was also the obvious show to compare it to, and that's really unfortunate, 'cause, well.... 


(Chuckle under breath)

Okay, there was a recent episode of this podcast, where they discuss how people still somewhat struggle getting the title of the show correct. "Boys Meet World", would get mentioned something, freudian-like. I kinda get why, "Boy Meets World" is a weird, generic title to begin with, but also because, most people if they ever actually did talk about the show, the didn't call it "Boy Meets World", they actually called it, "That Show with Fred Savage's younger brother". 

It's hard to remember how big "The Wonder Years" was at the time, and how long after it ended it still lingered. Hell, it was the inspiration for a new series recently. And why not? It's the quintessential dramedy that perfectly encapsulates those coming-of-age teen years, and also remains one of the most groundbreaking shows of our time, arguably, with it's voiceover monologue and single-camera film style, it was way ahead of it's time. I'm not at all surprised that Fred Savage, who while still occasionally did some acting, even starring in a TV show that was a surreal parody of those kind of "Talking Dead"-like aftershow series that I don't care for at all, called "What Just Happened", (That was something, wasn't it? I'm not sure what, but it was something) but has mostly become a prominent TV director and producer and would be one of the main people behind that new reboot of "The Wonder Years". Yeah, there's no way, I could consider "Boy Meets World" an all-time great series, when compared to a classic like Ben's older brother's series. 

Except, lately, I've been totally starting to rethink that analysis.

Yeah, y'know, maybe I actually have always been underrating "Boy Meets World", in some ways, all this time and also, simultaneously overrating "The Wonder Years", 'cause, while it's still a great classic, it's a lot cringier than I think people remember. Sometimes in good ways, but other times, it did kinda take a left turn into fields that were a bit too weird. Especially in the later seasons when Kevin Arnold really did kinda become too much of a stick-in-the-mud hypocrite. And it also took itself to a few weird places, literally. Like, a few years ago, I did a Top Ten List of Good TV Shows That Ended at the Right Time and "The Wonder Years" was pretty high on that list, and I found a small clip of that show's finale episode that I think got copyrighted or something, but..., anyway- I mentioned that I was surprised when I originally researched that episode that it wasn't supposed to be the finale, mainly cause of how well it wrapped everything up, but in hindsight, it was a weird finale. Like, why was he chasing Winnie to her summer job?! WTF! You know what, I'm glad Winnie didn't end up with him at the end; they weren't meant for each other. Also, half the appeal of the show was how nostalgic it was for the time period, which, admittedly, I like the time period, even if it was a bit sanitized and whitewashed, so I didn't have an issue with it, but it is a very white-bread innocent-seeming look at the time period, I'm glad Lee Daniels worked on an African-American remake of it, to put a new spin on the late '60s-early '70s. (Not that "Boy Meets World" doesn't have racial issues, but they definitely were done better.)

Yeah, in hindsight, I feel like there was a lot more in "Boy Meets World" that holds up over time, and it does hold up better than most other shows you could compare it to. It got the idea of the troubles of youth, especially for the time period it was made and existed in, a lot more than "The Wonder Years". 

Also, though, there was a reason that I didn't make note of at the time, when I talked about it why the original "The Wonder Years" ended so suddenly and abruptly, and...- well..., um, it turns out Fred Savage is a fucking creep!

Yeah, I don't know if anybody caught this one, he got #MeToo'd pretty hard, and this transcended to "Wonder Years" now only to the new one where he got fired from, but also, apparently him and Jason Hervey, who btw, there's a guy with a weird career and a pretty good-sized list of questionable people he works or hangs around with, on the set of their original show, they apparently harassed a female employee back then, and after she got fired after complaining, ABC suddenly ended the series after a short settlement, and no, these aren't the only incidents. Apparently he's gotten in trouble on more than a few television series lately.

So yeah, with that information, "The Wonder Years", suddenly gets a little more icky, especially in those aforementioned the later seasons. Now it makes a lot more sense why he would lie about Winnie sleeping going all the way with her that time. 

OMG, I just realized "Boy Meets World", actually did that storyline better, didn't they?! Yeah, maybe "Boy Meets World" is a better show that I always gave it credit and even though I was ahead of the curve, I didn't realize how ahead I was until everybody else caught up and passed me. And maybe "The Wonders Years", might be a little creepier than it should've been. 

I should note that Ben Savage, is conspicuously absent from this podcast, which, well, considering, that his brother, was just getting caught up in his troubles right around when the podcast first started, that makes sense. Although I don't know if you've heard his news lately....

Um, yeah, he's running for Congress right now. Um, okay. Good luck with that. 

Actually, this isn't out of nowhere, while he still has been busy acting pretty regularly, he's also been heavily involved in politics for years. He has a Political Science degree from Stanford and he worked as a congressional aide for Sen. Arlen Specter,- who, was a Republican at the time, but Ben's a registered Democrat, so... (Shrugs) and he's run for local political office before and it's something that he's been passionate about for years. I'd hate to have answer questions about his brother if I were him right now..., but while there's been a lot of stories of Fred Savage's disturbing side out there, I should note that I haven't heard anything bad about Ben Savage personally so far. (Although, now that I'm thinking about it, that makes that episode of "Boy Meets World" where Fred guest stars, umm,- oh boy, oh dear, oh dear, oh dear, that is going to be a very troubling podcast episode when they get to that one. Man, I wondered how he seemed so good at playing a creep, now I know.) 

So, yeah, I started listening to "Pod Meets World", not so much because I am a huge fan of the show, but originally because of, well-,  how vehemently my thoughts and perception on the show, as well as the public-at-large have, really shifted over the years for me. And yeah, sure, I thought this would be an interesting way to revisit and remember the show, kinda in the same ways that many of those other podcasts for shows like "The Office" or "The West Wing" or "Scrubs" or whatever other ones out there do....

(Very long pause, deep breathes) 

Okay, um, this is the part, where I start trying to explain, specifically why this version of all those other shows is different, and, it is. It is, it very much is. Trying to explain it, though.... 

Okay, so most of those other shows that have relatively big new watchalong podcast followings, they're mostly run by people who, sure, mostly had a connection to the show, but, also, really know the shows pretty well, for the most part. The thing here is that, even if they hadn't per se, watched the shows in a while, they were mostly adults when they did those shows. And, these actors in particular, um, they were not at the time. "Boy Meets World". and this is something that I never really thought about at the time, or until now honestly, but it was one of the few primetime sitcoms that really did focus around kids. Like, the main actors were all child actors. There were of course plenty of other, family sitcoms, but mostly the kids were secondary characters, and the ones that weren't, the adults were still, the more prominent figures in their lives. In that respect, while there's definitely some prominent adult roles and characters on the show, "Boy Meets World" seems like a huge exception nowadays. 

I mean, I guess there's some older sitcoms that kind fit this. "Leave It to Beaver" comes to my mind right away, But that, and some of the other kid-centered sitcoms of that era like, "Dennis the Menace" or "The Patty Duke Show", most of them seemed to have some kind of weird gimmick, or was about how much the actions of the kids were perilous to the adults around. But still, like,  even "The Wonder Years" has a lot fewer episodes focusing mainly on Kevin and the trials and tribulations he has with his fellow teenagers than most people might remember, hell I'd argue most of that show's best episodes in hindsight focused more on the older characters like Kevin's parents or even his older siblings. There were shows were you saw kids grow up from kids to adults obviously, but usually the main characters were already well into their teens like, "Happy Days" or "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis", either that, or you had shows where, while the kids might've been the most common focus of the show, they weren't the show's protagonist. Like, you might remember the kids on "Full House" more, but the "stars," were the three adult men raising those girls. Nowadays, there's a bunch of shows that are more kid-focused like that on Nickelodeon and Disney Channel, but y'know, even something like "Saved By the Bell" at the time, really wouldn't fit this description. I guess, stretching, maybe something like "Family Ties" when the focus shifted more towards Alex as oppose to the parents, but honestly, even that feels like I'm pushing it. Neither of those were inherently coming-of-age series, and all those older shows seem mostly like whitewashed artificial idealize visions of what people thought the '50s was that even if they more appropriately would fit as a comp for how "Boy Meets World" structured, they wouldn't seem modern enough to really count. Beaver's best friend never ended up homeless for an episode because his mother left and took the house that him and his father lived in with her. 

"Boy Meets World" was a sitcom about teenagers coming-of-age and learning life lessons, and it focused more than any previous show, on those teenagers, at least the main ones that we most focus on and those teenagers were played by, often, very young teenagers themselves. (Not always..., but mostly they were. [Little advice: Don't try to do math using Rider Strong and Trina McGee's ages])

And as it turns out, none of them seemed to have ever watched the damn thing. 

Yeah, that's not necessarily a thing for all actors, or even all child actors, but a lot of actors don't watch their own work and that is part of the appeal of a lot of watchalongs how the stars hadn't seen the shows they were on. It's a nice hook, and these actors, they didn't watch the show originally, or watch it as much. It was work, it was a job, and while the fact that it's survived and remains beloved is a blessing, they didn't watch the series much when they were making it. It basically was a show, and honestly, since they were kids and their lives were so filled with schoolwork outside of this job, I doubt most of them wanted to bother with watching their own work on their free time. Most other similar podcasts they're usually either run by fans who are uber-familiar with the show, or adults who either had better memories or were just more involved and had more influence on the actual series. 

And, that's another thing about "Boy Meets World", actually a couple things, to be honest. Firstly, "Boy Meets World",- how do I put this..., this show, went through a ton of changes during it's run. Like, a weird amount of changes, not necessarily the most natural ones either. It's not that unusual for older sitcoms, a lot of shows add or drop characters as a series continues for one reason or another, but few shows this memorable and good were as jarring with it. That's one reason I always struggled listing it among the all-time greats, 'cause this show, while it did evolve and grow, like, if you came onto the series late, and then watched a first season episode, you could easily think you were watching two different series. Hell, arguably "Boy Meets World" had many multiple series within it. Trying to narrow it down, or even explain it all can be daunting.

