Sunday, August 20, 2023

MOVIE REVIEWS #203: "THE WHALE", "BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER", "ELVIS", "THE BATMAN", "BABYLON", "ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED", "TURNING RED", "THE QUIET GIRL", "MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS", "PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH", "FOUR GOOD DAYS", "THE WHITE TIGER", "THE DISSIDENT" and "A SECRET LOVE"!

If you guys just want the reviews, just scroll down and you'll get to them. 

My mother passed away last week from pancreatic cancer. She had been suffering for months, but-eh,... treatment didn't help and eventually she just lost her battle. I haven't been mentioning her illness until now; I normally try to keep my personal.... (Sigh) It's not the only reason that I've been so absent recently, but it's a big one, it's the main reason I'm still absent, 'cause I've got a lot to deal with now.

I've mentioned my severely autistic brother before occasionally, but now that she's passed, on top of struggling with the depression and lethargy of grief, which I'm-, (Sigh) I hope I can overcome someday..., but my mother's passing left me with, a lot of legal issues, especially regarding my brother and his guardianship. I don't want to go into it all right now, but for the immediate time being I can use and need all the help I can get. So, I started a GoFundMe, you can find it at the link below: 

https://gofund.me/3b8057f4

I don't ask for much, I certainly don't like asking for money, but-eh, any little bit you can, I greatly appreciate it, and I won't forget it. If you can't donate, I understand, but share the GoFundMe to anybody/everybody you can, anybody who you think would or could donate. Or if you want to find other ways to help, please don't be afraid to contact me through Facebook or Twitter. Thank you all. 





















THE WHALE (2022) Director: Darren Aronofsky

⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2


At one point in the film, Charlie, (Oscar-winner Brendan Fraser) an English professor, during a stress binge, writes an email to his online class, where he demands that the assignments don't matter and that he simply demands, that they "WRITE SOMETHING HONEST!". 

(Long pause)

You know, it's a strange thing, honesty in writing or any kind of art for that matter. As a critic, we probably don't use that word enough when expressing why something is good. It's also just weird to use it in general, because well, art is a lie. By it's very nature and definition, all art is a lie. Anybody that comes into art and expecting to hear the full truth is just, wrong. Even if it's a documentary and it's bias perspective, whatever it is. And yet, it is honesty that we most relate to and are most looking for. What we are actually looking for, is through the medium of lying, the ability to decipher what is indeed, truth. Honest truth, maybe not my truth, but somebody's truth. The artists' truth. The artist, we're searching for something real and honest. 

Charlie teaches his writing class online, and without his camera on, to hide his face and body. He was always a big man, he claims, but in recent years, he's been eating himself literally to death. His arms are so gargantuan that they simple don't seem real, even as prosthetics, which I know consciously they are 'cause I know what Brendan Fraser looks like after decades of films, but at first, you can't help but notice, but as the film goes on, you start to ignore it and feel like you're absolutely caught up in his own little world. Which is, his apartment, he's barely able to stand up and has preparations near him at all times, in case he does indeed, die. His only visitors, are his nurse, Liz (Oscar-nominee Hong Chau), and, perhaps occasionally, a delivery guy. He seems to have orders already set for most days, and one pizza guy, Dan (Sathya Sridharan) tries to ask for help, but instead, he just leaves the pizza on the doorstep and he takes a twenty-dollar bill out of a mailbox. 

Why is he eating himself to death? Well, he has multiple regrets, the first one, somewhat strangely comes in the form of one of the few non-delivery visitors, a young man named Timothy (Ty Simpkins), a missionary who's going door-to-door trying to preach the teachings for a religious movement called "New Life", which apparently is an offset-Mormon apocalyptic cult that both Charlie and Liz are quite familiar with (I'm not entirely this is a real church they're referencing. I don't think it's the New Life Church that originally Ted Haggard founded, which, actually would bring up a lot more interesting layers to this story, but I don't think that's the case.) Anyway, he says Charlie and the amount of pain he's in and decides rather quixotically to attempt to save him, figuring that since he's refusing medical help to save him, that spiritual salvation is what he actually needs. Charlie, at least humors him as much as he can, but Liz is having none of it as she explains how Charlie's boyfriend Alan, was an exiled member of the church and she believes the brainwashing eventually led to his suicide, which in turn, has led to Charlie's depression and overeating. 

The second regret comes from his daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) who isn't normally around, but he's convinced her to see him occasionally and desperately asks her to write for him. He even offers her money to stay around and write her school assignments, which she is flunking out of. Charlie left the family to be with Alan, who was a student of his when she was eleven, leaving her to be raised with an alcoholic mother, Mary (Samantha Morton) who means well, but can't really control her. 

Ellie's angry outbursts and actions are hard to describe here. Her mother outright calls her evil in how smart and manipulative she is, and she is very sociopathic. She is one of those teenager girl for whom everything she says has a hint of vile in her voice. There's one particular sequence who she's alone in her the apartment with Timothy, along with a sleeping Charlie and she really finds a way to dig into him until he reveals some real truths about why he's there. 

"The Whale" is adapted from a play by Samuel D. Hunter who adapted it into this film's screenplay and for a movie that's basically about about a man eating himself to death, he makes some interesting and unique choices to add to this film. For instance, making him a teacher who preaches honesty above all else, even though he's constantly in denial and literally hiding from the world around him, including his students. The fact that he made him gay and his partner dead after struggles with a religious cult, even the setting of the movie, in Idaho, presumably one of the few college areas in the state is an odd choice on the surface. Yet, it makes more sense when you look up Hunter. He himself was apart of a fundamentalist religious family, and after he eventually came out, he struggling with overeating as well, before eventually having the support and drive to overcome it, and "The Whale" is essentially his imagining of somebody similar to him, and what would happen if he wasn't able to have the support system around him. It's daunting to be honest. 
The film was directed by Darren Aronofsky, and it's his first feature since the widely-panned "mother!", and he takes an interesting approach directing this film. Aronofsky's always been best when he's on a budget and has limitations, but even this movie tests his boundaries. His films are often about obsessive characters, who are often taken down by their obsessions, but usually they were pretty active characters anyway. I always notice that his signature shot is a Steadicam shot where he follows somebody from behind as they head somewhere. That shot is nowhere near this film though, instead using a dolly around a very constrained set with only rare and occasional glimpses outside. Sure he's made comparable films and showcased some characters with aching similarities to Charlie before, but the material challenges him artistically and it's the most interesting I've found his directing in a while. Apparently the idea was to show the other characters walking around Charlie, to emulate them being voices in his mind, especially when they're behind him. I like that concept, and I can imagine it working even better on stage. 
We do see some of him gorging out on food, especially at his worst, and to be honest, I didn't care for those scenes much. I get why they're there but it straddled that line between arbitrarily showing him over-indulge for the emotional appeal of wanting to be angry that he does waste his life like this, to just seeming like they were showing it to show it. 

That said, "The Whale" achieves honesty. It expresses the feeling of which that this story, might not be my story, or even the people creating it, but it emotionally feels like it does for them, or for at least somebody, and it feels like it touches on it for several others out there. The movie is titled after of course, like all whale references in art, after Moby Dick, it's not just an insulting nickname to someone who's overweight either, "Moby Dick" is referenced quite a bit, especially in one particular piece of criticism that Charlie finds inspiring. I find it inspiring, mostly because I agree with it about the book and not so much that it's particularly well-written, but the critique that, through the writing, it really does convey the truth and honesty, in that novel. Of course is also as much a lie to, but I'm sure to Melville and many others who read it, that it Captain Ahab represented Melville's honesty and truth as much as Charlie represents Samuel Hunter, Darren Aronofsky and all the other filmmakers involved in the project. It's honestly all we ever ask for, and despite the inherent sadness in this tale, the fact that it succeeds, makes me happy. 


BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER (2022) Director: Ryan Coogler

⭐⭐⭐



Maybe we should've left well enough alone. 

I hate to say that, but eh, it's really all I could genuinely think about watching "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever", not that this is a terrible movie or even necessarily a bad one, but..., eh. 

This is tricky to talk about but "Black Panther" is the best and my favorite of the Marvel movies. It marked one of the very rare times where I thought this constant expansion of the MCU into these greater worlds and places actually not only helped the franchise but actually added power and emotional value to it. The idea of a non-colonized area of Africa and seeing a hopeful alternative world scenario of an African nation being a major world superpower and the most advanced technical and cultural center of the world, that was actually inspiring. As somebody who doesn't care about the MCU and superhero and in particular is not inspired by elaborate fantasy and world and universe-building, at least not in the ways I usually run into it through film, "Black Panther" marked a huge exception for me. This was the rare time where they all got this right. Frankly, I don't think about it within the terms of a Marvel movie, which is good, 'cause if I did, I'd have to think about how fucking awful and dismissive the whole nation of Wakanda was basically just used as a battlefield in "Avengers: Infinity" which, is still fucking garbage I might add! (Yeah, I'm still angry at how shitty that film is, and the treatment of Wakanda in particular.... God, that movie alone makes me hate every MCU movie, just a little more.) I was hoping that, if they continued "Black Panther" that at least within those films, I could ignore all the other bullshit in this universe.... 

In a way, I got my wish, but not exactly how I wanted it. Chadwick Boseman's sudden and surprising passing through off a lot of people, myself included. I wasn't the biggest fan of his, but for somebody who really was just beginning to hit his stride as an amazingly talented actor, and seemed to have a lot more to give, it felt like we were cheated when he died. Writer/Director Ryan Coogler was blindsided as much as everybody else was, as he had basically three "Black Panther" movies in various stages of pre-development all about T'Challa's continued struggles as King and as Black Panther. I can't imagine what I would've done if I was in this situation, you're friend and colleague who you both had simultaneously become more successful than you two could've ever imagined monetarily and critically just passed away and you've only just begun to tell this amazing story..., honestly, I might've moved on to something else entirely, but I also get why he would continue. And it's not like their weren't some outs in the original comics that he could use. One of them is that T'Challa's technological-bound sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) takes over as Black Panther after T'Challa and essentially we get an origin story of how that happens, and I'm very conflicted on this.

