Sunday, April 22, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS #147: "THE SQUARE", "WOMEN WHO KILL", "GRADUATION", "NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER", "LONG STRANGE TRIP", "CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY", "THE WORK", "PHANTOM BOY", and "FRONT COVER"!

I think we're all still following whatever other possible revelations we get out of the Channel Awesome destruction as closely as we can, I'm not gonna update any more on it, 'cause whatever goes on, I'm sure we're gonna find out eventually and-eh, (Shrugs) who the hell knows from there. That said, there's one last thought I have on all this, one that- I don't think has been mentioned before, and this isn't even just a Channel Awesome thing, this can said about the industry across the board: We need to stop being vague about these things. Just,- I understand there can be circumstances where we can't explain everything, but still though, everything-, everything is so vague, until it isn't. Some of the things in that document, absolutely reprehensible, but if much if not most of it, if you just looked at you know, one or two of these incidents, without the context behind it and heard them, "Well, okay those are bad, but there might've been something else going on from their side," kind of things. I had heard a lot of these rumors and stories going around about them beforehand and that's a lot of what I thought, and whether or not Channel Awesome were in the right or wrong, there probably was something more going on and I could probably write off a lot of these incidents as anomalies. Anomalies that every business has, and there's always gonna be a disgruntled employee or two, kinda thing, blah, blah, blah.... When a company or somebody is truly shit and reprehensible, it's not said out loud, maybe they can't absolutely say it for legal reasons, fine, but you still don't get the intensity when you see a statement like, "It was time for me to move on," or "They're a badly managed company," or whatever.... I had a class in film school; I don't even remember what it was called now, but basically it was a class that was trying to teach us, how to- work the room, in Hollywood, but also, how to protect yourself, basically. And we warned about stuff like, "Don't say you'll do anything, cause somebody will take you up on it," or what happens if you ever talk to somebody famous and what to say...- basically, now, in hindsight, I realize that this was a class designed to teach us what to do if you run into Harvey Weinstein. They never said that out loud of course, but basically that's what it was. And you know, for many reasons we probably shouldn't have had it of course, even though it was a good class, but this stuff needs to be more open. It shouldn't be a whisper campaign, if someone or some group of people are really this bad, then, maybe more of these documents need to be made about them. We gotta make a real distinction between, "I had a bad situation with them..." to, "This guy, these people, they're absolute toxic and they're never gonna get better, stay the hell away!" I know it seems like we're at the beginning of that kind of transition, and hopefully we are, but even some of the Channel Awesome people warn us that that document is just the beginning of some of the atrocities they've committed, and I believe them and I believe that we've probably only scratched the surface of some of the other Hollywood names that are being taken down, for in a many cases, far worst offenses. If anything other than the Channel, #ChangeTheChannel that needs to change, that's gotta start changing, if for no other reason then so that documents like the ones they produced, become unnecessary in the future.

Anyway, I hope that rant was somewhat coherent, it probably wasn't but...- yeah, anyway. I watched one docu-mniseries that I talk about a bit in one of the other reviews and I also finally got around to "Memories of the Sword" the Korean revenge feature. Eh, it reminded me a lot of "Kill Bill" personally, "Kill Bill" in a "Crouching Tiger,..." world essentially. It was okay, not overly amazing to me, but it was an okay film. Just a bit of an absurd melodrama mess overall, but it was fun. That's about it, and let's finally get to it. Sorry for all the delays, let's get to this latest edition of our MOVIE REVIEWS!


THE SQUARE 
(2017) Director: Ruben Ostlund


★★★★

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You ever find a piece of art of some kind, film, TV show, music, whatever, and you really couldn't quite figure out if it was good or not. Not, whether or not you liked it, but whether or not it's any good to begin with, 'cause it's sorta right on that line where you're trying to figure out it's smart or stupid, but every clue, kinda goes both ways? You see, I'm getting a weird sense of that with "The Square" but added to that, is the fact that in some ways, the movie is actually about whether or not art is smart or stupid, or "stupid" and "clever" I probably should say.  This obvious happens a lot when the genre is surrealism, which I presume this is; it's definitely got that absurdist tone of some of the more sardonic surrealists; if you ever wanted to see what would happen if Roy Andersson tried to make "The Fireman's Ball" would look like, this is probably the closest film I could think of.

The first thing I notice about the film is how often people are asking for help in the film, help that is never answered by anyone around them that we see, or more specifically, isn't answered when the person asking for help, is asking the general public for it; it is often answered, usually by those who were asking for it the most, when it's asked for by Christian (Claes Bang). Christian is the head of a museum that's putting on a  "The Square" in the title is a reference to a signature art piece that their whole new modern art exhibit is centered around. It is a square space in from the Stockholm museum that Christian is the head curator and face of, and inside is a plaque that reads "The Square is a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all have equal rights and observations." This has to of course be promoted for a modern audience, and they bring in a firm to do that, and more notably, Christian gives an interview to an American reporter, Anne (Elisabeth Moss). He ends sleeping with her. She also, has a monkey who does art himself. This is never explained or elaborated on, except for a scene that seems like a lost scene from "The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" when a visiting artist Oleg (Terry Notary) interrupts and disrupts a black tie dinner party by acting and dresses like a monkey. Eventually the guests retaliate and murder him. Somehow the literal monkey, a bonobo I'm told, actually makes less sense to me, but that's neither here nor there. What's important is that basically everything is going to shit for Christian. He believes it's all started in the beginning when he's the victim of a clever robbery. He then tries to get even when he finds out that his missing cellphone was in an apartment building and he distributes by hand a message to the thief to return his items, only he distributes that letter to everyone in the building and some take exception to it.

"The Square" earned an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Feature and won the Palme D'Or at Cannes, and basically the movie is a really elaborate joke about the ideals of man and the realities of our actions and, I don't know, a lot of other pretentious, artistic bullshit that constantly and continuously double-backs upon itself. This is the kind of movie where everything is undercut by absurdity. Interviews are cutoff by an audience member with Tourettes, and art exhibit is accidentally vacuumed, a major conversation is interrupted by construction workers...; I'm not even revealing half the weird shit that happens in the film, it's a Murphy's Law of absurdism and Christian only barely realizes until the end that things are worst than he realizes. Sorta. "The Square" is almost too dark of a satire on modern art, modern culture, modern materialism and altruism ideals, and almost everything. I think that's the point, like modern art, it's supposed to supposedly represent everything and nothing and the art ends up being just as shallow as those it's trying to enlighten. This is why I'm confused on how to rate this. I think I'm recommending it, 'cause there's way too much here and it's way too clever not to be considered. It was written and directed by Ruben Ostlund who made one of the favorite films in recent years, "Force Majeure" a film that examines people's reactions after surviving a potential life-threatening situation. That movie was about human instinct; I think this one is too, but on a much sardonic and metaphysical level. "Force Majeure" could've been played for satire, but I took it seriously as an examination of human behavior; "The Square" is clearly comical. I can appreciate it, more than I like it, but I do think it ultimately works.


WOMEN WHO KILL (2017) Director: Ingrid Jungermann

★★★★1/2

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There's a great little scene in this film that I love. Jean (Ann Carr) asks her ex-lover and podcast co-host Morgan (Ingrid Jungermann, the film's director) to sit down in front of a fountain. Morgan doesn't want to, 'cause she knows Jean is trying to talk to her, but she does it anyway. Morgan then pulls out a notebook that she writes stuff in and Jean immediately gets up and calls her out on her passive-aggressive bullshit, pulling out a notebook in order to seem distracted. It's a brilliant scene that's well-written and paced beautifully that makes us feel like these characters know each other so well that they are always ten steps ahead in the others' thought process. I think we all know a few couple or two like this, a couple who's not necessarily on-again/off-again but might as well be based on how they act with each other. They're always just one awkward pause away from either fighting or fucking and they're never sure which one it'll be until it happens.

"Women Who Kill" is one of the most fascinating and assured debut features I've seen in a long time. Jungermann's film is one of those movies that benefits from having an original and observant point of view. Morgan and Jean are podcasters who do a show on female serial killers, both discussing past ones as well as interviewers current famous known ones from prison. Basically they run a popular true crime podcast, and are general well-liked in their somewhat eclectic group of friends, most of whom are lesbians, and most of them also talk and complain at times about the struggles with their home and love life. Then, Morgan starts dating Simone (Sheila Vand) a new student she meets one day at the co-op she helps run and they begin to hit it off, despite Sheila being about twenty years young than Morgan and also a bit still stuck in that moody-gothic phase. Their friends, including Jean, are originally ambivalent-to-concerned about the pairing as Simone is a bit odd and quirky and they can quite put their finger on it. Then, a few of their friends start, just dying off suddenly and Morgan and Jean both begin concerned that Simone is a serial killer, and try to figure how to investigate her, without tipping off this thought to her, or you know, before she kills them, if that's what's happening.

"Women Who Kill" is a really unique little film. It's constantly keep me on my toes and off-guard and all the characters are really well-written and always playing each other at angles. and not necessarily obvious ones either. These are characters that all have secrets with each other and histories with each other and those details are always working with each other. This is the kind of movie that on paper, would simply work fine, anybody could make it and make a worthy, viable, version of this film. I think this movie didn't with the plot, I think Jungermann, started with creating the world of these characters and then figured out how to insert a plot that is what changes and alters and swings the dynamics of this world to and fro and it continues to unravel, which is really how something should be done, and it's really impressive for a first-time feature filmmaker, and I'm looking forward to what she'll do next.


GRADUATION (2017) Director: Christian Mungiu

★★★★

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It seems like one of the great things about being a cinephile or film buff or whatever is that there's almost a guarantee that somewhere in the world a film renaissance is happening and eventually we will be inundated with loads of films from the great new filmmakers from that country. There's always the stalwart countries like the United States, France, Japan, Italy, etc. but those non-traditional cinematic powerhouses are often where the most interesting and intriguing films come from. One of those countries in recent years has been Romania and one of the leaders of this Romanian New Wave is Christian Mungiu, most famous in this country for "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" a movie that shows a young coed take another down into the depths of the Bucharest underworld in order to get an illegal, emergency abortion. That film was shot with a claustrophobic intensity and seemed to document real time with few obvious cuts and the feeling of following as we watched a dangerous, perilous into the underworld.

Interestingly, "Graduation", kinda has the same approach to it's material, even if, on the surface it appears to be something far less controversial. Romeo (Adrian Titenti) is a father who returned to Romania after living in exile until the Communists wall fell. His daughter Eliza is attacked and seriously hurt on her way home from school. He's concerned about her and getting the suspected rapist into custody, but the thing that's really concerning him is that this attack took place a few days before she was supposed to take her final exam for high school; she's in line for a scholarship to go study in England, which to him, means an opportunity to get her out of this place and perhaps have a real chance in life. I know, it's overdramatic, but he figures that he and his wife Magda (Lia Bugnar) tried to get out once and still ended up there, but she stil has a chance, but she must pass these exams, and now that she's suffered a traumatic attack like this, he's worried it could effect her getting the scholarship. (The Romanian title probably translates more accurately as "Baccalaureate" than "Graduation".) So, in the few days in-between as he's concerned about her future and even walking to-and-from class, he basically dives into the underworld himself, only it's to the police and politicians and school officials, all in order to grease the wheels a bit, in case her test doesn't pan out, even if, it would be completely understandable.