Like, the first season, Stuart Minkus, a main character who was played by one of the more well-known actors coming into the show, he was written off after the first season. Then, the second season added, three bully characters that seemed to come out of "Happy Days", as well as a cool young teacher character. One of the bullies would eventually leave, and then come back later, after being replaced by another bully, Jason Marsden played, essentially himself, or a character with his full name, sporadically over the first couple seasons before moving to "Step By Step", Danielle Fishel's Topanga wasn't an official regular 'til like, season three, somehow. The young teacher, eventually got dropped, the bullies got dropped, Shawn suddenly had a brother, although trying to keep track of his family gets harder the more you pay attention.... (I don't think this show wrote a Bible 'til like season five) Essentially, the show changed from like, IDK, "Leave It to Beaver", to "Party of Five" to by the end, seeming like..., man, I don't even know what. I haven't even gotten to the added pregnancy from the mother, the missing sister character who just didn't exist for a season before suddenly coming back. People who actually have sat through the show will get this, but-, okay a good comparison show that came after "Boy Meets World" is "Malcolm in the Middle". Now, that show, had a lot of changes over it's run too. People having kids, characters becoming regulars, characters leaving and coming home with wives and kids of their own, and it was centered around a middle child's experience, yada, yada, yada, but at no point during the run of that series, would you ever look at that show, and say that, the show wasn't "Malcolm in the Middle". "Boy Meets World", you cannot say that about. Fewer sitcoms that lasted this long and remain this beloved and acclaimed have this many complete tonal shifts. I remember it being confusing and jarring at the time, and it must've been even nuttier for the kids who were on it. 

And that's the other thing.... See, when you listen to some of the other similar podcasts out there, most of the people are telling behind-the-scenes stories or going into more detail of how these shows got to be what they were, etc. etc. And "Boy Meets World" is already a strange amalgam of a show. It's the kind of series that could have years-long believable romantic arcs that goes from middle school to college and also dive deep into the soul of troubled youths and really lay out just how easy and protected some kid's path to adulthood is, while showing how jagged, troubled and strained that kid's best friend could be, and yet, it's also the show, that for some frickin' reason, has a random Monkees reunion in it!? 

No seriously, that happened! 

There's even a pseudo-sorta "The Partridge Family" crossover, in the middle of this? (Also, holy christ, did Topanga just call Ethan Suplee's character a "Mallrat"? Man, they were way more inside jokes on this show than people realized.)

The thing is, as out-of-fucking nowhere as that was, and believe it or not, stuff like that wasn't as unusual on certain sitcoms in the day, and I can still list like, five or ten stranger things that happened, just on "Boy Meets World", but usually the actors on the show will know a little bit about how stuff like that happens. But, what happens when, the majority of your shows cast, are still not old enough to drive, much less, have like a real producers-like say in what happens in the show?

Yeah, they were very much in the dark on, a lot of stuff. Basically everything. They weren't in the writer's room, they were never producers on the show. Two of them became television directors, but when they weren't on set learning their lines and performing, they were busy with schoolwork or occasionally playing with some of the other kids on the ABC lots at that time. They show up, and basically be handed scripts and told to do the work 

"Boy Meets World" was a show, about and starring young kids, but was created and run by a bunch of adults..., and the show is about thirty years old now.... What I'm saying is, it didn't take too long for this podcast to start to get, um, somewhat uncomfortable....

I mean, there's nothing here on the likes of a Dan Schneider series, thank god, and it certainly was worst in the past for child actors,- you don't have to dig too far deep to find some really troubling horror stories that thankfully the kids of "Boy..." didn't have to go through, but-eh, yeah, how exactly, did these kids pull this show off? Not that they aren't capable, clearly they were, but like, what exactly was the process of, how, they pulled the show off?

I should stress that this podcast, there's a lot here for people, not just people who are fans of the "Boy Meets World", there's a lot of great behind-the-scenes details of working on a nineties network sitcom and how all that worked and some Disney lot stories and tales, some cool fan theories and details and some other fun details, and a lot of really great, eclectic interviews, but it didn't take long for some of these anecdotes to get a little, cringy.... So, other than Ben Savage, the next person who, has been the most conspicuously absent from the podcast, so far, is series creator Michael Jacobs. (Co-creator, actually, but that's a whole other mystery the podcast has searched through.) Jacobs is a very recognizable name in television, especially if you're my age and his shows were all over the television landscape in the '90s. At his best, which, I would argue are "Boy Meets World" and "Dinosaurs" he's created some of the best and most long-lasting television around. It's possible he's just, been busy; he's apparently been shooting a movie, but eh, it's never been explicitly said on the podcast yet, and I don't think it's a true claim I'm about to make here, but it certainly feels like he's being excluded, despite him working with every host on this podcast recently on "Girl Meets World", the aforementioned sequel series. It seems that while he was incredibly talented, and everybody who's on the show, hosts and guests alike, praises him for that, he also, had a bit of a controlling personality at times. One of their early episodes is with David Trainer, who is a longtime legendary television director, who's worked on basically almost every multicam sitcom you could think of in the last forty years, most notably, he directed every episode of "That '70s Show", but he also directed the first two seasons of "Boy Meets World". Anyway, their talking about the show and Danielle Fishel's talking about getting the part of Topanga, and eventually appearing in her first episode of the series, and like, up until, like the twenty minute mark, at least of this Youtube video on their page, it's all really fun reminiscing and storytelling about television's past. And then at around the 23 minute mark, this podcast goes from fun reminiscing to incredibly dark really fast.


Holy Christ! That is, some terrifying shit, if you're an adult to hear! Like, note sessions are common, run-throughs of the episode are common, but apparently Michael Jacobs of all showrunners might've been the most intense of all of them! (At least, I hope he was...!) He's telling this, to a brand new-to-the-show, possibly for only the one episode for-all-anybody-knows-at-that-point, 12-year-old girl! And if you keep listening, don't worry, it's not that he's just an eccentric control freak to little kids, he would tell grown-ass adults just as many obnoxious things too! (Seriously, why in the fuck would you ever tell Betty White to be more like Florence Stanley?! Like, good god, he was still the guy who only did "Charles in Charge" and "My Two Dads" at that point, and even if that wasn't the case, that's like a 12/10 on the "What-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you scale! Yikes!) And like, Trainer, to his credit, acts appropriately to that story, and then you can kinda just see everybody else like, trying desperately to come to grips with that kind of realization and get back on track with the podcast, it's is surreal. 

They joke about it at times how going through the show is almost like, therapy, since they do have only scattered recollections and memories, some of them, of the show, but like, "Pod Meets World" is part looking into a therapy session at times. Hell, the latest episode of "Pod Meets World" that posted, as I was typing this, is called "Group Therapy Meets World". It's also part mystery, 'cause since these kids were so in their own world, segregated from all the other goings-on on the set, things that would happen between the adults or that the adults would have to taken care of, they were mostly kept out the loop on them. Sometimes, for good reason, other times, maybe not so much. So, not only are they just looking back in general, they're kinda just piecing together a bunch of stuff that, well, might not technically be mysteries, but y'know, were mysteries to them. They didn't know what was going on. They were protected and kept out of some of this, and for all we know, it might've been for the best, but also, for them, things would suddenly just happen and they'd just have to go with it. Why the show would change so much? Why some people were there one day, and not the next and never again? They didn't know, and if they asked, they always get, like, a real satisfactory answer.

It's kinda like-, well, scratch that, it's exactly like when you're a kid and something's going on, and all the adults are acting weird and then, every time you ask for, exact details of what's going on, you don't get anything, and it's now, years later and you're going, "Wait, what the hell was all that about?" and now you're kinda finding out the information, 'cause you're older now, but you're still quite getting it entirely... This can be especially daunting for a TV series, where their actually can be a lot of turnover, and "Boy Meets World" in particular, was not necessarily a show that was considered a premiere series to be working on at the time, so, especially in places like the writer's room, grownups were coming in and coming out all the time. And "Boy Meets World" had a bunch of actors coming in and then suddenly leaving as well. Even if, more often than not, it's something benign, it's still, just, like, from their perspective, "WTF, where'd did person go? They're gone now?" 

Most every other podcast like these, even the ones I like, are basically just, analyzing the episode, maybe an interview or two with people from the show or associated with the show, and then, just everybody sharing their same old stories with old friends and all of whom are sharing interesting stories within themselves, at least, for us who hasn't heard most of them, but I'm sure if it wasn't from these particular people, these tales would mostly be just, stuff they lived through and remember and all already know. It's interesting to us, and occasionally there's a slight deviation, but it's mostly their boring stories of glory days. "Pod Meets World", by sheer circumstance of the podcasters being, really too young and out of the loop at the time, happen to be on a show that's stood the test of time, and was more groundbreaking and influential than it seemed to most at the time, and that show, just happens to have a very chaotic and complex behind-the-scenes world that made it at times seem, quite elaborate and complex on the screen as well, and these three just happen to have the willingness to be as out in the open with as much as they can, and be willing to find out and search for the answers to things that, they just missed when they were around, all this, and more, really makes this the most compelling and interesting podcast of the bunch. It's part therapy session, part investigation, part rewriting of history, part look at the '90s sitcom and child actor world, especially a look at the ABC lot, and yeah, you do get the occasional boring story and inside jokes between friends, but like, even those seem to come off and feel more like sudden repressed memories being unleashed to the forefront of their mind as they watch the show, either for the first time in years, or for the first time ever. It's way more compelling, and I hope other podcasts start popping up with similar vibes.

I mean, there's going to be lots of discussion and analysis on those most beloved, remembered and acclaimed shows and a lot of those shows, were so good and popular at the time and remain so now, that people who started with the show just stayed with the show for most of their run, and again, they were all adults, and were kept in the loop and well aware of everything going on, and frankly for some of the great shows, there isn't a lot of real drama, and even the stuff that was, can be pretty easily downplayed. But, the shows that weren't sure they were gonna survive the next year but somehow did and kept struggling to figure out what they had to do to stay on the air, and maybe had lots of tension in writer's room, lots of rotating producers, showrunners, cast, directors, etc.; they might not be the most beloved series, but they probably have way more interesting tales of the struggles of television back in the day, both the struggles of being apart of it, and the struggles with the actual progress of making it. Maybe those are the podcasts we can really use the most, and can learn and be inspired by more. 

