Friday, December 15, 2017

MOVIE REVIEWS #143: "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Condon)", "MUDBOUND", "THE BIG SICK", "THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)", "FRANTZ", "STRONG ISLAND", "ALIVE AND KICKING", "CERTAIN WOMEN", "DENIAL", "FREE STATE OF JONES", "KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE", "BORN TO BE BLUE", "MAGGIE'S PLAN", "FRANCOFONIA", "FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK", "MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE", "TRESPASS AGAINST US", and "ALWAYS SHINE"!

So, a lot going on in the entertainment industry right now. Award season, Disney's trying to buy FOX, net neutrality under attack again...., oh and yeah, more and more and more sexual harassment.  As to my positions on all those things, I'm fairly against them. (Well, I guess I'm for net neutrality, but anti the process of eliminating it-, I don't know, I'm tired, joke fell flat.) Anyway, right now, I've got a lot of work to get to, and some big blogs to prepare for. Oh, and-eh, apparently there's a holiday coming up, or something...- whatever, anyway, let's go through some movies I didn't get a chance to review real quick.

Really like "Meadowland' a indy about two parents and their struggles after their kid suddenly disappears one day, reminded me a lot of Kieslowski's "Blue" actually. I also really enjoyed "A Royal Night Out" about V-D Day and Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret escaping their chaperones for the night and having a night on the town. I'm an American, I love seeing the royal family during their private time, especially when they're getting into trouble, I can't help it.Also go to a few older films, the Czech New Wave feature, "A Report on the Party and Guests" that's an interesting, good one, 'cause had a Bunuel feel to me. I got around to Neil Jordan's "Breakfast on Pluto", finally; that's been on my damn Netflix forever and I rather liked it. You forget how good an actor Cillian Murphy can be sometimes, and he was impressive there. I'm also periodically catching up on my older Hitchcock and I finally got around to "The Farmer's Wife", eh, not my favorite old one of his, but it was still a pretty good one. I'm definitely still more of a later-Hitchcock guy, but I can appreciate that one.

Alright, let's get to it; let's kick off this latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS!


BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017) Director: Bill Condon

★★★1/2



(Annoyed sigh)

So, we're really doing this, Disney? Okay, let's fuck with perfection, shall we, not like there's anything better to do, I guess? Let's dig into this live-action bastardization of the best Disney's offered, "Beauty and the Beast", or as I call it, "Beauty and the Beast: The Vindication of Lefou" (Josh Gad)/

Yeah, I have not been that enthralled with some of Disney's attempts at digging up their past works. I mean, conceptually I get it, but for a critic like me, this has been a process that's mostly gotten erratic-but-dwindling returns. That said, I haven't complained about it too much until now. Of course, until now, they've not chosen to adapt anything that's-, (sigh)  this might be somewhat sacrilegious to say, but, they haven't gone after any of their really special properties, until now. I'm sorry, I've never thought "Sleeping Beauty" was that great, and despite it's flaws, I think I actually prefer "Maleficient', and "The Jungle Book" has really never been particularly good to me, and boy did I think making a live-action version was the wrong choice. (That nearly made my Worst Film List) But, you know, at least they tried to improve it. That said, of all of Disney's hand-drawn works, not only do I consider it Disney's best of it's Renaissance, I think it's the best film Disney's done, period. (Which I always thought was the consensus, but apparently, there are some people who really like "The Lion King" out there #Shoutout #GeekCastRadio.) So, let's get to the big stuff first, the bad changes.

First off, we see the opening sequence with the Old Woman and the Rose, which makes particularly strange and nonsensical in hindsight. Second, the whole town is apparently caught up in this spell, not just the castle. Actually, that's not a horrible change, but it does lead to a really bad loophole in the script involving Gaston (Luke Evans) who's treatment of Maurice (A wonderful Kevin Kline)  is particularly troubling in this version. (Yeah, shouldn't be jailing Gaston, after it turns out their is a Beast (Dan Stevens)?) Next bad thing, way too much emphasis on the Castle staff, especially in terms of how he's linked the story. There's some scenes in this movie, that shouldn't just be taken out because in the wrong light, you can read Belle's (Emma Watson) love of the Beast, partially coming out from her desire to free the staff, and I don't think that's right. The whole point of the story is that Belle and Beast are to see each the real person within them and fall in love on their own, despite everybody and everything else, and they come this close to basically eliminating that almost entirely at some points. This almost means the romance is a little more quickened than it should've been, and certain parts of the movie, differ enough from the original to annoy, because they're not getting the effect the original.

That said though, I'm still recommending the film. It's got problems, but it also has some interesting nice additions. Yeah, I'm not above adaptation, hell, it's "Beauty and the Beast", there's dozens of adaptations of this story, hundreds even; I don't even think Disney's is the best one, that belongs to Jean Cocteau still. I like that Maurice is more of an artist and not just an inventor, and I like that we actually get a bit of a look as to Belle's past and what happened to her mother.

As an adaptation, it's fine. It tries some things, they don't all work, but they're adapting a classic, and you know, I'm more angry because of the unnecessary aspects of it. Honestly, I think where it falters most is when they're doing something that I think would probably be a better fit for the stage than on screen. I know, there's all the special effects character, but the way they did, say Gaston's song, felt more like, how that might be done on the stage, instead of on film. Some of the additions story-wise feel that way too, including my allusion to Lefou's inner conflict over Gaston's actions. That feels like it would fit on the stage moreso than here. I wonder how much of this was inspired by the Broadway musical version actually? (Shrugs) Anyway, I don't think this is great or anything, and I would be showing kids the animated version before I'd show them this one, but, it's not awful or anything. Sure, it's "Beauty and the Beast" how bad could it be, but still,....



MUDBOUND (2017) Director: Dee Rees

★★★★1/2



Dee Rees has quietly become one of the most important voices in filmmaking over the last few years. Her debut feature film "Pariah", about a teenage African-American lesbian struggle with coming out to her family was, probably underrated by most, including myself, and I admired that movie a lot; I probably should go back to that one honestly. Her last work was the TV movis biopic "Bessie" about the great blues legend Bessie Smith, and now comes a sweeping tragic epic called "Mudbound", that examines two families, one white and one black, and the struggles they both go through living in the Jim Crow South, both before and after World War II.

Plotwise, I'm gonna skip to the middle of the story, 'cause it doesn't quite get going until then, but after World War II, two soldiers in the families come home. For the McAllen's, led by a struggling business agriculturalist Henry (Jason Clarke) and his intellectual bookish wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) Henry's younger brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) comes home from being a bomber pilot over Europe. Later, when the Jackson's, Hap and Florence (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige) the tenet farmers who take care of Henry's land, son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) comes home from being a tank commander under Patton, these two more free-spirited members of their families meet for the first time. Both of them, lost and home, find a connection as they struggle to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives.  Both begin by working on the families' farm, but both have personal and professional ambitions elsewhere. There's other narratives going on, all through the edges of the story. Other characters who seem to drift in and out of their lives, and perspectives. The movie, based on a novel by Hillary Jordan, switches between several different narrators, not quite randomly, but just enough to a larger sense of the Mississippi Delta and the personal thoughts and lives of these characters. More than that, you get different viewpoints, and I think that's why this is done, because, ultimately, this movie comes down to perspective. How people see things and how people look at the world.

Both are black sheeps to the heads of their households, and both have seen more of the world. Henry's had a crush on Laura from moment one, and she's more cultured and empathetic than her husband, both mostly, even before the war, he was a natural drifter, making them the ire of the family patriarch, his father Pappy (Jonathan Banks), a mean old racist bastard who, somehow still managed to keep a hold over the family and the community even. Ronsel meanwhile, thrived in a world where people weren't judged on the color of their skin, but on their character, and he left more than a part of himself over there, knowing that somehow he would eventually return, even if that meant the dreams of his father of running a farm, were sketchy at best, but he was already struggling over the crops and had to rent a mule to finish on time, which meant he was more in debt to the McAllen's than he'd like to be, and his wife would take a second job with them, helping Laura raise and keep the kids healthy. (She was already a midwife on the side, this was a more permanent position.)

One thing that I think is clear, is how the truly racist aspects, of the people, are only situated into an insufferable few, who demand that conditions be kept at status quo. That doesn't mean that all the white people aren't racist, Florence, in one of her monologues even notes how Laura's changed her mind on that belief, but how the extremes of the few, becomes the way of the world for all, and just how many people exactly get punished for their sins.

The title comes from a scene in the beginning involving the two brothers, who nearly get caught trapped in a mud-soaked grave of a slave they were digging,  when the other managed to just barely bring him back up, and the movie is about how everyone in the area, is inevitably, "Mudbound", whether they earn or deserve it or not. "Mudbound", like that metaphor is powerful, albeit, probably somewhat too lofty in it's goals. but in terms of creating a real sense of a-, well, what me and most everybody else presumed had died long-ago, but America has a way of remembering the past as being a lot farther away than it is, which is probably why movies like "Mudbound" that remind us that it isn't, hit so powerfully.


THE BIG SICK (2017) Director: Michael Showalter

★★★★1/2



At first, I was somewhat dismissive of "The Big Sick". I had heard that the story was based on Kumail Nanjiani's real life romance with Emily Gordon, who co-wrote the script with him, but in the beginning I had feared that we were going into some well-worn territory. I saw the sequence where the parents, Azmat and Sharmeer (Anupar Kher and Zenobia Shroff) were having several young Pakistani women, "dropping by" every time Kumail was home for dinner, all set-ups in an attempt to arraigned a relationship and preferably a marriage, and all I could think of was that same sequence from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". I know, it's a cheap shot, but that was my first instinct and, eh, yeah, I don't know how many of you have gone back to see that movie recently, but it doesn't hold up on multiple viewings as much as people would think. The parallels are definitely there, pressure from family meets conflicts with love and romance, plus they're both personal stories based on the creators' own lives.

Then, the story took a turn, one that,- well, for one thing, it made me understand the title, but also, made this film a lot more deeper and poignant than it probably had any real right to be. Kumail (Nanjiani) meets Emily (Zoe Kazan, 'cause perfect casting) at a comedy club where he performs and she heckled him nicely for a moment, and they had a slight connection. She studied to be a therapist and is very not-Pakistani. So much so, that Kumail doesn't tell his family about her, and they continue to set him up with the latest drop-ins, some of whom, would probably be pretty decent partners as well, but they're starting to fall in love, and then they have a bad breakup. Everything seems like it's a normal roadblock and then he gets a phone call from a friend of Emily's, informing him that she's sick, like, really sick, and is in the hospital, and at some point, the doctors are forced to put her in a medically-induced coma, while they try to figure out the best way to fight the infection.

After Kumail signs a form allowing the doctors to do that, in a very well-written scene, he contacts her parents, Terry and Beth (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter) and they fly in from North Carolina and essentially take Kumail's place waiting at the hospital, but Kumail decides to stay anyway. At first, they were apprehensive about it, they knew about him and their daughter and they're not sure why he's even there. That said, shared trauma has a way of knocking down emotional walls, as well as putting up and rebuilding new ones and eventually as Emily's condition becomes more and more unclear, they begin to bond, and both the parents and Kumail have to confront some emotional truths that they've let build up for awhile. It's subtle how it's done, and sure there's some explosions in their behavior and inopportune times, but the moments were deserved and it all worked.

Kumail Ninjiani is most famous for his work on "Silicon Valley" although he's also a strong stand-up and here's a wonderful little rom-com that's about a clash of cultures in ways that I haven't seen done before and are done incredibly well. The acting is strong across the board, Holly Hunter's getting some Oscar buzz for the role; I'd be happy to see that. Ray Romano is also really good here; he doesn't get the credit for being a good actor a lot and he really is. "The Big Sick" is just really well-crafted and well-made. It's the kind of smart rom-com I would've expected James L. Brooks to make back in the '80s and '90s, and I'm glad to see it come back. I hope this couple have more than one good story in them, but if it the only one, I'll take it.


THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED) (2017) Director: Noah Baumbach

★★★★1/2



"The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)" only falters when compared to the film that it clearly is most inspired by. It's the latest from Noah Baumbach, who has just been making good movie after good movie for awhile now; lately it's been with actress/writer Greta Gerwig, who's off writing and directing on her own films now, but he's also worked heavily with the master of the quirky family film these days, Wes Anderson, and "The Meyerowitz Stories..." I can't help but feel like it's a Baumbach re-working of Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums". That's not a negative by the way, but it's pretty clear and some of the comparisons are pretty uncanny. You got three siblings, who each have been effected heavily by their matriarch father, each sibling has some connection to the arts, there's a lot going on and there's some really great performance holding this together. First we meet Danny (Adam Sandler, once again proving that under somebody else's supervision than his own, he can be a talented actor.) a recently-divorced house husband, whose daughter Eliza, (Grace Van Patten) is attending The Bard, which is where his father, Harold (Dustin Hoffman) taught sculpture for decades, only recently retiring. He's married to latest wife, Maureen (Emma Thompson) who's mostly a walking mess, which is slightly better and less annoying than Harold, who's...- well, I'm not sure how to describe Harold exactly. In fact, describing any of these characters, separately, is difficult. They each have some of their own distinctive quirks, and yet all these characters are quite similar to each other. The parallels are obvious, and they become more obvious as the movie goes on. Like how Danny is far more like Harold than he'll ever realize, even to the point of insisting that his continued limp that he suffers through is nothing and he doesn't have a the time and energy to have it checked out, even when he's literally in a hospital, 'cause Harold's in a coma, after he put off getting checked after a dog attacked him, which led to a delayed reaction, with him not knowing that his brain was bleeding. Danny's sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel) is probably the closest to Harold, as she's constantly the one that's the closest, both emotionally, and geographically, but she's also arguably the strangest of the bunch. Like her brother, she's artistic, making movies for her office mates in her spare time, making her the emotional link to Eliza who's turning into quite an accomplished avant-garde student filmmaker.

Danny and Jean grew up together although with their mother Julia (Candice Bergan in an extended cameo)  mostly, not their father, who was raising their half-brother Matthew (Ben Stiller) who became the outcast of the family as he went into financial planning instead of art, although he works with a lot of artists. (If this movie had any real problem, it's that it needed more Adam Driver cameo) He's got the weird dynamic of being the really successful member of the family, but the outsider 'cause he was and is the beloved one of the father, but he didn't follow in the artistic footsteps. Neither did anyone else though. Danny was a talented pianist although he never pursued it, and is basically a version of Harold who never took a career path and is now in the middle of a mid-life identity crisis, and doesn't have the natural instincts to push himself through it.

"The Meyerowitz Stories...", might be Baumbach's variation on Wes Anderson's theme, but that's more than enough. These are really interesting characters, all of them well-written, especially well-acted; honestly- Anderson's not the best example to compare, maybe in plot and structure it is, but in terms of tone, this reminds more of like, a great Mike Leigh movie, like "Another Year" or "Secrets & Lies" or something like that, where we get family confrontations at the center of the screen, but then other subtler aspects at the corners, This film, takes a family and examines it's dynamics between them, and that's what the film's about. And sure, things happen, some characters come in and out, I should mention Judd Hirsch has a good supporting performance as well, as Harold's longtime friend and more famous rival in the sculpture world, but that's substantial only in the fact that we see and observe how everybody reacts to them and to each other. That's a difficult concept to pull off, but you write well, you get the right actors, this can be pulled off well, and it was.