Meanwhile, the real story is how much he's put into this test and essentially how happy his daughter's life turns out, whether or not that's exactly what she wants, and more-than-that, whether or not she'll even be grateful for it. It also, kinda goes in a few other weird directions, from here, that I'm not sure entirely work, at least story-wise. Still though, this is a minor criticism, "Graduation" paints a picture of run-down Romania suburb that's filled with pessimism, corruption and heartfelt angst from all sides. Angst to make things right, angst to protect others from forces that can protect them from, and angst because they can't protect all of them, and that's just the way it is. I imagine this is a film that's more powerful to the Romanian people than it is to a more Western viewer, but I thought it got it's point across nonetheless. It's a bit slow, but ultimately an emotionally stirring film.



NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER (2017) Director: Joseph Cedar

★★★

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You know, for somebody who's so noted for being zen and Buddhist in his personal life and very friendly in every other aspect, and being so anti-violence he got booed at a concert honoring 9/11, that took place only weeks after 9/11, it's amazing how good Richard Gere naturally is at playing con artists. Seriously, have you all noticed how good he is at this; there's a lot of liars and creeps in his recent resume. "Arbitrage" he plays a corrupt hedge fund, "The Hoax" where he plays Clifford Irving, that's arguably one of his best performances; he's good as a "Fixer", I guess in "Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer" as well, he's played several lawyers over the years, his big breakout part was "Days of Heaven" and that's a character's got a violent temper and he tries to convinces his girlfriend to marry his boss, figuring she'd get his money when he suddenly dies. It struck me as curious as I watched "Norman...". The guy is arguably the most underrated actor in Hollywood, and maybe the last name you'd think of for playing a disreputable character, but honestly, he's really good at it. Sometimes, too good, which, I think is part of the problem with "Norman...", we only really know this guy as some conman who's trying to get ahead, and not much else about him, honestly. Still, I recommend it.

Norman Oppenheimer (Gere) isn't exactly a conman, in the traditional sense anyway, he's technically an Advisor on Tax Receivables, or, "In the realm of tax receivables". He doesn't really have a job, he's basically, just, an in-between guy. Or, not even, he inspires to be an in-between guy; a guy who tries to find an in with the rich and elite and manage to gain just enough smattering of trust, in order to be trusted. Other than that though, he seems to be on the outside-looking-in, constantly. The only fact that we ever learn is that he has a nephew, Philip Cohen (Michael Sheen) who works for a big company and can occasionally use his Uncle for some connection work. That's about all he does, make connections to people and through those connections, he manages to fall upward to success, even while still falling down everywhere else. He eventually, befriend the right guy, Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkanazi) an Israeli diplomat who we helps get around during one of those New York evenings and buys him a very expensive, nice pair of shoes. One's that it seems hard to believe he could afford. This lower level undersecretary to the undersecretary to a cabinet member, would seven years later become the new Israeli Prime Minister and they meet up seven years later and Norman uses this connection the best he can, now that he's got an in with the Israeli PM, he's suddenly in-demand somewhat. He also drives the rest of his staff nuts, as they mostly see him as a hindrance, which, technically he is, and one who seems likely to get the PM in political and legal trouble.

Also true, and Norman has to somehow, fix everything for everybody. There's also some good small performances here by Charlotte Gainsborugh and Steve Buscemi among others, and Ashkanazi's performance in particular is really strong; he can just overtake a room with his presence here, it's quite special. That said, the movie is Gere's performance watching him. The movie was directed by Joseph Cedar, the great Israeli director who made "Footnote" a few years back; this is his first film made mostly outside of Israel, who's really good at these low-key pieces that seem to be about the people who value the allusion of importance and power and strive to achieve it, and when they think they do, it turns out that it's, in some ways tainted and unearned. Norman perfectly fits in a Cedar world, a man who acts like he belongs, but truly doesn't, but will continue to act like he does as long as he can, to keep up the charade. "Norman" is a good movie, not a great one, but is centered around some amazing performances that enhances the material into something tangible. Leaving it to great actors to take a story of a fake who managed to scheme his way into corruption.


LONG STRANGE TRIP (2017) Director: Amir Bar-Lev

★★★★1/2

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Okay, so this was exhausting. So, for some reasons, my Netflix queue was having some laughs with me by scheduling both "Long Strange Trip" the four hour docu-miniseries about "The Untold Story of the Grateful Dead" right next to me watching "The Defiant Ones" the four hour documiniseries about the careers of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, back-to-back! Now, you'll notice that I'm not reviewing "The Defiant Ones" but have decided to review "Long Strange Trip", and this is because from everything I can figure, "Long Strange Trip" did have a theatrical screening while "The Defiant Ones" was strictly a TV program that aired on HBO. This is further confirmed that "Long Strange Trip" was on the Academy Awards list of eligible Best Picture films, while "The Defiant Ones" was not. Now there has been a debate recently about whether or not situations like this, should even count as feature films, while other films are TV programs, and while isn't actually that new of a debate, at least in terms of documentaries, oddly enough, streaming services have really begun to make this annoying. Frankly, I do think this should be separated and that programs declare themselves to be one or the other but I go by theatrical releases, so we're reviewing "Long Strange Trip", which is probably the only possible title a film about the Dead could have been called.

Like "The Defiant Ones" "Long Strange Trip" is an epic bio rockumentary that spans the entire careers of it's subjects, in this case, from the strange beginnings of how a cult acid rock band formed from some each member having strange backgrounds themselves, but forming together after basically working on their material separately at a San Francisco coffee shop, up until the band's official death in 1995 when their frontman Jerry Garcia passed away. I remember it being a big even personally whenever The Grateful Dead came to town, especially as a kid, this was a major news story every time it happened. I great I just presumed they must've been one of the biggest bands in the world, which they technically were but strangely they never really had that many radio hits. Only one song, "Touch of Gray" broke the Top 40 and that a weird blip of newfound popularity they had in the mid-1980s. Mostly, they're known for jamming. They're one of those bands who, although they do have some great studio albums like "Workingman's Dead" and "American Beauty" usually you think of their live performances and shows, which not only became synonymous with garnering a cult-like fandom, with Deadheads traveling from town-to-town just following the Dead thousands at a time, but also, fans, practically joining in with the band as they perform. They are probably the most egalitarian of bands, just let everyone in and out and perform as with them wherever. It's clear that the fan connection is by far the biggest aspect of the Dead, and that's not a knock few bands cared as much about them as they did, and that's not to say that the music is secondary, 'cause it's not. I love the Dead as much as anybody and there music still holds up and is still influential to this day.

I don't think there'll be too many surprises here, there's a few modern interviews includes with Garcia's surviving relatives and some rare recordings of the band that are worth looking at, mostly I think this is just a love letter to the band that anybody, particularly the fans of the Dead can get soaked up in and I can't imagine it wanting to be anything more than that. It's extensive and definitive and basically covers everything you would want to know about them, and I suspect your appreciation of the film goes hand-in-hand with your appreciation of the band.


CITIZEN JANE: BATTLE FOR THE CITY (2017) Director: Matt Tyrnauer

★★★★★



I think it's fair to say that any random city and Las Vegas are complete opposites from each other, but I can tell you that there definitely is a wide difference between my hometown of Vegas and real cities, like the ones back east. I spent some time last year back in Philadelphia where my family is, and I also spent some time walking around Washington D.C. while I was on that vacation, and I do mean, walking around, 'cause, while some of those areas, I saw cars driving down the roads, I can't for the life of me imagine how. Of course, any city that existed pre-automobiles are gonna be a little bit smaller but there was a time when the suburbs were being formed and the urban renewal movement began where the basic idea was, well, A. that certain parts of the city, the slums areas weren't pretty and needed to be gotten rid of, but also B. that cities needed to be designed, or redesigned in order to make room for the automobiles. And you know, that's not the worst idea, out west. You see, there isn't really other transportation possibilities for us; we've tried to figure out a high-speed rail system, but to go to and from large cities, that are often too far apart for any other reasonable option, short of an airplane, highway are actually a go idea. Now, notice I said "to and from" cities, not, "in cities." See, is this another weird thing about Las Vegas in particular, it's a really new city. The didn't really start even really building anything here until the 1940s at the earliest, and they didn't build a neighborhood or anything-, I mean, I guess they had Boulder City back then, which was a little of Vegas and was built mainly to house people who were working on what we now know as Hoover Dam, but the National Highway system was in it's infancy, Las Vegas in particular, was barely above 25,000 by the fifties., it's about the equivalent population today of Cudahy City, CA, which no, I've never heard of that town either. So highways going through the city, actually made sense at that time, 'cause the one thing we needed was to bring people in, and that was the best way to do that. There's two major ones here, the interstate highway, the I-15, which starts in San Diego and actually goes all the up to Canada, and right through Las Vegas, and there's also the U.S. 95, which, is more Vegas-adjacent than in Vegas, although they do meet up and connect to each other through a nightmarish atrocity of a U.S. highway system known as the Spaghetti Bowl in town, and also heads up towards the Canadian border, but it's more the suburbs of Vegas which is why I'm actually more familiar with that one. And again, these highways made sense back when Las Vegas was a one-hotel town, and it even made sense for them to go through the city, 'cause there just wasn't much of a city to begin with.

Annnnnnnnd-, that's kinda the drawback. The joke is that Las Vegas doesn't have any culture of it's own, well, Las Vegas doesn't have an culture of it's own, specifically a city culture. We are working on it, in hindsight, these two highways, especially the I-15 really separate the city out, especially since, there wasn't a city to begin with and Vegas was being built during the suburban sprawl, so there's really no city here, and what you get is more this idea of carving out a completely separate census-designated area as opposed to a real city of Las Vegas, (Hell, the Las Vegas Strip isn't technically in Las Vegas, it's in Paradise, Nevada) it probably wasn't the best city planning to have them cut right through the Las Vegas Valley, but again, it made sense for us at the time. Now, that's a long introduction to "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City", but this was the constant battle, for the cities over the years; it's bad enough that a barely populated area like Las Vegas would get a couple highways, but Jane Jacobs was fighting to make sure highways weren't built through Manhattan, in the '60s! Yes, Manhattan, I mean, they already built one that cut The Bronx in half, and basically carved out less desirable neighborhoods, and replaced them with gigantic art-deco monstrosities of public housing projects, many of which were large monoliths that soared to the sky and essentially, eliminated the safety and connectivity that a community had, and basically turned a community into a slum. This wasn't just in New York, this was a cross-country movement that thankfully's starting to be eliminated across the country, most notably the failure of The Pruitt-Igoe Complex in St. Louis, and while I think the idea of public housing could work, not the way it was done and funded back then.