(He writes before he actually starts thinking about some of those shows and some of the stories about and surrounding him.) 

But, then again...,- ugh... Yeah, actually strike that. After thinking about it, I totally get why, nobody would want to do a watchalong podcast, on eh-hmm, let's say for example, "Suddenly Susan" or "Cybill" or "Grace Under Fire", at least nobody with too much direct involvement with those or other shows, but I'm definitely glad we're getting "Boy Meets World" told this way. And they're not even done with season 2 yet. If you know the show, you know there's a lot coming up, and even if you don't know it like the back of your hand or don't feel like seeking out the episodes on Disney+ or elsewhere, there's still a lot to like and learn, fascinate and possibly terrify you on this podcast. anyway. 

Yeah, if there's one of these podcasts who I'm gonna recommend to someone who isn't intimately familiar with the show and doesn't necessarily want/need to go through the episodes with them to find the podcast fascinating, it's definitely "Pod Meets World". It might not be the most likely show that you'd think would lead to that great of a watchalong podcast, but that's perhaps exactly why it is.

Friday, April 14, 2023



So, I'm sorry I've been so delayed in getting out blogs lately. I genuinely didn't plan on that, but.... I've been going through a few sudden changes with my life and family at home. Honestly, it's- it's been pretty scary, and it's not going to get any easier anytime soon.... I've been devoting more and more of my time to that than watching movies and television. It's probably, affected my personality more than I wish to admit. I haven't been watching as much newer stuff as I should, it's actually been a struggle to do so to a degree. I'll continue to do so, but yeah, it's taken me longer to write, longer to edit.... It's not that I don't have a lot to say still, I certainly do, but it's become more of a struggle for me to actually get all my thoughts out there, and especially when I have other obligations, I'd rather take those precious moments when I'm focused enough to say what I want in the best ways I can than to simply let all my thoughts and emotions get jumbled together. If there are times in the present or near future where I'm unable to do that, I apologize, but when it comes to this, I'm always doing my best. 

So yeah, these blogs have become sporadic lately, and unfortunately, I'm not preparing for them to come out more thoroughly anytime soon. I wish I was, but don't confuse that for me not writing and posting, 'cause I do have a lot to say about a lot of things.... I'm not biding my time so much as I am, preserving it as much as possible. 

With that in mine, I've got a lot of films to catch on, and were gonna start now with a lot of the big award winners and players from this past year, and trust me, I ain't taking this much time to hold anything back. So, let's get to this latest batch of reviews. 

TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022) Director: Joseph Kosinski


Oh, I have been dreading having to watch this film and reviewing it. Not because I don't like it, which, yeah, I don't, spoiler, but also, for why I don't like it. 

Yes, it's another edition of my least favorite kind of review: "David has to watch a goddamn sequel to a movie he hated in the first place, because of all the damn awards attention it gets!" Spoilers again, btw, this will unfortunately not be the last of these, but that's not for a bit, hopefully. And you might be thinking, "Okay, so you don't like 'Top Gun', no big deal right? 

(Long frustrated sigh)

Look, I've been holding back for awhile on, mostly out of respect and good taste, but- look, it had been a long while since I actually saw the first "Top Gun", and so before I dived into this remake proper, I did my due diligence, and rewatched it for the first time in a long time. I thought, "Maybe I missed something?" "Maybe I didn't get it?" It wasn't a movie that was immediately clear in my memory,...- look, I'm just gonna say it, I'm sorry if this sounds insensitive, and I, in no way, mean any disrespect to the person's life and his family when I say this, I'm only talking about the person as an artist..., but I FUCKING HATE TONY SCOTT's FILMS!

All of them!

I haven't seen all of them admittedly, but every one I've ever seen I've hated. "Days of Thunder", terrible movie, fine, the racecar action stuff's okay, but the Tom Cruise plot was bad at that point, and the story is cliched and boring. "Unstoppable", his last film, "Speed" on a train? It's one of those movie's so structure-screenplay wise to death, that it just becomes nauseating. Like, god forbid we don't cutaway to a news footage scene then the audience wouldn't get how big it was. That's an issue with a lot of his films, if he doesn't have a particularly good writer, than he doesn't really know what to do other than to go by the book, whether it makes emotional or realistic sense or not. Not that he's any good with a good writer either, 'cause "True Romance" also sucks! How do you take a Tarantino screenplay, and make it a forgettable mess! He's the reason why the music in that film, which includes a character who's an Elvis impersonator, fucking sucks, which is stunning 'cause "Top Gun" is basically just a soundtrack in search of a movie. An overrated one at that I might add. 

(Also, can we talk about how "The Hunger" sucks real quick! How do you make a vampire movie with David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon in a love triangle, fucking boring!? Oh yes, shots of lace floating over a bed, that's- look I don't like Ridley either, but he can kinda get away with that sometimes, Tony wasn't that talented to pull that off. If you want to say it's sexy btw..., go rewatch it and convince me that, say an Adrian Lyne, or a Lawrence Kasdan or Brian De Palma, or even a David Lynch, wouldn't have taken those elements and made it sexier than he did. [Oh, David Lynch doing a vampire movie, somebody's gotta start a kickstarter for that.]) 

I don't know if "Top Gun" is the worst of the ones I've seen, and maybe he did make better films, that I just haven't gotten to. Some of them sound intriguing. I might get to "Domino" one day, that sounds interesting. I hear his films with Denzel are still popular. Maybe they're good too. But so far, I've just been annoyed at him. It's not like he's incompetent and doesn't have talent or know what he's doing, he's not that. He's had ideas, and he had certain skills, but it just has always seemed like his ideas are never placed in the best spots in any of his films. It's not always the same thing that annoys me with his films, but there's always something that annoys, and yes, "Top Gun" was no exception to me then, and it's no exception to me now. 

Looking back on it, it does bug me how much it seems like a music video than a film, especially in that opening montage. I never got the big appeal of fighter pilots to begin with, so if you don't care about fighter pilots, it feels very frustrating to be force-fed just how apparently great it is to be a fighter pilot. Especially in the middle of '80s, when we weren't even in the middle of any war or anything. BTW, our '80s obsession with fighter pilots was just really bizarre in general. "Top Gun" wasn't the only one, or the best of them even, (I'd argue "Iron Eagle II", yes, the sequel, was actually the best of the bunch) but none of them were actually good. I never did understand this obsession, but looking back on "Top Gun", I think it must've been video games that really got us obsessed with it. If you think back to how many early Atari and arcade games that were just basically a flying object shooting at stuff, then it starts to actually make a little sense, 'cause so many of the fighting scenes in "Top Gun" just feel like I'm watching somebody else play a video game. 

Yeah, watching "Top Gun" just made me want to play "1942" again,  especially since most of the flying scenes are just, practice, literally pretending to shoot down other planes instead of actually shooting down other planes, it feels more like the pretend fighting of a video game and if I'm not the one playing the game, than I'm just not interest in what's onscreen. 

These issues might be mitigated a bit, if I thought I bought more of the personal relationship in the film, but I never really did that either. It's an '80s Tom Cruise plot, he starts out as an arrogant, talented prick, and then shit happens, and then the movie ends with him being less of an arrogant prick. Some of these movies are better than others, and this pattern extended long beyond the '80s too, but this is not one of the more endearing ones, in hindsight. It's not "Cocktail" unwatchable, but it's got moments where it's closer to that than it thinks it is. I never bought the relationship he had with Kelly McGillis, it never felt really romantic the way other Cruise relationships in movies like these feel, and frankly it feels completely arbitrary and unnecessary, I literally think you could take it out and the movie would improve. (For the record, I believe the same thing about Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler in "Armageddon", not that that would've made that movie good) I don't like how we basically get to learn the most about Goose right before he dies; it feels exactly like that scene in "Hot Shots" where Jon Cryer's Dead Meat is about to die. (BTW, I definitely think "Hot Shots" and "Hot Shots Part Deux" don't get nearly enough appreciation for killing this genre.) 

Also, now looking back on it, it's so filled with that really icky '80s jingoism cheese, and especially so for what's essentially just...- "An Officer and a Gentleman" only way worst. Yeah, I said it, and I stand by it, "Top Gun" is a third-rate "An Officer and a Gentleman"-ripoff, and I'll take Richard Gere, Debra Winger, and Louis Gossett, Jr. any day. Same plot, same plotpoints, done 100x times better. 

I'm sorry for being so mean, but I've held back a lot of my Tony Scott thoughts in recent years, but it's been over a decade since his, very tragic and horrifying suicide, that honestly still haunts me a bit, but apparently it doesn't haunt people enough to not do sequels to his films that are almost forty years old. But he's also, not around, so maybe I'll like this sequel a little bit better. I recognize the names of some of those writers, Christopher McQuarrie, Eric Warren Singer, they're talented. Tom Cruise is still a good actor and there's other talent behind the scenes here, Clauido Miranda's a great cinematographer. Eh, Joseph Kosinski-, actually I don't know his work at all, what's he done? "Oblivion", oh yeah, I saw that. That, existed. He directed that "Tron" sequel I never got around to, another sequel to a movie I didn't like to begin with. "Only the Brave" is somewhere on the Netflix queue,... okay, so maybe not my favorite director, but he's still young and can surprise me. It can't be impossible to make a good "Top Gun" movie, right?

Well, I don't know, 'cause "Top Gun: Maverick" isn't a "Top Gun" movie. It's a "Mission: Impossible" movie. It's still got the form, structure and veneer of "Top Gun" and that is all annoying and in that sense, that said, I really don't get why they held so close to the original movie, 'cause the first movie, was nothing. It's was just a bunch of fighter pilots in a fighter pilot school. There were no real stakes for most of the films. That's why it doesn't work, nothing occurs that's meaningful enough to matter until it's way too late, and frankly the characters aren't developed enough past archetypes to care about them when something does happen. 