FRANTZ (2017) Director: Francois Ozon

★★★★



Francois Ozon's latest, "Frantz" is a rare remake from him; it's based on the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch film "Broken Lullaby", which is firstly a good reminder that I need to watch more Ernest Lubitsch films. (Yeah, "Broken Lullaby" is one I haven't seen yet, so the story could've been new to me, frankly.) Come to think of it, Lubitsch and Ozon have a quite a bit in common, come to think of it. His films, from the limited sample of "Ninotchka" and "The Shop Around the Corner" that I've seen, his films do feel like the kind of complex but charming character pieces that Ozon's most noted for. Ozon's probably a little more eccentric and random, part of me has still never forgiven him for "8 Women", but most of the time, he these fascinating character pieces, some more quirky than others, arguably one of his best films "Ricky" is his strangest, about parents who give birth to a literal angel, but Lubitsch had fun too between the more serious stuff like, "Under the Sand" about a woman, who's husband very suddenly disappears. I think most know his breakout feature as "Swimming Pool", an erotic mystery thriller that played some twists of the ideas on muses and attractions, while also, having enough twists for fans of the then-popular puzzle movies trend to appreciate. I've like his last two films as well, "Young & Beautiful" a nice movie about a young woman who goes from losing her virginity to working as a call girl in an effort to explore her sexuality, and I really liked "The New Girlfriend" about a woman who help her late friend's husband transition to being a woman.

"Frantz" is a little more artistic, mostly shot in black & white, and doesn't slip the veil too much on what were, I suspect, the more subtle aspects of the story that,-, well, the original was Pre-Code actually, so maybe I better not judge until I see that one,...- Anyway, "Frantz" is the name of Anna's (Paula Beer) dead husband; he was killed in action; this was a couple years after World War I, and he was a German soldier. She's a young widow who still grieving, but curiously, she finds out that somebody's other than him, has been laying flowers at his grave. The man, is a Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney) who was also a soldier during the war, and has traveled a long way to do this. At first, he's not accepted, mostly for being French, as the German wounds we're still not healed. However, it's revealed that they were friends back in College; Frantz had studied in Paris, and the two hung out together, and eventually Adrien becomes an accepted part of the extended family. Essentially, a sort of a, piece of Frantz that's been accepted.

Then, for reasons I'm not gonna explain, they have a falling out fight before he heads off back to Paris. It's then that the movie shifts as Anna journeys to Paris, not only to find Adrien, who's suddenly become missing, but also to connect with Frantz, through visiting his favorite places and hangouts he enjoyed when he was there. "Frantz" is a touching movie about how a person's death can help you find out stuff about them, and oneself that they otherwise didn't know before, and it explores it intellectually, and emotionally. well. I can see this story would still hold up on a remake some eighty+ years later. I would've liked a little more of a modern touch perhaps, there's still quite a bit to like here. Good performances at the core help pull off this material better than it's probably written, and Ozon's on a bit of a roll here, which I'm glad to see from someone's whose got a history of being somewhat inconsistent.


STRONG ISLAND (2017) Director: Yance Ford

★★★1/2



It feels somewhat weird talking about "Strong Island" shortly after having watched "The Witness". I'm not saying documentary is better than another, and they're both good, but their different approaches is highly noticeable. Both are films that look into a New York City from years earlier and from the perspective of the victim's family member, but "The Witness' has a much more, investigatory and detached feel to it; it's way more interested in investigating, and trying to piece together what exactly happened so many years ago. "Strong Island" takes the exact opposite approach. It hints at the fact that, there may have been something off-kilter going on, with a case where an all-white Grand Jury felt there wasn't enough to indict Mark Reilly, a white car mechanic for the murder of William Ford, Jr. an aspiring young African-American youth from a Black neighborhood in Long Island, despite there, seeming to be, very clear indication that the crime, was indeed, cold-blooded murder, but the movie doesn't get to the bottom of anything. Instead, Yance Ford, the younger queer brother of William, decided to focus in on himself and his family.  On who William was, on his mother, and her thoughts and fears, on Yance himself, who we often see in close-up in front of a dark background. This motif becomes crucial, particularly late in the film, when there's an effect, involving, what seems to be a black screen, until it isn't.

"Strong Island" seems far more, enclosed and claustrophobic. It doesn't seek out truth, and frankly it doesn't care. Normally that's a bad thing, but it isn't looking for truth, 'cause they know it already. The truth is that one minute they had a talented, smart young man, who had aspirations and was educated with some amazing goals, and the next moment, they didn't. The mother, during one of her several interviews, talks about thinking about him during the funeral, determined that they would get their day in court. Of course that never happened. We suspect why, but we don't know for sure. There's a phone interview with a detective who didn't suspect that the Grand Jury made the wrong call, and there's a piece of information Yance himself reveals late about a previous meeting between Reilly and Ford, that perhaps is what swayed the Jury. That still doesn't explain why, some members of the Grand Jury were apparently reading or in some other way distracted during the mother's testimony. Still though, there's several parts about the murder that still seem suspicious. One second, William enters the garage, following Reilly in and the next, there's a shot heard and the next, he's dead. They claim self-defense. Based on what I can tell, sure seems like murder to me, honestly. They don't seek out to find any of the Grand Jurists, I noticed; I'm not sure how possible that would even be, but I would've liked to have heard their side of the story. And there's certainly no interview with Reilly, who I'm not even sure is still alive to defend himself or not.

But I get it, he's too close. What could he have said that Yance would've believed or cared to hear? Would he even have bothered to put it in? Why, what good would his side do. The thing that makes "Strong Island" so fascinating is it's bias, and how it's about that. It's stuck in these feelings and emotions, and truths that Yance and his family feel and know, forever surrounded in the darkness of grief and everything that that loss incurs on you. "Strong Island" is a deep personal expression of pain more than anything, and for that I recommend it.


ALIVE AND KICKING (2017) Director: Susan Glatzer

★★★



"Alive and Kicking" is pretty much the perfect DVD documentary extra for those who loved "La La Land", a little too much.

Actually, in all seriousness, if I were to ever be a dancer, let's presume, I'm in alternate universe where I'd suddenly be physically capable of making that happen, I would've probably look into Swing music. Swing, which, there's a lot of variants of, more than you'd think, but originated from a style called Lindy Hop, in 1920-'30s Harlem believe it or not, has got to be the most fun and sexy dancing there is. You don't usually get both of those, you usually only get one or the other, but Swing, is way more loose and fun. You have be in shape and athletic to do it, especially if you want to start working on aerials and flips and all, but it looks incredibly fun. And the people seem nice. 

"Alive and Kicking" documents the people who keep swing dancing alive through competitions and teaching throughout the country and even the world and traces it's origins and evolutions as far as back as it can. It even got one of the last interviews with Frankie Manning, who was the dancer and choreographer for the very first swing movie, "Hellzapoppin'", or the first one that really showed swing music at it's African-American roots. Sure, the music itself is inspired by the syncopation of jazz, but when you and I are jump, jivin' and wailin', or imagine people doing it, it usually isn't African-Americans; and the subculture itself feels more associated with the sockhop than the chitlin circuit. It's a cult thing nowadays, but it spreads the world. Korea and Sweden in particular have begun being major players in competitions. 

The competition circuits are actually fun too, since rules are particularly laxed in most of them. And most performances during competition, even the most extravagant ones are improvised, which makes some sense, when you realize dancers aren't aware of the music they get for instance. There's definitely sexual attractiveness for most of the pairings, although strangely not with their typical dance partners. Flirtatious yes, this is a dance style commonly associate with loose floating skirts after all, but it's also aggressive and active. Swing dancing involves, swing your partners towards and away from you constantly, that's tiring. So, I get it. Chemistry on this dance floor, is probably fun, but probably doesn't translate to the bedroom as much as we'd like to imagine.

Anyway, there's a few personal stories, a couple people using swing to help battle cancer for instance, and some people, well into their '90s or '100s, who still swing dance regularly and remain in great shape, keep the art form alive, and there's one odd motif of people bringing up how disconnected we are with the digital world, and how dancing brings us together. I'm not sure how compelling that last part is, that seems like complaints from the old-times to me, including the younger dancers, but "Alive and Kicking" is just a fun little documentary about a dance style, that frankly could use another comeback. I still have my old Brian Setzer Orchestra albums somewhere, and frankly I prefer this style of dancing to a lot of the more modern approaches, so.... yeah, sure, bring back the Lindy Hop, and really get this party started.


CERTAIN WOMEN (2016) Director: Kelly Reichardt

★★★★1/2



Kelly Reichardt's "Certain Women", (Sigh) bad title aside, begins with a sequence that is probably the most inportant of-the-moment scene in film today. It begins with a lawyer, who's talking to a client. The client's been injured and keeps trying to setup a personal injury claim, but he's already taken money from the company so he's not able to sue. The lawyer, keep trying to explain this to him, but he won't accept it. Finally, they both go to someone local, more prominent, and he explains the same thing to him, and he simply says, "Okay" and gets up and leaves quietly. I didn't mention that the lawyer was played by Laura Dern, did I? Well, yeah, when he hears the same result from a man, he accepts it, and yet he hassles her as though there's something that she should be doing but isn't, and presumes that she's not capable enough for the job.

Based around three short stories from Malie Meloy and tells three stories about women living in and around Montana, and like many of her other films, Reichardt's tells her stories as much with landscape as anything else. I've been give-or-take with her in recent years, for instance, I'm not a fan of her breakthrough film, "Wendy & Lucy" about a homeless woman struggling to raise her beloved dog and take care of herself, but I think I might've underrated "Meek's Cutoff" which was about a family travelling the Oregon Trail. As a story, there isn't much there, but I think I read the film wrong and now recognize that it's the experience of the lethargic pace, and the rustic settings of the western story that I should've focused in more on. I also quiet enjoyed her previous film, "Night Moves" a story about a group of environmental terrorists who plan to blow up an hydroelectric dam. "Certain Women" is definitely my favorite of her works I've seen so far.

The Laura Dern story continues on, when later, her client, Fuller (Jared Harris) raids a building and holds a hostage. in an attempt to rob his old employer, and she's the one who has to talk him out. The second story, is the most disjointed from the other two. It involves a young family, led by it's matriarch Gina (Michelle Williams) who's currently in the process of building her family a dreamhouse, and has takes her husband Ryan (James Le Gros) and daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier) out camping in the backwoods for a couple days, as she meets with her father, Albert (Rene Auberjonios). Her family's already somewhat dismissive of her, but she continues on, asking her father to collect a bunch of limestone that's lying out on his front yard and has been there for years, as she plans to rebuild her house, using the limestone to construct a wall. Her father's not quite as there as he used to be, and she wants him to be sure to remember when she brings workers to pick it up in a few weeks. The story seems to not make much sense at first, but there's a profound sense of loss and irony in the tale, about trying to build a home out of the remnants of a past one that's still in use. There's a yuppie-ish undertone to it that feels like a progressive of the first story, both being about women in the modern world struggling to make their way through a world control and defined by the actions of men.

This is why the third story is the most interesting, which involves two women in masculine roles, one's a younger lawyer, Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart), who is travelling across the state once a week to teach a class of teachers about law, basically to inform them of the students' rights and what they're allowed to do and not.  However, the story's told from the perspective of a character only listed as "The Rancher" (Lily Gladstone) who sat in on the class, for some reason and she and Elizabeth begin having a slight, subtle relationship, once a week at least. It's not a romance, necessarily, but she's infatuated with her, and she starts taking her out to dinner after class every night, and making some small but lovely romantic gestures towards her, albeit unrequited. When she quits the part-time teaching position early, she journeys across the state on a whim, in an effort, just to see her one more time. Two male struggling at lonely male-dominated jobs, that take over their world so much that actual love and romance are barely recognizable to them, and are at best, just out-of-range of their outstretch arms.

"Certain Women", like most of Reichardt's films, has a sense of synecdoche that's both meditative in it's approach, but slice-of-life in it's execution, despite the fact that all three of these stories and all of these characters are distinctive and unique to themselves, separately the events, seem way more blase and typical than they should. A reflection of a modern Americana in tone, if not in actions. This is one that makes you think for awhile afterwards, and for that alone, it's easily worth recommending, and makes you hope more movies that combine short stories like these would be made.


DENIAL (2016) Director: Mick Jackson

★★★1/2



You know what gets me about denial, not the movie, but the act itself?  It's that it's really such a petty behavior, when you get right down to it. It's basically the exact opposite of logical and complex thought. It's completely instinctual;  it's our initial instinct in fact; when something really bad happens, to outright, refuse to accept the fact that it occurred. And it's not even remotely a complex one either, it's the first stage of grief, it's the most childish of reactions. It's an exaggerated expression of "No, I didn't!" said in exactly the way that make it obvious to everybody that you're guilty as hell, and yes, you actually did.

That's what makes it so frustrating to see this behavior and perspective elevated in such heinous, and unfounded ways. "No, we we're not descended from apes, we're children of God; it's just a theory; it shouldn't be taught in schools!", and other such bullshits. And this biggest piece of bullshit of all, Holocaust denial; the most egregious example of Anti-Semitism disguised as historical anthropology. For those unaware of this case, and admittedly, I wasn't terribly knowledgeable about it going in, it's about a famous British libel case, where Holocaust denier David Irving (Timothy Spall) sued a History sued Holocaust Studies professor Deborah Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) and Penguin Books claiming that in her book, "Denying the Holocaust" where she claimed that he was a Holocaust denier, harmed him in a way that made it impossible for him to make a living. Yeah, bullshit, but what he's actually doing is putting the Holocaust on trial. See, his claim, as absurd as it is, and him, suing in a British court, not an American one, means that she has to prove that her words are completely accurate; so she has to prove the Holocaust happened.

Yeah, I told you "Denial" is petty; it's easier to have somebody else present a case and then to poke holes than it is to prove a fact. That's what deniers do, by the way, they find something that might just be questionable in the right light, and then they take that, and distort and pervert the evidence, in an effort to justify their prejudices, so as claim them as fact. The lawyers who are taking the case for Deborah, a solicitor Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott), who was famous at that time for defending Princess Diana in a case, where, as he puts it, she was "trying to get a divorce", and the barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) who's actually the one at trying the case in court,.The thing that's somewhat interesting is how they approached the trial. They don't have Lipstadt testify herself, and they also refuse to have survivor's testify, they don't want to setup what Irving wants, the ability to debate and battle a Survivor, and perhaps win. (Again, it's easier to claim a negative and distort and bend the truth...) Oh, Irving, like all fool's-for-clients didn't have a lawyer and defended himself.

"Denial" is not a perfect film; Rachel Weisz, was probably miscast here; I'm sure she's got Lipstadt's voice and mannerisms right, but it's rough to sit through. but also because she's sort of the main perspective in a story that ironically, doesn't involve her too much. A lot of the scenes are about her battling with her lawyers on the strategy of the case, moreso than the actual case to some extent. Still, this is an important story that, more-than-ever needs to be told. I don't think this movie was intended to exist in a world where a U.S. President actually defended Nazis but, yeah, this sort of story needs to be told and the truth about denialers like Irving need to be brought up. Is there a better way to tell this story? I suspect so, but I'll take this. The rest of the performances are spot-on and as a courtroom narrative, it's good enough, and you know what, I like the talk of strategy and the fascinating technicalities involved with the British system of law, as well as the fascinating strategies they have to use, and then, seeing it in action and working, and how. This is a story about proving somebody is a fake, by proving that the Holocaust was real; I'm sure for those swept up in denial, it will not be enough for a court of law to make such a declaration, but frankly I don't see any value in pandering to them, and the best thing to do, was what the Solicitor Rampton did, even when confronting and talking Irving, he never looked at him in the eye, once. If they're pervert history to justify someone as less-than-human, than might as well treat them like that.