It makes sense when you think about it and notice it, the more people on the street, the safer the street it, the safer the road is, the more connected people are to everyone else the better the area is. This is something Jane Jacobs would see. She wrote what was then panned as a simplistic critique of the then-modern city planning movement, which focused more on the symmetry of the buildings and the skyscrapers and really didn't have focus on whether or not it would improve, help or benefit the community. They assumed the people would form around the building, but the building and the highways, they didn't provide anything that would've benefitted the people, so all it did was isolate. Now, it's recognized, but her battle with the infamous New York, the notorious public official, who was never once voted into office that set off all of these plans that forever changed New York forever, are basically the core legendary battles, which ultimately she's won, if not over the immediate history of city planning, but over NYC and certainly over the future of city planning. "Citizen Jane..." is a powerful documentary, it's mostly old footage and talking heads, but it got me really thinking about the area and conditions where we live in and the surroundings I've been around and experienced, and really made me wonder if my perspective and viewpoint on the world couldn't be changed and altered significantly if I went to permanently live somewhere else, or how much that viewpoint was determined by those forces outside my immediate control and by people who didn't know better and designed the world around me, not with malice necessarily, but forced together some unintended consequences and short-sighted projections and assumptions about human behavior.

Like my, desk and basically everything else that's around me at nearly all times that, cities look like chaos, Jacobs observed, but if you actually look closer, there's a pattern and a structure and a method to how they work, and nothing is truly streamlined and perfect, it's often the perfection that looks like chaos that's actually what control looks like that makes the place run. She's right, everything seems like a mess, but so does nature when you look at it from afar, but if you look at it up close and actually live in the environment, or in nature, you'll see how it works. For too long, most city planners didn't see that and I have doubts that my city will ever truly figure it out, but I can tell you this, this movie reminded me of how my clearer and relaxed my mind felt when I was in a place and a city and a community, that, actually works.


THE WORK (2017) Director: Jairus McLeary; Co-Director: Gethin Aldous

★★★

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(Sigh) I hate to sound like a bit of a downer on "The Work", but I really struggled with this one from an entertainment value. It's an honorable film that showcases some interesting characters and personalities, but other than the fact that the setting was unusual, I just felt like I was witness somebody else's therapy session that I just have no real stake or interest in and to be fair, that's kinda what it was. "The Work" documents a successful group therapy session that takes place at New Folsom Prison, where some of the more hardcore and deadliest prisoners, once a week, call off all feuds and grudges and whatnot in order to have an intense group therapy session. It's actually got a really high success rate and these are the kind of sessions where you see grown men, often times emotionally crumble as they look deeper into themselves. The success is shockingly high, so for that alone it's admirably and perhaps worthy of maybe a short film made of them. However, twice a year, civilians are actually allowed to come in from the outside for a weeklong session where they're teamed up with a group of prisoner, to also participate in the extensive therapy. That is interesting, and frankly kinda compelling, 'cause I am curious to see the kind of people who decide to literally go to prison in order to get some emotional clearance in insight, and for a couple of them it makes some sense. Some of them have lots of inmates in their immediate family and were heavily impacted by the penal system, others are just, kinda roving along with life and directionless and hope they can find inspiration on the next step by working it out with those who's next step may never come. He see a lot of really hardened grown men, shatter into catharsis and help out each other, fellow prisoners and the civilians followed in the film as they struggle to understand dynamics about their lives.

Normally, I'm usually compelled by therapy sessions and intense psychoanalysis such as this, hell, I think "In Treatment" as one of the most underrated TV shows of all-time and all that show was basically therapy sessions. Still however, this one was so insular and intense and unflinching that I just don't think it ever reached beyond the walls of the prison. We know a little bit about some of the people but not enough to care. To be fair, this is a documentary aiming to capture not to tell a greater narrative, if there even is one. For that reason I'm recommending it, I just wish it was a little more entertaining for me. The movie does sorta feel like you're at someone else's house while they're in the middle of a major family event and you don't know anybody well-enough to have an emotional connection with them, but there's a chance that maybe that was just me in the moment. Still, I wish we had more time to spend with the people in the session before we simply dived right into it.


PHANTOM BOY (2016) Directors: Alain Gagnol & Jean-Louc Felicioli

★★1/2

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Eh, I guess there's nothing wrong with it, but it's about a sick little boy who can have out-of-body experiences and can, in this state help out the living a little bit, in this case, stopping a crime. I'm calling them out-of-body experience, because it's either that, or he's "Casper the Friendly Ghost" before he dies, or, the little kid version of "Ghost Dad", either way, it's creepy and way more scarier than you'd remember. (Seriously, has anybody gone back to watch those original "Casper" cartoons? What the hell we're they thinking; some of those things are just depressing, Christ.)

Yeah, I gotta admit, I'm a little squirmed and squeamish at the concept of "Phantom Boy" to some extent. This is the second animated feature from the French directing team of Alian Gagnol & Jean-Louc Felicioli after the Oscar-nominated feature "A Cat in Paris". That film was enjoyable, but it was also mostly forgettable. 'Phantom Boy" is really dark in places. It takes place in New York City and focus on a sick little boy named Leo (Gaspar Gagnol). Leo while sick, does seem to have one weird ability, and it's an extreme form of having an out-of-body experience. He can petaphysically leave his body and effect the literal outside world, at least for a little while. Few people can see him and if they can he's usually incapable of being heard in this state, and his physical body is entirely motionless in it. However, he manages to be a bit of a hero, especially when he starts to help out an injured sullen cop, Alex (Edouard Baer) as he's under pressure to take down a vicious supervillain simply known as "The Face" (Vincent D'Onofrio ) as he works on both trying to destroy the city, and kill Alex as well as his reporter girlfriend, Mary (Audrey Taotou).

A lot of this is foreshadowed in an earlier scene where Alex is enraptured by reading a comic book, one that I believe is of his own design, and I guess this is some kind of dreams come true, superhero fantasy story but real, except through bizarre metaphysical means sorta thing that I'm not getting...- I don't know, this personally just felt like a bad Make-A-Wish wish to me.I don't know I guess that's me being mean, and again, there's nothing inherently wrong with this. I think part of the reason it bugs me is that there's never really a decent explanation of Alex's powers and why they work in certain situations and not others, and I think characters who do find out about


FRONT COVER (2016) Director: Rae Yeung

★★★★

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I fear that "Front Cover" is still an amoeba. An early draft, a forerunner, an early piece of a more elaborate and complete piece of art that still isn't made yet. The movie tackles some subject matter that I haven't seen combined in such a way before and does it well, and yet, I still feel like this movie left me unfulfilled. It's a romance story between a Chinese American fashion stylist Ryan (Jake Choi) and a Chinese movie star, Ning (James Chen) who's come to New York for a little while as part of a promotion for one movie as well as a beginning of an image shift. They first meet as Ning is a bit of a diva on set and insists on a Chinese fashion stylist for the shoot. Ryan's earning his way up in the industry although still not quite there yet, but he's more than capable. That said though, he doesn't really consider his Chinese heritage that much. He's been open for years now and works in an industry where that's regularly accepted. Ning is exceptionally private a bit of a eccentric diva behind-the-scenes but is sweet and loving to Ryan and they soon hit it off and there's a lot of small comedy behind their meet cute of a whirlwind romance. One of the excursions actually gets Ryan fired, although in my mind, his actions were justified in that farce of a scenario, but that's nothing compared to his parents, Yen Fu and Ba (Elizabeth Sung and Ming Lee) come over unexpectedly. This is the movie for me, this additional clash of cultures is combined with a clash of generations, and we learn a lot about Ryan, who for the most part tries to not even let his ethnic background judge his background, while Ning still clings to some of the ways of the old world, including the tradition of upholding family honor, and being outed as a gay man would be a major hit in his career because of it.

I think this is a complicated movie that tries to, at the end, rush on a finish to all these conflicts, maybe a little quickly, and in a little too nice of a bow, but it does do it well, but I think I still want more. It's got a lot there, even the double-meaning in the title is accurate and sharp, but essentially this is just a 90-minute extended comedy-romance while I think it could've probably been a longer even more complex romantic narrative, maybe even a good miniseries, the telenovela-type, although I guess since it's Chinese and not Latin American, then that would make it, eh...- Felzaoju? I'm not sure there's a colloquial term for Chinese Soap Operas; that's the closest I can find. Anyway, I'm being picky, this is a very good film that's brings a lot of smart observations to an otherwise sweet romance. I think it's potential to be more than it was is disappointing, but what it is works well.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

CANON OF FILM: "DAY FOR NIGHT"

DAY FOR NIGHT (1973)

Director: Francois Truffaut


Screenplay: Francois Truffaut, Jean Louis Richard and Suzanne Schiffman



Francois Truffaut once said that the only thing he wants to see in a film is either the joy off making movies or the peril of making movies. He has no interest in much else. “Day for Night,” one of Truffaut’s best films, is about the joy of making movies, and also the perils along the way. I've been thinking about Truffaut a lot lately and how he was one of the first people to transfer from writing about film as a critic and essayist and then went into filmmaking himself, but also the fact that before Channel Awesome tried to put out their dumpster fire with nitroglycerin, I usually considered them the modern-day Cahiers du Cinema, only in film form. In hindsight, that might've been a bit much, for one thing, Cahiers du Cinema is still around, but for another, basically any collection of film and entertainment critics are all acolytes of that periodical in one way or another, and that goes for basically any reviewer in video form. I'm certain that had something like Youtube had been around back then Truffaut and most of the rest of the French New Wave would've taken full advantage of it and starting talking about movies on film clips on the internet as well. Especially someone like Truffaut who absolutely loved films and filmmaking.  

 I’ve written on films that give us behind-the-scenes perspective on how films are made before, like Fellini’s “8 ½,” (along that’s about trying to not make a movie if you follow that film correctly) or Robert Altman’s “The Player,”   and other films that were about characters in the movie industry like Nicholas Ray’s “In a Lonely Place,” and Guiseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso,” but rarely are their truly great films about the ways films are made, and the people making them. “Day for Night,” is a slice-of-life filled with numerous characters, many of whom are people playing variations on themselves (not just actors, a lot of the crew of the movie play people of the crew in the movie) as they work at Victorine Studios in Nice, France for a film called “Meet Pamela.” The first few days are shot without Pamela, as American movie star Julie Baker (Jacqueline Bisset) hasn’t arrived yet, and he must work around a booze-up aging actress forgetting her lines, Severine (Valentina Cortese, a favorite of Fellini), a lovesick leading man (Truffaut favorite Jean-Pierre Leaud) who thinks he’s about to marry the script supervisor (Dani), unaware she has other plans, the loss of film destroyed in the lab, the nervousness of investors, another actress who refuses to wear a bathing suit for a scene (Alexandra Stewart), all that’s before the American arrives, who’s barely able to hang on as she gets the lines at the last second, while she’s still trying to learn French. Truffaut himself plays the director of the movie within the movie, occasionally giving us helpful narration of his thoughts, and a rare view into his dreams, which includes a black-and-white image of a boy walking down the street who sees something that fascinates him. Only later in the film do we realize what it is he’s interested in, and it correlates to the director odd lack of a social life in a melodramatic behind-the-scenes world that surrounds him constantly. 