So, at least this time, when Capt. Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is sent back to Top Gun, there's an actual goal. There's an actual mission that needs to be done, and he has to go through the Academy's best really quick and figure out which of the main recruits are actually talented enough to pull off this difficult mission. Naturally, he's annoyed, mostly because he just wanted to do the mission himself, but there's a "Mission: Impossible" task, and even if he can't take to the air himself, he knows he still needs a few wingmen. It's "Mission: Impossible" just through a "Top Gun" filter, and... 


So, Tom Cruise. I've alluded already to the Tom Cruise archetype that he kinda boxed himself into in his early years as a superstar, and on the one hand you can make an argument that he never really got out of those roles, but I don't think that's fair. There was a long period of time from the late '80s on, up until the mid-2000s, where Tom Cruise played against his type and beyond his type in a lot of really challenging and intriguing roles. But we're well into late stage Tom Cruise era, where he's generally just a Hollywood societal pariah, for various reasons, and he has all-in-all just stop giving a damn about actually being the actor that he really could be, and he's really just trying to keep "Tom Cruise Industries" alive. That's not to say that he's not capable of a good film or a good performance, "Edge of Tomorrow" came out of this period for instance, and that's probably the second-best film to figure out how to do a "Groundhog Day" plot ever, but even that film is just another in a long line of action star vehicles for Cruise, that frankly, have become interchangeable from each other, whether they're good or bad. Whether he's Jack Reacher, or Ethan Hunt, or now, Maverick, they're not-so-much movies as they are multi-million dollar promotions to remind everybody that Tom Cruise, is indeed still, Tom Cruise and he is indeed the greatest movie star actor in Hollywood.

And now, with this "Top Gun" sequel, it's maybe his most desperate multi-million dollar reminder yet. Cause he is going into the past to make a film that's about how big he is and was. "Top Gun"'s other biggest flaw...- (God's the original movie really did suck) was that Maverick was simply just too good of a fighter pilot, and unfortunately that's one flaw that "Top Gun: Maverick" didn't alleviate. He's still Maverick, he's still the best, and even as he's seemingly over-the-hill for all of his new ace students, he's still the one who's the most talented. So, he comes in and is usually right about everything, there's a Jon Hamm character who's his antagonist at the flight school who's job is to oversee the mission, and essentially just be and look authoritative and be wrong all the time. 

There's other actors here, Miles Teller is Rooster, he is Goose's son who's joined the Navy to become a fighter pilot, and there's a subplot between them as Maverick pulled Rooster's file and stalled his fighter pilot career for a few years, which is a bit of a dick move. We do get to see Val Kilmer reprise his role as Iceman, and that was nice to see. Val lost his voice due to throat cancer a few years ago, he's occasionally taken a few minor roles, but he mostly doesn't act anymore, and it was nice to see him in a small cameo. 

I did think the romance subplot, this time, was a little better. I think it grounded the movie a bit, whereas, it just felt arbitrary in the original. This time, Maverick's dating the owner of the local bar, Penny (Jennifer Connolly-, wait, really!? That was Jennifer Connolly! I didn't recognize her? Why does she look so different and yet still hotter than ever!? What the-! Why haven't we looked more into that sorcery.) Anyway, this is a better relationship and has more of a point too, I like how he's still a kid with her, especially with Penny hiding her relationship from her kid, Amelia (Lyliana Wray), and with a name like that, I get why she wouldn't want her daughter knowing she's dating a fighter pilot. That's like tempting fate twice. Still, I like that this relationship not only feels more realistic, but is more relevant to the plot too, as Penny is kinda the only adult in the movie that Maverick can really talk to and discuss his own issues with. It's an evolved relationship, and it feels like it's spread over time and not just, a fling with an instructor while the real romance is between the fellow fighter pilots. (Yeah, I also don't like how bro-y the original is either; military-approved masculinity [jerk off motion with hand])

Look, this isn't terrible, I don't want to sound like I'm just here to bash "Top Gun: Maverick". I'm here to bash "Top Gun" mostly, but "Top Gun: Maverick" isn't a good movie either. It's a better movie than "Top Gun" so, I'll give it that, and if you have fond memories of the original, memories that I don't have, than I'm not gonna say don't watch it. I am kinda flabbergasted though at how beloved this film is; it's legitimately winning some of the bigger critical awards out there, and frankly, it's much more by-the-numbers than I think people recognize. I mean, yeah, they're playing football on the beach but not volleyball, but maybe people just haven't seen "Top Gun" in a while and don't realize how close the two films are in their formulas, but watching them back-to-back really does reveal how close they really are structurally. I felt like I was beaten over-the-head with a giant three-act structure book. Maybe it is more artistically appealing and critically interesting, in enough places, but I think that has more to do with Tom Cruise just being a more interesting artist than Tony Scott was, so much so that even his giant ego-filling nostalgia-ladened blockbuster action films are just a little more interesting, butI'm actually shocked that more people aren't calling it out as being another in Cruise's long line of these late period Cruise action blockbusters, 'cause to me, this was very much, just a "Mission: Impossible" movie dressed up in "Top Gun" clothing.

 It's not new, it's not unique, it's admittedly better than the original, but not significantly so,- in fact, with this movie, more than any other recent Cruise film is-, excuse the horrible pun, but comparatively, feels like it's on cruise control. I might have liked some "Mission: Impossible" or "Jack Reacher" films and hated others, but they definitely felt more like Cruise was trying his damnedest to make them as big and important as possible, and "Top Gun: Maverick" feels like he's finally just decided to give up and take the easy way out. He's stopped trying to make new music; he's just gonna play the hits now. 

Maybe I wouldn't even mind if he picked a better hit, or at least a more interesting one to follow up on. Off the top of my head, I wonder if he should've tried a sequel to "The Color of Money"; that was a sequel to a film that was decades old at the time, and that was the one '80s Tom Cruise film that didn't follow the Tom Cruise movie formula. He started off as an attractive and likeable prick, but by the end of the movie, he was just a different attractive prick. Maybe there, his character's redemption arc wouldn't feel so much like he was just learning the same lesson twice.  

GUILLERMO DEL TORO'S PINOCCHIO (2022) Directors: Guillermo Del Toro and Mark Gustafson 


I think after all these years, Walt Disney might've had the right idea with Pinocchio. I don't really know who was asking for so many Pinocchio adaptations in a row, but it's definitely made me think about the story a lot in recent years. As an Italian-American, I'm somewhat close to it. It's Italy's main gift to the world of Children's Literature, and I don't think people know just how big the story is. Carlo Collodi's original book is one of the most translated books in the world. I've heard some reports list it as high as the third most sold book of all-time worldwide. I'm not surprised that, even today, many of the biggest artists of our time, like Guillermo Del Toro, have decided to retell the story. Hell, Roberto Benigni's worked on two versions, one as "Pinocchio" he directed himself and another where he played Gepetto. I liked the one he didn't direct more, although ironically, the one he directed, is probably the closest to accurate to the actual book. 

That's the thing, while "Pinocchio" is, technically a children's story, it's a pretty dark one, with a lot of disturbing and sometimes horrifying imagery. Even the classic Disney version can often show up on scariest film moments lists, with some sudden and scary body dysmorphia and all the main characters, inevitably getting swallowed and eaten by a whale, that they have to escape. 

Yeah, reading "Pinocchio" is also one of those weird times, where you suddenly realize just how influential Dante Alighieri's is over the whole of Italian literature. It is not as inaccurate comparison as one may think to consider "Pinocchio" as a journey into Hell narrative. That said, it also means that their actually is quite a lot of leeway into adapting the material. Like I said, Disney,  probably found the best way to aim it more towards younger kids, took out most of the surreal aspects, and focus in on the most simple moral lessons, with just enough frightening imagery to scare little kids, but not enough to haunt most of their nightmares for years to come. I also, in hindsight, think the 2-D animation helps to the story's advantage. One of the big issues with other versions is how, the more realistic the stories appears, physically, the harder it becomes to buy. Somehow, Disney's original 2-D animation, makes the story more palatable. And that makes sense, because Pinocchio, in that classic version, I mean, he is technically a wooden boy for most of the film, but he's always more boy than wood in appearance. Even as his nose is growing and becomes more treelike as he continues to tell a tall tale, it still seems like a nose that you could easily see on some other animated character of the time. If a dog popped up on "Tom & Jerry" with that little stub of a nose, nobody would think otherwise. 

So, what happens when that character, becomes more 3-dimensional, and not only does that nose, seem wooden, but Pinocchio (Gregory Mann) seems more like a marionette than a boy, to the point where he can easily accidentally set his shoes and feet on fire. Well, for me, I think it kinda means the story's real metaphor is gone. Despite everything, "Pinocchio" is at it's heart a story of, coming-of-age, growing up narrative. We start out young and fragile and unknowing of the world around us, then we venture out into the world, and have some pretty distressful misadventures, but you eventually, survive, and become, a real boy, or a man, essentially. I feel like the more literal that becomes, the less metaphor works, but you can still take the elements and come up with your own story and interpretation. For instance, Del Toro adds a more tragic backstory to Geppetto (David Bradley), instead of the lonely woodcarver designing a doll that he wishes would come to life, he actually has a son in the beginning, appropriately named Carlo (Alfie Tempest), but he passes away as a church that he was working on carving out a crucifix for, is accidentally bombed during the war. 

That's another thing, Del Toro decides to set the story in the early days of World War II, and the rise of Mussolini fascism in Italy. Now, he still has the subplot of Pinocchio, skipping school and running off to become the reluctant star of a circus, run by Count Volpe (Christoph Waltz) and his monkey Spazzatura (Cate Blanchett, weirdly, okay), obviously his version of the Fox and the Cat, but there's also an attempt to turn Pinocchio into a soldier by Podesta (Ron Perlman), who in this version is the father of Candlewick (Finn Wolfhard), who doesn't become a donkey in this version, but is a shy bully who struggles to get his father's affection and approval as acts more aggressively and combatively than he actually is. Podesta thinks that, because Pinocchio is a wooden boy, this makes him unkillable and therefore, the potential perfect soldier, while Volpe, is obviously more interested in the novelty of Pinocchio. 