For example, I like how this ultimately comes about. Shuri is a medical and technological experimenter and the film opens with her struggling to recreate an herb in order to help keep T'Challa alive, which ultimately she can't complete in time. Without T'Challa and under Queen Ramonda's (Oscar-nominee Angela Bassett) reign, have led to other world powers and some less-than-reputable world actors trying to attain some of Wakanda's most powerful resource, vibranium. That's...- I don't know how I feel about that subplot; I find it repetitive, but I also find it believable. I do like how the Wakanda's often called any white westerners they run into, mostly CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) a "colonizer" as an insult though. 

However, instead of one of those powers being the first big competitor to take on Wakanda, their biggest threat comes from a distinct different secret culture that's only now starting to make themselves known to the world, and they want to destroy it. Or at least, their leader Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), who is threatening to take out Wakanda and the rest of the world. Talokan, apparently is this Mayan-inspired, underwater Na'avi peoples, although Namor isn't blue, for some reason. Yeah, I made allusions to "Avatar" when I watch "Black Panther", but yeah, now there's a new separate hidden world and it's if Pandora was Atlantis and it survived completely underwater. It's a little freaky.

They get the help, of basically everybody, especially an MIT student named Riri (Dominique Thorne) who everybody's after since she built a machine that could detect Vibranium, and by Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o) who's spent the time since T'Challa's passing living in Haiti away from the political affairs of Wakanda. 
I don't know, on paper, I get and like the ideas in this movie, I even liked the Michael B. Jordan cameo that comes out of nowhere and adds an intriguing dimension to Shuri's evolution and transformation. Still though, I found this film underwhelming overall. It might just be overload, I really enjoyed Wakanda in the first film, and I thought finding out more about the world and how the country itself would continue as it's part in MCU affairs around the world would be intriguing, and instead, we get this whole other universe that literally feels like it's from another world and movie. Like, I already got that experience, and now the people of Wakanda are gonna get their own version of that experience? I don't get it. Like, "Avatar" is the most obvious comp, but actually the Talokan stuff reminded me mostly of the "Maleficient" sequel where we saw the whole fairy land. 

Actually, now that I think about it, that's what so bothersome about "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever", this plot device of seeing this incredible new utopian world that's under attack and striving to be protecting, I don't know if you can do that, twice, in the same franchise, twice in a row? It's bad enough when we're already in a fantasy world and now we're meeting a new fantasy world, but a fantasy world within a fantasy world, within a fantasy world! That's a little too much; it's like the opposite getting a character out of jail, it's like, "run into a wall, let's create a whole new world?!" 

Also, Wakanda, has way more compelling and intriguing dynamics involved in it. It hypothesizes a world that projects where a modern African society would be if colonization from the West had never happened and evolved naturally both culturally and technologically completely outside of Western influence, it's a look at a best-case scenario world that should've been. Talokan is just, like another version of Atlantis, with some Mayan influence thrown in, and frankly I don't get it. Honestly, the more I think about it, the less I like this film. I feel like there were many interesting stories about Wakanda to be told, even without T'Challa that would've been captivating without the addition of a new society being created to do it. Hell the first "Black Panther"'s villain was a relative of the crown, it was Shakespearean, not only a threat from within the world of Wakanda, but within the family at that! I like the idea of other nations worried about what Wakanda will do considering their power while simultaneously thinking about finding ways to take their resources and take over Wakanda themselves, even if some of the casting is weird there. (Am I the only one who saw a scene in this movie with Martin Freeman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Richard Schiff in the room and wondered why this sitcom pilot scene ended up in the middle of an MCU film?) I don't know what I expected from this, mostly I just felt sad though. It like, got halfway there.... I'll spare the half-star strike for the post-credits scene, even if it was hokey, I at least felt it was honoring the fallen well. I guess I'll slightly recommend the film as an homage to Boseman. A look at what he could've been as oppose to what Wakanda could be. If there is a third "Black Panther" film, I hope they get it back on track though. Show me that there's more to a universe this profound that's been created other than to see it attacked by other made-up universes or used as a battlefield for others.  If we can't though, then perhaps go back to my original assessment, and leave well enough alone. 


ELVIS (2022) Director; Baz Luhrmann

⭐⭐⭐



You know, I honestly have no idea what the hell possesses Baz Luhrmann to do anything he ever does. I know people who love him and definitely people who don't, he's absolutely a polarizing director. But, whether I've liked him or not, and it's usually not, I find his excessive quick-edit style just obnoxious and outlandishly unnecessary most of the time, (And especially his frickin' obsession with filling the movie with lettered graphics all over the place, good lord it's getting more and more obnoxious; watching a recent Baz Luhrmann film feels like I'm reading the National Enquirer headlines while in line at the grocery store! That has gotta be wrung in really damn fast) but honestly ignoring a lot of this stuff, as hard as that can be sometimes, mostly I'm just, not sure what-the-hell inspires him or not. I mean, I thought I knew at one point, and "Elvis" has some of that. I mean, he likes pop music, and he's intrigued by this anachronistic idea of taking music from one era and putting it into another, or even taking whole stories and finding newer more elaborate variations and ways to tell them. He likes stories about fighting against the conformity of the surroundings, and breaking out doing your own creative thing, which does makes sense since he's Australian and for some reason that's a theme that comes up in a lot of Australian cinema. I know that's like a big theme everywhere, but it's somehow more pronounced and often way more grotesque in a lot of the more popular Australian films, and trust me, watch enough Australian cinema and it becomes really noticeable and distinctive very quickly, and Luhrmann more than fits into that. Hell, he had a movie just named "Australia" which, oddly was one of his more perplexing films. (I don't really get where sweeping time period epic fits into his aesthetic.) He likes showbiz and performances, his Red Curtain films have always shown that. And, apparently he likes, eh, classic literature, for some reason. I really don't get how that one fits everything else, especially "The Great Gatsby" which- like, okay I didn't like his "Romeo + Julies" but I still felt like he had a connection to that story, but I don't have any idea what he saw about "The Great Gatsby" that inspired him with that film, if it inspired him; I honestly doubt it did. 

I guess the point I'm trying to get at, is that despite some obvious similarities that sometimes his choices and muses are just so random that frankly, sometimes I've found them just as strained and jarring as his filmmaking. Like, it's not that I'm inherently against another "Elvis" (Oscar-nominee Austin Butler) story, but like, why Elvis? Why a biopic of Elvis, hell, why this biopic of Elvis? Why one, through the perspective mainly of Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). Like, again, I'm not necessarily against this, I'm just more-or-less confused and baffled. Hell, why a biopic at all. all of sudden, even of a famous musician; he's never had an interest in this genre before. And if you asked who he would've made one of, eh,- well, I guess I have no idea who I would've picked in that regard first, maybe Madonna, but certainly wouldn't have thought Elvis. It's kinda odd to have much of an Elvis fascination at all these days when Elvis's influence arguably seems less relevant than ever. 

Well, I guess he's not irrelevant; Elvis's music will never go away. And yeah, I do get how Luhrmann's connecting a lot of the modern rap and hip hop scene to the early blues and rockabilly that evolved into early rock'n'roll that Elvis incorporated into his music helped stamp out that pattern of white America incorporated traditionally black music into their own aesthetic still matters. Hell, nowadays it's not uncommon for white musicians to start their careers as rappers before switching to more of a rock'n'roll sound, so yeah, a lot of that, and all of rock'n'roll really traces back to Elvis. 

To be clear, I actually know quite a bit about Elvis; in fact I had family members who actually knew Elvis, in fact they knew him back when he was appearing regularly at the International, or the Las Vegas Hilton as it was mostly called back then. (Now, it's the Westgate, which, honestly is the worst people who should be running that property now but I digress) For instance, I do know how Steve Allen made him sing "Hound Dog" to an actual hound dog. What I don't think happened was that performance leading to people protesting that the that was the end of the "Old Elvis" and that they wanted him to keep swinging his hips. (Also, his version of "Hound Dog" is not inspired by Big Mama Thornton's original version; his version was a remake of a Las Vegas lounge act's very white version of the song he heard when he first appeared and performed in Vegas, where he bombed huge at the time, I might add. Yes, his first forays were not successful, like, at all.)

Also, was that really a big moment in Elvis's career, the Steve Allen performance? It's an interesting note, but it was really his third appearance on Ed Sullivan that really started Elvis's original popular downfall, and not just because they famously shot him only from the waist up when he sang "Don't Be Cruel", but something that's forgotten is that after that, he ended the show by singing "Peace in the Valley" a full-on gospel song and performance. He was still big after that, but he was no longer dangerous, it wasn't just that he was censored, it was that that sex appeal that was sanitized from that. 

Something else with Luhrmann that I've noticed lately is that, while he just loves the quick edits and splattering of signs and graphics and signs over graphics, when he actually does want to slow the scene down and just let it be, he's usually pretty good at it. In fact, a lot of his movies, since "Australia" really, just start at a million miles per hour and then suddenly shift to more traditional paced filmmaking. My favorite scenes in this movie, are the ones with Elvis and Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), and where you see the best and worst of Elvis's home life. Honestly, I'm more confused by that approach than anything; I kinda get the quick-cutting editing when it's showing the excessiveness and wild exuberance of the world around what he's creating, or to create a sense of confusion and wild-eyed wonder, but sometimes I think he wants to film like that. Like, his magnum opus, "Moulin Rouge!", there's almost no breaks in that film from the editing, and it's all a wild rush of a party. The best part of "The Great Gatsby" is the opening party atmosphere, when he slows it down to tell a story, it's almost like he doesn't know what to do. (Not that it would've helped if he did, maybe in the minority on this, but I don't think "The Great Gatsby" has ever been a good; great American Novel, my ass! Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" wants a four-letter word with you Mr. Fitzgerald.)

Here, we have a lot of sequences intercut. Elvis's rise to early fame off his early recordings like "It's Alright, Mama...", and "Hound Dog", we have the goings-on and who's who's of fellow famous people who they've made several biopics on with his Beale Street crew, we even get a black church sequence that turns into a revelation for Elvis. There's also a performance with Parker's traveling carnival-like show, intercut with a literal clan rally that happened miles away.... I guess, there's some kind of point here about how quickly he rose to fame, but y'know, I was thinking back to "Walk the Line" recently, and how well that movie, which isn't great at all, but it does show the early beginning of Johnny Cash's career well, and how innocuous and paced his version of meeting Sam Phillips and recording on Beale Street was. Somehow I don't really picture Elvis's beginnings as being so manic. I actually think it would've been better in reverse, start off slow with a long sequence of Elvis's early rising to fame, and then have the editing get faster and quicker the farther into his career we get, and the more the lying Dutchman's control over Elvis took shape. 