Truffaut died very young, only 54, but he managed to make 21 feature films in his short life, not to mention the occasional acting role, most notably in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, and many books and criticisms on film, including a famous one on Hitchcock. I’ve always been more reluctant than some to fully embrace Truffaut; his old friend/rival Jean-Luc Godard always appealed more to my intellectual and adventurous filmmaking side while Truffaut was a more classical filmmaker. Why I rank “Day for Night,” so high, on top of it being more enjoyable and lighter than much of his other work, like “The 400 Blows,” is that his other work occasionally include very single-minded female characters, often obsessive, other times they’re ditzes. Not necessarily a bad thing as in Jeanne Moreau in “Jules and Jim,” or the great performance from Isabel Adjani in “The Story of Adele H.” Strangely, despite the multiple-character narrative of “Day for Night,” that would challenge Altman experts, I don’t get the feeling that any of the characters are single-minded. They’re all complete characters, all part of this temporary extensive family. Even the occasionally mysterious behavior like Alexander, the old-time lead actor (Jean-Pierre Aumont) making numerous trips to the airport has a surprisingly heartfelt revelation that only makes us feel we now know more about the character. 

Maybe it’s because the actors are probably based on real people and actual experiences, but it is certainly unusual for Truffaut characters, especially female character to be so full. Truffaut dedicated the movie to Lillian and Dorothy Gish, the great silent screen stars of cinema. Of Truffaut’s many desires, this film is about movies, his love of them, his love of making them, and his love for the process of making them, and especially his love of all the people who share in the experience. 


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

"THE PRICE IS RIGHT": RANTS AND RAVINGS ABOUT SOME INHERENT ISSUES THE SHOW HAS! (This is gonna be my "Old Man Yells at Clouds" post, isn't it?)

Ugh. Between posting my commentary, first on this site, and then an updated version on Age of the Nerd, all the Channel Awesome melodrama is wearing my down. Forgive me, but I need something light to write about today. Something that I don't have to think too deeply about. (Annoyed sigh) What's on TV this early in the morning?

Hour seven of "The Today Show", (Clicks remotes) Twenty-year-old rerun of "America's Dumbest Criminal", (Clicks remote) Some college baseball game I don't care about-, god, what the hell is "Stadium", anyway. (Clicks remote) Hour twelve of the bad local version of the "Today" show, (Clicks remote) whatever the hell 'Half & Half" is...- oh, is that an old UPN show? I don't remember that one, (Clicks remote) Jesus, how many Mary Higgins Clark movies did they make, and why are they all on Escape? I guess it's better than nothing but "Forensic Files" all day. Well, maybe not.... (Clicks Remote)



Well, that's never going off the air...- wait, why is that never going off the air? (Puts down remote control, watches for a few minutes)

Oh right, it's a great game show. Still, am I the only one that ever gets genuinely pissed off watching "The Price is Right"? And it's not even the normal things that people complain about with it either, I mean I don't think Drew Carey is Bob Barker but I don't think he's awful either, or Mark Richards's strange producing choices, which, yeah, something's off about it and it unnerves me, especially all the special episodes they have now, but parts of this game show always annoyed me. Hell, the fact that it's still relatively popular pisses me off. And popular with college kids?! Really? You know, I always did hear about these mythical college students that would catch a little break between classes and watch daytime soaps or game shows like "The Price is Right" between classes or sometimes schedule their classes around the times for these shows, but I damn sure never ran into any of them in my eight years of college. I mean, twenty, thirty years ago, before cable was prominent and daytime still had a decent srangelehold on the culture-at-large, sure, but, today, when a college kid can just go to a computer and put on a poker tournament while studying or something, I-, I just did not see this, but I see them on "The Price is Right" all the time.

Where are they finding these kids? I don't know, maybe I had the went to wrong college or had the wrong major or something, but there are fascinating aspects of the game that will never go out of style. Knowing the price of things and trying to figure it out, that's honestly something that's a good concept for a game show and hell, on top of that, it's just a good lesson to teach people, especially kids, know how much things cost, know the value of things. That alone makes it worth watching. Still, there's intricacies to the game that just annoy me. I'm not gonna rank them or anything, I'm not doing a Top Ten or anything, I'm just gonna mention them off in the order I feel like talking about them. Again, I know this is trivial and petty, but for the longest-lasting game show of all-time, that's continuously run and one of only two successful game shows that's still associated with a basic network, the other being CBS's Wayne Brady reboot of "Let's Make a Deal", is it that wrong to criticize some of these things? Probably for some of them, but I want to do it anyway. Alright, here we go.


CONTESTANTS' ROW IS BLATANTLY UNFAIR

Come on Down! Yeah, I hate contestants' row. Not, the bidding part but the way they execute it, that's always annoyed me. There's several aspects, but the first one, is the fact that they keep rotating contestants. This honestly sucks. Every day, there's nine contestants, only six of them get to make it out of the row, and maybe you get multiple chances to win your way out of it. With only four podiums, they're always bringing in a new contestant and that person will always have less of a chance and an opportunity to win. Sure they'll get a little cash or a small prize or two for participating, but, it always bugged me. There's no rhyme or reasons anybody gets picked at any point in the game and I always feel bad for contestants who might only get to play once. Personally, I think contestants should stay and be brought back until they either win a pricing game, or eventually, if they last, let's say three episodes without getting up, then they should be sent off. It would be a little more fair and also more incentives people to play their best, 'cause you don't want to be the idiot who's on the show for days and can't correctly bid on a washer/dryer correctly.

Unless you are....


ASSHOLE CONTESTANTS

It's bad enough that, like most game shows, they're full of over-caffeinated, yelling, screaming, type I personality, happy-go-lucky contestants, but then you get the real assholes who don't take the game seriously. These are the assholes who bet some variant of $420 on every item and think they're being clever. Or they still think Baba Booey-ing everything still is a thing. I mean, if you really just want to be a dick, wouldn't you want to be a dick with a nice pool table, or a hot tube, or trip to Miami to go on or something? Or a car, if you can ever be sober enough to drive it? Usually these assholes only get away with this once or twice and then try to play for real, but in general these players are annoying and come up more often than they used to. I'd say that they should take the game more seriously, but...-


$1-OVER CONTESTANTS

These assholes:



Serious question, why is that still allowed? I mean, I kinda get it historically, if you go back to the real original version of this game show which had an auction format so the idea was to constantly bet higher than the previous contestant, but that game show didn't have contestants leave to play a pricing game, and it more resembled an auction more in the fact that contestant had the option of upping their previous bids. On "The Price is Right", you're trying to essentially making an educated guess on the price of items, sure, without going over, but you do get a bonus remember if you nail the price exactly, but even still, that little prickish loophole, means that, if you're bidding behind people, you've got the opportunity to find the closest bid and simply bid a dollar above them, essentially making the chances of the other contestant impossible, unless he/she bids exactly right. Just make a rule that say you can't be within $20 or even $10 of above a previous bid or something and this thing would be gotten rid of, and everybody would at least have a chance to win and you wouldn't be punished by bidding well, but in the wrong position. Speaking of the wrong position....


POSITION IS EVERYTHING ON CONTESTANTS ROW

You see, it's not only that some contestant only get a few opportunities to bid on contestants row a game, but they automatically arrive and they immediately start the bidding. Now, I don't mind that a new contestant automatically has the hardest shot at winning by sheer fact that they came late, although I do to some extent and I'm lying, but when you pair an asshole $1 overbidder with a new contestant each time, you can at times see contestants get screwed over entirely. I saw this once as a Kid, I remember it distinctly 'cause one of the contestants was named David and I always cheered for people on game shows with my name. He had the first position and the contestant next to him, every time, bet $1 more than him, all six rounds, until finally the guy bidding $1-over actually won. And he ended up winning the whole show btw, including Double Showcase. What a fucking asshole he was. So this contestant played the whole game and never once had the advantage of playing last, and he saw the guy who screwed him over go and win the whole thing.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a stickler for fairness, and I don't think every game show has to be completely fair, but there's a line. Take "Wheel of Fortune" it's incredibly unfair to land on a bankrupt, especially after building up so much money, or maybe playing perfectly the whole game well and you build up a huge lead, but then on the Final Spin, Pat Sajak hits the $5,000 space, and the dumbass contestant on the end lucks out and gets nine G's in the last puzzle and suddenly he lucks into a win, that's not fair. But, that's tension and drama being built and hell, the guy still has to solve the damn puzzle, so there's still some skill needed. And hell, it's "Wheel of Fortune" it says so in the tittle that luck may be involved, that's part of the dynamics of the game. And there's definitely worst game shows than "The Price is Right" when it comes to fairness; I'm looking at you "Merv Griffin's Crosswords", but with just the Contestants' Row, there's a lot of unfair dynamics involved and frankly most of these can easily be fixed or at least alleviated to an extent and in some ways actually improve the game. These parts that are just unfair aren't designs of the game to increase tension or drama, they're just,- they're just unfair.

The game's always been a bit unfair. Before they have the Big Wheel, it used to just be that the two contestants who won the most over the course of the show would be in the showcase showdown, something that's completely unfair because no contestant had an opportunity to win the same thing equally, since they each played for different prizes that cost different amounts each time.


I HATE THE BIG WHEEL

So, now the contestants who make the Showcase Showdown, is based entirely on, luck. Is that really an improvement? I guess it's more fair, in the sense that it's more random, but that's kind of the problem. I mean, you could argue that a spin on the Big Wheel, isn't entirely luck, in that we have seen the show for years and basically know the order of the Big Wheel and we kinda estimate and prepare to try to spin it with a plan and with an attempt to put enough English on a spin to get it, but really that's about as akin to trying to fix a roulette wheel without cheating. Basically this amounts to, the two contestants competing for the big prize at the end, because of luck.

I guess ultimately this is a minor detail, there's certainly worst shows that use luck as a more immediate base, but for a game show that's so centered around a specific knowledgeable skill as known how much things cost, I personally would like to see a better way to decide that. I know to some, it's the most iconic and memorable part of the game, but for me, I think it's an exciting little game usually, I just don't like the luck factor being so prevalent in deciding an ultimate winner.

How does this show get away with all of this so often? Well, honesty, the tone of the show is the big thing. The bright colors, the ecstatic crowd and energy, it's not a serious game show where you can potentially win life-changing amounts of money or something; it's more fun, it's more loose,- I mean, I guess most of these criticisms in that respect are kinda silly. This isn't "... Millionaire" or "Jeopardy!" or anything; it's probably the one show, maybe outside of "Wheel of Fortune" where you're more happy to win a prize than you are money these days, well, that and "Let's Make a Deal", and none of those are designed for extreme levels of intensity.

And to be fair, most of the game isn't the Big Wheel, or even the Contestants' Row, it's the pricing games, and honestly I don't have too many issues with those. Even the ones that are obvious minor and just there because they're running short on time and need to play something quickly; I know nobody likes those games and I don't either, but it's a game and you can something that's usually nice enough to sell or pawn if nothing else. I mean, sure, they've had an occasional clunker of a game or two over the years, but they've eliminated those.....

Except for one game!


PLINKO FUCKING SUCKS! 