It's not that Pinocchio can't die, he dies a few times actually, but after the Blue Fairy, or in this version she's called the Wood Sprite (Tilda Swinton) gives him life, and when he does die or is killed, he goes up to Death, who happens to be the Sprite's sister (Also, Swinton) who allows for a brief discussion before an hourglass runs out and Pinocchio returns to the living. It these characters in particular to me that really show Del Toro's stylistic touches, 'cause if you didn't realize that these character were from Pinocchio, they could easily fit into "Pan's Labyrinth". In fact, if you really think about it, there's a lot of "Pan's Labyrinth" in this film. The childhood story about war, the fascist military impeding upon the main child protagonist, the family combating against that state.... And yeah, the Faun-like magical creatures. I've always been a little more hesitant towards Del Toro's more eccentric art designs for his more fantastical characters; it's one of the reasons I've never been as big on "Pan's Labyrinth", I'm generally just not as intrigued by his magical worlds of characters than I usually am the more human stories. That's probably also why I think of "The Shape of Water" as his best film, as it doesn't just have parallel worlds but actually combines them elegantly into each other and into a lovely modern telling of a Kong-esque romance. This also explains why Pinocchio would obviously appeal to him; it's a great combination of the fantasy with the humanity. And for the most part it works. 

I perhaps would enjoy it more, if this was, like the 2nd version of "Pinocchio" I ever saw; sometimes seeing the same story told a lot of different ways can get you kinda jaded about the story itself, and I'm probably just there with "Pinocchio" 'cause there were points where I was mostly just waiting around for the inevitable as opposed to appreciating these changes and alterations and what they meant. It's a good version if nothing else I'll give it that. I think if you like Del Toro's work, then you'll like his "Pinocchio". I do like how the two groups of Pinocchio's antagonists are essentially the two sides of Del Toro's own conflicts between his disdain for a right-wing autocracy which I assume comes from his Spanish ancestry, but also how the circus world's express his work as an artist and performer. I'd bet his favorite scene was when Pinocchio, while performing on stage decides to change up his routine and turns it into a humiliating comedy piece on Mussolini. 

I suspect he probably see a little of himself in Sebastien Cricket (Ewan McGregor) as well. That's the name for the Cricket who acts, eh, mainly as Pinocchio's conscience in this one, but he also has a deal with the Wood Sprite too and he has an evolving personal arc as well. Personally, I didn't think his character was as necessary here, as it would be in other version, but it all works well enough. I don't expect this "Pinocchio" to be the new popular version that most relate to or think of as the definitive version, but it's a solid version. And the animation is spectacular; it's the first stop-motion animation to win the Oscars since "Wallace & Gromit"'s movie, and it deserves it's spot in that place.

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022) Director: Martin McDonagh



I didn't really know what to expect with a film called "The Banshees of Inisherin", although I presumed I would get some kind of return-to-form for writer/director Martin McDonagh, but I was still taken a bit surprised and aback at exactly what I got. It begins with a friendship being broken up. Padraic (Oscar-nominee Colin Farrell) wonders why his friend Colm (Oscar-nominee Brendan Gleeson) doesn't want to go out to the pub like they always do. He wonders what he said or did, and finally, Colm eventually admits simply, "I just don't like you anymore." 
Nothing comes up from it, nothing started from it, just he liked hanging around the person before, and now he doesn't. 


This confuses Padraic to no end, but honestly, I love this. I mean, don't we all have a few people who we simply used to like being around, and then, we suddenly just don't want to be around them? Perhaps they changed, perhaps we changed. Perhaps no one changed, but you just get sick of them. Colm thinks Padraic is just too boring to be around, and you know what, some people are genuinely boring to be around. They might be good people, but eventually you get tired of them. I wonder if sometimes we just don't say that out right enough and just create some kind of dramas in order to come up with reasons to not have them apart of our lives instead of just being more straight up about it. Of course, Padraic, who very much valued his friendship, doesn't appreciate this bluntness and wants to greater answers, or just wants to go back to being friends with Colm, but Colm is insistent on it. There's another level to this conflict though. And it's an interesting conflict symbolically that I appreciate here and it's the conflict between artist and fan. Or artist and the audience really. 

It's a subject I have a lot of thoughts on myself. You see, Colm, isn't just stopping being friends with Padraic because he's boring, it's because he's an artist, a musician specifically, and he's writing a song and he feels that his art is more important than his friendships. Meanwhile, Padraic, who tries to understand Colm's feelings but doesn't really get them, think that his soliloquys on the power of music aren't as compelling as just being a good person. Essentially this film is a fable about the conflict between the snob of being an artist and those who think art is more important than anything, and the general niceness of the so-called common man, who cares more about the regular day-to-day activities of their life. And it's interesting to me, 'cause I kinda do see Colm's side here. And I get how much he's devoted to that perspective, and for that matter how shallow that perspective is.  There's this old saying about how moralists don't belong in an art gallery, I think it's a Han Suyin quote, and yeah, I can see that train of thought; somebody who is good and gentle and friendly, and doesn't want anything but the best, or do anything but be nice, can seem like the exact opposite of an artistic perspective who's constantly looking for all the colors of life. 

For instance, Colm starts befriending more the local police chief Peader (Gary Lydon), meanwhile Lydon is a shit cop who's constantly on Padraic's ass, and his son Dominic (Oscar-nominee Barry Keoghan) who is slightly simpleminded and annoying enough in his own way that he even gets under Padraic's nerves, but he takes him in anyway to get away from his father. This does inspire Colm momentarily as Padraic actually standing up to him actually impresses him, but this still only goes so far. 

Eventually, Padraic's niceness causes Colm to begin uh, how should I put this, sacrificing himself as punishment for Padraic's constant pursuing. Padraic's sister Siobhan (Oscar-nominee Kerry Condon) who Colm recognizes as being more cultured and knowledgeable than Padraic, tries to help pause this strange war of words, and even put Colm in his place a bit, but she can only go so far. She's an interesting character too, because she seems like she would be better off on her own, but stays in order to help take care of Padraic, even though he's a grown man, but he can easily be taken in by the world around him. And somebody has to make sure he doesn't just leave his favorite donkey inside with him all day. 

Oh yeah, Padraic has a donkey, who he keeps inside sometimes when he's feeling sad, Padraic feels sad, not the donkey feeling sad. It'll come up later....

There's a real sense of ennui in "The Banshees of Inisherin", not just in the characters, but the world itself. I think this movie could take place at any time, but it's actually in the early 1920s, at the tail end of the Irish Civil War, although that always seems to be, somewhere over there, on some other island where the two sides are still going at it. They can hear the gunshots sometimes. That war was brief, but still remains very influential in much of Irish politics, and this little war of words that evolves into war of injuries, personal and otherwise, can probably be looked upon as a symbolic representation of the divide in the country. Personally, I prefer what it says about the artist and the audience myself. How an artist's singleminded, tunnel-visioned insistence on perfection in their world can lead, hypothetically to some great art that stands the test of time, but can also make him blinded by the real emotional struggles of those close to them. It even makes sense how they can only feel their own pain being suffered so much that it barely occurs to them to inflict pain on anybody except themselves, that's how insular they are. 

McDonagh's been an amazing playwright for years now, and since he's gone into filmmakers he's had some ups and downs. His debut feature "In Bruges" feels more masterful with each passing year for instance, although I've been more underwhelmed by his more recent efforts. "Seven Psychopaths" I find fun, but not essential, and while I think "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is made well, the perspective of the film seems more wrong-minded for McDonagh. He's an British filmmaker, although with a name like McDonagh, I'm sure there's some Irish in him as well, and either way his best films focus on these distinctly local characters of his. Farrell and Gleeson are one of the best pairings I can think of for onscreen actors; these two have such great chemistry that I almost don't want to see one of them without seeing the other, and these are two of their very best performances. I'm actually surprised the film has caught on so much as I can easily see people being underwhelmed by this strange film. It's a tragicomedy that plays out like it's entire purpose is to just undermine all the conventions of the narrative genre it feels like it should be bathing itself in. In a way, this movie feels more like one of his plays than any other feature he's done before, and frankly I like him best when his films feels like he plays. I don't know if it's very best film, "In Bruges" is a comedy masterpiece that's hard to top, but it's my favorite of his films since, and and is probably the film that has the most depth of his recent films. There's a lot more to get out of "The Banshees of Inisherin" than any of his other films, and that's the most inspiring part of it to me. 

TAR (2022) Director: Todd Field



Todd Field's hasn't made a movie in a while, a long while; I hadn't realized exactly how long until I looked it up. It's been sixteen years since his second feature "Little Children", a movie that I recalled liking a lot more than most did. I don't know how it would play today though; it's one of the last of the great dark indy films that were made between the late '90s and through to the early 2000s about all the cynicism and dark behaviors and corners of those suburban types. You know, how the picket fence neighborhoods hide the darkest secrets of America, "American Beauty", "Happiness", those kinds of films. This trends sound weird now, but honestly, many of these were films that needed to be made at the time, and I think more than a few of them hold up pretty well, and probably helped lead to the current movement of challenging the systemic patriarchies of today. There were quite a few of them, and he made two good ones. His previous feature before that was "In the Bedroom" which I think is probably more appreciated now than it was at the time, probably a little overrated now, but I remember being, intrigued by it, but not finding it particularly beloved. "Little Children", I liked more for it's excessiveness but it was a bit of messy multi-narrative, honestly, and in hindsight, maybe has a few too many conveniences, but the performances, especially Oscar-nominated work from Kate Winslet and Jackie Earle Haley really pulled the movie through. "In the Bedroom", was also an adaptation, but it was of a short story though, and it was expanded greatly, and again, the performances were the main appeal, and was mainly carried by the film's barrage of incredible performances. It wasn't multi-narrative, but it changed it's perspective quite a few times, and some people thought the movie itself changed it's genre and intention too many times to count. First it was the story of a May-December romance, then it was a family drama, then it family a disturbing family tragedy and seemed to evolve to a healing from grief story, only to then evolve even further into darker nightmare territory, before it's disturbing final strokes at the end. Both those movies dealt with very adult themes, sex, lust, attraction, lost, revenge, in "Little Children"'s case pedophilia, and what I'm gonna gently call "self-harm", grief especially as well, but especially after watching "Tar", this sprawling epic character piece of his that's also basically, it seems that one major theme in his work, and that's perception. His movies are essentially about how the world can see people, or the places they live and inhabit, or the way they live and seem, and then, just get inside just enough to show how that perception is just a bit a facade. A bit off, a bit different than we would ever suspect if we only just seem them in their apparent day-to-day lives. 