FREE STATE OF JONES (2016) Director: Gary Ross

★★★



So, being a bit of a history and geography buff, I had somewhere heard a story about Jones County, Mississippi succession from the Confederacy, but I mostly recalled it as a curious little blip on the history of our country, and frankly, I wasn't completely sure how real the story was. But, yes, the "Free State of Jones", succeeded from the Confederacy, led by Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey) a deserted Confederate soldier who led a group of other Confederates as well as some runaway slaves, led a rebellion against some of the Confederates soldiers, who were basically raping the poor of civilians of both their men and their property, seizing ten percent of food, and everything else. This was upsetting to Knight, for several reasons, not the least of which that, the rich in the South actually didn't send their men to war.

The film was directed by Gary Ross, who's one of my favorite directors normally although he's been erratic in recent years, but I don't think he's ever been bad. It's clear that he's made note of as much of the actual history as possible, and he even brings this up mentioning it's accuracy to events as close as he can. Still though, the movie falters with some of the more boisterous elements, the numerous speeches got on my nerves at times. There's a lot of them, and while there's a lot of action and sorting out the politics, and laws of the world, and a look at some of the infighting. It's ultimately exciting in the moment, but not as memorable afterwards. You do get the sense that this story might be more interesting and nuanced if it was, say an "American Experience" documentary episode or something.

The Free State, actually remained in power well past the Civil War and it wasn't until the end of Reconstruction did things really start to slow down and, well the progress would get reversed, and then it turns into a more accurate portrayal of "The Birth of a Nation", the D.W. Griffith one. (Sigh) History sucks sometimes, but still, for a good decade there was a small sliver of Mississippi where Blacks and Whites, men and women, fought side-by-side with each other and held off, technically two countries and managed to keep itself running as a microcountry under some of the most progressive laws of the area. It's accomplishment worthy of a film, and I'll take this one. There's some great performances all around, I particularly liked Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mahershala Ali's work in the film.


KATE PLAYS CHRISTINE (2016) Director: Robert Greene

★★★★




“As far as what Christine did that afternoon, it was a total waste of time, total waste of one good bullet and total waste of the people that continued to talk about it, because it accomplished nothing….” ---SNN Broadcaster John Hill

That statement's made near the beginning of "Kate Plays Christine," a movie that I, was not looking forward to. Some of you might remember my review of "Christine" a little while back, a movie that, despite, for all-others intensive purposes, was technically, I couldn't force myself to give a positive review to, partly because of it's subject matter and how it was treated.  The movie was a profile of Christine Chubbuck, the infamous local news broadcaster known for being the first person to commit suicide on live television. I didn't write a normal review for that matter, I more or less wrote a dissertation, on frankly, why we shouldn't make a movie about her, on why the modern fascination with her, is frankly just perverse. I'm not gonna retype the whole thing, but you'll find it, at the link below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2017/09/movie-reviews-140-la-la-land-fantastic.html

And you should read that review, 'cause a lot of my thoughts are echoed in this strange documentary, "Kate Plays Christine", which coincidentally does something that I happened to have at one point strangely did, look deeper into Christine Chubbuck. It's done through the perspective Kate Lyn Shell an indy actress most known for her work on shows like "House of Cards" and "The Girlfriend Experience", here, she's been hired to play Christine Chubbuck and she goes down to Sarasota, Florida, to investigate her and her life, and what she means in the industry, including interviewing people who knew her personally or professionally. Anything that gets her to dive into the character. What surrounded her, things about her, etc. She gets a tan to look like her; we see her adjust her hair and costume, practice lines with other members of the cast, possibly shoot some scenes. She visits the places she lived and frequented. Still, a few things are off. The movie talks extensively about how she was the influence for the movie "Network", which , no, she wasn't, but they mention it a lot. There's also a lot brought up, about video footage. Not the suicide footage, but just, any footage of her that exists. This, confused me a bit, 'cause while it is hard to find some footage of her, just reporting, it's not impossible; it takes a search or two, but there's several clips of that running around. She finds some eventually, from a fellow reporter who she interviewed, but I did find that somewhat confusing at first. For one thing, that would be the first thing I would've looked for as an actor, if you're portraying someone in real life, find footage of them; it seems weird that that would take so long.

The movie seem to collapse and basically turn into another-albeit-different meditation on Chubbuck life and image than the other film was, and I was ready to pan this film as well, for basically the same reasons I panned the other one. And, then, it got to the end scene. The scene where Kate has to do the suicide scene.... I'm trying hard not to give this away, and, I was legitimately mouth-open, shocked at what happened next. I don’t care how difficult this is, stick around for the last two minutes of this movie; it’s probably the best twist ending I’ve seen in years. I’m not gonna say how, they did this, but they do it. Maybe, part of this, is that it's somewhat pandering to my perspective on Christine Chubbuck, but I bought into it, and perhaps, it's because the filmmakers came to the same conclusion I did, but, I came out of this movie smiling. It's a cheap trick, storytelling-wise, but it's done elaborately well, and you know, if it's true that the best way to criticize is to make another movie, or to criticize anything is to make a movie, this movie, does that, very well. Unexpectedly well. I gotta give it credit for that. 


BORN TO BE BLUE (2016) Director: Robert Budreau

★★★




"Born to Be Blue"is one of the stranger biopics I've seen. I'm still not sure, it completely worked, but it is fascinating enough in the attempt that it makes me think about it. Of course, that could just be the performances, Ethan Hawke's performance as West Coast Jazz pioneer Chet Baker received some Best Actors critics prizes sporadically throughout the 2016 Awards season, and I can understand why. This is a charismatic performance about a character who's arguably more important aspect of his success was his charisma. The movie begins, kinda in a similar way to Kevin Spacey's biopic on Bobby Darin, "Beyond the Sea", where the character is starring in a biopic film about himself, although, that actually almost occurred in real life, however, and the movie, uses that fact, and presents us with an alternative reality where they got at least part of the movie done, and Chet begins a relationship with Jane (Carmen Ejogo, also really good here) the actress who's playing a composite of several other Chet's previous wives and girlfriends. So she's acting as several characters as we zig-zag through his life from the fifties and sixties and then we see the two of them together in "real life" struggling with Chet's latest aspect of his stalled career. This latest one being, having most of his teeth knocked out, after being attacked by a former drug dealer of his. That's a severe career backslide for one of the best trumpeter's alive. 

I'm not overly familiar with Chet Baker's work as a musician, which I think benefitted this film, 'cause it wasn't as focused on the music as other music biopics are, although the music is prevalent and from what I heard, I loved, and I liked seeing him struggle to regain his abilities after losing them, something that had happened before as he once upon a time, loss a front tooth when he was a teenager and spent a year regaining the use. The movie's main focus however was on his heroin addiction, something the movie  informs us, he never got over. He actually became pretty big as a vocalist for a bit as well, and later in his career, while not big in the pop culture, critically, his last comeback that stretched the '70s and '80s 'til his death made him legendary. This film, focuses on that struggle to regain his skills. It's an imagined version, with aspects like working at a gas station for years for money while he recovered and taking any job he could, including the most demeaning of work before he was ready to enter the jazz scene again are interesting and funny. 

There are several other projects on Baker, both in the works and previously that one could look at film-wise to learn more. It does feel like this is the right approach to Chet Baker's life. There's the classic image of cool from his beginnings constantly clashing with the real aging junkie who's in constant comeback and struggle mode, and I think the movie does about as good as it could in trying to piece together these sides in something that-, not necessarily coherent, but just tries to piece it together as some sort of narrative. I doubt if it's a definitive look on Baker, and, I'm not even sure this approach even really works, as an approach to filmmaking, but I think it's interesting enough. Compared to the other non-traditional jazz biopic from this year, "Miles Ahead", with Don Cheadle as Miles Davis; I think I prefer that one, but there's a lot here as well. It's worth a watch, just to see what you think about it.   


MAGGIE'S PLAN (2016) Director: Rebecca Miller

★1/2



"Maggie's Plan" is not quite the idiot plot, but it is fairly stupid.

(Sigh) Okay. so Director Rebecca Miller is one of those jack-of-all-trades, master of none types in Hollywood. She's somebody who's always around, but you're not sure what she's gonna do next. It's often just as likely for her to write a novel or act as it is to direct a movie. (In fact, she has a small role in "The Meyerowitz Stories..." that I failed to mention in that review) About the only person who shows up more irregularly than her is Daniel Day-Lewis, who happens to be her husband, so, yeah, they're perfect for each other. I think this is her first, straight-up comedy; she's usually makes something much more dramatic, in some way. I, ironically happened to mention her film, "Personal Velocity" recently, which was based on a book of hers. "Maggie's Plan" is her script, but not her story; that's from the Karen Rinaldi book, "The End of Men", although this feels like she could've taken a crash course in Woody Allen and Nicole Holofcener and spewed this out. There's maybe a little Noah Baumbach in there too.

So, Maggie (Greta Gerwig) is a single post-grad who works at an administrative position at The New School. However, she's getting up in age, and is still very single. However, right at the time, she decides that that will remain her fate, she meets John (Ethan Hawke), who's got one of those specialties I'm certain only exists in movies like these, he's one of the world's foremost "ficto-critical anthropologists." (Long thinking pause, [shrugs]) Based on the rest of his characteristics, I think it means, he's writing a book, which he always is, a very long book that Maggie reads and finds fascinating. Soon enough, she's pregnant, and he's now left his boring and uninterested wife, Georgette (Julianne Moore) and they soon get married and she's now staying at home, watching both her kids and her two stepkids who've moved in while his wife becomes famous on her work.

So, at some point, Maggie realizes that John is still in love with Penelope and finally goes to meet with her, and they concoct a plan that will entice John to leave Maggie on his own and go back to Penelope. How? (Sigh) I'm not explaining it, it's too dumb, and it's exactly what you would think it is anyway. I've seen quite a few people recommend this film, quite heavily in fact, and I'm just not sure what they're thinking with this one. There's so many better versions of this idea, of these characters, this story, even this sorta dumb idea of people scheming in order to emotionally cripple their lovers, that goes back to Shakespeare times, and it was dumb then, but it was also done better then.

When we see characters like these, in some of the other filmmakers who use these motifs, the characters, are usually more depthful, usually more observant and self-aware, actually are knowledgeable of their behaviors, and often are, if not stands-in or representatives of something or someone greater, they were usually believable or serious enough that, while some of these movies, might be comedies, they would be believable characters if the story, was a comedy or a drama, and this is a narrative, that can be done, both ways, the material's there and can be twisted either way. Hell, that's something that might've improved this narrative actually, "Melinda and Melinda" this, but instead, you end up with, kinda half-way between both and neither being, acceptable.

There's good aspects, like around this movie, Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader have some good performances at the edges of the screen, and none of the performances are bad, but if you think about the idea and the perverse execution of it, it's so bizarre that, you don't quite know what to make of it. This is another one of those movies, that, on the surface seems harmless, but the longer it seeps in, the less tolerable it becomes.

And, it's not interesting or funny that the kids is a mathematics expert at the end, and I didn't mention that whole prologue, but,- I mean, what am I supposed to learn or care about that for?


FRANCOFONIA (2016) Director: Aleksandr Sokurov





So, I've found that people are usually surprised when I hate something that's quote-unquote "popular", I don't know why; there's a whole field of criticism out there that analyzes the backlashes to popular movies and other forms of entertainment, although, mostly I'm naturally skeptical of something being popular to begin with, and usually when there's something that there's a backlash too, I was probably the one yelling about it at the time about how lousy it was, and everybody eventually just caught up with me; so, yeah, that's a dumb form of criticism. It's when something's criticalyl huge that I don't think was any good, that I actually think is far more interesting. One film that I've always dismissed that's huge in critical circles was Aleksandr Sokurov's "Russian Ark". The reasons it's typically considered a masterpiece is the technical achievement of it; the movie was shot entirely in one take, taking place at the Russian State Hermitage Museum and was a journey through Russia's past. It's the first movie that had, no cuts in it it all, just one long take, something that, previously was not possible beforehand. Now, I always liked things with that formula, or attempts at that formula, Hitchcock's "Rope" comes to mind, and more recently the underrated German film "Victoria" pulls this off amazingly well, but I hated "Russian Ark". I'm normally a history and museum buff, but this was just boring. One you get used to the effect, it wasn't much more than a meditation on Russian history, which..., well, let's be fair, it's not the best history for meditation purposes.

France, on the other hand, is a better country for that, and the Louvre is a more obvious museum for such a journey, and while Sokurov chose not to use the one-take gimmick here, I despise this movie for the same reasons. I saw it, directly after I posted my Top Ten Worst Films List, was immediately annoyed that I didn't see this earlier, 'cause it would've made the list. (So to all those people pissed at me for "Popstar..." being on there, consider yourselves vindicated, although you're all still, being way too lenient on that movie.)

I tried to appreciate "Russian Ark", but just because somebody does it first doesn't mean they're doing it best, and I get what he's trying here, but he's so fascinated on pontificating on the history of, well, history, that I can't really read his work as informative or intriguing, at least to us, I want to be compelled to learn and instead, but...- the way he takes footage and narrates this tale about the history of the Louvre and how it was constructed and protected through time and it's a good story, but it's not well-told. It's like he's telling it, because he wants to tell it, not, to teach or instruct or inform, or worst than not doing any of that, not in an entertaining way.

This is the kind of movie that gives the term, "Meditation on" a bad name. That's not a negative term, inherently, some of my favorite documentaries are tonal poems of meditations on something, the small and minor details and sometimes it's on parts that reflect the greater world, and it can be so enthralling and enlightening to go through something like that,..-

And then you get a movie like "Francofonia", where, you're not meditating, you're just putting up with the damn thing until it stops!

Does he have an opinion on the Louvre? He cares about art, Sokurov, and the preservation of it, but if he actually has an interest and something to say on the subject, he's not doing it well. I love geography, that's a preference subject of mine, but I don't try to express my affection for geography by listing off a bunch of facts about geographical places and calling it a movie. That's masturbation, that's not entertainment; that's basically the different between art and pretentiousness, in fact.

I mean, compare this to something like, Frederick Weisman's "National Gallery", which I didn't particularly love either, but it helped you gain a sense of that museum by humanizing, to it's bare bones, it was through behind-the-scenes aspects that help you truly appreciate the details that go into a piece of art, but you can do that, by exploring it's history as well  but Sokurov seems to just want to mythologize art, Try to piece it in it's place in history without being able to truly appreciate the present it's left us. He's the annoying guy in the museum who pontificates forever and does nothing but talks and talks about the painting, but has never actually picked up a paintbrush and tried to make a piece of art of his own. That's the same way I felt about "Russian Ark" and that goes double for this movie, which doesn't have an interesting gimmick to fall back on and justify

Sokurov's most famous quote is as follows:

"There are no geniuses in film. It's not that sort of art form where you can create a perfect masterpiece. Literature, yes; music, probably yes; but never, ever film."

I hate to go with the obvious put-down, but.... No, he's wrong, there are geniuses in film; it's just that he's not one of them.


FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK (2016) Director: Adam Nimoy

★★★



The only real insight I've ever gotten into Leonard Nimoy came secondhand when, I attended a guest lecture from James Orr,  who wrote, among other things wrote the screenplay for "3 Men and a Baby" and he had a funny story about having to talk Leonard Nimoy into directing that film, which he did, and it, actually holds up by the way. Although the way Mr. Orr described it, it seemed like, their was tension on the set, and Nimoy, really wanted to play the Tom Selleck role. That's about the one singular take I got from "For the Love of Spock" as well, a love letter from Nimoy's son. There's other things too, of course. The movie originally was intended firstly as a, sort of a bio-documentary on Spock, not Nimoy, but after his father's passing, the project changed, and became both a look at the man as well as the character that he's most known for. It's a shame that he's most-known for Spock; it probably has damaged his acting career, even though, he worked regularly and extensively for most of his career. He never seemed dismissive of his most famous role, although he sued for royalties as his image and the popularity of his character continued to grow. Personally I actually admired some of his "Mission: Impossible" stuff, and his stage work is rather impressive as well. He took any job he could, even if it was some demented children's TV musical whatever-the-hell-that-was where he was singing the story of "The Hobbit". I suspect that he had greater range than we ever really got to see, but he also had a wider range of talent and skill though. I didn't know he had a prolonged music career, that frankly wasn't half-bad. For those love Nimoy and Spock, they'll get hat they're looking for out of "For the Love of Spock"; it's a wonderful personal film, of a son's tribute to his father, and it does that well.

I am amazed at how many different ways people relate to Spock, ways I never thought of; although I was always more a Data guy, so maybe that was only intrinsically appealing to me, since I never pondered Spock as much before. (Shrugs)


MIDDLE SCHOOL: THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE (2016) Director: Steve Carr

★★★



Well, (Shrugs) points for title accuracy. I think we can all pretty much agree that middle school was awful, right? Elementary school's is okay, high school is for the most part, fun, Middle School is just hell. It's feels like it's pointless (It basically is), there's an abundance of strict rules and behaviors, everybody's at their most awkward, everybody's going through a wide array of emotions that they're all confused about...; there's a reason you don't see too many movies detailing those years. Pretty much the only movie I ever thought was remotely accurate about Middle School or Junior High, and some obnoxious schools in my area insisted on being called, (I'm told there's a difference, but I'll be damned if I know what the hell it is.) was Todd Solondz's "Welcome to the Dollhouse", which I really need to get around to re-watching at some point.

Ah, "Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life" isn't that nuanced however.  This is basically a Nickelodeon movie and everything good and bad that that entails. (Or, I guess, today it would be considered a Disney Channel movie, but this feels more Nickelodeon to me. The Disney Channel I grew up with was much more refined back then. [Who remembers "Under the Umbrella Tree", am I right?]) The story centers around Rafe (Griffin Cluck) this franchise's Ramona, a creative young man, who draws characters and worlds in his notebook, to take his mind off his struggles at home. Which include his single mother Jules (Lauren Graham) who's constantly working; she's a chef, and when she's not, she's constantly falling for the wrong man, this latest one is called Bear (Rob Riggle) who's horrible in all the cliche ways. His real conflight however, ends up with the Middle School Principal, Principal Dwight (Andrew Daly), this film's Warden Norton. He a corrupt hypocrite who's a stickler for the rules, and who's got no sense of humor for parody. Eventually, he decides to basically "Home Alone" the situation and begins spending all his sabotaging the Principal, who he correctly perceives as being against him, but of course, he's got all the leverage, since Rafe's a troubled student and this is the last Middle School he's allowed to go to, or else it's military school for him, according to Bear.

Apparently this is based on a popular young adult series from James Patterson and Chris Tebbets, and-, wait, wait-, James Patterson? That James Patterson? Really? (Google searches) Okay, yeah, that James Patterson. Huh. Oh-kay; that's kinda like finding out Stephen King was secretly the author of "The Babysitters Club", but alright, whatever. Honestly, I don't quite know what to make of the movie. I don't normally judge a movie based on whether-or-not it's "For me", but yeah, I have a difficult time imagining I'd ever voluntarily seek this film out again. For what it is though, it's kinda fun I guess. There's some good performances, some of his prank ideas are actually quite creative and inventive, and despite this being a total fantasy of Middle School, I kind like how it does subliminally take a shot at the institution  It kinda works on that note. I'll give it a pass; I guess it's fine. I still think there's some most justifiable shots to take at the Middle School institution, but,  oh well... some other movie I guess.



TRESPASS AGAINST US (2016) Director: Adam Smith

★1/2



Jesus Christ, am I finding some bad reviews of this film. It's technically got a 56 on Rotten Tomatoes and has split the Top Critics, but man, the negative reviews I'm reading are really going after it. I'm not saying they're wrong, it is shit, but, boy, I'm not sure this movie deserves this much venom. A lot of it stems from the fact that across the pond in North America, anyway, it made it's debut at the Toronto film festival which is generally considered by most to be the beginning of Oscar season, so yeah, putting that up against things like "Moonlight" and "Paterson" and "Nocturnal Animals", sure, the movie's flaws become more apparent, and I can tell you from experience there is nothing worst than missing a good movie being screened at a film festival because you were there in the middle of a screening of a bad one.

That said, "Trespass Against Us" is just more misguided than anything else. The movie is about the Cutler family, a multi-generation group of thieves, who somehow seem to be constantly be able to evade the law and have several dozen family members living in some secluded area of the woods that apparently, no one can find. My guess is that, this is supposed to be a sort of Robin Hood-like structure family unit, or something romantic like that, that maybe isn't supposed to be literal, but- well, first of all, these aren't exactly thieves in the name of good; they're just criminals. They're led by an aging patriarch, Colby (Brendan Gleeson) and the main drama is centered around his son Chad (Michael Fassbender) who's trying to, I guess get out into the world. His kids are in a regular school for instance, so he's trying to escape, but he's sorta still with the family. Basically, the father's educated in some way, but he's kept the family dumb, so they basically only know this lifestyle and they're a little blocked when it comes to manipulating the modern world. At least, that's how I read it.
I guess there's some kind of communal, "You Can't Take It With You", also going on, but I think that was supposed to be the major through-line.

Eh, it's a nice idea, the director has some talent and ability; it's Adam Smith's debut feature, although like a lot of first-time British director, they're more well-known for directing television, most notably, the miniseries, "Little Dorrit", based on the Dickens novel, but, I think a better version of this kind of narrative is "Captain Fantastic", which also had more interesting and unique characters. Honestly, none of these characters are really that compelling. They're well-acted, sure, but Gleeson and Fassbender in particular, the biggest names in the film,they're basically playing versions of other more interesting roles they've played, so it's at a disadvantage.

It is a bad movie, and it does get worst the more I think about it, but I think I'm giving it a slight pass comparatively, 'cause it was just a failed experiment, to try to take a narrative that's better-suited for a more fantasy-based story, and trying to place it into a modern setting. There's ways to do that, but I think here, the allegorical attempts just fall out of the tree, here.


ALWAYS SHINE (2016) Director: Sophia Takal

★★★



I guess a demeaning-albeit-accurate alternative title for "Always Shine" could be "Actresses", but I'd rather focus on the real actresses' performances 'cause that's the reason the movie works at all. The main characters are Anna (Mackenzie Davis) and Beth (Caitlin Fitzgerald). They're 20-something best friends who are struggling actresses in Hollywood. Beth, can't get any work at all at the moment, while Anna is getting a lot of parts and publicity, although, it's mostly role that are only marginally better than Naked Dead Girl (Such as Naked Girl Who Gets Killed, so you know, lines...), but it's work, and she's beginning to get noticed. Anna, is jealous of it. She's purportedly more talented, but she doesn't have the look that Beth has. Even though they're both blonde ingenues-types, that, are pretty similar-looking... Things come to ahead when they go up to Big Sur for a week-long getaway and slowly-but-surely these two characters start to collide and change with each other.

If the movie is sounding a bit familiar, there are some very obvious films that the movie is referencing, most notably, Ingmar Bergman's "Persona", and yes, this is a movie, you could claim that there's a personality-switch between. You know, come to think of it; I'm not sure why that idea keeps working, especially in film, but in a strange way, it really does, and there's a lot of different takes on it. "Single White Female", "Mulholland Dr." for example. The one I found myself thinking about most in terms of tone and approach, oddly, was Robert Altman's "3 Women", one of his best and most underrated works; I'm a Canon of Film written on it, if you want to seek that out. That one's not about actresses, but it is about jealousy and wanting to take somebody ideal life and personality and adapt it as their own, and it takes place in somewhere out of the way of the big city, and without giving anything away, slowly jumps into the surreal by the end; and "Always Shine" is basically a modern version of that narrative. Smaller scale, sure, it's got lesser-known actors; I've read some people call this a "Mumblecore" film..., eh, I think that's iffy, but I get it. And I've seen other attempts at mumblecore that have fallen a little flatter, and this one's more conceptual more ambitious, more reliant on the acting, really being strong, and for the most part it succeeds.

I wish it went, a little further, however. Despite everything else, this movie is basically about jealousy and a couple love triangles and they don't really go anywhere with it. It's two characters, who's lives and careers can very easily be reversed, and, they show that, and that's basically all that this is, and when you think back on those other movies; there's so much more going on, but I'm gonna recommend this. This is the second feature from Sophia Takal, who is mostly an actress herself, working in and on a lot of these low-budget movies in small roles. This apparently is a spiritual sequel to her debut feature "Green", which has a lot of the same actors and people behind the scenes. I haven't seen that one, so I can't be positive, but she seems like the female poor-man's Tom McCarthy right now, and I'm definitely in favor of that. Sometimes you have to play dead whore in a few pieces of crud in order to make the movie you want to make and some don't want to do that, and... (Shrugs) that's the acting world, unfortunately, and sometimes you need a film like this to rebel and complain about it Totally understandable.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

CANON OF FILM: "A CHRISTMAS STORY"

A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)

Director: Bob Clark
Screenplay: Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown & Bob Clark based on the novel “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” by Jean Shepherd



I know there's a lot of people out there who regret the commercialization of "A Christmas Story" and sure, it's totally out-of-hand. There's a live televised version happening on TV later this month, which is one of the more benign examples to occur recently. I'd be remissed if I didn't bring up the egregious straight-to-DVD sequel they made a couple years ago to widespread scorn; if for no other reason than the fact that there already was a sequel to "A Christmas Story" out there! (Look it up if you're interested, it's was originally titled "It Runs in the Family" but it's usually titled "My Summer Story" these days.) That said, I really knew about this movie before it got overcome with popularity. Since my family ran a video store in the mid-'80s, we watched all the VHS tapes that came in and "A Christmas Story" was a personal favorite of my Grandmother's and she kept a copy for herself. It wasn't one I watched regularly, in fact, I'm fairly certain my Grandma probably hid it for herself for awhile before finally deciding to show us her copy; I'm not sure she figured we'd appreciate it. I mean, it was PG at the time, and you know, it had naughty language in it.  (Shrugs)

Yeah, you're thinking of the scene too, now. The movie has a lot of iconic images and ideas. If this came up in a game or Taboo or something, all I'd have to say is "Leg-shaped lamp", and you'd get it.

Yeah, I remember watching it, when I was young, right before it really broke out, and even remembered introducing it to a few people, and then suddenly, it was playing for 24 hours on TBS every Christmas. Now, of course, the backlash has started and I'm betting there's quite a few out there who are sick of "A Christmas Story". I'm not sure I'm one of those guys or not, but I must confess, this one's popularity and continued relevance has always seemed a bit peculiar to me. 

I mean, this is a film where people tend to struggle if they get asked why it's so great. Myself included, although, personally I've never once felt the desire to own a BB Gun, of any kind, much less a Red Ryder BB gun. That's clearly why I think the movie garnered it's original appeal, nostalgia, not for the film, but for the time period and for the innocence of it. Based on a novel by humorist Jean Shepherd, who also co-wrote the screenplay and does the film’s narration, what this movie is really about is how kids, particularly Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) sees this adult-based world, like how it seems like an entirely different planet from the adult. Notice for instance, Ralphie's narration when he’s getting punished with Lifebouy soap after accidentally saying an F-word that wasn’t “fudge.” His mother (Melinda Dillon) asks him where he heard the word from, and he recollects that his father had said the word dozens a times a day, and how masterful he was at the art of profanity. Nowadays, this conversation would be where the kids got the drugs, when it’s from his parents' secret stash in the back of mom’s “goodies,” drawer in her nightstand, or some other bullshit like that. Come to think of it, this movie was made in 1983, but can you tell that? Director Bob Clark won two Genie Awards, (The Canadian Oscar) for this film, including for directing where he tied with David Cronenberg for "Videodrome". I know they're completely different genres and whatnot, but this movie came out the same year as "Videodrome" and while that film's a masterpiece, it's also clearly dated. There's not much in this movie that indicates the time the film was shot, and sure it was a period piece, but it's one of the least distinctive popular '80s films out there. 

That actually is probably what made Bob Clark the perfect director for this material, the man who previously was famous for "Porky's" of all things. He'd previously mostly done more exploitative fair previously, although he did direct Jack Lemmon to an Oscar nomination for "Tribute", but about the one thing that "Porky's" does have going for it, is how it captured a youthful perspective and a time period pretty meaningfully. I suspect some at the time, found a nostalgic feeling in that film, about being a horny teenager and the adventures surrounding they're attempted sexual escapades. Transfer that energy to an earlier time period and a younger perspective, and yeah, if you weren't old enough to want sex, than, I guess you'd want a BB gun, at least back then. 

Actually, say whatever else you want about the movie, that is an original story. I can't think of too many movies previously about kids, just wanting a toy, at all, Imagine pitching this? A kid wants a toy gun for Christmas, already we're on shaky ground there, he's constantly told that he'll "Shoot his eye out," which, sound about right, and then, he gets the toy gun, and almost shoots his eye out! Take the nostalgia  and the slice-of-life feeling out of the story, and this is one sick joke. But it's charming, somehow, 'cause it's the perspective that it takes. From a child's eye view, it's perfectly natural to think he's being reasonable and is just confused by how the rest of the world seems so against him. He's always looking up at them, they're often portrayed in exaggerated and garish demeanor, except for his parents, who he's most afraid of disappointing. One of my favorite scenes is the fantasy sequence where he somehow convinces himself that if he writes a perfect paper on wanting the bb gun that somehow, he'd get the respect and accolades of his teacher and the other students, and they'd carry him around the room. 

The fantasy scenes are actually kinda interesting in this movie. There's several of them, more than people remember and they all cover a wide-arrange of stories and emotions. I wouldn't at all be shocked if this movie greatly influenced stuff like "Family Guy" or even "Scrubs" heavily, although the way it's done here, I always compared it to the old Nickelodeon cartoon "Doug", another story about a relatively average kid who's constantly imagining a more ideal life for himself. I have to believe that the some was somewhat inspired by "A Christmas Story"; there's quite a few parallels actually between those two. I can't imagine anybody in the "Doug" universe sticking their tongue on a pole, but I definitely remember characters doing stupid things 'cause of a "Dare" that went out of control, even if it wasn't a Triple Dog Dare. 