Okay, seriously, somebody has explain to me why "Plinko" which is by far, the single worst pricing game on the "The Price is Right" is the most popular. The game itself doesn't piss me off, necessarily as much as the fact that it is so popular but in general, but this game absolutely pisses me off. You know how I know, it's the absolute worst game? Cause absolutely nobody, has ever actually won at it! Okay, I'll take that back, people win all the time, but nobody that I've ever seen, or you've ever seen, has won the maximum amount possible one can win on the show. Go ahead, look it up; I can't find it on Youtube, and whether it was $25,000 when I was young, or $50,000 or whatever the total is now, it's never happened! There's been an occasional big winner here and there, but actually achieving the advertised goal of $25,000 or $50,000 or hell, just getting all five chips into the highest dollar amount slot, that's never happened; even "The Price is Right" wiki on Plinko confirms this:

http://priceisright.wikia.com/wiki/Plinko

Goddamn, everything's got a Wiki don't they? The game's been around for 35 years! I haven't done the entire math on this, but I tweeted that I legitimately think you have a better shot at winning a jackpot while playing on a average slot machine, and as somebody who's lived his whole life in Vegas and knows damn well how hard it actually is to hit a jackpot on a slot machine, that's problematic, to me at least. I certainly don't want games to be too easy or two winnable, but damn-near impossible? I mean, outside of getting the chips to drop down the board by placing a quick pricing game, everything else with this game is basically luck and most of it bad.

Also, while they increase the big value chip to 10,000, they kept the others at the same amouts as always. So it's, 10,000, 0, 100, 500 or 1,000 bucks? C'mon the other values up, you just made the game worst and seem out-of-touch and old. Honestly, I don't even see the point in trying to maybe get a smaller amount just to make sure you win something, which that big a divide, you might as well try to either go broke or win it all. Basically, it is the equivalent of pulling a slot machine lever most of the time. $0, $0, $100, $0 maybe $10,000 on the last pull, if you're lucky, or maybe a five hundred to almost break even if you're playing on a $100 machine. I get how it could be fun, the same way a slot machine is, but this is not a good game and the fact that it's far-and-away the most popular game, just absolutely baffles me. Give me Grand Game or Punch-A-Bunch when it comes to the games where you can win big money amounts, at least until I visually see somebody win the damn thing for real.

So, yeah, that's my big declaration, Plinko sucks. (Sigh) I guess next week I'll talk about Amazon's shifting TV lineup or something more important; I just needed a break, okay?

Thursday, April 5, 2018

CHANNEL AWESOME-POCALYPSE! SOME THOUGHTS, (POSSIBLY FINAL THOUGHTS BASED ON HOW IT'S LOOKING), ON CHANNEL AWESOME AND THE LATEST NEWS AND UPDATES ON THE CONTINUING FIRESTORM SURROUNDING THEM!



Well, I wasn't planning on writing about this, at least, not right away, but Jesus; that escalated quickly.

So, as of the moment I'm starting to type this, it's Monday, the 26th of March, 2:00pm Pacific Time Zone, and in the last 48 hours or so, by my count, and I might be off here, but at least six and probably eight producers have resigned from Channel Awesome over the last 48 hours, and that number might be increasing, including but not limited to such names as Linkara, Todd In The Shadows, Diamanda Hagan, Rap Critic, Mike Jeavons, SF Debris and Suede, some of those names have been apart of the site for almost a decade and I'm personally a fan of a lot of them, as well as several of the numerous past contributors, who, for some reasons got into a Twitter discussions about their workings on/for the site and things, kinda escalated from there as one by one, almost in a-eh, what's-the-word...- almost like in a therapeutic therapy session, the horror stories of working for Doug Walker, Rob Walker and Mike Michaud, started coming out.

This was started, apparently by Allison Pregler, fka Obscurus Lupa tweeted about some of her experiences and other names from the past and some from the present started to chime in and pretty soon, this basically became a movement. There's currently a Twitter hashtag, #ChangeTheChannel, (There's also an alternative one #ChannelAwful) and Channel Awesome has not responded well to this mass exodus and the recent revelations. Anybody that's resigned, their names and records were deleted from the website almost immediately, which is somewhat surprising considering one of the major general complaints is the lack of keep-up with regard to the website.

Other complaints...- (Sigh) You know what, I'm not going through all of them. Here's Kaylyn Saucedo's (aka Marzgirl)'s Tumblr page, where she's diagrammed and linked to some of the major complaints, so far, and I say so far 'cause there's apparently going to be an official Google Docs compilation of the issues to be posted next week, as they're still coming in, and I suspect that there's going to be some, if not, several more resignations upcoming.

http://marzgurl.tumblr.com/post/172243441932/things-that-channel-awesomes-management-has

There's a couple other similar pages that are being passed around on Twitter as well....- you can go through it if you haven't already, and I'm sure there's gonna be hundreds of others up who are going to go line-by-line dissecting these accounts as they come in....

(Long deep sigh)

So, alright, so what-the-hell's happened/going on over there? I definitely want to record my observations at this time, but where to even begin to talk about this?

Okay, a brief history of Channel Awesome, partially from my perspective:

So, the first time I became aware of Doug Walker (Aka Nostalgia Critic) was through Roger Ebert who tweeted him after he posted a video that was a tribute to "Siskel & Ebert".  Now, after that, I saw him pop up semi-regularly on Youtube and eventually I started diving into his work. Now this was, much later than most had, because, well, I'm not cool and I'm never up-to-date on what's new and popular at the moment, as you've probably noticed since you're reading my blog, that's how behind the times I remain, I'm a blogger writing about video critics/essayists.

Anyway, after his videos kept getting taken down in the early days of Youtube, Walker founded a site that was originally called "That Guy With the Glasses", which would feature his videos and would eventually begin to feature other fellow critics. Eventually this site morphed into "Channel Awesome". Without diving into every piece of historical detail, they've had a few known incidents and "scandals" over the years, and there's been an occasional current or past content creator who's for one reason or another has complained and/or criticized Channel Awesome harshly, they've even had previous mass resignations before, that said I've mostly praised them, even when they've had their critics over the years, and they've had critics, and I'm gonna dive into some of those criticisms about them they've had, before I dive totally into these latest developments

For instance, one Youtuber actually posted a seven-part series dissecting his criticisms at Doug Walker and several of the other producers past and present; (Well, at the time he posted, present) I went and watched it, and I'm not gonna give you the guy's page, you can look it up yourself if you want, but I wanted to address some of his points 'cause originally he started out okay with a lot of actual interesting critiques and criticisms of Walker and Channel Awesome, but by the end of this thing, most of his critiques had devolved into basically shitposting about everybody's little skeletons in their closet, and while frankly some of those are worth bringing up,  a lot of it was just the guy being a dick and bringing up old shit, most of which was out-of-context that frankly just came off as petty arrogance and self-satisfying superiority and bullysing, so fuck this guy I'm talking about.

That said he points out some of the ways Walker's work has changed, in particular after the Third Anniversary movie he made...- (Yeah, at one point, the content creators for the site would get together once a year as well as with other occasional guest stars to make a special movie for the fans. Just-, it was one of their things.) when he temporarily abandoned the Nostalgia Critic character and attempted to create a different, more elaborate comedy-sketch-based series "Demo Reel", which flopped badly and soon later he returned to being the Nostalgia Critic. Apparently by the Google metric, that was the approximate moment that the site started losing hits and viewers and until recently has been relatively stagnant ever since, which to be fair, is not a new criticism I've heard levied against Walker.

Now, this is the least of his Doug Walker's worries, (At least I hope it is) at the moment, but honestly, I've never understood this criticism. Outside of everything else; I tend to like Nostalgia Critic's current work a lot more now than then. Maybe it's because I did come late, but I watched his early videos too, and I enjoyed most of those, fine, but, as someone who's written movie reviews and blogs now for seven plus years, not to mention several other writings outside of this blog, I can say for sure that people tend to evolve as writers and our work becomes elaborate. It just does, that's not just a "Doug wants to do comedy sketches" thing, it just does. You can read my earliest blogs and movie reviews and read what I write now and see that they're vastly different and more elaborate and complex; writers and creators across all art forms evolve! And sometimes they still make something that's not good or not as good as some of their past work, it- it happens. Apparently, people are upset at that about Nostalgia Critic, as a character, (Which is something else I'll get to in a bit) for this, but I don't really get why. I mean, I get why people are abandoning him now, but that criticism has always bugged me.

Also, in regards to those Anniversary movies, 'cause apparently a lot of the criticisms and complaints, not all, but quite a few regarded these films and the making of them, particularly his last one, a 3 1/2 hour monstrosity of a film called "To Boldly Flee", which, I also can't lie here, I thought was easily his best film, and was actually quite good on it's own... (Shrugs) I gave it 5 STARS, I thought it was really good; maybe I like that it's a look into his soul as an artist in more ways than one, maybe 'cause I thought a lot of it was funny and well-made, and I do think that, even with the obviously cheap budget and rushed production, maybe I like how he managed to get all these people into a film like this and somehow make it works within it's own rules of the universe.... I don't know, it worked for me for what it was; it might not have been what it was supposed to be or should've been however, as it apparently didn't work for everybody else and this represents the other really significant change that put off a lot of the fellow creators and producers and there are definitely some interesting horror stories from the sets of these Anniversary movies and from "To Boldy Flee" in particular that are out there. (Also in a meta way, I think it does sorta make sense that people being brought into the world of the Nostalgia Critic would hypothetically start acting more and more like him.)

Now, based on most of these accounts of Doug Walker, from what I can tell, and this purely from an outsider's perspective with little-to-no insider knowledge, he is ambitious and I don't think he's untalented, but he's maybe misguided in understanding hist strengths at best and incompetent at worst in his ambitions and yeah, a bit egotistical without having the necessary talent and skills to back it up. Maybe I'm being generous, but that seems about right, but at least according to these former contributors' complaints, most of whom are not thrilled with Walker and many find him responsible for a lot of the reprehensible actions that have occurred at Channel Awesome, but that said it seems more hate is driven towards a particular member of Channel Awesome's team, Mike Michaud, who is eh, well, basically the owner of Channel Awesome.

Okay, I've tried to look into this, with similar companies, which is kinda difficult 'cause I'm not sure what to compare Channel Awesome too off-hand, but, one of the strange intricacies of the inner workings of the Channel Awesome is that it's a corporation. Not as, some might've expect, a LLC, a Limited Liability Company. I'm speculating a bit here and I'm not entirely sure how this works, or why they chose to be a corporation, but apparently the company's ownership is partially control through stock options essentially. Mike Michaud was one of the founders and he apparently owns over 50% of the company, and apparently, he actually owns the intellectual property, the IP of the character, the Nostalgia Critic. (The fact that he owns the IP of Nostalgia Critic btw, is absolutely mind-blowing to me, btw.)

This is weird, for a few reasons, one being, I'm not sure why or how, Channel Awesome would be a Corporation instead of an LLC. At least, as early as it was, the paperwork for Incorporation was filed in 2008; this was something they chose from the beginning which-, looking into the benefits of the two, I guess it makes sense in case something happened and they were to get sued over liability...? Keep in mind Nostalgia Critic became famous for having many of his reviews taken down because of copyright claims, so he probably was at some point expecting to be sued, so in that sense, a Corporation which would shield him from personal liability, I guess that makes sense, on that level, however on the other level and ownership and property, somehow this led to the Walkers essentially working for Michaud.  So, here's the thing, Michaud is apparently an asshole who's terrible at running a company, (In my best Kathy Griffin voice) "allegedly". It sounds like he is, at best incredibly two-faced and incompetent and,- let's very generously say it sounds like he has rarely been at his best in the position of Channel Awesome CEO. Anyway, he was around at the beginning and apparently has bought up the most shares of the company, so even if, big if by the way, Doug and Rob Walker wanted to get rid of him, they apparently can't. He's got the most shares of the company and somehow Doug and Rob would have to buy him out entirely. Now, they have money, some they've spent in better ways than others it seems..., but it also seems like Michaud is powerhungry tool who prefers to have the power and influence over any offer of money that the Walkers could offer. He is by far, by far, the biggest change that past content creators insist needs to be changed. That and some kind of legitimate apology.