Looking at "Tar", a movie that feels like it was designed for Cate Blanchett to simply exude all of her acting skills all over the screen, we get a lot of seeing the perception of who Lydia Tar (Blanchett) is, and quite little of who it turns out she really is. And even then, there's questions. We know Lydia is a bad person, but she's also a talented conductor, apparently one of the best of our time, and we know she's done some bad things to people, it's happened so often apparently that even before we really see supposed bad things she's done, she's confronted about her reputation at one point by someone who is supposedly her superior. We're not questioning whether she's a bad person, but we are questioning how bad is she, exactly? Is she bad enough that people are protesting her appearance at a book signing, that she has to give court depositions in what was otherwise a suicide case of a former student of hers? Is she bad enough to have her wife Sharon (Nina Hoss) prevent her from seeing her kid Petra (Mila Bogojevic). 

Honestly, I have another question though? Why did Todd Field, make this? I feel like it has something to do with the perception vs. the behind-the-curtain reality, but I understood why "In the Bedroom" and "Little Children" existed; I felt like they had something to say about the subjects they tackles and how they tackled them. I've having a harder time trying to explain or justify "Tar" in that matter. 
So, Lydia Tar is a master composer, often considered the best in the world. The first half hour of the movie seems to just be a long list of her accomplishments and interviews, before we first get a few faint words about Krista Taylor (Sylvia Flote), a former student who's since become an obsessive e-mailer. She tries to pawn off the issue to her assistant Francesca (Noemie Merlant) but her claims keep getting more obsessive. Eventually, while she's working with the Berlin Symphony, we find out that Sylvia has killed herself, and Lydia's being asked questions periodically. Eventually, she gets accused of practices like grooming and trading sexual favors for preference. It doesn't help that she fixed the scorecards on one cellist, Olga's (Sophia Kauer) score during an audition and she begins becoming her pseudo pet project. 

Yet, we don't really see her do anything explicit, but after Krista's suicide, she instructs that all her emails be deleted, which of course, wouldn't do anything as e-mails go two ways. Basically, we see a downfall story of an incredibly talented woman go down in the #MeToo movement, and for the most part, she seems confused and baffled by it. We only see one classroom scene with her, and it's kinda interesting because she does go after a student who refuses to appreciate Bach because of his past behaviors and opinions, and for being a white cis male who's music's been stuffed down our throats for decades. And it's a weird scene, but I also kinda remember siding with her argument.... Of course, eventually a tape of that scene, which shouldn't have been shot, gets heavily edited and posted on Youtube to make her look much worst than she was, although you could argue that she was pretty lousy. I mean, that kid is obnoxious, but,- I guess the point of that scene, is to show her trying to defend her own behavior by defending the controversial actions of others in her field. 

The thing that keeps bothering me is that, there are plenty of people who did get caught up in the #MeToo movement and have their careers ended, and somehow have to find a way back, or take less stressful work on the other side of the world, but Lydia Tar, is a completely made up character. And I can't tell if we're supposed to feel sympathy for her, because this incredible talent now has to take, supposedly demeaning work towards a lower-crust audience to keep working by the end after losing everything else in her life, or if we're supposed to be mocking her. 

Personally, I wouldn't even let her have that redemption in the end; she still gets to work and perform in front of a crowd and continues to be creative in her field; is this his way of showing that behavior like hers doesn't matter if you're talented enough, or is this supposed to be some kind of cosmic joke that it's her punishment for her behavior. I really can't tell, and I'm a little scared of finding out the answer. Or what Field thinks is the answer. 

Don't get me wrong with this line of criticism, "Tar" is an amazing movie. The acting of course is top notch, and the filmmaking is stellar; there's a lot of scenes in this movie where there's not a lot in particular going on, but you're constantly entranced, that's great filmmaking, especially for a movie that's well over the 2 1/2 hour mark, but by the end, I also felt like I had more questions than answers. This movie deserves and in some ways insists on being criticized on the highest levels possible, and I think I'm doing that by calling out the artificiality of the premise, which yes, does indeed feel artificial, when compared to the real stories of the groomers and sexual predators. I'm not saying it's a bad idea to creating somebody else out of whole cloth to put through a similar life arc as those who were taken down by #MeToo, I'm just trying to figure out why? Why this character? Why this arc? Why this path? Why these details of se path? I always felt like there was deeper and more complex insinuations and meanings in Field's previous feature films, but with "Tar" either I feel like I need to dive much further into Field's personal life and work to figure out what I'm missing from it, or "Tar" really is as simple as, "Let's just create this immensely great character for Cate Blanchett to win an Oscar at, and we'll use the #MeToo tragedy arc to put her through it." If it is the former, I hope I do find out what it is one day to make this film work better for me, but if it's the latter, we'll I'm still gonna take it, 'cause of course I will, but it's one of those rare instances where I feel giving a 4 1/2 STARS rating still constitutes a huge disappointment. 

NOTE: After I did finish writing this review I did look up more analyses of the film online, and I think I'm sold enough that Field's reasoning for creating this film is deeper and more depth-filled than I originally thought. I particularly was inspired by Maggie Mae Fish's Youtube essay on how time is regarded as an important aspect to "Tar", both the film and the character. It hasn't changed my rating of the film, and I still feel like I have some conflicting thoughts on the film itself though. I wonder what'll happen once we start making a lot more movies about real life subjects of those predators caught up in the #MeToo movement, how well "Tar" will hold up. Perhaps it'll hold up better than more ripped from the headlines tales, perhaps it'll seem more arbitrary and symbolic rather than a deep look inside the institutional and systemic parts of society that eventually lead to the #MeToo backlash, but either way, I'm more convinced in terms of that movement, "Tar" is the movie we need right now, as oppose to some of those other tales that are still permeating the entertainment worlds and other such institutions. 

AFTERSUN (2022) Director: Charlotte Wells


A fellow critic that I follow on Facebook posted that she was watching "Aftersun" shortly after I had finished watching it. She mentioned liking the film a lot and had her fair reasons and arguments and others talking about it as well.... I tried to participate as well, but I was still mulling my thoughts on this one myself. 

In fact, I kinda still am. I did like it, I think it is one of those films where perhaps some are putting more into it than might be on the actual screen, but.... 

Well, on the surface, it's one of those movies that seems like it was made as an excuse to take a vacation. This time, it's between a father and a daughter. The father, Calum (Paul Mescal) is a Scottish farmer, who's divorced from his wife, and is struggling elsewise, emotionally and financially, but he's trying to keep that hidden from his twelve-year-old daughter, Sophie (Frankie Corio) while they're on vacation in Turkey. 

It's not hard to describe what goes on in the film, but it is difficult to explain the tone of the film itself. The movie is actually shown mostly in flashbacks from a perspective of an adult Sophie (Celia Rowlson-Hall) looking back on video footage of the vacation that her father shot and reflecting on the footage, as wella s the vacation itself. There's also sequences too, that may be memories she's reliving, maybe made up images that she's adapted, they might be combinations of several memories or ideas ramming into her conscious or subconscious thoughts. The fact that the main one of these takes place at a rave doesn't detract from the mind-altering nature some of this has either. 

This is one of those movies I can totally see people hating because it seems like it's just being too artsy for it's own good, but I've seen people recommend this as emotional storytelling as opposed to literal storytelling, and I tend to agree, but I do question just how powerful and emotional the story is. 

What I got out of it was that she was looking back at like, the last time she had any real emotional time with her father, before he falls off and out of her life. I think that's symbolized by them meeting back up at that rave, which is depicted, not as her younger self, but as her older self reflecting on her still young father. He's still there, and she's been living her whole life without him. They're only 20 years apart, so he had her young, perhaps too young. He's going through a divorce, so, he's going through the mid-life crisis and meanwhile she's starting to go out into the world; even on this vacation she not only remembers the time with her father but also making friends with other kids, some her age, although most of them older. And yeah, he might be suicidal, there's talk of him expecting to die younger, so it could be death literal or figurative.... I got it, I just am not sure just how powerful it was. 

I feel like I wanna say there's better versions of this; my favorite, and one I usually go-to for my comparison is "What Maisie Knew" from a few years ago, where we see a child's perspective as both her parents get divorce and she eventually ends up being raised by her nanny-turned stepmom and her mother's new husband. It's not a fair comparison though, there's a lot more going on in that film, and the main character is much younger, I think she was like, five or six, not a preteen 12, but it's also more clear to us, the audience, what's happening even if it's only vaguely understandable to the girl, and with "Aftersun", it's not as clear-cut to either us or to the girl. That's purposeful though, it is an older person reflecting on her vacation and trying to piece together what she then, didn't know. However, doing that, also means that it kinda comes off to me like a reflection of a reflection, and I'm still not sure how good or bad that is. Another film it kinda reminds me of "The Souvenir" as well, which I didn't like oddly enough; I actually liked the sequel to that film a lot better, kinda for the same reason I'm not entirely sure I like this film. I feel like I wish I knew more of what how the girl ends up reacting to this experience with her father. We see her experiencing them, and we see her reminiscing about them..., we get a few glimpses, of what she's become and how it's effected her now, but it's not as concrete. It doesn't have to be like, "Oh, because he was like that, she's now like that...", but I wish that part of the story was a little stronger. I guess you could argue this film itself is that response, the movie is at least semi-autobiographical, first-time feature writer/director Charlotte Wells has admitted this, even calling it emotionally autobiographical, if not a literal story, and that's fine, and interesting,... You could argue that this film is a therapy movie, just her finally getting her own memories and thoughts out of her head, and is just her way of depicting that strained and fractured relationship she had with her father, or some father-figure at least. I think stretching that far has it's own issues, but I will say this, if it a therapy script, then she found, probably the best angle to take on it. 