And speaking of Col. Parker as well, it's not necessarily a bad idea to tell the story through his eyes for the most, but it is a curious one. I think I do get where he's coming from though. Tom Hanks probably received the most criticism for his performance in this film, he even got a Razzie nomination for the performance, and I can kinda see how some people might think that, but I also don't think it's his fault. The performance feels jarring and gratingly over-the-top, but all of Luhrmann's villain characters have been these over-the-top pompous and grotestque caricatures, even going all the back to his first film "Strictly Ballroom", which I might add is still his best film. I think it's apart of his style an aesthetic, but what is weird is that, now he seems to be sympathizing with that character. Perhaps he fears that he is a Tom Parker-type himself. I mean, for all the talk about, why he's so worried about international security as to why Elvis Presley won't travel the world, they don't actually go into the actual probable story of why Col. Tom Parker, couldn't go outside the country and had to adopt this new name and persona. Perhaps because it's unlikely that even Elvis knew exactly what the story was, and to be fair, we're not 100% sure either, but most Elvis historians believe that he was a fugitive from the law after murdering a woman in his native Holland. I guess he doesn't have to bring that up, but it's just odd what he does and what he doesn't.

To be fair though, almost none of this feels like a realistic and beat-by-beat biography of either Tom Parker or Elvis; what we're getting is a very stylized depiction of what I guess Elvis symbolizes and means to Baz Luhrmann. And..., well, I don't quite know what that is. I think I believe that he has a meaning and opinion on Elvis, his legacy and his music. To be fair, you can make dozens of stories and movies about Elvis, and people already have, in his short life, he lived a lot. They barely get into a lot of things that I find more interesting about Elvis, like his movie career; his movies aren't necessarily great or watchable, but he was actually a pretty decent actor who enjoyed acting. I like some of the focus on the '68 Comeback Special, that really was intended to be a Christmas special, although why anybody including the TV execs or Tom Parker would be obsessed with him singing "Here Comes Santa Clause" is beyond me. BTW, black leather Elvis is my favorite Elvis, so I liked most of that stuff anyway. But, y'know, no mention of his infamous meeting with Richard Nixon a couple years later, right as he was starting to get fat and drugged up and weirdly wanted to help curb the drug epidemic thanks to the hippies? In fact, a lot of this movie seems to show Elvis very emotional about the Left at that time, and- well, I don't know if that's untrue; he was a big Martin Luther King supporter, but from what I've heard Elvis was much more mercurial person than what we see in the film. Nothing against Austin Butler's performance, I think he actually is really good here as a version of Elvis, but I don't know, I ultimately just don't know if Baz's Elvis is the Elvis that I'd like to see or remember. 

"Elvis" is a very uneven film that I don't really know what to make of it. I'm not saying it doesn't succeed at what it's trying to do, I just don't know if what it was trying to do was the best way to go about it. I guess I just think Elvis the man is way more interesting than "Elvis" the star, the attraction and the story. I've never gotten tired of people telling their Elvis stories before no matter how mundane or in some cases, insane or outright lies they might be, and I guess this is an story about Elvis that's done well enough and with enough care to be told, but I definitely find myself more numb to it. It does make me want to listen to more Elvis though.... (Shrugs)

Although now that I'm looking at the soundtrack, anybody else surprised at some of the Elvis songs left out of the movie? I mean, "Suspicious Minds" is my favorite Elvis song too but like, why keep coming back to that one, and like, not have any "Jailhouse Rock"; in fact the only movie song was a weird Stevie Nicks and Chris Isaak duet of "Cotton Candy Land". Hell, no "Viva Las Vegas"?! Half the movie takes place in Vegas?! No, "All Shook Up"? I don't even like "Don't Be Cruel", but I'd prefer that than "In the Ghetto", why have that one in their at all? Maybe I just gotta stop trying to follow Baz's strange and weird muses, I'm never gonna fully get this guy.


THE BATMAN (2022) Director: Matt Reeves

⭐⭐1/2


You know, I used to think that all those parodies and satires, often by other DC properties, that would mock how much of an emotional trainwreck of a person that Batman had become were kinda way too much, but now, I'm kinda thinking, you know what, maybe Batman has become too moody for and, for lack of a better word, emo, for his own good. Oh, excuse me, not Batman, it's "The Batman".

(Sticking finger in mouth, and simulating gagging motion like a '90s teen girl.)

I'm not saying that their isn't tragedy in his backstory, and that sometimes exploring and going over and even reinterpreting that backstory can't be done well or exciting, but there has been just, way too much focusing on Batman's backstory over the years. This isn't even the worst offender film-wise, I say "Batman v. Superman" still has that strang;ehold, but this is the first time I watched a Batman movie but this was the first time I really felt like I was caught up in the grips dourness ennui headspace that the most mocking of parodies focus on. I'm not even really a fan of the more lighter and comical tones that many of the older variations on Batman played on, but even in the great Nolan movies, you could tell that, even if that old Billionaire playboy son, Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) was an act for him, he did like, enjoy playing that part a little and lavishing in it a bit. He did play the part well for as long as he needed to, and was able to do so. 
But here, in that version of "The Batman", that part just doesn't exist. Even Carmine Falcone (John Turturro, really good here, btw), when they meet up for the first time, mentions how Bruce is the only person in Gotham more reclusive than him. 

"The Batman" is also another film where we see the re-evaluating of just how great the Wayne Family actually was to Gotham. I kinda get why there's been such a desire to re-evaluate that, especially as the world because more and more conscious of the ruthlessness of and corruption of the rich and wealthy. So, Bruce finding out more bad things about his father and that he wasn't exactly the perfect idyllic charitable billionaire that he thought he was, that's always a little intriguing, but, it plays so much more into his dourness, and frankly I'm just not intrigued by boring emo Batman. Not without earning it; it really only works when you actually see the transformation of Bruce Wayne, the charismatic, flamboyant trust fund baby playboy turning into the mopey and misanthropic caped crusader. That is I think why I'm ultimately down on this film. 

It might help just this film that was stuck in the moody mud for three goddamn hours! Why is this movie so long?! Matt Reeves is a good director; I enjoyed his "Planet of the Apes" reboot trilogy, and was thoroughly impressed with how each of those films got better as they went on, but sometimes you need to cut some things down. I like that he's telling as full and rich a story he could, but I don't know.... I feel like there's too much here. I mean, I like the Carmine Falcone stuff, especially when he talks about his connections; I even like that The Penguin (Colin Farrell, also quite good here) as a henchmen of his, and I like that we have Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) both working towards trying to seek out the corruption at the highest levels of local government. And, I also, like the new Riddler (Paul Dano) motivation, to an extent. 

I'm not a Batman villain aficionado admittedly, but The Riddler, has-, almost literally by his name, is one of the more cartoonish villains in the franchise. I mean, the last time he was on film he was literally portrayed by Jim Carrey, back when he was basically just a cartoon as well. Putting him, in a darker, more Nolanesque-inspired Batman world, ehh, kinda iffy to me. I think he pulls it off, surprisingly well, and they give a really decent motivation. In fact, there's an extent where you, and the movie for awhile, actually seems to debate whether or not he's more on the right side than he probably should be, which is also kind of another problem with this movie, but,... I don't know. Some of the Riddler's riddle are kinda just,... it doesn't really feel right. I guess, if I squint, I can kinda see him as a variant on Heath Ledger's Joker character, but the thing that made that character so menacing, other than the performance and how maniacal and unpredictable he was, it was that, he wasn't doing it for any real cause or to make a larger political point or commentary. The only reason the Joker will assassinate a Mayoral candidate, and then try to kill a corrupt politician during his public funeral, would be because it was fun. He would think it was a laugh. Riddler, is going to such elaborate ends to make a point about the true corruption of the city of Gotham, and how he indeed became, this mirrored opposite to Batman, also effected by the death of Thomas Wayne (Luke Roberts). 

There's also Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) around, she works at Carmine Falcone's club and has her own agenda, involving one friend that's gone missing, as well as having her own hidden agenda involving Carmine. She's also the opposite of Bruce, in how she's more of a vigilante justice fighting against the corrupt system from the outside. In fact, that's really the problem, everybody and everything in this movie, is like, the opposing viewpoint to Batman. It's like, everybody's a mirror image of him. There's the image of him that's working within the system, there's the maniacal vigilante, there's the political vigilante, Carmine's the corrupt alternative reality version of what happens when you seek wealth and you just want power, while Batman's trying to be the charitable, reputable, trying to do good version.... This movie isn't really a movie, so much as it is, a psychological profile of Batman, at least for what I want out of Batman, I don't think it's a good one. Or, it's more like an incomplete one; it feels more like it's a film about Batman, told or shown from everyone else's perspective about him. These all work well enough in one movie, and you can even combine a few of these well and make it work; there was always multiple villains in the Nolan movies even and each of them has specific connections and conflicts with Bruce, but you know, say Scarecrow, didn't need a huge psychological analysis of how his choices and paths were effected by Bruce or other members of the Wayne families to make him who he is and why he wants to get vengeance against the system. We didn't need that, we had enough with the other more central villains, but it's literally like, every tertiary character gets their opportunity here. The only one who doesn't weirdly is The Penguin and frankly I liked his arc better as he's got both Carmine and Batman and Gordon out there trying to figure out whether or not he's a rat in Carmine's gang, or if he's got some other undermining activities going on. 

I think Matt Reeves is a very talented and underrated filmmaker in fact, especially for a Hollywood filmmaker, and I think he just shoved too many ideas into this film. Like, I get what he's doing, he kinda did the same things with his "Planet of the Apes" films. If you're not familiar with the original franchise of films, it's fascinating how he retold the story by taking ideas and stories from all over the five main films in that original franchise, and wonderfully recontextualized them into a new tale over three films, plus adding in some other new elements and finding new paths to go down. I think he tried to do the same thing here, take ideas from all over the Batman franchise to create something new, but I think he took too many and ultimately tried to force it, instead of separating these ideas, limiting them down to one, and then, when that works lean that, in future movies, into other directions and path, and finish the story more thoroughly. By doing this, he makes the story and the plot seem too elaborate and messy to seem plausible and clear, and instead of a story, we get a movie that feels more like a tonal poem. Ultimately it's a movie that's feels more like a movie that striving for the feeling of Batman, or "The Batman" than actually presenting us with a good Batman movie. I don't necessarily hate that feeling, but I don't think it's enough alone. 