See, this is the first part that's confusing me, after all these years of disruptive practices and behavior how did the Walkers somehow let him be the one who owned the majority shares? And why? Not only shares, but ownership of Doug Walker's creation of the Nostalgia Critic? I mean, they've gotten rid of some of their original behind-the-scenes people before, including Mike Ellis who was known for some behaviors that even Michaud at some point was offended by, but it still sounds odd and weird that Doug Walker wouldn't have a majority share of the company. This is a guy who's won awards for Entrepreneurship before, but I am confused at how not right this arrangement sounds.

Except...- well, what is he an entrepreneur of? You see, this is where I think Channel Awesome has failed the most. It's-, it's hard to explain everything, but there's always been this aspect of Channel Awesome that's character-based, plot-based even, even though they're reviewers and critics, it's always tried to portray itself as it's own little world and/or universe. (The aforementioned Anniversary movies that Doug Walker would make are probably the best examples of this) To varying extents I didn't mind that, and like I mentioned, I'm somebody who doesn't hate Nostalgia Critic's later more elaborate reviews and in many cases prefer them to the majority of his earlier stuff, and from a creative perspective, even as a critic, I can appreciate the ambition in that objective. That said, there's never how I approached Channel Awesome. To me, what those at the top never fully did understand is that, they're essentially, a magazine. It takes the form of video, but that's the big advantage of Channel Awesome, not that we come for Nostalgia Critic and he's funny, it's a collection of reviews on entertainment, film, TV, video games, music, comics, etc. It's not a TV channel, it's not a world or a universe, it's not the dawning of the new age of internet comedy...- it's the Cahiers du Cinema.

Now some of this idea is admittedly outdated since this was much more beneficial back in the days before a content creator could make a more-than-reasonable living on Youtube if they found an audience before the days of Patreon, and whatnot, but if go back to the beginning of this new trend, the idea of getting a bunch of creative people to make critical video reviews in one place on the internet, that's actually a good idea. Hell, I still think it's a good idea, and hell, I've been apart of or considering being apart a few attempted upstarts websites and alternative magazines that were trying to do just that, not in video form, but the bringing together of a pop culture collective of young critics with different focuses and specialties and ideas about entertainment and culture, that's a good idea. (Hell, that's why I'm a contributor to Age of the Nerd now; I'm still pursuing being apart of something like that) As somebody who loves criticism and analysis, that's something I would look for actively. A place where a bunch of these critics are situated together. Now, over time and over the advancements of Youtube and social media outlets, it's easier than ever to bypass this step and seek out and gain a more specialized audience than ever before, and to some extent, you don't even have to create your own website to do this, 'cause Youtube hypothetically has the ability to group together content creators under their own label separately. And hell, sometimes with Youtube, creators can manage to get together on their own. For example, I've been following some sports Youtubers for a little while now like UrinatingTree, (I know stupid name, but he's actually got pretty good with his sports videos) and Five Points Vids  and KTO for awhile and they've started working together on a semi-regular podcast now and them and a few other sports-based Youtubers have come together to form a collective of sorts, in very much the same way that Channel Awesome critics would also do that.

Now that's a specialized example, but as a whole, this isn't a bad idea and that's what Channel Awesome, could've and should've been for pop culture and entertainment, a collection of reviewers and critics under a singular roof, who periodically produce new critical essays and reviews; that's a magazine. On this page, see what are the music people talking about, on another, here's what are the book people writing on, let's go here to see what are the culture critics commenting on today...? Honestly, it's only now with a bunch of these revelations and resignations happening at once, really having it come to life, and realizing just how they've so amazingly messed this up so badly, way worst than I suspected even it's most vicious detractors of the site could believe.... I mean, they had the content, they've had the reviewers, and hell, twice-over, they had the branding. Okay, some of the main editors want to get into filmmaking themselves to some extent, or some other outside projects but again, the Cahier du Cinema example.... and sure every group like this is gonna have a couple occasional problems and even a few bad apples they have to get rid of, and not everybody's gonna have a positive experience; I totally get that, but imagine if ten years after it's creation all the French New Wave directors had just left the "Cahiers..." over time, and a new crop came in, and now they're all going and suddenly there's dozens and dozens of horror stories of how shitty Truffaut and Godard were. Okay, with Godard, it probably wouldn't be that surprising, but with Truffaut? And Bazin, and Chabrol and what an asshole piece of shit pervert Eric Rohmer was.... And no, that's not a one-to-one comparison, I'm not comparing Walker to Truffaut or anybody to Godard, but that is a weird and damning picture nonetheless that's going on here. And, the nearest I can tell, now that more and more information is coming out and being confirmed, almost as I'm currently typing this, what it reveals is that it never really transitioned well into this ideal place for creative pop culture critics and reviewers, because that was never the real intention of the site to begin with

See, to me, comedy is best used with these video reviews when it's a format a format to tell and/or shape and structure a critical review with, and it's now become clear, at least at the top, that they use the format and structure of a review in order to showcase comedy. There's good-and-bad to that, sure, and I'm sure I could point to some specific examples of this in Walker's work that I could dissect, but the backlash and antagonism from the reviewers themselves, seems like evidence enough of this for me to prove this point. This was a site for reviews, critiques, criticisms, analysis, etc., done in a different video style than beforehand, but...- if this was how they were consistently treating the people who produced this content for which they built the Channel Awesome Empire on, then, I-, I don't see what other conclusion there is to come to.

Now, obviously, the numbers show that there was still an audience that was lost, mainly because of some of the original core critics that originated the group not being there anymore, some of the rumors and scandals involving their departure and for that matter, some of the shady and conflicting practices of the leadership of the site, and that include Doug Walker and his creation of Nostalgia Critic, and how much that's his fault, it's still being measured.... That said, I wasn't apart of that fandom, if anything I was apart of this other one, that wasn't as concerned that some critics I liked would leave; I'd still follow them, sure,  but I was just as excited to see other new ones come in, because it was always the fact that this could happen,- it was essentially having a staff turnover on some level I trusted that new talent would come in, replace and rebuild the site to this ideal magazine-like format that, frankly it should've been already. I'm still holding out to some extent. I haven't tweeted #ChangeTheChannel yet, (Although I've retweeted some who have) I'm watching closely sure, but the potential is for the moment, still there if they can figure out how to get their shit together, although it doesn't seem like they're in a hurry to do that. (Sigh) Maybe I should avoid Channel Awesome for awhile until they do change things, but there are talented people still there, last I checked anyway, some were still there, and this is about the leadership not the individual creators/reviewers, and you know what, sometimes the best way to inevitably create change is to destroy and rebuild, or-eh, maybe I'm just a sucker for a lost cause today. (Or maybe I just want to see something burn out instead of fade away. [Shrugs])

Either way, it's worth keeping an eye on, if for nothing else, to see how this will play out
.

UPDATE: Okay, everything above, that's what I wrote, last week, essentially, knowing that, this document of all the complaints and grievances was gonna get out this week, and-eh, it was released on April 2nd, the link is below:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1WZFkR__B3Mk9EYQglvislMUx9HWvWhOaBP820UBa4dA/preview

It's 69 pages, so far; and I stress "so far," 'cause from what I gather this can be updated in the future if for some reason there ends up being more contributors, and still there's some stories coming out. Mathew Buck aka Film Brain announced his departure from the site, by my count that's the tenth, name to resign from the site in the last, like 12 days or so, (I could be wrong on the exact number, but I think it's around ten). Um, this document, has twenty accounts from former and maybe even current producers and other content creators 'cause there's some Anonymous credits here, there's also a fan Google doc that's being spread around, to list some negative interactions people have had with Channel Awesome, in particular the Walkers and Michaud. I should point out here that, there are believe it or not, are some conspicuous names missing from this list of contributors, I can think of a few anyway, including Todd in the Shadows, who was the first of this group to suddenly leave Channel Awesome. Um, Dan Olson's name is missing interestingly enough despite being fired for doing a "Folding Ideas" episode on GamerGate. Kyle Kallgren of "Brows Held High" has expressed his desire to still remain silent regarding his experiences and departure from the site at the moment. There's a few others I could name, but..... (Shrugs)

Channel Awesome, finally after the Google Document was released, responded with, well, what some are calling an apology, although most aren't; it was pinned on their Twitter and Facebook pages, from what I gather it isn't now; I'm posting the link to that below:

https://www.facebook.com/channelawesome/photos/a.1502870036640466.1073741828.1410796249181179/2003765549884243/?type=3&theater

To be fair, one person currently apart of Channel Awesome, Malcolm Ray, who's does have his own Youtube page, but is mainly an actor on "Nostalgia Critic" also posted a response on Twitter, that explains his mostly positive perspective and experience working with Channel Awesome, the twitter thread to that is below:

https://twitter.com/MalcolmtheRay/status/981625399368142848

That response is mostly received positively, even by those who are leading the #ChangeTheChannel movement, even with a few inaccuracies regarding the timeline that he's listed. He does mention that most of the shoots and sets are better and well-equipped than what's being reported for the Anniversaries movies, which, I can believe, 'cause is lots of pieces of behind-the-scenes footage out there for most of Nostalgia Critic's more recent work. I will note, within the list of fellow current co-workers who he positively praises, including both Doug and Rob Walker, the one name that's noticeably not listed in his response, is Mike Michaud. Also, other current contributor, Walter Banasiak, and a fellow actor on "Nostalgia Critic", Tamara Lynn Chambers went on Twitter and confirmed that Malcolm's account of the current situation there is very accurate to the POV of others currently on the website. They're not the only current contributors talking, and some of those, like Tony Goldmark (aka Some Jerk With a Camera) have been much more conflicted in their regard to their employer. (Sigh)

Other than that though..., (Sigh), you know, there's not much more to say, here. It doesn't seem like Channel Awesome, they're ever really gonna fully recover from this. How could they, why would they...? I certainly would be impressed if they do begin taking some of the steps that, that obvious that they need to take but..., I mean, look, you can take, in a vacuum, most of these criticisms, grievances, and reports of behaviors and incidents, in a vacuum, and most of them you, in some possible-if-not-probable scenario, could dismiss for one reason or another as an anomaly, a mistake, a bad choice of who to trust or hire, etc., and that even goes for some of these scenarios that are quite horrific and in some cases, including some cases that skirt the line on legality..., but this isn't a vacuum. This is a constant pattern of behavior that's dismissive, abhorrent, neglectful, incompetent, and as Eddie Izzard would say, other adjectives as well, and there doesn't seem to be an awareness or desire from the higher-ups and Channel Awesome, to either explain, apologize or even an attempt to improve their practices, and in most cases learn from their behavior, at least none that's apparent to me and most others. I think mostly I'm just in awe of the fact that, so many of Channel Awesome's ex-, well they weren't all employees technically, so, contributors/reviewers/content creators/producers/others..., years afterwards still felt such,- I don't even know what the term is, annoyance, anger..., contempt, disdain perhaps, at just how egregious they were treated that years later for most of this, they come together to create such a document of grievances as this, and they feel like had to.... And to read this document, for the most part, you completely understand why. That speaks louder than most of the stuff Michaud and the Walkers are accused of, and that's where I think I'm gonna leave this for now.