It's a movie about how difficult it is to connect to a beloved relative who just wasn't apart of your life long enough or close enough to actually really truly know him. You hang on to those small memories, whatever they were, whether they be him being angry at losing a SCUBA mask, or him paying for a rug you like even though it's too expensive just to surprise you, and then you end up looking back and wondering, what exactly were they going through, and what were they actually feeling? In some ways, this is hard to do even for those who we actually are genuinely really close to. It's like trying to put the jigsaw puzzle together even when you know that it's missing too many pieces, you're just trying to get the best picture you can with the pieces you do have. 

I think that's what puts it slightly over for me; it's one of those films that's more profound in idea and concept than it is entertaining, but it's profound enough to recommend.   

THE WOMAN KING (2022) Director: Gina Prince-Blythewood


There's a weird line of cultural appreciation and adoption that I always feel that's the hardest one to judge. It's when I hear cries, or outright see a film that's clearly from a minority perspective but the story they tell is very western in narrative. It's tricky, 'cause usually the West, and usually, white people, have this tradition and history, of dominating and enslaving and otherwise destroying a lot of these other cultures, but also taking their culture and adopting it into their own. Sometimes it's acceptable and creates amazing art, and other times it's just downright offensive. Sometimes it can be both, but usually it's pretty easy to judge them for doing it, mainly 'cause they're western white people, they're usually in the wrong, so it's easy. But what about if the story, is very western and it's trying to be adapted through a minority culture's lens. Or not even the story, just the arc of that story, the narrative arc that is undeniably western, is that a good idea? Like the most common one I can think of bouncing around in film circles is that their should be a black James Bond. Idris Elba's name was brought up for years regarding this. My reaction wasn't so much that, it was offensive to white people, or British people, I always felt it was more perplexing than anything else. Like, "Why do you want a black James Bond?" Couldn't black people create their own more interesting version of that character. I mean, they did in the past; there were plenty of blaxploitation characters who you can easily compare to James Bond. Shaft, Foxy Brown, etc. I'm not saying we don't deserve to have own culture appropriated too, we totally do, that's not even a discussion, I'm just baffled as to why others would want to. And this discussion gets even more complicated when you throw gender into it. Why not a female James Bond, some would say, and again, I'd ask, "Do you really want that?" 

And again, I'm not saying that this conundrum is good or bad, or right or wrong, I'm saying it's hard to determine from where this is copying or this is creative. And again, there's a lot of reasons historical and otherwise for this. Let's take "The Woman King" which feels like this issue on hard mode. On the one hand, it's a historical war drama that Hollywood's making about an ancient culture, hardly a new topic. I can easily see this film as something like, IDK "Troy" or look at it and see something much older and low-rent, like a lot of those old public domain Hercules movies that show up on every Roku streaming channels you tried to watch once, and then never again. You know, those old ones with the laughably bad costumes, and the obvious fake sets and the completely illogical and historically inaccurate hair and makeup styles. Which, actually, come to think about it, are cornrows older than I think they are? Actually, they just might be, now that I think about it....- Anyway, in structure, those old-styles period swashbuckling Hollywood epics, that's the kind of movie we get here. 

In narrative structure anyway, and to be perfectly honestly, I don't like most of those films. They're not necessarily bad entertainment if you don't take them too seriously, but they're usually so grandiose in scale, and to me, that makes them feel much more like folklore than history, or even historical fiction. I'm much more of a "Johnny Tremain" guy than a "Last of the Mohicans" guy. But, either way, in those instances, I also know the history pretty well. This is a case where I don't, and I suspect a lot of people don't. And that's concerning, 'cause now we have a very African story, being told by Hollywood, and even when it's told well, eh, you're gonna run into some issues. 

For one, what is the history we're being introduced to here? 

Okay, so in West Africa, in what we now think of as Southern Benin area, there ruled the Kingdom of Dahomey. The Dahomey were in constant conflict with several nearby tribes, but most notably, the Oyo Empire, which was a larger and much bigger Kingdom than than the Dahomey; they took up a pretty big chunk of West Africa for a time. But, the Dahomey survived, in part because of a group of female soldiers called- well, the French called them the Dahomey Amazons, but the term they used for themselves was the Agojie. These were an elite military force who mastered swordplay and were known for their intensive training and physical prowess. They also lived almost samurai-like lives. They're training was intensive, they couldn't get married or have kids, I'd say most of the movie's more interesting parts were just seeing the training and the action scenes of the women approaching the battles. Not necessarily the action themselves, which were fine, but the strategizing and game-planning, the reveals of how they end up attacking. Well, I don't really know if they were interesting in of themselves, but I think the filmmakers were most interested in them. 

That, and there is one other interesting aspect, in what/who/why these women are fighting the Oyo and other tribes. So, the movie takes place,- well, I'm not exactly sure of when the film takes place, but it still takes place during the slave trade, and something that's kinda forgotten or underwritten about is how often, the African nations leaders would indeed help acquire slaves to the traders, and work with them. So, the deal is that, the Oyo are kidnapping members of the Dahomey and capturing them as prisoners of war, and those prisoners are the ones that get traded to slavers from the West in exchange for other goods. Now in the movie, the Dahomey, refuse to adopt this practice and hence, the rising of this Agojie to protect the Dahomey from capture and inevitable enslavement, in this case, the representative here is a Portogeuse trader, Santo Ferreira (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), which yes, we forget how big Portugal's Empire once was, but yeah, they had a big claim to Africa once upon a time, he's working with the Oyo's leading general Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya) in this respect. 

In terms historical accuracy, eh, the capturing from other tribes to sell to the West as slaves, that's very accurate and highly underreported. I know, in the U.S. at least, and there was some of this too, we tend to think of, especially Americans just walking onto the continents and trapping and kidnapping African-Americans like they were hunting them for sport, but it was actually much more formal trading than this, at least it started to become in most of the Western world. That said, the idea that the Dahomey were not apart of the slave trade and actively fought against it, um, that's not remotely true. They also kidnapped from other nations and traded with the West, especially King Ghezo (John Boyega) who was a real king, and he did this practice for decades, even after he claimed he stopped. I get why they changed that here, it's a tale of a great African female fighting troop, it's better for them to be fighting the injustice of slavery than being apart of it, and they did fight those who kidnapped members of their Nation to sell for slavery. So, it's intent is true and showcasing the soldiers themselves is the objective and goal, and in that respect, I think it works. 

You'll notice that I've gone a long way before revealing much of the main narrative story or even some of the main characters though, and honestly, that's the part that's kinda tripping me up, and I don't really know what to make of it. To me, it's the most soap opera-y section of the film and it's-, eh, ughhhh. 

Okay, so the main general for the Agojie is Nanisca (Viola Davis) and she's very intense and seemingly by the book, sort-of-speak. She definitely leads by her own example, and she's training a next generation of recruits, and a new recruit, Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) who was sent, originally offered up as a bride to the King, becomes a recruit in the Agojie, and this is the thing that disturbs Nanisca. I don't want to get into why, and what inevitably gets reveal,  and how, which,... (Eye roll) really.... Mostly, details aside, what really upset me was just how Hollywood and traditional the main plot of the film was. 

It's difficult to judge, 'cause the movie's not really about the plot, as it is, it's just there to have a real narrative plot, but I really kinda just hated how by the numbers it was. This was an amazing story that, I don't think it really needed the melodrama at the center of it. I don't want to give it away, but you can erase a major detail that connects a couple characters, and keep literally everything else, and I think the movie would've been stronger. It would've kept the focus on the lives and struggles of the soldiers, and the conflicting nature of their lives, and still showed their incredible skills and talents and showcase just how amazing the Agojie soldiers were and details the intriguing politics of the world they exist in, and I think it wouldn't been more powerful. I think I've used the term "Relative Overwriting" before, and I really hate to put that on this film, but the more I think about it, the more it qualifies. It feels like a soap opera plot was needed to add interest to the film, and unfortunately I don't think it works at all, and I don't think it was needed at all. 

It's a shame too, 'cause some really good performances in this film. Ironically, I think Viola Davis gives the least interesting performance here; she's got all her typical intensity and chutzpah in the role that was basically made for her, but I thought some of the actresses playing the other soldiers, like Thuso Mbedu and Lashana Lynch and even John Boyega as the King, were more interesting to watch. Davis is strong here, but except for the physical aspects of the film, this character is one she could play in her sleep. I think the technical aspects, like the choreography, costumes, makeup, stunt coordination, that stuff was really impressive. It also a bit of a shame that Gina Prince-Bythewood couldn't stop the narrative in it's tracks and trust that the situation and scenario were inspiring enough. She's a good filmmaker, most known for the indie classic "Love & Basketball", and I've mostly liked her work until now, but she's never made anything on this big a scale and also nothing that was so based in this much action. It's not that she's bad at either one, but I don't think the script allows her to connect the two sides as well as they should. The script is by Dana Stevens, not my favorite screenwriter to begin with, but the idea for the film was by, believe it or not, Maria Bello of all people. No shade, she's one of my very favorite actresses and I'm glad she wanted to tell about these warriors, but yeah, I can't help feeling like this movie needed like, one more draft or two, just to figure out how to lean into the film's strengths and limit when it leans into it's weaknesses. 

I'm really torn on this one. I think the movie deserves to exist, but the more I think about the movie's relative overwriting, it really drags it down for me. You know, I'm not gonna stop anybody from seeing the film, but I think I have to pan "The Woman King". It's not because there's not enough plot or story here for a good film, I think their actually is, too much in fact, but what I really can't get past is how what's there feels both flimsy and cliched in one hand, but more importantly, it doesn't match up to the more interesting details about the world itself that we're seeing on screen. Sometimes creating, or in this recreating, a fascinating world to explore and experience is enough, but sometimes when the story starts taking away from what makes that world fascinating, it can really bog a film down, and this film is too bogged down for. It feels like it's too split to make a real choice on whether it wants to go headlong into the soap opera narrative, which I wouldn't like, but I would respect more as a decision, or stay focused in on admiration and recreation for these peoples. As it stands, I feel like it played it safe and split the difference too much, and we got not enough of either. 