BABYLON (2022) Director: Damien Chazelle

⭐⭐⭐1/2 


Well, it seems that little Damian Chazelle has finally completed his metamorphosis transformation into his Baz Luhrmann. 

Okay, that's not exactly true, but it sure seems that way. But, I prefer Chazelle's version of Luhrmann than Luhrmann's version, so.... That said, "Babylon" is a giant, overblown glorious pointless mess of a movie. I'm still recommending it, but mainly because I enjoy his vision of excess, especially 1920s Jazz Age excess, even though, this is more Hollywood than New York, than I do others. Also, I just buy that Chazelle has a greater emotional hold on his material than Luhrmann did. I know it's mean to compare them here, but they actually are quite similar. Their movies usually begin with some elaborate, over-the-top set pieces, there's lot of scenes of music and partying, and while Luhrmann is more pop music oriented, Chazelle is definitely more jazz inspired. His movies are strangely more free-form. Of course, this isn't an attempt to make a Luhrmann-esque film, like, at all. There's actually several films and filmmakers that you could easily point to that he's working on emulating here, he even brings up a couple of the more obvious ones during this film. In fact, this whole film is basically just cinephile nerdshit bait.

"Babylon" is of course, Hollywood, not the first to make that comparison, but an apt one. Specifically, Hollywood during the end of the '20s and the beginning of the '30s. Now this is a long time ago, but it's not as long a time as you think. And it's more than fertile ground for films as well, 'cause-, well, the big transition at this time is of course, the transition from silent movies to sound films, but their were other things going on in Hollywood as well, and while there is definitely some, no pun intended, lip service to the sound transition, this movie is more about the shift from the excesses of Hollywood, or at least the perceived excesses of Hollywood, (And in many cases, actual excesses) to the early thirties, which, for several reasons became the start for a much more, for lack-of-a-better-word, conservative period in Hollywood. And that conservative era, while, to some degree, it itself was always a facade that wasn't real, it lasted quite a while. I don't think people realize now, just how genuinely new the phenomenon of California being a bastion of liberal hedonism actually is, and specifically Hollywood, like the modern take on it's it's not much older. Or for that matter do people realize just how nuts and vehemently unsafe Hollywood was for making movies, or for that matter, just how much extreme excess their was. Granted, this movie is going a little more over-the-top, the obvious inspiration is Kenneth Anger's infamously inaccurate book "Hollywood Babylon" about the excesses of the golden age. 

In fact, most of this movie, is essentially just, a giant game of early Hollywood "Where's Waldo", only the part after you find Waldo where you start looking around for the other stuff in the picture. In fact, I wonder how many would watch this movie and not know who or what people Chazelle is making reference to, or if he's making reference to someone at all? I mean, there are a couple characters who are specifically real people, Irving Thalberg, (Max Minghella) is probably the most notable one, but even he is barely in the movie. Most of the others are clearly inspired by people, for instance, the Troy Metcalfe character in the beginning, where he's being urinated on by a dancer, Jane Thornton (Phoebe Tonkin) in a private room in Don Wallach's (Jeff Garlin) ridiculously elaborate orgy, before she apparently accidentally OD's in the room, is very clearly a reference to Fatty Arbuckle, even if it beats a timeline of the movie with a stick a little, who, despite being one of the two or three biggest silent movie stars of his time, was arrested and bought to trial for rape and murder after a particularly leacherous night out ended in a girl being dead, (That he didn't kill or rape, and he was eventually acquitted in court for; that part of the story gets overlooked way-too-often.) But he's also a minor character in this movie. 

In terms of the actual main characters, well, the established movie star is Jack Conrad (Brad Pitt) a beloved heartthrob who's known for changing his wives as often as he changes his socks sometimes. He's in a lead in a-eh,- you know, I actually don't know what-the-hell movie they were making, but based on the number of stunt extras getting accidentally killed during the incredibly elaborate action scene, I'm assuming something like "Hell's Angels", I think... (Actually, a movie that I did think about with this was "Souls for Sale", one of the first and very best Hollywood satires that Hollywood made.) Anyway, Conrad, is inspired by a few people, most notably Jack Gilbert, especially how, despite technically succeeding in making the inevitable transfer over to talking pictures, it's a rough transition for him, and eventually the headlines about his excesses and well, just the general continuing lack of interest in his work, leads him down a wayward personal path. He remains friends with a title card writer, Lady Fay Zhu (Li Jun Li), who's also an actress, and a cabaret performer, but is limited to behind-the-scenes and one-shot roles in most films until finally the talkies basically ends her career in Hollywood and heads off to Europe. Okay, I'll get this obvious one out of the way, she's clearly intended to be Anna May Wong. 

Also in that movie, and bursting into the opening orgy with the same subtlety as the elephant does, (Yes, this orgy has an elephant) is Nellie Le Roy (Margot Robbie) a nymphet of a starlet who snakes her way into the movie, and absolutely takes over the scene, eventually becoming her own star, as Hollywood's new "It Girl". Okay, there's a few people she's being here, but mainly she's Clara Bow, who was literally the "It Girl" in her day and definitely had rather debaucherous sex life offscreen, but she also shined fast, before her career had a sudden end. She also had issues with the conversion to sound, and there's an incredible sequence in the movie where we see how many takes it takes her to get through one scene of a sound picture that's constantly interrupted by the sound engineer, Lloyd (Carson Higgins) and how stifling the new equipment and having to actually learn and memorize lines and spots is to her acting, as she vastly preferred when her and her director, Ruth Adler (Olivia Hamilton) worked on the silent movies. Adler is probably Dorothy Arzner, although it could be a couple other female directors at the turn of sound, most of whom faded away as the Hays Code and other standards of Hollywood swooped in. (Yeah, a weird side effect of the Hays Code was a sudden lack in female directors, who were actually much more prominent in the early days of Hollywood. Wasn't 'til like, maybe Ida Lupino did women get allowed to direct regularly again, and that took a couple decades.) She has a somewhat tenuous flirtation with Manny (Diego Calva) a Mexican immigrant who started out as a very undervalued gopher on the set, but eventually evolved into an early producer role, right as the modern producer, of the guy who keeps the directors and others on schedule was just getting understood, but he is more of an executive, until he has to bail out Nellie from one of her forays into gambling in a sequence that's both too out there to explain and also somewhat not out there enough for this film. 

The third storyline involves a jazz musician, Sidney (Jovan Adepo) who also, through his music, becomes a star in the films in the early days of talkies, which makes sense, while music was always accompanying film, (Which is one thing they weirdly get wrong here; when they screen a movie with no music at one point, that was weird.) popular music was one of the first things that got put onto film once the technology was adapted. I mean "The Jazz Singer" basically is just an Al Jolsen concert when you think of it. Also, like Jolson, Sidney's breaking point comes when he's asked to put on blackface in order for the lighting to be able to photograph him better. After doing that, he shortly leaves the industry and goes back to touring. (Camera lightings are indeed racist, and that would require blackface in some circumstances, that's true. And sometimes whiteface as well. The default standard for cameras are white so light-skin is easier to light than blackskin, so yeah, this was as much a practical thing as it was just, a fucking racist stupid thing at the time.) Sidney's probably a stand-in for Louis Armstrong, but you can literally name any African-American musician of the time and argue that was him. 

Okay, enough of the history lesson/translation of this film, let's look more at, what exactly is this film, as a film. So I'm mentioned and alluded to a few movies that "Babylon" are clearly inspired by, but based on the main plotlines and plot descriptions,  it's very clear to me that there's is one movie that's the very biggest inspiration, and that's P.T. Anderson's "Boogie Nights", his masterful epic about the L.A. porn industry during the late '70s and early '80s, right as videotape was replacing film as the main product and distribution method for porn and how the art changed during that time. Okay, PTA and Chazelle also have a lot in common.  They both love very elaborate epic stories, they both like to tell L.A. stories, they were both directing wunderkinds who were making big waves in Hollywood at very young ages, both of them like very long elaborate long takes, especially with lots of people and other moving parts and often music, both have used music extensively as well to varying degrees. And these two movies, they're both about Hollywood and the movies at a time of drastic transitions, both involve multiple narratives, involving a leading man, a female starlet, people of multiple races, genders, creeds, wealth. We watch them succeed, we watch them struggle to continue to succeed, and then we watch them fail as they can't adapt to changes in the industry. And both are inspired by real actors and events, or at least reported events, and to a degree, you can see those real stories adapted into their fictitious amalgam characters. 

So why does "Boogie Nights" work, but "Babylon", doesn't?
 
And to clear, I am still recommending this film, despite it's issues, it's a mess frankly, but it's also just too much fun for me to ignore but it really doesn't work, I'll be frank, and I think I know why. "Boogie Nights" was more than just an attempt to document the time period of the porn industry. It wasn't just trying to show us how some things were, like how the movies were made back then, it was showing how everyone was effected by all the events and ordeals around the industry. And everyone was connected, they all worked together, they all loved each other, they hung out and hung on to each other, they cheered together, they cried together, they fought together and with each other and then made up together; the porn industry, at least in "Boogie Nights", was a family, and those multiple narratives, even though much of the film was centered around Dirk Diggler, there was more than enough time given to other characters and their own arcs and struggles, and yeah, they never felt separate from each other. You would never think of say, Amber Waves's struggles to get custody of her kid while working in porn, as something that itself could be it's own separate movie, even though, it absolutely could be.  So could Buck and Jessie's struggles with being a couple, (An interracial couple at the time at that) raising a family and starting a business while working in porn to supplement the income, that could be it's own movie too, but we don't feel like it's separate from everything else. And that's helps make those parts feel like they reflects of the greater emotional narrative of the lives of these people that's P.T. Anderson's telling us about. 