I think what it also captures wthat few other things do is that incessant desire for kids to seek out more importance in their life. Everything feels like, they're not let in on what's really going on, and so they create fantasies in their mind where they are the center of attention and the most important person around. That's way, Ralphie's disappointment is so tantamount when he realizes that the Little Orphan Annie decoder just let to an advertisement for Ovaltime. A private, secret message that was for them and them alone, should be a secret we're having, they need to feel important and like they have the ear of those adults around them. 

I think that's really what keeps this film around; why it does hold up so well long after most of the audience who appreciated the nostalgia trip the movie brings them has mostly faded away. I can't imagine a kid wanting a gun for a present anymore, unless it had a wire that connected it to a video game console, but there is something for everybody in this film. The moments at the edge of the screen involving the parents and their behavior rings true, the reflections of a simpler time, the smaller emotions and memories that kids have and how they're often struggling more than most to live their fantasies and dreams, especially since, for the most part, that's really all they even know. Not sure how it's gotten so played-to-death even for traditional, or new traditional Christmas fare, (I mean, even with it being in the Public Domain, we tend to only see a couple airings of "It's a Wonderful Life" a year, not that I'm asking for more, that's plenty, and this movie has far more to do with Christmas anyway.) but no, it really does deserve it's place in the Christmas canon. It really is a unique film, with a completely original tone and story, similar to how it took years for people to really recognize how seminal "Groundhog Day" is, "A Christmas Story," worked the same way ultimately, and unlike say, my favorite Christmas film, "Love, Actually" there weren't too many people out there trying to remake or copy the formula of it's success, and I'm not sure you could've if you tried  It's too personal; any attempt to recreate it would feel like someone's trying to implement a false memory into you. Yeah, that purity the film has, that's not going away no matter how much of a stranglehold it has on the pop culture. 


Friday, December 1, 2017

THE TOP TEN WORST FILMS OF 2016! (One last sludge through the drudge of the year.)

I’m a little more interesting in doing the Worst List, than I was the best. Not a whole lot more, but a little more. That was the thing with this year, I wasn’t as excited about the top best films, but I also didn’t think I got a lot of utter shit either. Even a lot of the things that I was supposed to really hate, I either gave them a pass, or frankly, I just didn’t think they were that horrible. Hell, even some of the bad, I can find some positives to more than a few of them. And, of course, I should mention this as always, I don’t go out of my way to watch shitty movies. I know, some do it, they want to see everything good and bad, and good for you. If I got more money to do that, I would gladly begrudgingly do that. However, since this is basically the one singular benefit I have of doing running this on my own, I take that advantage. That said, that makes the bad films I do watch, much more annoying to me. I’m purposefully going out of my way to avoid crap, and still sometimes, crap finds me. It’s like, when somebody’s walking down the street opposite you, so you decide to go to the edge so you don’t hit them, and just as you both reach the corner, bam, he runs right into anyway, despite everything you’re doing just to avoid that. That’s the kind of frustration and annoyance having to watch movies like these are like for me.

And honesty, this was a much tougher list to make this year than the Best Of list. The Best List, I had a lot of choices, and I had to think it through, but it never seemed like I was not logically thinking the process out. I could a whole separate Top Ten List of films and probably would’ve been happy with it, despite everything, but I wouldn’t have felt like I was cheating or discarding a film unfairly. Here, it’s the exact opposite, there’s a bunch of films, where I feel like I’m cutting them, way too much slack by not finding a spot for them, even though I’m choosing from a considerably smaller pool. Let’s just say, that there are bad, bad, bad movies out there that should be considering themselves quite lucky, that I’m not slamming into them more, and believe me, I want to. I desperately want to take a real shot at them, but I also have to be honest. There’s only ten spots, I really have to pick the ten worst.

Alright, let’s take one last, longer-than-they-deserve look at these turds before I flush them down. We're counting down!

THE TOP TEN WORST FILMS OF 2016!

Number ten.

(“Big Bottom” by Spinal Tap starts to play; I start air bassing to the song.)

I love “This is Spinal Tap”. I think it’s one of the greatest comedies of all-time, and one of the best movies of the entire 1980s. And I get the idea of somebody taking that idea and those aspects of the movie, and trying to modernize it for today. In theory, anyway, but the problem is that, “Spinal Tap” was making fun both of a particular kind of documentary and a particular kind of era of music. They hit upon the zeitgeist in a way that few movies had, Rock’n’Roll was everywhere, and as the decade rolled on, the aspects of the industry that they were satirizing, would remain prevalent, practically ‘til the grunge era hit, and maybe even a little longer than that. Hey, the Rolling Stones were having pop hits into the ‘90s. It was about the realization about the fleetingness of fame, and its characters slowly realizing that over time. Rock stars, were really rock stars back then; nowadays though…, I don’t think you can say the same thing.

10. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping


Yeah, I know this is gonna piss off some friends of mine, although wait ‘til they see some of the others on this list, and look, I like The Lonely Island; they’re still funny, they’re still pretty good, some of the songs aren't bad, like the music industry, the movie is just dead and soulless, and I couldn’t help the feeling that, in an era where some of the biggest names in music can’t even get their records to hit Gold, this felt like, beating a dead horse. A throwaway SNL sketch that should’ve stayed that way.

MY ORIGINAL REVIEW:
(Sigh) I don't think this joke's funny enough for a full movie, anymore. I mean, I sorta laughed and got the joke, but...- (Sigh) You know, here's the thing, is there anything really parody-worthy anymore in the music industry? I guess, you can say that this is more of a parody of some of the ridiculous barrage of music documentaries their are out there, and yeah, actually, there are way too many out there. I mean, I know there's always been, but it feels like there's way too many, authorized, unauthorized, and everything in between. The Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter", The Beatles, "Let It Be", U2's "Rattle & Hum", Madonna's "Truth or Dare", and now we get, Shawn Mendes's "The Journey. (Seriously, that's real! I know, I could've picked on Bieber or One Direction there, but there's way more crap than just the big screen atrocities.) However, even that idea was being done as far back as "This is Spinal Tap". I don't know, this still feels mostly like I'm trying to look at a pop music industry that's already such an overblown parody of itself, that even someone like "The Lonely Island', who I like in small doses, but this just feels like one-two- many unnecessary layers.

So, in this universe, Conner4Real (Andy Samberg), as opposed to, Conner4Fake I guess, is a pop music superstar. One that's the most vapid and innocuous pop stars around, one who makes a bragging rap talking about how humble he is. That's funny, I guess. He goes on his own, and still has some success, but his latest album is a gigantic failure, and the tour continually turns into more and more of a shitshow. Now, originally, he was a part of a three-piece group, but Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) went to grow pot in Colorado and Owen (Jorma Taccone) who produced a lot of the tracks, is basically just the guy with the ipod that's behind him on stage, complete with a robot head. I'm pretty sure that was a Daft Punk joke more than anything. The problem with "Popstar..." is that it's just too disjointed. I think this film probably started somewhere real, with the documentary style beginning, again, in the vein of "This is Spinal Tap", but all the celebrity cameos and over-the-top parodying of celebrity culture, including a continuous joke parodying "TMZ", it just loses itself and gets bogged down in an uber-meta parody of the modern-day music industry, which, is, like I said, already a big parody.


Actually, that's part of the problem, I don't know what they're parodying. Are they parodying other music docs? Are they parodying celebrity culture, the music industry, bad rap groups? I mean, they're a parody of a parody.  I mean, compare this to, say, some of Garfunkel & Oates' wonderful, but not as well-known or popular television series, which play up the fact that they're basically a little or unknown comedy folk duo act, and the show is about their stumbles and trials and tribulations, that feels believable, even though both Riki Lindhomme & Kate Micucci are actually at this fairly well-known and respected character actresses in their own rights, outside their group. And while Samberg is famous enough for everyone, we still don't know this band and group of there's very well. They're funny as The Lonely Island, without adding on this facade that somehow these blatant ridiculously comedic songs of there's are in some way in this alternate universe, taken as realistic and believable pop hits and they became major music superstars from them. (If there even is such a thing anymore as major music superstars. Seriously, in my day, NSYNC, as crappy as they were, they sold twice as many albums in one week than Flo Rida has sold in his entire career! It's so different now, it's not comparable. It's almost not even worth parodying to be honest.) They're a fictitious persona of a fictitious persona, while G&O are on stage with their comedy songs, they're still just G&O and therefore you can relate to them. Even in a mockumentary, you still need believability to care about the characters. I care about Derek Smalls and David St. Hubbins, enough to remember their names, thirty+ years later, but there's nobody interesting in "Popstar..." to care about. Therefore there's no reason to watch, and no reason to recommend it either.

You know, this movie, made a lot of weird choices, for instance, why even make up, this whole other group? You have a real, fake band, that’s popular, just be The Lonely Island, I think that’s what we wanted to begin with, The Lonely Island, but they’re successful and they’re going through a strange break-up/get back together period. This over-the-top satire of the music industry in general this commentary on fame and whatnot, there’s a few jokes here, that kinda hit, but it’s been done before, and why satirize the glitz and glamour of a music industry, that for all-intensive purposes, barely exists anymore, what of it, that still doesn’t is practically a self-parody as it. I mean, this is shooting fish in a barrel, and they still missed half the time.   

UPDATE:
Okay, I did get a lot of flack for putting "Popstar..." on my Worst List, from some people, I'm gonna go back and say it was a good movie, 'cause it wasn't, but after I originally posted this, I watched "Francofonia"...., eh, boy I don't wish I hadn't seen that movie, at all, but I certainly wish I had seen it earlier than when I posted this. I'm not gonna change my rankings now, 'cause it was how I felt at the time, but-eh, I'll admit, that at least I wish I had seen that earlier, and I would've included it in this spot, instead of "Popstar...". So eh,.... (Shrugs) It happens sometimes, I can't catch everything, and I'm already behind on my schedule and my own gimmick is how behind I am, so we're gonna move on, and I'm "Francofonia" to the Dishonorable Mentions, but yeah,.... Oh well. 


Number nine.

(Newman-esque growl under breath)

Hello, Michael….

9. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi



Long time, no see. I had found ways to avoid Michael Bay for awhile, I couldn’t this year. It wasn’t all bad, in fact, technically, I finally got around to his "Pain & Gain" and I didn't hate that one. And this film was better than I had expected. Oh, it still sucked, but he’s improving and in the right circumstances he could even be good. Trying to tell the complex story about Benghazi, that’s not it.

FROM MY ORIGINAL ARTICLE:
Mike-el Bay, Michael Bay, tsk, (Sigh) Michael Bay. Believe it or not, I have somehow managed to avoid you until now. Well, not, somehow, it was actually quite a deliberate thing I did. Trying to shove your movies further and further down on my Netflix and Library queue lists. and just, finding reasons to put you off, and to be honest, that was unfair. I really should've given you a fairer shake before now. To be honest, this is the first time I've sat through one of your movies since, "Armageddon". which until I saw "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi", was the only Michael Bay movie I ever watched. Some of you, might be shocked by that, the only one? Yes, the only one. I said I managed to avoid it....So, yeah, I've avoided Michael Bay, for the most part. Do I regret it? (Sigh) Well, he can surprise me. I mean, let's look again at "Armageddon". I mean, I just described "Suicide Squad" as a movie that's such a horrible disaster that it's actually recommendable and worth watching, and I know plenty of people who would describe "Armageddon" in much the same terms. It's the epitome of Bay, and overblown kinetic action movie, full of inconsistencies and plot contrivances and is basically just dumb fun, completely with a moronic plot that involves getting together a bunch of the wrong people to save the world from a horrific situation. They're actually quite similar movies in hindsight. Yeah, I can use "Armageddon" as a justification for recommending "Suicide Squad", definitely.


Except I can't 'cause "Armageddon" is awful, one of the worst films I've ever seen, truly. Yes, Michael Bay, is as bad as everyone makes him out to be, and in all the good and bad ways that entails, but don't let any of those arguments convince you that's there's some legitimacy to this movie, there isn't.  It is just insanely bad storytelling....

Now, obviously the story of Benghazi is a complicated one, one that, most people would probably not think that Michael Bay may be entirely sophisticated or nuanced enough to tackle. They would be right, but let's consider the film anyway. The movie, does effectively portray the confusion of the day when, on September 11, 2012, four Americans, including the Libyan ambassador Chris Stevens (Matt Lescher) were killed after an attack by Libyan militants. Their success was in part due to, timing, as well as the fact that the U.S. Military was unable to put enough military muscle in place to protect the Ambassador, partly because of GOP-influenced budget cuts, partly due to the fact that we were fighting two other wars in the middle of all this and removing assets from one part of the world to the other could be just as dangerous, and-, yeah, the military from the pencil-pusher perspective, while Bay, makes them out to be, disreputable entirely, and I don't necessarily disagree to some extent, but in reality, it's basically a big game of Risk, they're playing. Due to build up somewhere else for a future attack, do you retreat if possible, or do you gamble and hope that what protection we have there will be enough to survive against whatever attack may or may not ever come? Sometimes the answer is C, and this is what happens. I can also think of a movie where the option was A. and this is still basically what happened. That film, I'm thinking of, is the one I think Bay, probably intended "13 Hours..." to be most like, and that Ridley Scott's masterpiece, "Black Hawk Down". That's actually a really interesting comparison, 'cause that's a movie, that seems like Bay could've directed and done well, there are real characters and people involved in the story, but the movie is pretty much just a confused kaleidoscopic mess of action as one disaster partakes into another and then another, and pretty soon, something that was only gonna be a routine mission turned into an 18 hour shootout on the streets of Mogadishu. (If you can call them streets) I don't remember any of the characters in that film either, but the emotion of the film, is still effective. "13 Hours..." could've been done like that, and not even bring up the political situation to do it, which to Bay's credit mostly does feel minimized here. The problem is, that there's no other real emotion, at all. Even in the action. We get introduced to a few characters sure, and a few interesting ones, like the parts played by John Krasinski and James Badge Dale, who are former Navy Seals, but who are actually now CIA as apart of Global Response Staff, which is a fancy term for basically saying that their the bodyguards for ambassadors and other American dignitaries around the world. That's actually an interesting profession, that's probably worth exploring itself, but that mostly get dropped in favor of cliche and confusion, and not confusion in that we're confused because of how overwhelmed we are, 'cause of the situation, we're just confused and overwhelmed, because Bay thinks confusing and overwhelming us, is the same as the characters being confused and overwhelmed.

You know what kinds got me with this one, is that there is a good story, whatever your politics, here and you can, sorta dive into the details and the minutia of what went wrong and why, and really get into what happened there that left four Americans dead and whatnot, but this movie, worst sin of all, it’s confusing and thudding for no reason, trying to identify the players and the actors and what’s going on is impossible, and worst than all of that, there’s just nothing nuanced about what’s going on, there’s nothing here, that you would be remotely interested in, regarding Benghazi; for Bay, it’s basically an excuse for a big long, confusing military action sequence or something. I don’t know, he was trying to make “Black Hawk Down” and didn’t have the skill maybe, but this movie’s in one ear, out the other, maybe that’s fine for his normal “Transformers” crap or whatever, it’s really a disservice though, here. Benghazi is an event, where a lot of things happened at once, at all those elements led to that disaster, and if you’re not gonna explore that in a meaningful way, why bother?

Number eight.