I semi-joked on Twitter , that the Ghosts of Channel Awesome, had deciding to burn the place to the ground. I don't know if that was an apt metaphor or not, but if it is, then-eh, keep an eye out as the wildfire as it-eh, apparently continues to spread at this moment.....


Sunday, April 1, 2018

MOVIE REVIEWS #146: "ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL", "LOGAN LUCKY", "A QUIET PASSION", "OKJA", "CRIES FROM SYRIA", "JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND - FEATURING A VERY SPECIAL CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED MENTION OF TONY CLIFTON", "THE LOVERS", "STAYING VERTICAL", "SHIN GODZILLA", "NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU", and "SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY"

Sooooo, I started a new blog. I mentioned I would be going through a rebranding with this blog, and that's exactly what's going on. I thought about a few ways to go about this, and the process has officially started.

https://thenotafan.blogspot.com/

That's the site, and if you go to it, you'll see nothing, not even a post on there. Don't worry, it's still in the beginning design stages, I don't even is this is gonna be the look; but slowly-but-surely, I'm gonna be transferring this blog, over to "The Not-A-Fan". I'm predicting that, by the end of the year, it'll be complete and I'll be promoting and advising people as there's progress. It won't be the only blog though, 'cause I'm also gonna be creating a page that will only carry my film reviews, and unlike say this post, each film will get it's own singular review post, as oppose to, me dumping a dozen or two film reviews on you like this. Now, I'll still do that, but I'm creating the section on a separate website, and I might be doing the same for the Canon of Film, but I'm not positive on that yet, so don't hold me to that one. For those, that are curious about the name, well, I declared awhile ago that I was "Not A Fan," and don't come at entertainment with a fan's perspective, which wasn't just a perfect declaration of my point of view on cinema, but, was also, a good description of what I want the film of this blog to represent; if it doesn't already. (Shrugs) Hey, if gonna hang myself on a rope, I might as well swing on it too, so.... There we go. I'll be updating and changing and redesigning that blog, and eventually the separate Reviews blog, regularly, so if you want to keep an eye out you can, but I'd been doing this for thousands of reviews, not to mentions hundreds of blogposts, this will take awhile, no matter how I go about this, so..., we'll see. I promised it was coming, and it is.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, eh, a few older movies that I didn't review, eh, I finally got around to "Star Wars: Episode II-Attack of the Clones", yes, I never watched the Prequels, since they're "Star Wars", I figured that they weren't important or culturally relevant enough at the time to go seek them out.  I'm not wrong about that btw, but too many are insistent that I am, so I got to "The Phantom Menace" awhile back; I didn't hate it. Didn't love it or anything, but it's entertaining; it's fine. "Attack of the Clones", eh, actually is kinda bad. It's a mess, it's boring, C3PO has some really bad jokes that I probably would've rather just heard from Jar Jar Binks instead of him. It's not good. It's got some entertaining moments and scenes here and there, but no, this one I can kinda understand the angst and backlash to it. I also saw "A Handful of Dust" it's a British period piece from the '80s based off of a famous Evelyn Waugh novel. Eh, this one's kinda forgettable more than anything. Compared to say, a good Merchant-Ivory film, I can totally understand why this one's kinda forgettable. Maybe if I had more knowledge of the work, I might appreciate it a little more, but-eh, I think it kinda got lost in adaptation. I got finally got around to "The Warlords", the sprawling historical war epic from China. It's based on the Assassination of General Ma during the Qing Dynasty, which, okay, I'm not a Chinese historian, but to me the appeal is that this is a good classic, sprawling epic war movie, like something Classic Hollywood would've made, and I appreciated it, even if I had trouble following it. I always watched "Monkey Kingdom", it's a Disney documentary about monkeys. (Sigh) I really don't get why Disney suddenly decided to reopen their DisneyNature Documentary Branch division, but-eh, that was their one about monkeys. Tina Fey does the voiceover, it actually starts with "Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees", not kidding. (Shrugs) You know, I used to love "The Living Desert" when I was a kid; I don't think these latest docs get why those Disney docs from before were so appealing. Just a theory.

Alright, Happy Easter, Happy April Fools Day; try not to get those two Holidays confused, you could piss off a rabbit, and let's get to the reviews!



ABACUS: SMALL ENOUGH TO JAIL (2017) Director: Steve James

★★★★

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Leave it to Steve James to find what might be the one last true George Bailey there is in the world. It's an easy comparison to make, but yeah, you can't help but think about it and James makes it a few times over "Abacus: Small Enough to Jail" which details the trial of Abacus Federal Savings Bank, the only financial institution that was brought to trial on over 50 counts of banking violations including several accounts for fraud in the aftermath of the '08 Recession. If you read that and thought, "Wait, what's Abacus...", you're not alone, and that was the glaring issue to anybody else who understood what was going on.

Abacus Federal Savings Bank, is owned by Thomas Sung a Shanghai-born lawyer who, in the interest of serving his New York City Chinatown, founded the Savings and Loan spot back in 1984. It's a family-owned business and in his early '80s, he seems to be the genuine article. He even calmed his customers down after a run to the back occurred after the first charges against his bank were announced, and managed to stop the run by, using a police bullhorn, calmly explaining what happened and why they were gonna fight the case in trial. Literally like Bailey, he had spent generations helping the local build their homes and send their kids to college with the help of his loans. See, one disreputable employee was pocketing some mortgage deposit checks, he was quickly found out and he and several employees in on the scam were either fired or quietly resigned, and they called the FCC and reported the indicents to Fannie Mae, who of course was the one covering the loans for the houses. See, while it was several other companies that were defaulting on mortgages on a rapid pace, Abacus, despite occasionally having some incorrect details on their documentation, had the highest rate of customer who paid back their loans. Which makes sense, it was primarily a locally-run and operated business, and yet, the Prosecutors believed they could prove that there was a grand conspiracy from the bank to defraud their customers.

The movie does get interviews from many of the people involved, including members of the prosecution, who for some reason orchestrated a strange sequence where all of the Sung's that were named in the charge were arrested together and chained like a conga line, together as they walked through 100 Centre St., even though some of those handcuffed in the line were charge earlier and were brought in for the shot. It's weird and nobody has seen that happen any other time before or since, and I don't even know what they were thinking or trying there, or with anything involved in this. (The subtitle comes from a play on "Too Big to Fail") Honestly, for the great Steve James, the man behind such landmark documentaries as "Hoop Dreams" and "Life Itself", this film is maybe his most conventional and boring among his work. (Which makes it more peculiar that this is the one that finally garnered him an Oscar nomination.) I mean, I'm grading on a curve but still, subject matter aside, James would've been the last documentarian that I would've thought made this one. It's a nice story that's about as much about the community as it is the family bank and it's members all of whom are interesting on their own. I especially like the youngest daughter who worked at the D.A.'s Office before she realized they were investigating her family and immediately quit her job to work on the family's case; her way of working in the family business.

I think the appeal is that it's such an oddity in today's world to see a financial institution that honestly seems quite on the up-and-up and respected and while they have a few branches in a few state, they basically remained local and devoted to helping out their immigrant community thrive. I know, I'd want to bank there more than anywhere else I've banked in the past. Nowadays, bankers are about the only profession out there less-trusted than lawyers and politicians and for good reason. I guess it's just nice to see a story about a bank that's actually a decent local, well-run bank.

Also, Abacus, is the best name for a bank, I have ever heard. That-, that's really genius.


LOGAN LUCKY (2017) Director: Steven Soderbergh

★★★1/2

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Welcome back to the movies, Mr. Soderbergh; we're happy to have you back. I'm sorry your retirement from film didn't work out, and I'm especially sad that your Cinemax series, "The Knick" got canceled, that was a helluva TV show; really sorry that didn't last longer. (Man, Cinemax does not have good luck with capturing an audience for their regular series; I think even Starz looks down them at this point.) Anyway, what have you got for us this time? Hmm. So this was basically "Smokey and the Bandit" meets "Ocean's Eleven", isn't it. (Well, NASCAR's heavily involved so, I guess it's more "Stroker Ace" meets "Ocean's Eleven", but- eh, I like "Smokey..." better.) Digging into that well one more time I see, only in a different setting? (Shrugs) You know what, I'll take it.

It's interesting to see how when Soderbergh tends to go light-hearted and comedic in tone, he often goes for this combination of slick coolness meets slick and sly criminals. Almost always has an old school feel to it too. Most obvious is the "Ocean's" franchise, itself a remake from a movie that was the genesis of cool for it's day, but even look at say, "Out of Sight" which is more "To Catch a Thief" cool than Rat Pack cool, but it's still a throwback to that era, and with "Logan Lucky" he's doing the same thing. This time the tone is those good old-fashioned Southern capers a la Burt Reynolds in the late '70s and early '80s. He uses the Ocean's formula, but that's because all heist films use this formula. (And also, it works, why mess with it) And this is actually a pretty daring heist, where a group of down-on-their-luck West Virginian underachievers in adulthood, decide to pull off a heist of Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600. That is, actually a really good idea for a heist film.

The titular Logan family is led by Jimmie Logan (Channing Tatum) a former high school football prodigy who's on the outs with his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) and she's threatening to move her and her daughter Sadie (Farrah Mackenzie) out of state while she goes with her new husband, Moody (David Denman) a used car salesman. He recruits, firstly, his one-armed Iraqi war veteran brother, Clyde (Adam Driver) who brings in an explosives expert, Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) who's currently in prison, but that's just something that needs to be worked out, and his two brothers Fish & Sam (Jim Quaid and Brian Gleeson) who are slightly skeptical of the project, but are willing to do it, providing that they're stealing for the right reasons. There's a lot of moving parts going on, Riley Keough is a hairdresser who comes into play, but it's such a wild cameofest actually that it's kinda worth it to just leave it at this right now.

For those unfamiliar with NASCAR, the Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race on the yearly calendar, 600 miles at the Charlotte Motor Speedway which is already one of the busiest motor speedways around. (Race track typically, usually have some kind of races or actions going on weekly, even if they're smaller races and local riders.) This race isn't their biggest in terms of name recognition as say the Daytona 500 is; it's actually usually held on the same day as IndyCar's Indianapolis 500, so it's usually overshadowed in the racing world, but it's by any standard a major race on the calendar. And NASCAR racing is loud, it's pretty to believe that through all those engines roaring and 200mph for about four hours that some tunneling and construction might be going on downstairs of the track and not have anybody notice. It's legitimately smart and clever heist.

Come to think of it, it's the exact same timing that revolved around a heavyweight championship fight in "Ocean's Eleven".