"Babylon"'s greater emotional narrative feels like it's just, "Look at all these old stories of making movies back then, and aren't they fucking amazing!" (Shrugs)  It has at least four main narratives, arguably more and they don't feel like they come together, or were ever even supposed to come together. Perhaps that's part of the point, filmmaking wasn't as collaborative a journey at the time, and in fact, the whole point of "Babylon" is kinda showing how disparate so much of it was, perhaps because of, or in spite of the excesses surrounding that world. It feels like the myths of Old Hollywood coming to life, but they also feel like I'm watching long dead ghosts, not people who were once alive and thriving in the industry we all love. By the end of the movie, it even feels like Chazelle is just struggling to make all this come together, like a multi-piece improv jazz jam sessions that's winding it's way into making all those freestylings feel like they add up to a full song or performance, as though a crescendo is automatically gonna make all this feel like a full experience. I mean, Chazelle likes jazz, so I'm not surprised that he takes that approach, but it's got it's drawbacks. I mean, we're seeing so many in-the-know references to people that it's hard to actually really feel for everybody as characters even. And as to their own narratives feeling so separate from each other,- I mean, I could argue that Michel Hazanavicious's Oscar-winning "The Artist" was a better telling of Brad Pitt's character's story, so yeah, these stories feel like they're either overtaking the film or we're not telling enough of them, depending on who we're focusing on. Maybe this should've been more of a miniseries akin to something like Steve McQueen's "Small Axe" series, and we see a lot of separate stories, each like a little over an hour long into each of the characters. 

There is a fuller greater tale of Old Hollywood somewhere in all this mess that is "Babylon", but it's not fully told right now. What's there is fun, but eh, perhaps, one day, Chazelle will revisit and find the better medium to shape this material. I do believe he is inspired by this material and passionate about it, but, eh, I think the approach was wrong. Making us feel like we're in "Babylon" is one thing, and it's fun, when you're here and not thinking too deeply about it but at the end of the night, sometimes we're left with just a hangover of a time that was. I guess I'm still smiling from the night before but a hangover is still a hangover. 


ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED (2022) Director: Laura Poitras

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

  

I must confess that, personally, I don't really have any experience dealing with addiction. I mean, like real addiction, I'm sure I had a withdrawal symptom or two when I haven't had a diet coke in a couple days, but you know, addictions to stuff that's real. If I do have any secondhand experience, clearly I don't think I was much help. And me, not having experience with it, does make it harder for me to fully understand it. My mind does not work the way an addict's mind works to begin with and there isn't anything that I'm not constantly struggling to live without, much less something that could potentially be horrifying to be addicted to like OxyContin. 

"All the Beauty and the Bloodshed" is a fascinating biodocumentary about the photographer Nan Goldin. In recent years, she's been a confessed opioid addict who had to go through rehab to recover and has become a major protestor of the Sackler Family, who owned Purdue Pharmaceutical, who created and distributed Oxy on the American public under the claim that it was safe and non-addictive. With a lot of the money they've accumulated over the years, the Sackler have donated tons to money and have their name on several museums, many of which have displayed Nan Goldin's art over the years in their collections. The movie's kinda fascinations, instead of it drifting into the past, as we see her and her team orchestrate and plan out their protests and litigation against the Sacklers, we kinda drift into the this present as the rest of the movie seems like it, well, it feels like it fits the aura of Goldin best. Goldin is one of those New York Underground artists from the early-to-mid '70s that really documented much of the gay and trans scenes of the time, as well as her own queer life and existence. Her subjects and friends are a who's who that druggie alternative Bowery subculture, people like doll artist Greer Lankton and John Waters-favorite Cookie Mueller, or fellow photographer David Armstrong. These are names that are much more romanticized now than they were then in the mainstream, but the in-the-know knew who they were. Also, most of them are long dead, many of them due to AIDS. 

Her work documented that too, but she also documented a lot of her own sexuality and experiences. Looking at a lot of her photographs, it's striking how much they seem and basically, like, home photos taken of the people she knew. That was striking at the time, you rarely saw such bare and brazenly crude and homemade photography taken seriously at the art world at the time. Honestly, she probably invented a lot of the home-style camgirl shots and images we see now. Her most famous work is a 45-minute picture visual picture book called "The Ballad of Sexual Dependency" a document of the No Wave Scene in New York gay and heroin districts, although I think she often sees just photos of her old friends when she observes them. 

I loved getting caught up in her descriptions and stories of the worlds and times she had experienced. She also talked about her upbringing, which also influenced her as she rebelled against her parents after they hid from her her sister's suicide. It's what originally led into her life in the drug-induced haze of the art world of the bowery. Yet, late in her life, it was her addiction to a pharmaceutical drug that shouldn't have been out on the market that really got her to begin using her organizing skills, to fight the Sackler's family influence on the art world. It's an odd dichotomy, and I don't entirely know what to make of it. I get the connections between the losses of her past and the losses she feels the Sackler's have cost today, (Which they have) but I think it's much more the lying for her that's really offended her. It's one thing to be an addict or to compromise oneself for their own benefit but, it's the lying and hiding the truth to the public that really disturbed her, especially having been lied to for years about her sister. 

I've struggled to describe this film but I like Rotten Tomatoes's description best, it's a movie about an artist fighting against addiction and the institution responsible for her pain. I think to some degree that's what all great artists are doing, but Nan is pretty literal about it. Thinking back, you almost feel like her becoming an artist like this was inevitable. 

I'm more of less on what to make of the movie and Goldin as a whole, but as a movie, it feels like I'm watching a great performer talking about her life for hours, like a one-woman show performance that you'd think somebody like Judy Garland would've done decades ago, but instead of the music and dancing, we get this lovely drone of living a life on the edges of society, until she portrayed it enough to become apart of an upper-crust world that she's actively rebelling against. "All the Beauty and the Bloodshed" indeed. 


TURNING RED (2022) Director: Domee Shi

⭐⭐⭐1/2


Okay, I swore I would start reading up more on movies before I watch them. So, let's see, I don't know anything about "Turning Red", so, let me read a little on this film. I mean, it's Disney/Pixar, so I'm not too concerned but, what is this? Okay, Disney+ description: 

"Meilin (Rosalie Chiang) tries to balance friends, family and an uncontrollable ability to poof into a....- um,.... a giant red panda. 

(Long thinking pause) 

Okay, maybe this is just me, but why does it feel like every other animated movie out there is about a character turning into or out of an animal? 

I'm not saying it's bad, it's just,- I'm starting to feel like Arthur Sullivan whenever W.S. Gilbert pitched him a "Magic Lozenge" plot. I don't know, I guess it's an important thing in many cultures and that's why it seems to come up so often in animation, especially recently as some of the barriers for entry into animation at the major studios have come down in recent years and animation in America has become much more diverse and inclusive, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised, and I'm not really, I think I'm just tired of it. That said, most of those films, when they would have characters turn into animals, they would have different meanings and symbolic value, so let's see. Meilin is a precocious and confident 13-year-old, who acts and seems like she's self-assured but even her friends know that she's, basically brainwashed by her mother Ming (Sandra Oh). Not, horribly, I mean, but her devotion to her family, who runs the oldest ancient Chinese lineage temple in Toronto, at the turn of the Century, for some reason. Mostly because a boy band centers around a lot of the plot, which.... (Shrugs) I don't know, I guess this is partly autobiographical for Writer/Director Domee Shi; she's the filmmaker behind the  Pixar's short "Bao" about the sapient dumpling. (Yeah, was anybody else just freaked out by that one? I liked it but..., I don't know, that one freaked me out. Maybe that's just me.) Anyway, Meilin keeps a lot of her personal thoughts and secrets away from her mother, her normal 13-year-old girl stuff, until her mother comes across some pictures she drew of a boy she liked, and then she freaks out and ultimately embarrasses Meilin, thinking the depictions were of something that the boy had actually done, as opposed to just Meilin's own imaginations and fantasies.

Mei becomes so embarrassed, humiliated and angry at her mother, that, she turns into a,-eh, a giant, red, panda. 

(Long pause)

Oh-kay, um, so-eh,- boy, I normally try to stay away from using euphemisms but-eh,..., so is this like Pixar's version of "Are You There God, It's Me Margaret?" Kinda, not really-ish? I mean, it's the first thing the adults think it going on before they realize what's actually going on..., which is kinda weird now that I think about it since the mother knows damn well that Meilin can and will turn into a giant red panda. It turns out that this is a generation change dating back in their line centuries and that the reason the mother is so protective of Meilin is because of how terrifying and out-of-control her Panda was at her age. 

I mean, there's a lot more than the red and hairy obvious here, "Turning Red" is a classic tale of coming-of-age and a decent tale about the struggles between mother-and-daughter, especially at that age, as well as how those struggles at that age can effect that relationship for years to come. Honestly, looking back, it's striking how many Disney or Pixar films are about how parents screw up or almost screw up their kids so badly, often because they love them so much. I like how specific this film is too. The movie's set in Toronto for some reason, and also has notable Toronto landmarks play a major role in the story. I like the music, including the weird boy band stuff which, was not my cup of tea at the this movie takes place, early 2000s, but y'know, it fits. I also like how it gets the kids correct, not just Meilin, the groups of eclectic friends she has voiced by Ava Morse, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan and Hyein Park all have very distinct personalities that hit that weird middle school edge where some are still just a little bit awkward than others and some are slightly more mature as well; it reminded me of the young boys in the very underrated "Monster House". I like that kind of attention to detail. 

Part of me still thinks "Turning Red" just seems like another version of the same story that the Disney/Pixar group, and some of their competitors have been telling before and over-and-over again, and part of me just doesn't like that story. Maybe others think of humans turning into animals and can think of some of the better Studio Ghibli works first, but on some level, I'm always gonna think of like, "Teen Wolf" or something equally insipid and goofy first. When it's used well it's not bad though and this isn't bad; I probably would appreciate it more if I wasn't completely tired of the trope; I like it better than say, "Brave" or "Brother Bear" off-the-top-of-my-head, but symbolism aside, it's never been something that I inherently relate to. I do like that the message in this movie more than I like it when this changing into an animal thing is done in others, that changing isn't bad and that one should embraced their full self and repressing those emotional urges from oneself and others can be more damaging than it is helpful. If you're gonna do it, this is the right situation to use this device, so I kinda like that. That and all the personal touches make it more compelling too. I don't know if it's a great Disney/Pixar film, or simply a good one. A lot of the ending, when all the giant pandas started attacking the Sky Dome seemed a bit much for me. I can see how others might've appreciated it more though.  