8. The Neon Demon



Look, no filmmaker is perfect, perfect. Everybody will make a dud at some point, and if he/she is a great filmmaker, their failures are probably gonna be on a bigger scale as well. Maybe it happens more often for me, ‘cause I stay away from the Razzies Nominees and winners unless I really have to, but-eh, it really gets me most, when it’s a movie that’s got some critical acclaim behind it, and some lauding it for it’s greatness. Sure, there’s plenty of mixed reactions on films, but I gotta take a stand here, Nicholas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon” was just garbage.

MY ORIGINAL ARTICLE
So, I tweeted while I was watching/suffering through "The Neon Demon", Nicholas Winding Refn's latest feature film and I kept to this tweet. I wrote....

"What the hell's with THE NEON DEMON"? It's just REFN filming pretty young girls in well-lit rooms? He's getting more boring every movie."

Um, I've had a little time to think that tweet over a bit, but-um, ugh, yeah, that's legitimately all the movie is. And I get that he's supposedly trying to satirize or parody the fashion and entertainment industry and how they and we focused on this ideal of beauty and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, it's still just, a bunch of images of pretty women in well-lit rooms. Okay, sometimes they're covered in blood or something, but you know, what difference does that make? None,  so, therefore, it's the nothingness of beauty and it's dwelling on the nothingness of beauty and the shallowness in beauty and riches and-, oh good lord, am I describing Nicholas Rinding Refn, or did Bret Easton Ellis write David Lynch's next meandering. Ugh! Really? This is a revelation, that the fashion industry is shallow and there's not much more to models than their looks and how they're used for the industry-, I saw people calling this a great piece of art and a revelation! What the hell are they talking about?! There's nothing new here, there's nothing here but literal style over substance, dwelling on style over substance? And the thing is, the reason I'm bitching about it, is that Refn didn't used to be like this. No, none of his films are particularly inside-the-box of traditional narrative or anything, but his stylistics choices weren't a substitute for substance, they helped the story previously. "Bronson" is stylistic as all hell, and challenged a lot of narrative conventions of biopics, but the directing and writing style benefited from his ideas, "Drive" is not a revolutionary story or script, but the way the movie was shot and told was what extended the movie beyond a tradition narrative. "Only God Forgives" was the first sign that he was losing his mind. I gave that a negative review, but there were creative ideas and touches there, a different setting, interesting characters with unusual motives and actions, great scenes, but it also started dwelling on it's style, which had become less progressive and active and more, laid back and observant. I thought it was bizarre that he that movie ended with a tribute to Alejandro Jodorowsky who was surreal and strange but in my mind, was never boring; his movies always made me ask "What's he gonna show us next?", not, "When's this gonna end?" I mean, but at least "Only God Forgives" was about something, it had a story and narrative. I-eh, I'm told things happened to the characters in this film; I can reprint what it says on the movie's Wikipedia page, but I don't know, if those are barely things that happens, there's nothing I care about-, Okay, the main "character", and I'm using that word loosely is Jesse (Elle Fanning) the new 16-year-old kid in town, in the modeling world, who apparently is the next big thing and everybody tell her how she's going to be big, and the next big thing, and then she becomes the next big thing, and is totally exploited and-, okay, these sort of scenes, would work in say, a David Lynch movie, 'cause he's clearly playing with the cliches and subverting it, slightly. Everything's too perfect and off-kilter, that you know something else is going on, or about to happen, whether the audience or characters understand it or not. In this movie, I guess there's this, sorta horror-effect, a la, Aronfsky's "Black Swan" that's slowly taking over, but not-, not really. There an interesting character or cameo that come in an out,  Christina Hendricks is a good modeling agent who's enticing young Jenn, a makeup artist Ruby (Jena Malone) splits her time between fashion shoots and the morgue, that's an interesting idea and character; I would love to see a movie from her point of view, if any of these women were anything but scenery that eats. That's another thing, this is another one of those movies that clearly has no actual idea about how women talk to each other. I know, there's plenty of movies I can recommend that don't know that too, but yeah, Refn has never created a truly interesting female character that wasn't at least on the page a cliched side character, and that's not good, since most of this movie is a bunch of talented young actresses who would be amazing in another movie, but since they're just fashion models, they just stand or sit or be whatever position they're supposed to and look pretty doing it. I mean, what bunch of famous people come together and talk about, how much this other person loves the fact they know all of us and are working with us; I've met a few famous people, and know people who've worked with a lot of them they don't act or talk like that, even in the Fashion industry and I can't imagine Refn doesn't know that? Fine, stylistic choice for the art, but what the hell am I looking at!? What art? I can pick up a fashion magazine and see this, is that the joke, that all these images, conflicting scenes of beauty mixed with devastation, in cheap hotel rooms, covered in blood and makeup, looking like it's a bloody murder scene in a movie. Oh wait, this bloody murder scene in this movie, is only a bloody murder scene in a movie, so it's not an actual, bloody murd-er, scene....- I can only gaze at my goddamn naval for so often, before I just have to realize, that "You know what, it's just a damn bellybutton, who cares?!" "The Neon Demon", pretty girls in well-lit rooms. I live in the true Neon Demon of Las Vegas, I literally can pick up my camera, pick, almost at random at a casino on the Strip and start taking pictures of the same damn thing, and maybe some of them aren't as well-lit, as I'd prefer, but you know what, there's a lot and lighting in casinos; I can find a pretty well-lit space easily enough, just ask them to be photographed there for a second.

You know, Refn, used to be interesting, he used to be able to find an interesting take on what were, in all other senses, typical and traditional genres. Somewhere, along the line, he-, I don’t know what,- his previous movie had a tribute at the end to Alejandro Jodorowsky, the great Mexican, surrealist director, and just all I could gather, is that, he’s trying to have more interest  in these surrealist tendencies, storytelling-wise, and he should to having new ideas to traditional genres, ‘cause this- this was just a shallow look at shallowness, and I fundamentally don’t know what he’s going for here, and if he is saying what I think he’s trying to comment on, the fashion industry, our obsession with looks, or blood and death, or fame or…., look whatever-the-hell he’s trying to say, it’s been said a million times before, it’s nothing shocking or revealing that haven’t heard. I called the film “Pretty women in well-lit rooms,” and that’s all it is to me. He might be trying to satirize or parody it, but it’s the same thing. It’s the equivalent of trying to destroy Broadway by putting on a show. That’s basically how dumb this is.

Number seven.

7. Alice Through the Looking Glass 



Well, congratulations, I hate "Alice in Wonderland" now. I'd love to blame Tim Burton on this monstrosity, I like to blame him for a lot of things in general, but unfortunately while he did direct the first "Alice in Wonderland' film which I actually didn't hate, the sequel, "Alice Through the Looking Glass," was from James Bobin, the TV director behind the two recent Muppets movies. And those weren't awful, but, boy this was.

FROM MY ORIGINAL REVIEW:
,,,,I liked the first movie. I know, it's got a lot of backlash against it, I saw Nostalgia Critic's review of it a few times, but honestly I don't understand the backlash to the original. I mean, was it 100% accurate to the book, no, but he wasn't going for that, and frankly why would you want that? The book's never been adapted well, to the big screen; I don't even think Disney's version is any good. I think the structure can work, Hayao Miyazaki's "Spirited Away" proved that, and I'd argue that's the best version of the story, even though, other than the fact that there's two mature female rules in a fictional world, one mean and one nice and a young pre-teen girl that goes into the world and explores it with it, there's nothing in common with the original material. Still, I love Lewis Carroll, but I never though his material worked on screen. I understand trying to attempt it for sure, but only so much as I want to see how other people interpret the material and that's all I thought Tim Burton original film was, and for that, I liked it quite a bit. It was a mess, but most of Burton's movies are and people seem to like some of those movies more than I do. I stand by my thoughts; I don't know what was so different about this one or so offensive about it. It was accurate enough, it felt like someone's version of "Alice in Wonderland" and visually was interesting, even if it wasn't my thing. It was well-acted for the most part,... (Shrugs) Not the greatest interpretation, but not the worst, and it's not like can do it well, the best you can hope for is somebody doing it in an interesting enough way and Burton can do that in his sleep. Sometimes I think he has, but those are other movies, he was awake enough to entertain me here.

This one, "Alice Through the Looking Glass" however, hmm, first of all, while "Alice in Wonderland"'s adapted all the time, I don't remember too many versions of "Alice Through the Looking Glass", which is weird, 'cause a lot of the more infamous and famous characters in Wonderland, like the Jabberwocky or Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Matt Lucas) are from that book, but that said, it's a little darker and trickier to adapt. "Alice in Wonderland", there is a secondary base story there, but "Alice Through the Looking Glass," is a sequel that works even more on the metaphorical cerebral scale that "...Wonderland". For those who don't know, it's actually supposed to be a metaphor for a chess game. "...Wonderland" was based around cards, but "...Looking Glass" is chess-based, and you really the game and the time period to understand it. That said, none of that matters in this film, but we'll get to that. Secondly,Burton's not directing it; this one's directed by James Bobin, he's more of a TV director, who's most known for having directed the two recent "Muppets" movies, but like I said, I'm wishy-washy on Burton anyway, but, unfortunately, more than any other problem the movie has, it's boring as hell, and not that entertaining. It looks nice, but,... (Shrugs). Anyway, it's been six years, and Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now, a sailor, I guess, that's a weird choice, and there's a few pieces of the real world where there's a squabble over property, or the rights of the heir,...-, ...she then is whist away back into Wonderland, and Wonderland is in trouble. Well the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is in trouble, as he has come under the delusional belief that his family is alive; in this version, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), for some reason murdered his family. She approaches, Time (Sasha Baron Cohen), yes, Time is literal here, and Alice steals the chronosphere, from Time, in order to go back in time, and save Hatter's family, I think. I get the feeling part of the script came from abandoned drafts of "Charlie and the Glass Elevator" that never got made, because that Tim Burton adaptation didn't pan out. Anyway, when I think of a literal character as "Time", I can help but think of the horrible Rankin & Bass sequel to "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", "Rudolph's Shiny New Year", where he saved Baby New Year, although with the help of the Great Quarter-Past-Five. Yes, Frank Gorshin's greatest character. Ugh. Anyway, basically, it becomes a story of Alice trying to save all her friends, that maybe she cares about, but honestly I really don't, not even Anne Hathaway. Okay I care a little about her, but eh. It's a biggest visual mess of a movie that's desperately trying to make up for it's flimsiest of premises that basically has nothing to do with the original story, but I'm okay with that, I just wish they came up a more interesting story to make a movie out of. And worst yet, they bring up the Mad Hatter's family, that alone can be interesting, actually, but they don't have fun with it. Hell, this is a Disney movie, how about bring back the Copycatter Hatter, that would've been cool.

Wait, you don't know, the Copycatter Hatter? Oh god, you're all young, you don't remember,- hold on I gotta find this-, stop the review for a moment, where's my Edit-, fuck! Alright, I'll find it myself, give me a minute.







You might be wondering what that is. Um, the short version of the story, uh, kids, Once Upon a time, the Disney Channel didn't suck; it actually had some pretty cool kids shows back in the day. I swear, this show is the coolest version of "Alice in Wonderland" I've ever scene.... "Alice Through the Looking Glass", it's just boring to slog through. It's unnecessary, it makes us try to feel more for characters than we actually do, the plot borrows some of the bad aspects of some of the hackiest of ideas that didn't work in the past, and worst than all of that, while it assaults the eyes with style and effects, and tries hard, but, there wasn't any reason to care and therefore, this was just a horrible unnecessary bore.

I gave this film 2 STARS, originally, I think I was being lenient, 'cause it is really bad, "Alice..." and I do tend to, not love every version of "Alice in Wonderland", but I am more lenient on it, 'cause it is a structure, that allows for some more variety and whatnot, and frankly, I was thinking about how great "Adventures in Wonderland" used to be, but really what the hell we're they thinking here? Why make this movie, why do it without Tim Burton directing-, I mean, I'm not a Burton guy, but I'm not trusting somebody else with his vision; he's too unique, and this is what you get when you try to force a sequel that we don't need and don't want, and isn't well done.


Number six.

Okay, I’m gonna say something that’s gonna sound a bit racist, mainly ‘cause it is a bit, racist, unfortunately. I really wish I could make this sound better, but, I’ve had relatives who worked under people from China before, and secondhand information passed to me, apparently, there’s this thing, where when Chinese people come to America and work and study or whatnot, there’s a tendency for them, to not quite be able to understand our sense of humor. I’m not saying there isn’t comedy in China, in fact, Stephen Chow’s “The Mermaid” damn near made my Top Ten List this year; that film's funny as hell, but it’s also clearly a more Eastern form of humor, on top of it, being more broad than of our more subtle material. But yeah, I don’t think there’s as much a serious tradition of comedy in China as there is here, and I don’t think a lot of our nuances of humor, translates. Like, you can show a best of “SNL” to a Chinese immigrant, and they’re not gonna get some stuff that we have integrated into our comedic and cultural consciousness. I bring this up, because…- well, I think that’s what happened here. \

6. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk



Okay, first of all, yes, I know Ang Lee is Taiwanese, not Chinese, don’t write a report on me for that, and I really love Ang Lee, he’s absolutely one of my favorite filmmakers. But, he’s not a comedy director. That said, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” wasn’t a comedy, despite the fact that the book it’s based on, was satirical. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, in a vacuum, taking a comedic work and turning it serious but-eh, boy does it not work here.

FROM MY ORIGINAL REVIEW:
"What the fuck's with this movie!"

That was the constant refrain I kept making as I watched "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk", the latest and, yeah, I'll say it, his worst movie so far. (I liked "Hulk", shut up.) That said, before we get through anything, it might be his worst, but it might be his most well-shot film This film was originally shot in 3-D format with a 120 frame rate and 4k resolution, and it looks amazing if nothing else. 120 frames/second is shockingly high btw, the normal number is 24, normally, I'd think you'd use that rate for super, super slow motion, but it looks amazing if nothing else and there ain't much else. Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), is apparently a young 19-year-old war hero in Afghanistan, him and Bravo Company, Lynn's endeavors were apparently caught up on camera and brought the war to the households. This already seem weird to me, 'cause first of the all, the footage they show is not really that impressive; I mean compared to say the footage during Desert Gulf or especially Vietnam which was shoved down America's throats every day, was much more engrossing to say the least, but I'll buy it. Anyway, Billy is from Stovall, Texas and has come home for a publicity tour where the company's become American heroes, so much so that they're gonna be a showcase part of the NFL's Thanksgiving Day game's Halftime Show in Dallas, featuring Destiny's Child.... His family's happy to see them, especially his sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart) who's got a large scar on her face and is vehemently anti-war. Billy was told to sign up after causing quite a bit of trouble at home and after a car accident that basically turned Kathryn into the Bionic Woman, she's about 87% healed, and fears for her brother's safety. At one point, when he's back home, after causing a bit of a raucous at the dinner table, she calmly tells Billy that if something happens to him, she'll kill herself.

WHAT THE FUCK LADY! Seriously, you're telling your soldier war hero brother, who's suffering from PTSD and still has to go back out to war afterwards, that if he dies, you'll kill yourself! What the fuck you selfish bitch! I don't care what happened to you lady, what gives you the right to put that kind of pressure on somebody, somebody going to war, much less your brother! It's not like you're that hurt, you talked about still being able to get laid, and even with the scar you still look like Kristen Stewart. Seriously FUCK YOU! You are officially the single worst character Kristen Stewart has ever played!

Yeah, I know what I just wrote, and I fucking mean it! She is that bad! The character at least, Stewart's perfectly fine in the role itself as always, but on the page, she's awful!