TILL (2022) Director: Chinonye Chukwu 


This is one of the hardest movies I've ever had to review. Frankly, I just outright thought about not doing it, but that would be a disservice, but how do you write a review of this film. If you're at all familiar with the story of Emmett Louis Till (Jalyn Hall), then it should really irk you just to bring up the name. For those unfamiliar, the "story" goes that he was a Northern kid who went down for work in the Summer to family in Money, Mississippi. When he was there, he apparently whistled at a white girl, Carolyn Bryant (Haley Bennett). A couple days later, two men, her husband Roy (Sean Michael Weber) and her brother JW Milam (Eric Whitten) kidnapped him, and brutally murdered and lynched him before abandoning his body in the Tallahatchie River in 1955. It's one of the first and most gruesome incidents that really spawned the modern first wave Civil Rights Movements. It wasn't even the lynching itself though that really caught the media attention, the big action was that Emmitt's mother Mamie Till-Mobley (Danielle Deadwyler, in a star-making performance) once her son was returned north to Chicago, she insisted on, um, an open casket, and invited the public in to take photos. I've seen the photos, I'm gonna let you guys look them up, and just imagine and remember that this was on the front page of every newspaper at the time, and the coverage of the trial was top news in the country afterwards. The story actually gets even more sadder and more frustrating from there, and even to this day. A couple years ago, Carolyn Bryant, who is still alive by the way, confessed that she lied about Emmitt whistling, and recently, an arrest warrant from 1955 was unearthed that was never presented to her, and still hasn't.... 


One of the controversies about the film was that the film, and especially Danielle Deadwyler didn't get any nominations for Oscars. Honestly, though, I get why. This one's friggin' hard-to-watch, and it's not even that I'm a sis-white male, it's just painfully hard to watch, especially knowing the story. Honestly, I was skeptical going in that a movie could even be made about Till and be watchable. But, I gotta give credit to director/co-writer Chinonye Chukwu, they made this story much more entertaining than it could've been, and they found the narrative that mattered. She was the filmmaker behind "Clemency", which had Alfre Woodard giving an amazing performance as a state executioner who struggled with having to kill another inmate while her life turns into shambles. So, it makes perfect sense that she would see the story of Emmitt Louis Till and focus in on Mamie Till-Mobley, and not just her most famous act of the open casket, but her trip down to Mississippi to testify at the trial and see her get a real sense of the dichotomy of worlds that separate the White and Black people in the state. She also met those who would become some of the biggest and in some cases most tragic names of the Civil Rights Movement and we see her deal with the emotional and physical truths about the struggle, as well as the political side.

A lot of the movie is actually Mamie being confronted, not by the White people but by other African-American community leaders about what it is that she should be doing. She's caring only and more about her lost son and justice and understandably so, but there is a long game that has to be played. One leader lays it to her straight in the beginning rather prophetically that the fight for equality, nor the treatment of African-Americans nor the systemic issues of racism will end because of one solitary verdict in one case. Eventually, the movie is about Mamie and her realization about this, and even leaves the trial before the verdict realizing the pointlessness and charade that it is, although I actually think they made the trial in the movie seem more benign and reasonable than it probably was. 

Mamie became an activist for the rest of her life, and was a successful public speaker, got several degrees, including in teaching, and even developed a traveling theater program in her son's name to help educate people on her son and other major Civil Rights leaders, and "Till" is the story of how she went from grieving mother to undaunted activist. It's not the most entertaining or happiest character arc, but it's hers and it's told about as entertainingly as it could be. 

LUZZO (2021) Director: Alex Camilleri


I guess logically if there's Italian Neorealism, than there also probably existed Maltese Neorealism, but admittedly, it's not something I ever seriously thought about before. 

A "Luzzo" is, well, basically a boat. A small fishing boat that many of the local fisherman on the resort island used to fish, or at least, used to use. "Luzzo" tells the story of how that industry is dying out and what's happening to the Maltese fisherman who are still practicing the multi-generational skill. Jesmark (Jesmark Scicula) fishes all day and night to care for his family on the same luzzo that his father and his father before him would use. It's old, but filled with color and tradition. It even bares his old footprint from when he was a baby. However, with a more legitimate bigger fishing industry taking over the Mediterranean, his kind of fishing is getting outlawed. And as he now has a kid, and wife, Denise (Michele Farrugia) to take care of, he ends spending nights working for the underworld fishing industry, when he makes himself useful there able to make "scallops" out of some discarded whitefish. 

"Luzzo" is about as close as you can get to Neorealism today. The actors in the movie are local non-actors, many of whom are involved in the fishing industry on Malta, that is indeed dying. It's a haunting first-time effort from director Alex Camilleri, it's his first feature, although he's directed some shorts before, and he worked as an editor for America's great modern-day neorealist Ramin Bahrani, who's a producer on this film. The movie isn't as emotional as the classic of Italian neorealism that the film is most emulating, but that's not a bad thing either. It's bare bones and to the point. And it is hopeful. 

Eventually, he has to sell his luzzo, and with the money he can start to find a new career and help raise his family; it's not bad, in a vacuum, that society and life is moving on, but those for whom it effects the most intimately, to be blunt, it just sucks. The life you've been taught for, been built for, been honing to master all your life is being taken away, and not because of anything you did wrong, but because of decisions made by many other people, elsewhere, that you had little-to-no control of, that they often had little-to-no control of, and now everybody has to figure out how to adjust and react to the new conditions. "Luzzo" doesn't do much more than show this at it's barest, but that's all it's really going for and it succeeds at that. 

WHITE LIE (2021) Directors: Yonah Lewis & Calvin Thomas


"White Lie" is one of those kind of indy films that ran the festival circuit for a couple years before it finally got a proper release, or, in this case, as with a lot of these kind of titles these days, ends up on some streaming service, and, yeah, there's not too much else to say about it. It's fine. Probably better than fine, but still nothing particularly special. The reason it was on my radar is because it's a Canadian film, and therefore got recognition from some of the critics group up north there and some awards consideration. Sometimes, even countries as big as Canada, which does have a big film industry, but only a few big local names and otherwise courts Hollywood moreso than typically promotes and produces it's own work, but it's still a nice little film, with some solid main performances in the middle. 

It's a character piece mostly, following Katie (Kacey Rohl), who's a struggle post-grad student who's claiming that she's suffering from cancer, when in actuality, she's lying about that in order to gain support and money. She's a bit of a local celebrity, she has a social media presence where people donate to her, and potentially, she's moved up in the ranks for a scholarship, if she can somehow get her medical records to the Board. Obviously, lying about her condition, means that, she has no real medical records to show, so she has to figure something out, and that's gonna cost a little more money than she has at the moment. She does the love and support of her girlfriend Jennifer (Amber Anderson), who she didn't have before she began telling this particular white lie about her health and isn't in on the rouse. She's also comes from a fairly rich family, so she hypothetically could help her out on some of this money, but instead, the main crux scene shows her going to her father Doug (Martin Donovan) for help. He suspects correctly the scam and won't help her out, but thankfully, if he does say anything he's got credibility concerns, and we learn a little bit more about the strained relationship between them, and more about Katie's past and current behaviors and where exactly this kind of scheme sorta comes from. 

Honestly, the biggest problem with this film is that there just isn't a lot to talk about. I've spent like, six days trying to write a review of this film, and I got nothing. That doesn't make it bad, or that it doesn't do things well, but it doesn't really show us anything either. There's no real tension, there's just waiting for the eventual revelation. Well, I guess that's not quite all that there. I thought of a bunch of other random indy films while thinking of this film, but there's one movie I did keep thinking about. I don't know if anybody remembers, "Sorry, Haters", it was a bit of a weird and somewhat controversial film when it came out, in '05. It starred Robin Wright as this enigmatic character who starts trying to date this Muslim cab driver, strangely played by a young Abdellatif Kechiche, before he became more known for directing "Blue is the Warmest Color", and basically she's somebody who, was weirdly inspired by 9/11, and was somewhat striving to recreate the sense of comradery that that moment inspired in the American public. She played somewhat of a mousey character who also lies about herself to others in order to seem more important and get more sympathy and recognition. "Sorry, Haters" was  a weird movie and actually split a lot of critics, I think it's overall a better movie than "White Lie", but both Robin Wright's character in "Sorry, Haters" and Kacey Rohl's here are basically seeking that same kind of love and acceptance, for whatever reason they find the world more tolerable towards them, in different conditions. She's found that people around her, appreciate her more when they think that she's sick, so she's taking advantage of that, and that's basically what the movie is. 

I just there was something more to it than that. I want to be more appalled at her, but it's not surprising or anything. "Sorry, Haters" had more to add and say, it said something about the distressing and sometimes calming power of mass grief and how it brought people together and the, albeit ridiculous lengths, some might go in order to regain that feeling. "White Lie", is not that deep, it's just a very well-done profile of a modern-day liar. She wants the attention and benefits of somebody who's sick gets and none of the drawbacks. Even when portraying a sociopath who you're not supposed to be cheering for, you still want to empathize or understand her inspiration and motivations, and frankly there's just nothing of that here. 
I should mention that I don't know writer/directors Yonah Lewin & Calvin Thomas's previous work, this isn't their debut, this is their fourth feature and they do seem skilled and talented, but y'know, I've been waddling on this movie for awhile now, and the more I think the less there is to add here. I was gonna give this a pass because of how much their is to like, but it's not like, say "The Wrestler", where you're genuinely concern and heartbroken over the main character making a wrong, bad decision at the end. I didn't want to see her loving and caring girlfriend, finally realize way-too-late what Katie was, I just wanted to see her put away in handcuffs and arrested for massive fraud. Maybe I'd prefer this movie, if we see Katie years after that, actually having to get on with her life and struggle to not fall into this pattern of behavior, or her actually getting sick and nobody believing her, or her trying to make amends genuinely, or even just her evolving into a new kind of fraudster. (Or several of those in fact) However, in terms of this movie, there's just not enough to really appreciate. It's a profile of a shallow, narcissitic sociopath, and we're following her inevitable shallow, minor downfall.