THE QUIET GIRL (2022) Director: Colm Bairead

⭐⭐⭐1/2


I have some distant relatives; I don't want to put out their names for fear of embarrassing them, but we're close to the same age and for a good part of our lives, we grew up together. They, unfortunately didn't have the best of parents. They weren't necessarily terrible people but they had some problems and demons and frankly they weren't really adept or capable of taking care of them the way that they should've been taken care; simply put, they deserved better. Again, I'm not gonna go into details, but they would occasionally come by and visit and hang out with us for awhile when we were young, and they, well, they always wanted to stay at our house a little longer, and hated to leave. (Or if we were at their place, they hated when we would leave.) I didn't really pick up on it or notice it as a kid, but my mother always did. She always felt heartbroken that she couldn't do more for them, and every once in a while, when they come up, she always talks about how she wanted to keep them here with us. The way they asked, the way that, she knew how difficult their lives actually were 'cause of their parents, she always felt like she couldn't do enough and felt sorry for them.  

They're fine by the way now; they've grown up, they have their own lives..., they're parents, well..., let's just say that, I'm happy that somehow, they didn't inherit their parents' worst demons, and we're all thankful for that. Maybe it was them seeing others' lives like my family that showed them that, things didn't have to be this way that helped them. (Shrugs) I don't know, but I know that-eh, I thought about them while watching "The Quiet Girl", especially at the end of the movie. 
The movie takes place in 1981 Ireland and Cait (Catherine Clinch) is the quiet sibling in a group of-, wow, even the wikipedia page doesn't list how many siblings she has. (Sigh) I feel like this close to the start a racist Irish joke here...- uh, anyway, yeah, her family is pretty poor and has a lot of kids, and, frankly just, don't like they're the best of parents anyway. 

So naturally, they're having another kid, and for whatever reason, they decide to send Cait to a distant cousin of her mother. Anyway, her cousin Eibhlin (Carrie Crowley) has a pretty nice and kept-together bigger house, and... um, hmmm. I don't know quite how...- okay, so one of my favorite books/stories is actually "Heidi". Yes, seriously, I love "Heidi", and this story feels a lot like "Heidi"; it's kinda the opposite of "Heidi" to me actually, at least, the second part where she leaves the mountains and goes to the city. In this case, instead of an aging enigmatic grandfather, it's a crowded dilapidated rural Irish family and it's more of a transition story from somebody who wasn't being loved to actually feeling appreciation and love for the first time. At first, there's a lot of trepidation and struggles. Cait's so unaccustomed to, well, just being taken care of, that she's almost taken aback by it that she barely reacts to it. That's not-to-say that it's an easy transition on either side. Like how Cait doesn't have extra clothes with her when she leaves, but Eibhlin doesn't have girl clothes, so she gets put in hand-me-down boys clothes. This disturbs her at first, although eventually when she finds out, why there's boy clothes with no little boy in the house, she warms up a little.
The whole movie is essentially just Cait warming up to these warm people, family she didn't know she had before, family she didn't realize were much more capable of love than her parents. Like how, she eventually learns to like doing chores with Eibhlin and her husband Sean (Andrew Bennett) and they become personal endearing moments. And it makes all the more emotional when she has to return to her "home". 

The movie was directed by Colm Bairead, mostly known for his television work in Europe and the film represented a rare Ireland nomination for Best International Feature at the Oscars and I can see why. For one, it's barely in a foreign language, there's more than enough English to get by, but also, it's a very universal story full of empathy and pathos and it's done well-enough and in a way that makes it feel genuine. Heartbreaking in fact. I totally get why it got the attention of the Academy. I could pinpoint some issues, part of it is that I think the movie could actually be longer believe it or not; this movie could've stretched this out even more for emotional impact, but ultimately, I just like the movie because it effectively reminds me of how lucky I am and how unlucky some people were growing. We don't get to choose our parents don't we, but parents we can choose who we wish they were. 


MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS (2022) Director: Anthony Fabian

⭐⭐1/2


"Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris" is a movie about a maid buying a dress. 

I hate to go all, "Describe a movie in the most uninteresting way possible" with you all, but, like, seriously, this movie is about how unbelievable it is that a British maid would be able to just go down to the Paris House of Dior and buy a haute couture dress. This might the single most British movie idea I've ever; this movie plot couldn't be more British if it was served with tea and crumpets. Which is a little funny because it's actually based on a book by an American author. 

Mrs. Harris (Lesley Manville) is a creation of Paul Gallico, who's probably most known for "The Poseidon Adventure", but his Mrs. Harris stories are quite popular and have been adapted on the screens, big and small, for years now. The most famous of them, "Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris", (Okay, cute title; in French the letter H or hache, is always silent) which is apparently more comic in tone. This version, feels more sincere. Maybe too sincere.

It also feels more slight. At least for me. This film takes place in the mid-50s and and Ava Harris has suddenly received widowers compensation after her husband's fighter plane from the war was finally found. She works as a cleaning lady and admires a young actress, Pamela's (Rose Williams) couture dress she has, she decides to seek out a dress for herself. So, with cash literally in purse, she goes to Paris and invades the House of Dior, who are all immediately baffled by her appearance and insistence on buying a dress, at least until she begins to pull out wads of pounds, and the House's director, Claudine (Isabelle Huppert) reluctantly relents, along with the insistence of Andre, (Lucas Bravo) who takes a liking to her. 

This is one of those...- hmm, I don't know if I've ever brought this up, but I fucking hate "Pretty Woman"; I don't know if that's a hugely controversial opinion these days, but I specifically hate that one scene that everybody else seems to like where Julia Roberts goes into the Rodeo Drive shop and gets tossed out because,- I don't know, she's somehow too low class-, I'm sorry, that's why I hate that scene! Like, really, you don't think a hooker, who happens to look like a young Julia Roberts wouldn't be shopping there?! Have you seen what high class hookers wear on the job? Like literally, my first guess for what that shops' clientele is, would've been, hookers who look like Julia Roberts. Even if somehow that wasn't the case, like, why would reject someone like that?! Like, this scene in "Mrs. Harris..." isn't that bad, but it did feel a little like, too much of a leap of realism. I would imagine haute couture would easily appeal to a lot of older women who came into money occasionally, especially around that time. I get it, this is a flight of whimsy and fantasy, but still, like, the joke of people selling the item don't believe that somebody wants the thing their buying, just feels awkward and unrealistic to me, simply because that person doesn't seem like the client they think they have. Even back then, I just don't get it. 

That said, House of Dior is apparently going through financial hardship and Mrs. Harris's pluck and vigor makes her friends with some of the seamstresses and ultimately helps Dior get out of this funk by convincing him to lean more into the brand and put out more affordable outfits for everyone and not just the uberwealthy and famous. 

That's not quite how it happens in the original story, but the original is basically just, when something happens to her original dress, Dior sends her a more lavish dress that a customer didn't complete the down-payment on because of how lovely she is. That happens here too, but...- I don't know, this Mrs. Harris character must be more interesting to some than she is to me. Like I said, this feels so British or European at least that watching this feels like what I imagine people who hated "Downton Abbey" must've felt like if they're snoody friends made them watch it. 
"Mrs. Harris..." did get some acclaim, and an Oscar nomination naturally for the costume design, which, yeah, it's important and since it's important to the plot it gets the nomination. I don't know whether or not they actually went out of their way to fully replicate Dior's clothes and style from the time, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did. Ultimately though, this movie is so light as a feather that it feel like a burden to even try to take it seriously. I don't really know what to add to this, to explain why I don't care that this film exists. It shouldn't be this hard, there's plenty of movies about older women coming into a scene and interrupting the status quo and many, if not, most of them, are fairly enjoyable. Hell, it's a whole subgenre in Britain to some degree, and I can't claim Lesley Manville isn't inspiring, I know that's not true. Yeah, I honestly think this story or at least this telling of it, is just too dated and too generic. I think I would've liked it better, if it came from the point of view of the people working at Dior, and seeing how they get caught offguard by this crazy woman coming in, but from her perspective, it doesn't feel like it plays right. Like, I kept waiting for it to turn into a bad episode of "Keeping Up Appearances" or something. I guess, it was a nice attempt to kinda take the history of Dior and fictionalize it into Mrs. Harris being the catalyst for how the brand changed and became what it has become over the years, but I feel like there's gotta be a better way of telling that story too. Maybe Mrs. Harris could've found a nice dress in London.  


PUSS IN BOOTS: THE LAST WISH (2022) Director: Anthony Fabian

⭐⭐⭐


You know, it might have been a strange choice at the time, but in hindsight, it was probably for the best to spinoff Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) into his own movie franchise. For one thing, the "Shrek" franchise was getting really boring and tiresome to begin with, and frankly it needed some new element to keep it interesting, and you weren't gonna get that with Shrek who, by the third movie, which is by far the most unwatchable of the group, he's a father raising a bunch of little ogres and the fourth "Shrek" movie was just a twist on "It's a Wonderful Life". So yeah, Puss in Boots's adventures seem way more interesting. And you could do a lot more with him, since he's always naturally seeking out adventure. 

Which to some extent does make this film seem, eh, somewhat, counterproductive, at least in theory. Puss in Boots is down to his last life and Death (Wagner Moura) is beginning to literally closing in on him. He finally decides to give up the legend of Puss in Boots up and try his paw and domesticity. Ultimately, she's unfulfilled with the experience, although he does reluctantly befriends an orphan dog, eh, Perrito (Harvey Guillen) who was disguising himself as a cat in order to eat with the other cats.  

Eventually, he ends up getting figured out by several other characters, bounty hunters mostly, although not all want him to collect. Goldilocks (Florence Pugh), the head of the Three Bears Crime Family, tried to find him believing that he could find the illustrious and elusive Wishing Star, which will supposedly give out one last wish to those who can find it. He also reconnects reluctantly with Kitty Southpaws (Salma Hayek Pinault...? Wait, when did she start start adding her husband's name? BTW, has that like, ever worked? I mean, personally it's fine, but like after you've been successful with your regular name/stage name, has anybody added their husband's name, to their name and then like, stay married and all? The only ones I can think of is Phylicia Ayers-Allen becoming Phylicia Rashad, but like, that was changing the last name, not adding a hyphen to their name? Oh, and Jada Pinkett-Smith, yeah, I guess she's the big exception, but anybody else? Also, did Salma just get married; I thought they'd been together for awhile? [Google Search] Yeah, '09 they've been married?! Oh, okay, she's insisting on it now since they've been forgetting to add it...? Huh... I mean, Salma Hayek is a great name, I wouldn't want to add something to it either. I'm overthinking this, right? Alright, I'll stop, she's Salma Hayek, I'll call her whatever the hell she wants to be called.) who we met in the last "Puss In Boots" film, Puss's love interest and rival, and together with Perrita they end up in the mysterious Dark Forest seeking out the Wishing Star as they each have to continue on the path battling their own demons, apparently?  The Dark Forest is weird in this thing, it's basically an everchanging path that whomever's in charge of the magical map to the Star has to follow, so the Forest changes depending on who's got the map. 