Anyway, they've also got a PR guy, Albert (Chris Tucker) who's busy working on getting them a movie deal. Hilary swank seems interested in playing Billy, but they're not getting anywhere. Anyway, they got seats at the game and they get to meet the team and the owner, Norm (Steve Martin, in what doesn't feel like as strange an acting choice as it should be, but kinda is.), who I assume is the stand-in for Jerry Jones here. Anyway, everybody they seem to meet here is either completely cut-off from the realities of war, are complete idiot morons who try to get into fights with the soldiers, (Seriously, where do they find these idiots. I mean, I was as anti-war as anyone could've been and I never tried to pick a fight with a soldier.) or are people who are completely infatuated with the soldiers and the military. This includes a cheerleader, Faison (Makenzie Leigh) who seems so ashamed that she's gotta play cheerleader , 'cause she just wants to hump and make out and fuck Billy the whole game, and they have so little time together..., and Billy seems immediately in love with her and wanting to leave everything for her. They meet at the game and the whole movie takes place during this game by the way and they have three conversations, total, not counting texts. Billy's devoted to the military, but his mind quickly heads to the battlefield, especially during a bombastic and absurdly ridiculous titular halftime show, which they were apart, because soldiers are performers, apparently. (Scratches head, shrugs) I know they call it theater but still.... That's another anomaly, the movie's fascination with using battle terms to describe the more typical mundane parts of the entertainment business. They also, buried Shroom (Vin Diesel) the emotional core of the group, I guess, and feel sorry for him, even though he died being an idiot and going forward into a gunfight when he probably shouldn't have. But he's Vin Diesel in a war movie, he should probably die.

This is also one of those horrible movies where every scene and every conversation is about the main objective to the film and isn't subtle enough to talk about it without talking about it. It's really annoying, like, "For Love of the Game" annoying, only worst actually. I don't know why a lot of war movies do this; is it because they're soldiers and they hear and repeat the same mantras everywhere they go, so they think that's how people talk?

Actually, is this based on a real incident? I mean, I do know that soldiers are often picked from the battlefield, especially hero soldiers to be used by the military for promotion or something all the time; there's one great movie I can think of that that's about, Clint Eastwood's underrated "Flags of Our Fathers" about the soldiers who raised the infamous flag at Iwo Jima. I actually liked that movie betters than it's partner film, "Letters from Iwo Jima", But this story in particular I don't remember...- Let me look this up...

(Typing)

Huh. Okay, well, it's made up, no wonder I never heard of it. It's from a novel.

( Looks at Wikipedia page.)


Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


For the film adaptation, see Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (film).
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a satirical war novel written by Ben Fountain, which was published in early May 2012 by Ecco Press, a publishing imprint of HarperCollins.[1][2][3] The novel chronicles the experience of a group of Iraq War veterans who are hailed as heroes and sent on a victory tour following their engagement in an intense firefight that happened to be caught on camera. ,,,
"Satirical"!?!?!?!?!?!?! The novel it's based on is satirical! This was supposed to be a comedy!? A satirical war novel, so this was supposed to be "Catch-22" or "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" kind of thing, but it turned into, like when they took "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" are turned it into "Shitty Forrest Gump"!?!?!?!

So that's what the fuck's with this film. (Sigh)

I think I’m one of the few people who actually liked Ang Lee’s “Hulk”, although the criticisms I kept hearing was that, despite his attempts to try to capture the essence of a comic book, that he clearly wasn’t a fan and didn’t quite understand the nuances with the work. I thought it was fine myself, but I feel like that’s definitely what happened here. They handed him this story, he didn’t realize or couldn’t conceptualize the satire of it, so instead, he tried to make me sense as a straight-up dramatic piece, and he completely missed the mark. It’s unfortunate; he was clearly the wrong choice for this material. BTW, despite that, it’s still a movie, with amazing 3D cinematography that’s worth noting, but, yeah, this is one of the film’s that’s bad, where you know, something’s wrong, and you can’t quite figure it out, by just watching the movie, but once you look into it, you can’t unsee it.  


Number five

Statistically, 2016 was the most productive year ever for animation; with 27 feature films eligible for the Animation Oscar,  by far a record, and an amount that would’ve sound like a pipe dream, not ten years ago. Five years ago even. Did this produce some good films, um, yes, yes, but…. Look, I don’t want to take away from some of animations’ real accomplishments this year, hell, “Tower” made my Ten Best List, and that’s technically animated, and there were some other great ones. “Kubo and the Two Strings”, “Moana” those were really good, and even though I didn’t love it like others, I thought “Zootopia” was pretty goat. But, yeah, this was overall, a bad year for animation. The problem for me, is that so much of this, was the same amount of bad, and since there were so many soulless, pointless, eye candy for babies shoved in my face this year, I really can’t distinguish which among these turds was worst. So, fortunately for them, none of them made the list, but I wanted to mention them anyway, and it seemed to make the most sense to bring it up before I introduced “Warcraft”

5. Warcraft



That don’t mean if it were entirely animated that it would’ve been improved, but, yeah, if we’re talking special effects disasters, this one has to be at the top of the list.

FROM MY UPDATED REVIEW ON AGE OF THE NERD:
Well, a lot of times, 'Warcraft' did make me feel like I was watching a video game. Not playing one - just watching one. One I didn't like at all, had no interest in, and most importantly, wasn't playing! The effects and the graphics, while often quite skilled and good, and often felt like they were reasonable images I would come across--when playing a video game. I don't know whether that's a compliment to the movie or the game, but either way, I don't think it helped improve the movie much.
Trying to figure out what the hell, the rest of this...-  well, my "plot notes" are a bit murky, and most of my notes consist of self-portrait doodles of me fantasizing about cutting myself, so I'm gonna try to reconnect and understand this, deformed, attempted 'Lord of the Rings' clone, and piece it together in a way, that almost makes sense, but..... (ANNOYED SIGH) Anyway, there's these humans, and there's this-eh, some other group  called Orcs. There's also something called "The Fell" that's this uber-powerful thing that nobody should have because it's powerful, or something equally godd**n stupid like that. Anyway, the wrong person has apparently gotten control of the powers of The Fell and this means that Orcs and Humans have to work together, in order to get The Fell away from this guy. And then, they must destroy The Fell, or put it back in Pandora's Box or something in order to bring the kingdom back to peace or something...-

(Frustrated breathy sigh)

Honestly, am I even remotely in the ballpark? Let me know; I'm not quite sure. I know, I've never played the video game, I'm missing things that I'm not familiar with, and I'm judging an art form without being overly familiar with it blah, blah, blah. Sure, and I'm notorious for literally hating every film that even tries to emulate the structure of a video game, much less damn-near every actual video game adaptation I've seen. That said, I can't imagine anybody actually thinking this movie's any good, even by video game movie standards. From what I gather, this is a role-playing game, where you create your character and personality and then go out and explore this fictional world and essentially have your own experiences, in the fantasy universe, along with several other online players. So, essentially, it's,- oh God, it's 'Westworld'.  Ugh.

(Depressed sigh)

So, apparently there's more to it than that, but essentially, what we're watching is, as far as I can tell, a fictitious world where, I as an active viewer, am supposed to be involved in, but aren't. This is like, so much worst than just a normal s***ty video game adaptation really; it's basically just, a collection of cut scenes from a video game. I know, I'm probably the only who really hated both 'The Raid' movies, 'cause they were nothing but action, but godd**n it, at least they were really good action!
Actually, come to think about it, isn't this called 'Warcraft'? Was there any actual warcraft in this movie? Maybe some military strategy, some thoughtful maneuvering, even with the fantasy element, that should be possible; that's why I actually thought the 'The Hobbit; Battle of the Five Armies' movie, despite my feelings on all the other films in 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings' franchise, was a good movie. It was a great combination of unique action fantasy scenes and battle strategy. I remember there being battles, but I'll be damned if I remember anything remotely interesting about the battle scenes in 'Warcraft', not to mention any talk of strategy. As far as I can tell, it was basically, "We gotta bring these armies together," and a bunch of bulls*** about a bunch of other crap that happens years ago, stuff that fits more into a Jane Austen piece than a fantasy video game adaptation.

I'm sure the actors gave good performances, but whether they were live-action or CGI roles, who cares? I'm not listing people who were in this. There wasn't a memorable character in the bunch, or a performance worth distinguishing, it was all just make up mixed with varying levels of quality special effects; the actors might as well have not been there. I don't know what relationship Director Duncan Jones has to the material either, he's the guy who did 'Moon' and 'Source Code', he's done a few psychological mind-bending thrillers, but this is fantasy, and worst-than-normal fantasy at that. This is that boring video game you stop playing, and forget to turn off and then the the game starts playing itself.

Which is what I wish I had done.

Eh, I’m not a video game guy, I really was pretty in the dark in terms of this franchise. I’d heard of it, I wasn’t aware of how long it was actually around, but still, video games and movies, they’re not compatible genres, and this might be the worst example of that yet. This wasn’t a video game, this wasn’t a movie, this was an attempt to shove a bunch of things that are sorta popular together. “We can’t have “Lord of the Rings”, but here’s a video game, with fantasy elements that’s popular, let’s showcase how fantasy the fantasy is, and the audience will eat it up. That’s what this was, “Computer Graphics Interface: The Movie”, that’s all it was. 


Number four. 

4. Emelie



Now, technically, I didn't rank this as the worst horror movie of the year, we'll get to that, but I think this one had the least justification for it's existence, and was basically just an excuse to film kids being tortured.

FROM MY ORIGINAL REVIEW:
I know, that somebody, somewhere is gonna come at me for this review. Somebody's gonna say that I just didn't get it, and that it was Grand Guignal  comedy or it's supposed to a be funny horror, an over-the-top Raimi-esque horror, or that they legitimately found this movie, creepy, which, to the latter argument, yes, I did find "Emelie" to be creepy. That said, I think I'm one of the few people I know who's never found "Halloween" scary. And, yes, it's a good, albeit overrated movie, but frankly, I always found that one to be more comedic than most supposed horror-comedies out there. Hell, I still get shit for giving ZERO STARS to "You're Next" a few years ago, which I named the Worst Movie of that Year. I didn't get it, it was supposed to be funny; it meant to be stupid... or some other complaints that, frankly don't improve the film for me. Even stupid needs to be smart stupid, or else, it's just stupid, and that's just not enough.

This movie, is not as stupid as "You're Next", but it's much more nauseating and disturbing. Basically, we spend much of this movie, watching a young woman torturing little kids. I don't care that she's the villain and gets her comeuppance in this instance, 'cause I couldn't sit through this movie. I did, eventually, not for lack of trying not too. The day before I had sat through a four and a half hour Filipino movie that was their take on "Crime and Punishment" that had a pretty gruesome and violent rape and murder scene at around the three hour fifty minute mark, and the movie was incrementally slow for most of the film, so, yeah, I was annoyed by that, but I would gladly sit through that a hundred times over than watching this piece of shit again.

So, the babysitter is named "Anna" (Sarah Bolger) who is of course, Emelie, 'cause we she her attack the actual babysitter, kill her and replace her, and since the parents don't know her, 'cause she's a trusted friend of their normal babysitter, she comes in and watches the three kids. And for awhile, everything seems normal, until they're not. Except it's never normal, 'cause we know this already. And sure the oldest kids Sally and Christopher (Carly Adams and Thomas Bair) eventually put the pieces together. The wallet with the wrong name, the fact that she reveals herself on the toilet, her bizarre choice of films to show the kids, just everything, everything wrong. And I get it, it makes us uncomfortable, it makes us hate her, and in that respect Sara Bolger, who I never stop remembering her as the little girl in "In America" a movie, which I find myself thinking back fondly on and loving more than I realized I did...- anyway she's pretty good here.

You see, it's not that, the kids are being tortured by this presumably adult person pretending to be a teenager, I can think of movies I love where this has happened. Hell, even recently, M. Night Shyamalan's "The Visit" wasn't much different plot-wise than this film, but I liked that one, because it was about the mystery, and we weren't 100% sure what the problem was and the discovery put the events in a creepier light when we realize how much trouble our characters were in. With "Emelie", there is no problem with the character; there's no character really. We're told she has a past and a friend, which, I guess is supposed to be a reason why she did this, but it's not. You see, in other movies, the bad guy is torturing the kids, in this movie, the filmmakers are torturing us by making us watch this person just do some horrible, horrible things. We know she's evil and bad, and her activities don't dissuade that or make us wonder, it's just, us, being trapped in a room, staring at a snake and a mouse, and waiting for the inevitable, literally. This is not a time for a howcatchem story. That's not a character hurting another character, that's just hurting us, the viewer. And frankly, I don't feel like taking that. This was just, torture, plain and simple. It wasn't done for a reason, or for anything, just, let's come up with some bad things somebody can do to them, and let's make a babysitter who's doing it to kids....

....Fuck this movie!

Actually, maybe I lucked out and nobody read it or something, but I haven't gotten panning for this review, so maybe more people agreed with me than I thought, but you know, this is one of those movies where I could see this, working on paper, but if you actually shot it, and made it real, you realize just how horrible this movie actually is. I mean, I can think of other movies, where, somebody is actively hurting children, sometimes, way vicious and lethal than this, um, but there was a point to it. There was a reason, to show it, to showcase, to make it a focus of the film. Other than the fact that this was shown to make us sure that this person was the bad guy, was there any reason for this? This was audience torture more than any other film.


Number three

3. The Legend of Tarzan



Yeah, I think we're about done with Tarzan.

MY ORIGINAL REVIEW:
I'm sorry, we're we asking for a new "Tarzan" movie? Actually-, no strike that, this isn't even Tarzan, this is a new Greystoke movie, technically. I've never fully been able to finish that "Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan" film from the early eighties, that's mostly famous now for people who hate Andie MacDowell and like to point out that Glenn Close dubbed her voice in it, because she couldn't pull of a British accent. And because Robert Towne's dog received an Oscar nomination for it. (Dead serious, look it up!) I don't remember liking or getting much of that film. Tarzan's one of the most iconic of film and literary characters, and yet strangely, there aren't that many good version of him. In either form actually. There's actually quite a few Tarzan novels, but, I can't find too many people who really recommend more than a couple of them and film-wise, eh, well, there's the Johnny Weismuller movies, that, kinda fit into the same camp appeal as say, "King Kong", but, I'd argue there really hadn't been a really good "Tarzan" until the Disney film came out, which I consider one of Disney's most underrated animated films. But, that was an interesting take on Tarzan, and one that seriously benefited from being animated. It's one of Disney's most technically amazing hand-drawn pieces of animation. It provided a new look and take on the Tarzan story, and the animation, especially when he's swinging through the trees, is just spectacular. Really gives us this amazing sense of a human who's become not only an ape, but a human who's mastered the ways of being an ape.

This film? I have no idea why this exists. It's a mess to begin with, and then trying to make sense or care about any of this...- So, John Clayton, aka Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard, who I will concede is great casting.) is now, the proper Fifth Earl of Greystoke, It's ten years after him and Jane Porter have left the Jungle and now apparently, the Natives-, which is already a bit of a red flag in a Tarzan story, but I double-checked, there are a few stories where Tarzan's got Natives in it, have gotten angry. 'cause this one takes place in the jungles of the Congo-, which, again, I'm tipping my head at, 'cause geographically that's a stretch, but alright, 'cause there's a Belgium envoy, Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz, because of course it is) who trying to find a rare diamond instead of working on building the modern infrastructure and there's a Colonialism parable, blah, blah, blah, and he's persuaded to go back, because of the enslaved treatment of the Natives there, by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) who is a real guy in history by the way, not from the novels, so, take that for what you will, and whatever universe this is. And there's also a native leader, Chief Mbongo (Djimon Hounsou, who really deserves better) who makes a deal with Leon for the diamond as long as he gets Tarzan, because he has a grudge. (Sigh)

There's both a lot going on here, and not much at all going on here. A lot of plot, without really any, history we have with these characters. You know, what this feels like? This feels like watching a straight-to-DVD sequel to an old movie, that you haven't seen the first one of? So, it's like an entire new cast, and extra characters you don't know about, and because it's Tarzan, we're sort supposed to know, but you actually don't....- I mean, this movie is about a gratuitous nude scene away from that, which come to think of it, why not have one; it is Tarzan? In fact, that's one of the problems, it doesn't seem or look like Tarzan. I know there's quite a few other Tarzan tales, but-, there's a reason we don't recall them offhand. In terms of sequel novels, they're not exactly "Huckleberry Finn", you know? Anyway, the pointlessness of the need for this movie is only matched by my inability to care about anything on screen. It's a Tarzan movie that's about anything, but Tarzan, and not much that matters after that. Tarzan's a character who lived his entire life, thinking he's one species, to find out he's another; he's one of the most interesting characters in the 20th Century literature, truly. And, here he is, with, none of the aspects that make him Tarzan, being prevalent?! I don't get it.

And, I still don't get why we had this film. Um... (Shrugs) this was another, "Can you force yourself to care movies, and I struggled. This felt like, an amalgram of ideas someone had, like, we should do a historical-fiction version of Tarzan, and we should do a diamond mining story, and we should do a natives vs. colonialism story, and in the end, what did you end up with? A mess of a movie that barely resembles anything Tarzan-related, and completely takes away everything we like and find compelling about the character. And it was boring.


Number two.

Unlike "Emelie" I've been informed that there are people out there who claim that this next film is some kind of horror masterpiece. I don't know who these people are, although I imagine they've never seen a horror movie before....

2. The Invitation



Let me paraphrase this movie for you, guy suspects something wrong with the party they're at, he goes into a room, he enters the room with all the people, says there's something wrong, something wrong may or may not happen, and then, repeat....

FROM MY ORIGINAL REVIEW:
Oh boy, here we go.

(Annoyed anger-filled sigh)

When did this one get released? 2015? No, American theatrical release 2016. (Sigh)  Okay, so, we've got an early contender for Worst Films of the Year, at least for me and my traditional path of being a year behind everyone....

....this was torture to sit through. And moronic and stupid torture at that. So, "The Invitation" is to a dinner party, with a bunch of guests, the kind of Hollywood-area, get-together of friends, enemies and frenemies, that it seems like everybody with the least amount of success in the industry tries to make at some point in their career. Hell, Joe Swanberg has basically made this movie, like seven times now. but none of those films were as bad and boring as this one. (Although "Digging for Fire" was close, Joe) So, Will (Logan Marrshall-Green) was invited to this party at his former home, and now the current home of his ex-wife Gina (Michelle Krusiac), who disappeared after they broke up, shortly after the sudden death of their son. NoW, she's got a strange new husband, David (Michiel Huisman) and a new set of friends, who she seems to be combining with some old sets of friends for this dinner party. Now, Will, also brings his girlfriend, Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to the party, which is, I don't know, somewhere north of Mulholland, it seems. It's one of those place and parties, except, for reasons that aren't examined as they should've been, almost all the doors are locked, even for when they're not. So, let's talk about the big scene, basically, David and Gina get everyone together to explain that they've become part of a cult. Not, in those words, in the same words that everybody who's in a cult, but doesn't think they are say, even after they show a video of the retreat in Mexico they were in, which shows somebody, dying on camera. This, somehow, doesn't cause people to scatter and leave, possibly 'cause the doors are locked, although I would've found something that broke a window. Let, me just explain the rest of the movie here, Creepy thing happen, Will goes off to think and explore, pondering either the creepy thing or the past, he comes back, creepy thing happens, Will,leaves comes back, and repeat nine or ten times. For a movie about a dinner party, this is basically a film where there's only one person that matters and that's unfortunately, Will. I won't give everything away, but yes, there's something fucked up about this dinner party, and with the guests, most of whom are too stupid to realize the problem. Or are interesting enough to care that they're stupid. I've noticed this, whenever I see a party movie go kerplunk, splat, and fails this badly, it's usually bad character writing. "+1" for instance was horribly cliched, and the only interesting character is barely seen, and treated like shit by the story. Meanwhile, a movie like "The Anniversary Party", which is basically just one big Hollywood in-joke about Hollywood in-jokes told at Hollywood parties, actually works because all the characters are intriguing, and we have enough time to dive into each and every one of them and escaped into the meditative vibes of the party. This movie, does none of that. This is just a very boring and tired cliche of a horror film, with predictable results, only differentiated by the thought-process and motives of it's killers, and the fact that it delays the inevitable, to the point where none of these characters seem plausibly intelligent. And, I don't normally complain about this particular aspect of a film, and I'm apprehensive about bringing it up, but, I can't help it, this movie is one of the worst-cast movies I've ever seen. I'm told, there were other, more notable and noteworthy names attached to this film, at one point, but most of them for one reason or another dropped out. I recognized John Carroll Lynch, but other than that, this is one of those movies where everybody looks so beautiful and so similarly, that I legitimately couldn't keep track of which actor was playing which role, and frankly, there's just not a memorable performer or star here, other than John Carroll Lynch, which, if you know that rule, SPOILERS sometimes the most famous person is the bad guy. There's not a single aspect of any character that stands out, and frankly, I didn't even like Lynch in this film. His talent was being wasted. I know, this is a low-budget, independent film and I'm not judging the acting itself critically, this was gonna be bad on the script, as far as I could tell, they aren't bad and were trying their best, but I don't think I could've picked the black girl out of a lineup of the actors in this movie, and there was only one black girl in the film! There had to be a better way to cast this movie, even if you were just going with unknowns and lesser-knows actors. I know, some of them are big on television and whatnot, but I didn't recognize many of these actors, even when they were on shows that I watched. The film itself, had trainwreck written all over it, and the writing is just awful. There's like half a dozen scenes of just Will coming back into a room and joining the party that was already going on without him. I mean, if somebody did that, like, more than twice at the same party, especially one with the goal of it's guests being what it was in this one, I think I would've taken some measures to stop it, much earlier. This was a wonderful reminder, of why I don't go to dinner parties, and not much else.

There's a friend of mine who agrees with me and usually calls this one of the most overrated films of all-time, 'cause apparently, according to him, he is constantly having to fight with people really think this is some kind of masterpiece. (Shrugs) Thankfully, I haven't run into those people, I'm sure they're out there, but, what are they looking at? There's-, there's nothing in this movie. that qualifies it for greatness. If "The Neon Demon" is just pretty women in well-lit rooms, than "The Invitation" is just horror movie idiots trapped in a house, and they're not smart enough to leave. Although, I wasn't smart enough to turn off the DVD player, so who knows maybe they are smarter than me.

And, whatever the opposite of a drumroll is...

(Wood block rool?)

And now the number one WORST FILM of 2016!

(Wood block roll ends...)

For most of this year, despite all the shit I saw, I didn't really know what my number one worst film would be. I knew, "Moonlight" was guaranteed to be my number one Best Film, barring something beyond amazing coming across my eyes, but, for this list, a lot of crap just blurred together for the most part. Hell, full disclosure, I almost shoved four animated films together and called it a four-way tie for the tenth spot, but I had to be honest and gave them a pass.  I had "The Invitation" as a placeholder for awhile,  it would've been a worthy pick, but, finally I found something that was literally scraping the bottom of the barrel. A barrel that had long, long been scraped dry.

1. How to Be Single



Okay, despite the fact that, yes, people should be punched in the tit for using emojis, we should absolutely be implementing that, the worst film of the year, at least among the ones I saw; you wanna tell me Dinesh D'Souza's propaganda garbage was worst, I'm sure it was, but my vote is for, "How to Be Single", the utter proof that the "Sex and the City" formula doesn't work for movies, and also, is just, dead in general...

MY ORIGINAL REVIEW
Oh my God, who's aborted "Sex and the City" self-insert fan-fiction did this devil spawn come from? Okay, well, it's based on a book by Liz Tuccillo, who was a writer on "Sex and the City". Oh, it gets worst, she co-wrote the book, "He's Just Not That Into You"! which was inspired by another writer's line on "Sex and the City"! Look, I love "Sex and the City", but let's think about this for a second, we have "Sex and the City", and now, one horrible "Sex and the City" derivative, "He's Just Not That Into You", which was also adapted into a terrible movie, and now, we've got a second level derivative in "How to Be Single". Which is a stupid title, 'cause, nobody who can teach you that, is actually single. Ugh! And god, this franchise and derivative of it, have not done well, and they shouldn't have, and this one might be the worst of them yet.  I mean, from the voice over narration to the four main women, to the fact that it's about single women in New York City;- this seems like it's pretty close to have been an expansion of a bad spec script, fifteen years too late. If you wonder why I think "Girls" is so revolutionary and brilliant, remember, this is how everybody else tries to remake it, and that's how Lena Dunham, turns it on it's head entirely and makes it something new and modern!

Are we even sure they're all even friends, in hindsight, I don't even remember how the Lucy (Alison Brie) character even relates to the rest. Maybe they went to college together or something. (I think I stole that joke from Tina Fey, and I actually think that's how she connects with the other main characters.) Well, Lucy, is the worst kind of single girl, the one who immediately talks marriage and is under some kind of misguided belief that the magical scientific formulas involved in online dating, will somehow lead to true love. And is also obsessed with marriage and finding a soulmate. How this guy Tom (Anders Holm) managed to fall in love with her, legitimately, I don't actually understand. Although it does make sense for me that she ends up with George (Jason Mantzoukas), but whatever, waste of a tertiary character who wasted other tertiary character's main plotpoint. Oh how do I love sitcom cliche, let me count the ways. Alice (Dakota Johnson), I'm assuming named that after "Alice in Wonderland", but I suspect that's giving this movie too much credit, is engaged to Josh (Nicholas Braun) in the beginning, and they seem quite the happy couple with great chemistry, but they've been dating since their college meet cute, and Alice now wants to wait in order to find out who she really is, and not just who she is in a relationship.

Okay, quick, what show is this stolen from:
A.) Friends
B.) Sports Night
C.) Community

Take your time and vote. I'll wait.....

(15 seconds later)

If you guessed "Friends", eh, not quite, this is actually more stolen from "Sports Night", but yeah, it is, basically the "Let's take a break" thing, and it always, always, ends in exactly the same most horrific backfire way it can possibly end. Oh, and-eh, for some reason, she runs into Robin (Rebel Wilson) a co-worker who's a complete party girl that, is the source of most of the best humor in this film, which is both a compliment and unfortunate situation. She's not bad here by any means, but you can tell, that she's basically just a punchline and a joke. At one point, I wouldn't have been surprised if we had found out that she wasn't real at all, just a figment of Alice's imagination. Alice also has an older sister, Meg (Leslie Mann) an OBGYN, who's only now decided to have a baby, and gets pregnant from an anonymous sperm donor, right as she meets Ken (Jake Lacy), who she has an instant connection with. Meanwhile, Alice spends about a year going through a bunch of guys, 'cause she can't live without being in some kind of relationship, and like...- what the hell am I doing watching this?

"How to Be Single" has some ideas in it, but it's so superficial about them, without any real depth, that I can't even understand where the idea came from by the end of it. I mean, one relationship on the rocks, another oversexual man-woman who's striving to get out of a relationship, one who wants to get married, another who is struggling with having an unexpected child, this feels like a thrown-away draft from "Sex and the City: The Movie", a movie that was redundant and unnecessary to begin with, I might add, and also sucked. There's taking an idea and doing something new and unique to it, and then there's just taking and idea and tweaking it a little, hoping the audience won't realize just how badly they're beating this dead horse. I think I would've respected the movie more if it just admitted to how much of a bad retread it was or just blatantly said outright who and what they were stealing from. (Well, more blatantly than they did.) This film is worst than just average bad, it's lazy and hackneyed and just such a trivial and outdated retread of a genre that didn't particularly work on film to begin with. The more I think about this film, the more I feel like, as a single person, my intelligence is just being insulted.

You know, one of my earliest blogposts, why titled "Dear 'Sex and the City' Please Die Already. Sincerely, Big Fan'", you can find that post at the link below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/08/dear-sex-and-city-please-die-already.html

Now, I wrote that, as a response to the rumors and pressure there was to have more "Sex and the City" after the second movie had come out, which, I hadn't even seen at that point, but when I did, I immediately wished I hadn't. Anyway, there was a depth to that show, there was more going on in that series, it actually a perspective and a point of view, on what was then, modern-day single life in Manhattan, and it really was a great television show, but ever since, there's been these lousy, flimsy, attempts to artificially create that sense and tone and perspective, and they completely miss all the nuances and details that were really what made that show great. And it works best as a TV show, not as a movie, just because "Love, Actually" pulled off the multi-narrative rom-com, doesn't mean "Sex and the City"'s multi-narrative plot can be switch to a movie formula; it doesn't work. Of these, "How to Be Single" is by far, the worst retread of the formula yet, and I'm including both SATC films in that statement. It's been almost 20 years now, since that show debuted, this has got to stop, and yeah, the more I thought about it, the fact that, this movie is such a direct line, derivative; such a watering down of something that actually was great at one point, and has devolved into this shallow pale imitation of the original, this is what really put it over the edge for me and why I'm ranking it number one.

Alright, let's take one sludge through the sewers of 2016 and let's bring up the dishonorable mentions, and hopefully, we'll never speak of this year again

ANIMATED AND LIVE-ACTION
Allied-Robert Zemeckis
The Angry Birds Movie-Clay Kertis and Fergal Reilly
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice-Zack Snyder
Being 17-Andre Techine
The Birth of a Nation-Nate Parker
Captain America: Civil War-Anthony Russo & Joe Russo
Central Intelligence-Rawson Marshall Thurber
Cosmos-Andrzej Zulawski
The Dark Horse-James Napier Robinson
Don't Breathe-Fede Alvarez
Elle-Paul Verhoeven
The Idol-Hany Abu-Assad
The Jungle Book-Jon Favreau
Keanu-Peter Atencio
Maggie's Farm-Rebecca Miller
Miss Hokusai-Keiichi Hara
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children-Tim Burton
Miss Sloane-John Madden
My Golden Days-Arnaud Desplechin
Neruda-Pablo Larrain
The Secret Life of Pets-Chris Renaud; Co-Director: Yarrow Cheney
Sing-Garth Jennings; Co-Director: Christophe Lourdelet
Star Trek Beyond-Justin Lin
Storks-Nicholas Stoller and Doug Sweetland
Swiss Army Man-Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert
Trespass Against Us-Adam Smith
Trolls-Mike Mitchell; Co-Director: Walt Dohrn

DOCUMENTARIES
Francofonia-Alexander Sokurov
Harry & Snowman-Ron Davis
Seasons-Jacques Perrin; Co-Director: Jacques Cluzaud