The real big bad is Jack Horner (John Mulaney) the now-grown up Christmas pie boy who because his nursery rhyme was so terrible has just become evil incarnate and has begun collecting everything he can. And a talking (finger quotes) "Ethical Bug" (Kevin McCann doing a, let's call it a Jiminy Stewart impression) that he's gotten ahold of can't seem to get to him. It's a bit weird that we have two groups competing with Puss's gang for the Wishing Star, but I have to admit that I like Goldilocks and her adopted Bear family. I suspect part of this movie is, like they did with Puss in Boots in "Shrek 2" is to come up with other characters who could make good characters to spin-off into other films, and Goldilocks and Papa, Mama and Baby Bear (Ray Winstone, Olivia Colman and Samson Kayo) feel like they could have their own film. In fact, this movie partly feels like their film as much as Puss in Boots which I do think is a bit weird, and a little desperate honestly. Apparently, the film was trying to pay homage to "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" with this, which I got, and I guess as an attempt at extending the Shrekverse as far as it could, it's not terrible, but for me, I just kinda found it, just odd in general. 

"Puss in Boots: The Last Wish" has some good ideas, and a decent plot device, but it gets harder and harder to defend the more you strip the artifice from it. Still, I think I'll barely recommend it. It's got enough for me, but even at it's best, and there is some cool stylized animation here and the movie looks great, the movie feels like it's an epilogue to a franchise that's on it's last legs. If you like the franchise you'll enjoy the film, but that's about it. "Shrek" started off as a sharp, witty fractured fairy tale that took real backhanded shots at Disney, but still had a heart at it's core. And the original film still does that, and you know, "Ethical Bug" parody aside, "Shrek" seems to be stuck in it's own conceit of a fairy tale world and mostly just struggles to figure out what to make of it. It's not that it's doing the job badly, but you do get the sense that this was a film that was never really built or intended to have such an elaborate and extensive universe. Frankly I never thought it needed to have one and the fact that we're already at the point of a main character having to go toe-to-toe with literal Death, tells me that, despite the promise in the ending, they're probably tired of this franchise as well. 

But who knows, I can definitely see myself enjoying a Three Bears Crime Family film in the future. 


FOUR GOOD DAYS (2021) Director: Rodrigo Garcia

⭐⭐1/2



Good lord, they made Mila Kunis look like Hell? Jesus, why did they that?  Why am I watching this one again? 

(IMDB search)

Oscar nomination? Oh, right, god damn Diane Warren! 

(Frustrated sigh, voice trails off)

Actually, I'm being a little too mean here, 'cause "Four Good Days" actually has a really good filmmaker behind it, and one of the more underrated ones I would say, Rodrigo Garcia. He's not a name that pops up a lot, because he mostly worked in television over his career, sometimes really good television. I think of him as being one of the main cinematic voices behind such all-time great shows like "Six Feet Under" or "In Treatment", back when HBO really was peak HBO. He's worked on a lot of other shows too, but he broke out in 2000 with a multi-narrative feature called "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her", which had several loosely-connected narratives surrounding women in upper class L.A. It's a bit episodic, but it doesn't feel that way too much. Neither does a similar feature he made a few years after called "Nine Lives" which showed nine different stories from nine different female characters in similar ways. He liked this approach to telling stories, and while it sounds episodic, these films actually played more like a great book of short stories or even a novel where all these tales come together in beautiful poetic ways. The best of his films is "Mother and Child" which, if it didn't make my Ten Best List the year it came out, it must've been my number 11, which several characters barely passing each other in through missed connections all surrounding a tales about adoptions and seeking out the child/parent that each they never knew growing up. In fact, it actually makes a lot of sense that his films and television shows are so novelistic, he's actually the son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Nobel Prize winning Colombian author behind such books as "Love in the Time of Cholera" and "One Hundred Years of Solitude" among others, and much like his father's work, he is best when you can feel a greater worldly and empathetic undertone and meaning to his works. 

After that though, Rodrigo Garcia's probably best well-known for the last feature he made, "Albert Nobbs" which he also made with Glenn Close, and it even earned a couple Oscar nominations, and is a pretty good movie, based on a famous stage play that Close did decades earlier. It, however was a bit of a departure for Garcia, and while it's a good movie, I don't think of it as his film or one of his films even; that was much of more of a vehicle for Close than anything else. Maybe this is a vehicle for her as well, this film...?

I don't know, maybe. Honestly, I don't have much to say about this film in general. Good or bad really. I like the idea of it in theory, but in practice,... eh.... Okay, Close is Deb, and Kunis is Molly, her daughter. Molly is a drug-addict and she looks it, but shows up on Deb's front door for help, not the first time, and Deb is not believing her, not allowing her in her house until she's clean. Molly's undeterred for whatever reason and eventually, after staying outside their house for awhile, Deb ends up agreeing to take her to detox, again, not for the first time. However, this time she seems to actually want to clean herself up. And, apparently, if she can stay clean for the next four days, enough to get the drugs out of her system, she can get a shot of naltrexone, which would repel any opiates from being able to go through her body. I looked it up, and yeah, this is a thing. So, she's staying with her mother now, and both of them are trying, struggling to both deal with each other and keep Molly off any other drugs until they're out of her system entirely. It's an interesting premise and we do get to see these four days of struggle, and a lot of baggage to unpack. Just allowing Molly out of the house is basically a no-go ordeal. She's caused so much chaos and frustration over the years that everything in the house is automated, so that everyone can know where everyone is at all times. 

On paper, this feels like a good premise, and it's a realistic one; it's actually based on a true story, about a mother-daughter team of drug abuse activists. And yet, this movie, gets- well, there's a scene at some point in the movie, where, for very contrived reasons, Molly is speaking in front of a class at her old school, she's still not entirely clean, and she's talking about her struggles. I get why this speech is there, but I don't get why it's here. Like, why would you let somebody speak about that when they were so clearly nowhere near in the clear. It felt and was contrived.
I do think this was an accurate portrayal of an addict in withdrawal, and a relationship between and unconvinced mother and a troubled addict who always seems to have an ulterior motive and a lie, even when she doesn't. 

Maybe this was the wrong medium for such a story, or maybe such a story, shouldn't been so happy. I can easily see a modern Sam Shepherd take this idea and turn it into a dynamic three-person play on stage. Yeah, three persons, I didn't mention Stephen Root's wonderful performance as Close's husband who has his own kind of quiet dignity about him and has seen this relationship deteriorate over the years. There's a good play, somewhere here, but this uplifting tale isn't it. There's nothing wrong with film, and I get why all these actors would be interested in these roles, but eh, especially from somebody like Rodrigo Garcia who I always used to think of as somebody with a lot more ambition, this story just feels too thin. There's a difference between the kind of story that a lot of people might relate to as realistic experiences, and then taking those experiences and making them transcendent, and he used to be able to take things like that and make them transcendent. Here, it's just a single story between a mother and daughter and not much more. There's some commentary I guess on the opiate epidemic in the country, and how drugs like Vicodin were prescribed way too liberally and got people addicted, there's definitely stories about those who are suffering from these kinds of addictions, but this story could've easily occurred at any particular point with nearly any particular narcotic. 

I don't know, the word that keeps popping through my head is "thin". This movie is thin, it's a simple told tale simply and nothing more and that's incredibly disappointing from the people involved in making it. I want and expect more from these people and they're capable of it, and it feels like they found the flimsiest interesting tale they could come up with and did as minimum amount to make it good enough and you can't knock it for being bad, but they don't go any further. Nothing in the movie feels like it exists outside of the paper it's script was written on; it's that thin.  


THE WHITE TIGER (2020) Director: Ramin Bahrani 

⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2


Ramin Bahrani has been one of the best and most underrated filmmakers for awhile. I've been a huge fan since his breakout feature "Man Push Cart". He can make some more introspective pieces like the wonderful, "Goodbye, Solo", about a friendship between a Senegalese cab driver and a suicide old southern white man, but most of the time, his films are often about those struggling on the fringes of society and fighting uphill against, or within, a corrupt capitalist system that's seemingly out of their control. Or maybe, not capitalism always, apparently his last directorial achievement was a TV movie version of "Fahrenheit 451", which, I didn't watch, but eh, I wasn't looking forward to that one; even as that text is more relevant than ever, unfortunately, that's also one that I don't necessarily think adapts well to the film. (I have seen Truffaut's version, it's, ehhh.) However, this time his latest got released on Netflix, "The White Tiger" and it's his most ambitious and arguably his best film yet. 

Like most of his other work, he's telling a story of the struggles of economics situation, but this one deals with India, which even extra layers of economics and sociological layers to it. At one point, it's mentioned that there are over a 1000 castes in India, but that only rich castes and poor castes matter, but not everybody obviously knows which is which. Balram (Adash Gourav) is from a poor class, and he's the one telling his own story, strangely, in an email to Chinese Premiere WEN Jiabao.... One of the more unique framing devices I've seen, but don't let that fool you, he's an entrepreneur. However, he doesn't start that way. 

At first, he's shown skill in school in one of the poor outskirts in India, which, honestly is most of India. Eventually, he's taken out of school and forced to work in the village tea stall by the village landlord until his father passes away. Yeah, I-, villages have landlords still in India, I guess. He's called "The Stork" (Mahesh Manjraker) and basically, whoever, or whatever crosses him, he takes out them, and their whole family, and anybody and everything else that they care for or about. 

He gets sponsored to get driving lessons and inevitably ends up talking his way into being an occasional driver to the Stork's son Ashok (Rajkummar Rao), the Stork's middle son, with the American-raised girlfriend Pinky (Priyanka Chopra Jonas) both of whom are constantly at odds with Ashok's older brother Mukesh (Vijay Maurya) who is quite dismissive of Balram and others of lower castes, and higher castes as well. He's just a murderous asshole, the Joe Pesci character in "Goodfellas" in this family. And this family is quite well off. They try to buy off both sides of the political spectrum as an important race is coming up. Mostly though, we follow Balram as he takes their friendship and observes the lessons of the elite, and how they see the world, or rather not see the ills they're apart of, or caused. 

The movie begins for instance, with a death caused by Ashok, (Well, actually, it's caused by Pinky) and inevitably, they all insist that Balram be the one to take responsibility. This give him personal hardship and of course, the possibility of going to jail for life and the harms that would cause his family, who he is sending money to. Oddly this'll inevitably blow over, but it gives him the encourage to figure out how to get out. 

The big metaphor that the movie uses is the chicken coop, which the movie notes as India's greatest invention to the world. The chickens stay in the coop, they see what happens to them when they're taken out, they know it'll happen to them, and yet, they don't try to get out or leave, and that most of India, is indeed stuck in that coop. You could easily make the same arguments for a lot of the other major superpowers of the world, and most of them aren't not as complex and elaborate as India's history, which has so many extra layers to it's struggles towards a more democratic and socialist union that while you see the horrors of the chicken coop, you're terrified more that if you let the chickens out, the chickens will start attacking each other long before they go after the real people they all should be after. 

Adash Gourav gives an amazing performance, one of my favorites in recent years. The film earned Ramin Bahrani his first Oscar nomination for Adapted Screenplay; the movie was based on a best-selling book from a friend of his that he was working on adapting even before it was published. Ironically, I could argue it's the movie where his characters end up being the most successful to come out of their economic turmoil, and normally I'd say, "At what cost?", and yes, there was a cost, but the movie also indicates how it was strangely worth it. In fact, the more I think about it, the more the "Goodfellas" comparison makes sense. The breaking of the fourth wall at times, the voiceover, the story of coming up from the streets to rise in a world that they would normally never be apart of. Balram calls himself a white tiger, for how rare and beautiful they are, how they only come around once in a generation, the idyllic entrepreneur who actually does treat his employees well and takes full responsibility for the errs of his employees and makes up for his mistakes. I've seen white tigers before. I mean, I live in Vegas, it wasn't hard, just used to see them at the Mirage reserve whenever I had to take a visitor somewhere, but they are startingly rare and beautiful. With every film, I feel like Bahrani's get more of an opportunity to show off more and more of what he can do, and much as I miss some of the more neorealistic in tone films he's made in the past, he amazing manages to stick to that ideal on a bigger budget and more elaborate stories. He's a son of Iranian immigrants who grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina of all places, but with his talent and skillset, along with that viewpoint on the world, you can make a real argument that he might be one of the most worldly or world-conscious filmmakers America's got. "The White Tiger" is the best example of that yet.   


THE DISSIDENT (2020) Director: Bryan Fogel

⭐⭐⭐⭐


This is one of those honest political questions that, I do know the answer to, but feel like I should ask it anyway, if for no other reason than because it should be out in the ether somewhere..., so, serious question, why does the U.S. not have an embargo on Saudi Arabia? I'm dead serious; this is one of those, if I was President thing, I think I might make that an early declaration. Or at least, look into the possibility. And I know the answer is oil, but I also know that we produce enough oil as it is, and we get enough oil from other country who aren't so down on the human rights meter, so I know that's the answer, but I don't think that's a good argument or even a good enough financial reason. In fact, we actually get a lot less oil from Saudi Arabia than I think most people on both sides of the oil debate realize.

Maybe this is different for others, or maybe most people aren't there yet, but for me, the breaking point was the murder of Washington Post journalist and reporter Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate. I don't care how progressive a society is or is becoming, as admittedly some of the current Saudi leaders of the Saud Kingdom are making the country more progressive than many ever really thought possible, if you're killing and going after reporters, as far as I'm concerned, we don't need to be doing business with you. (Yes, I have similar thoughts on Russia at the moment.) Perhaps it's na├»ve of me to have even thought that Saudi Arabia was still worth being somewhat reluctant trade partners before then, but there's no other way to put it, they're run a gang of thugs. And I'm not saying Saudi Arabia needs to become a full-fledge American-style democracy, or that they should even give up their monarch system, what's "right" for us, might not be for other countries, yada, yada, yada, I'm not even saying whenever, if they're ever, replaced that who comes in next will be better. I'm saying, we should just be out, and then after their gone, we re-evaluate our relationship then. In this case, I don't care if they were going after frickin' Tucker Carlson, you don't go after reporters, period. If you can't stand up to the simplest and weakest criticism, than you're power is paper thin at best, and cowardice at worst. 

And if you don't think Khashoggi's murder was the result of cowardly thugs, than I would highly recommend watching "The Dissident" a documentary that traces Khashoggi's role in the political circles around the country at the time, and details the actual details about his death, many of which I'm only learning now. For instance, the disturbing insinuation of how they got rid of his body in the Embassy. Well, there were a couple ways, one was in a well, and the other, ugh, well, if you know what a Tandoori oven is, um,... Anyway, I don't want to think about it. Or that their was a body double that didn't look much like him, that supposedly walked out of the Consulate, although Khashoggi's fiance was outside and apparently she wasn't fooled, and nobody else was either. 

The movie also details some of Saudi Arabia's online tactics, including how the country is basically a Twitter farm to push Saudi propaganda and that Khashoggi was basically trying to help fund an anti-farm to combat that, and getting more populist ideas trending in the country. For most of us, Khashoggi might've just been another random reporter, but this was a Saudi reporter who worked for the Washington Post; the guy's importance and influence can't be overstated, and thankfully his influence isn't being overlooked and ignored in Saudi Arabia. We get interviews with those who investigated the crime, as well as others like those high up in the intelligence agencies who perhaps should've made it far more well-known just what they were doing and pursuing their more criminal actions a lot earlier before something like this happened. 

"The Dissident" is a good outline of the status of the Saudi Arabia fringe of the political discussion, but it is a far cry from being a repeal of the current regime. It's basically a documentation of how these gangster thugs remain in power. This basically is just a very wealthy crime family, and should be thought about that way. They're still trying to throw their money around believing their wealth and influence will simply overtake and overwhelm all their little minor violations of human rights and freedom of speech, and it does work. They had a huge influence on Trump, the President who probably gave them way more legitimacy than anyone else. And recently they bought the PGA Tour of all things; not that I'm surprised or care that much that a bunch of golfers could be bought out, but it does show their power and might. The failings of the capitalist society being taken advantage of by a authoritative state. 

Of course, it hasn't completely worked. Jeff Bezos, who owned the Post cut all ties after the death of his reporter and the Saudis were apparently offended that the Post continued to run print opposing them afterwards, feeling like such an ant that stops moving shouldn't be enough to stop everything. Harry Lime was wrong about that, and hopefully others in power and influence like Bezos will follow suit in the future. 


A SECRET LOVE (2020) Director: Chris Bolan

⭐⭐⭐


I had a hard time watching this film, and on paper, this story should be far more captivating, and instead of thinking about the enduring love and struggles that Pat Henschel and the now-late Terry Donahue had/have for each other, I spent most of my time after and while watching the movie, focusing on a baseball statistics I learned in the film that utterly blew me away. See, at one point, Terry Donahue, who played professional in the AAGPBL, yes, the pro league that "A League of Their Own" was indeed based on, she was one of them, and she's at some museum exhibit, I think at Cooperstown talking and somebody's trying to talk up and prop up her accomplishments there, and that's absolutely true btw, people who don't understand the history and evolution of women sports in America might think they were just a fluke, but leagues like that incorporated a lot of the best female athletes of the time, and not just the ones who happened to be decent at baseball,...- anyway, I could write a dissertation there, but she oft-handedly mentioned that one of the players, stole 201 bases in a season and that that's still the professional record. My eyes lit up at that, because all my life, I've thought Rickey Henderson's 130 in 1982 was the record, so I went on a search, and sure as shit, she's right. Her name was Dorothy Kuras and that record is even more impressive than it sounds, like, somebody needs to get "Foolish Baseball" onto that, I think I found a perfect subject for his next Youtube video. 

Both Donahue and Henschel were amazing athletes. Both were Canadian and they met at a hockey rink, which was Henschel's sport. But yeah, we get photos and a little bit of them through the years, dealing with having to hide their homosexuality, especially during the days when the gay bars were regularly raided by police for sport. 

The thing with Keating's article is that, you know, they weren't like, hiding their relationship from everybody. Most of the gay friends and people I've known over the years, they may not be out to everybody, but they're always out to some certain close people in their lives. Sometimes they're out to everybody and certain close people in their lives are just completely oblivious to it. I've heard of a few people like that, they'll talk about being amazed when they find out, having not realized that why their co-workers of there's always brings her "friend" to office get-togethers and wondering why she can't find a boyfriend. (The female co-worker with the crew cut and the Melissa Etheridge t-shirt, I may add. [True story]) But yeah, we do meet their gay friends in the beginning. We also see and hear about their coming out, particular to Diana, Terry's beloved niece. Yeah, that's another thing, the family's basically been there all along, but wasn't particularly, aware...? 
I doubt it. For a couple who kept their relationship secret for so long, even long after it was generally more accepted, it's kinda disturbing to think about how long they had to keep their sexuality secret from their family, and how little the movie actually focuses on it. 

The biggest crux of the movie really surrounds Pat's declining health and what if anything everybody wants to do about it. Whether their house should be sold, where they should move to, etc. etc. Everybody has an opinion, and nobody's exactly sure what's the best thing for everybody. It's often through Diana that we really get a slight sense of the trepidation everybody has about their sexuality. We get a little sense with some tales about how their parents, the father in particular, wouldn't have been accepting of Pat being a lesbian, although there's some dispute over what he actually said at one point, and I won't go into it here. 

There is a wedding, inevitably, but it sorta just comes about, and it feels more like a detail moreso than an achievement. I almost get the sense that the story is more about the end of this couple's lives than this couples' lives together. Perhaps the filmmakers weren't ready to tell that story through their eyes. The director is Chris Bolan, and these are his two great aunts he's documenting, so perhaps this is about him understanding how blindsided he might've been by their revelation as well? I don't know; this might not be the best possible story or documentation of Pat and Terry, but I'm glad we got what we got, and for I'm recommending the film. Perhaps I am chickening out on here, and should be more critical, but these two wonderful ladies have had a wonderfully long life and a long life together, and whatever stresses they had keeping their lives a secret all this time, that alone deserves a positive response to their life.