You really did just take "Ocean's Eleven" and changed the setting, didn't you Steven? I should really be more angrier at you for this; this is really lazy and you've never been a lazy filmmaker before.... Eh, oh well. I was entertained; if you know what works, beat it into the ground I guess.


A QUIET PASSION (2017) Director: Terence Davies

★★★★1/2

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As strange as it may sound, I relate a lot to Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon). Not just because I'm a huge fan of her poetry either, although "I Would Not Stop for Death" is one of my favorite poems, but for better and for worst, there's a lot of things about her that I do relate too. It helps that she's the go-to example for those like me who are,- I'll just be honest here, I'm not really much of a "Death of the Author" guy, and let's face it, you think Dickinson, you think one word, "Spinster". The thing is, while that's interesting enough, why and how she became, or ended up a spinster, is equally interesting. And frankly, at times, I do get statements like, "I don't think I can imagine myself away from my family." As disturbing as that kind of declaration can be, I can understand and relate to that kind of impulse, more that I probably should. It also makes her relentlessly fascinating to everyone, myself included, and yet, kinda difficult to make a really interesting piece of art based on her.

"A Quiet Passion" is probably as close as we're ever gonna get to this...- Although I say that, and I know that there's another Dickinson project in the works that analyzes the rumored lesbian attractions she had, which-eh, I knew there's always been a few rumors with her and Susan Gilbert (Jodhi May) her aristocratic Sister-in-law. as well as her sister Vinnie's (Jennifer Ehle) best friend Vryling (Catherine Bailey) and Director Terence Davies, he allows a little reading between the lines with their conversations. (And casting Nixon, who not only is an out lesbian but actually bears a striking similarity to Dickinson certainly doesn't hurt) but I don't think that's a main intention of Davies. Anybody can make up or insinuate or explain Dickinson's behavior and actions, the key, and I think he realizes this, is that in order to fully get into Dickinson's mind, herself. A daunting task, but one that I think he damn-near succeeds at. It's not that he's measuring every grief she ever meets, but he clearly sees that it's all another layer of grief to her, so naturally as time goes on, she grows more and more insular. Already an outcast who, except for her time at Amherst when she was a kid, she's mostly an introvert. Her family is rich, in fact her family founded that college so she's educated and she's got relatives and friends who help her become cultured, but she's clearly one of those people who just sees the inevitable triviality of the world around her, and it depresses the hell out of her. Most people know that she spent the majority of her later life, basically never leaving her house. She wrote poetry all the time and was actually published more than people realize during her life, but she was never a celebrity and when her family, after her death tried to publish her work, they tried to fix some of the poems and their non-traditional use of hyphens and rhyming patterns. She even argued with one publisher about how he sees her work always like fairy tales, which, yes, she shares a rhyming pattern with something that wouldn't seem out of place in Mother Goose, but she uses that to enhance and strengthen her work.

The movie finds ways of her confronting these facts that are mostly known about her post-mortem, but we get some nice scenes with her, including some as a teenager (Emma Bell) getting thrown out of a religious prep school because she pissed off too many administrators with her questions about God and religion. I'm describing a dark film, but that's the paradox of Dickinson, she grew up wealthy and her life actually was kind bright at one point. In another world, she could've been a character in "The Great Gatsby" or something, but she slowly rejected the artifice that her conservative well-to-do family would rather try to uphold. The Civil War is one turning point for her, her brother Austin (Duncan Duff) go into a fight with their father (Keith Carradine),  over whether he should join or pay the fee to buy out of the draft. Emily is of course more distraught that such a war ever should've took place. That's the kind of disjointedness she had with her family, which she loved, but we're clearly not on the same wavelength.

Cynthia Nixon's performance and Davies's meticulous direction make this film. Nixon's most known for "Sex and the City", but she's been acting since "Little Darlings"; she's one of those classic New York actresses who if she ever really wanted to be as big, she could've in L.A. and be listed on-the-tip of everyone's tongue for one of the great character actresses today, but preferred to stay local; taking roles here and there that she cared about often in the theater world, but occasionally for film and television. I don't know if this is her best work, but her complete work I've seen in a film so far, and Davies directing takes a performance that might've been great but otherwise lost to history and makes it insanely memorable. Fame seems to be a fickle food for both Dickinson and Nixon's who's complex relationship with it took a really interesting turn recently as she's now running for New York Governor, a decision I'm mostly annoyed at because I had Cynthia Nixon in my EGOT pool. Hey, she's got a Tony, Emmy, and believe it or not, a Grammy already, if she ever found the right role in the right film,.... Well, I guess that theory's out the window, but if this is the closest she ever gets to that illustrious honor, than it's a great one to leave off on.


OKJA (2017) Director: Bong Joon-Ho

★★★

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Bong Joon-Ho has been one of the more fascinating, yet frustrating directors around for me. I've ranged wildly on his films, sometimes thinking quite highly of them as with his best film, the emotional murder-mystery, "Mother" to finding his work comically awful and ridiculously over-the-top like "The Host" and a little like his last film, "Snowpiercer" which others seemed to like a lot more than I did. "Okja" is somewhere in between the outrageous premise of "Snowpiercer" and the special effects monster movie of "The Host". Basically it's...- "Charlotte's Web" on steroid, literal steroids. Okay, GMOs, and not really "Charlotte's Web", it's more, I don't know, "Shiloh", "Beethoven", any kind with a beloved animal story I guess.

So, this movie begins with a really stupid idea, with Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, because of course) is the heir to Mirando Corp. and in an effort to help alter the chemical company's abhorrent history, decides to hold a contest around the world for who can raise the biggest and best new genetically-engineered food supplying animal that they've created, which is genetically created, for lack of a better word, Superpig. Already, waist-down in the "Not making sense shit", until you realize, (And when I say "realize," it's not like it's a reveal, it's pretty obvious actually) that Mirando, is an obvious stand-in for another infamous company that begins with an M and ends with an O, that probably invented products that harmed a lot of people, especially in foreign countries. Ironically, that's an odd motif that keeps popping up in Bong's films, I'm beginning to notice. Although, by no means a surprising one.

Anyway, the winning Superpig, ten years later is the titular Okja, a Korean superpig who's being taken to New York for-eh, fame, promotion and slaughter, I guess...- God, this was a stupid idea. Here's our new great animal for all the world to see, now let's eat it! I-eh; what?! (Sigh) Anyway, Okja's best friend, a farmer's daughter named Mija (An Seo Hyun) decides that's a horrible idea and just decides to go run off and rescue Okja. Somehow she breaks into Mirando's Seoul headquarters and on foot, manages to catch the big rig that Okja is traveling in. That's around the time that Okja is kidnapped by the Animal Liberation Front, a peaceful group of eco-terrorists led by Jay (Paul Dano, because of course it is.) who works to try to help Mija reunite with Okja, but they need to use Okja as bait, to prove that Mirando uses some abusive tactics on the animals.

So, I get it, this is a children's fable, and it's also a satire on, business and culture, as well as a warning about GMOs. (Most major countries have laws that requiring GMOs being labeled on food, something the U.S. has for reasons that make no logical sense, have not yet adapted.) This is also a very broad Asian-style comedy; it reminded me at times of say Stephen Chow's "The Mermaid" or something along those lines, only it's got a western cast and they're surprisingly good at adapting to this style. I didn't even bring up some really strong performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and in particular Shirley Henderson, who's normal squeaky voice is so amplified that until I finally got a decent look at her I thought she was Yeardley Smith for about half the movie. Because I think it's a requirement now, Tilda Swinton again plays multiple roles here as both Lucy and her evil twin sister Nancy, the more cold-hearted unflashy businesswoman member of the Mirando clan; personally I think it would've been stronger if these characters were combines and Lucy was just revealed to be more two-faced than we would've thought, but I guess it works. Giancarlo Esposito has a nice role as both sister's assistants; admittedly a cliche for a guy who played the Magic Mirror in "Once Upon a Time", and he seems to be the straightest of straight guys here in this movie that's over-the-top everywhere else, but I think that also works to his advantage here.

I think I'm less receptive to this side of Bong Joon-Ho's work; I think when he dives into fantasy he's more interested in effects and metaphor than he is good storytelling, which I know he can do, but I guess if I were to appreciate this side of him, I could appreciate "Okja" the most, for being the most original of these films of his I've seen. I guess that's why I'll recommend it, plus the special effects are quite special here. I'll say this, the guy has a lot of ideas, maybe too many in some of his movies, but at least they're interesting one usually.


CRIES FROM SYRIA (2017) Director: Evgeny Afineevsky

★★★★★



(Sigh) Do I really have to review, this?

Goddammit. Yeah, "Cries from Syria" is...- a lot of dead children. It's one of the first images, it's an image that's shown, along with several, several, (Depressing sigh) several, other images of the dead. I'm telling you this now, because, essentially the movie is more than that, but that's all I'm really gonna remember. We've been getting a lot of documentaries about Syria lately, there's a reason. That's where all the shit is happening. You know, I heard people during the last election, some truly idiotic people talking about how they didn't want to vote for Hillary Clinton because she was supposedly a "Warhawk". They feared that because of Russia's involvement in Syria, she would send troops there. I'm not sold that either A. she's a warhawk or B. that she would've, but she probably should've. Trump probably should've too. Not just because Russia's involved although they are and they are destroying the civilians there, but because, well, they need help and we're the ones with the ability to provide it. Those that somehow escape and become refugees, are treated like shit in half-the-countries they're temporarily placed in, and frankly the fact that they got out or survived at all is amazing, and this is movie is, somewhat about them, but mostly it's documenting the slaughtering of everyone else.

For those who don't remember, in 2011, the Arab Spring took over the Islam world and democracy suddenly spread over several countries as they overthrew their leaders, Tunisia, Egypt among others, and Syria got caught up in it as well. Now, for the most part, the rest of the transitions were, considering the region, surprisingly peaceful, at least more peaceful than they probably could've been considering their histories. Syria, was not so lucky; it's long-standing dictator Bashir Al-Assad, decided to fight back and they've been fighting ever since. He's got the Syria government, along with the Russian government's backing, and everything from regular bombs and attacks to full on chemical warfare at his disposal. Oh, and ISIS is also somewhere in this mess causing chaos of their own. The Resistance is also divided to some extent and they made some mistakes. The film is cobbled together from footage of whatever they can, whether it be from a high class camera or from a cell phone. Every time you think you get a small break, there's more destruction. Hospitals being bombed and assaulted as they're trying to serve the injured and dying of those that just came in. Parents and kids dying on tables next to each other, and by kids, I mean some of them are babies. It's no wonder why teenagers in this country are themselves trying to be militarized.

The movie that this most reminds me of is "A Film Unfinished" a documentary from years ago that was about the Nazi films of the Holocaust that they themselves filmed. Like that movie, it's basically a document of atrocities, except it's not happening in the past; this is all the stuff that, even during the most gruesome days in Vietnam when the media truly was independent from the government, a lot of this footage even they wouldn't air. Yet, it needs to be seen. One way or another this is the battlefield for the 21st Century's version of a supposed "Cold War" and we're gonna end up dragged into this in one way or another either way; it might be kicking and screaming, but at some point, the longer this continues... and there is no end in sight at the moment, we're gonna have to be there, and God help us to do our damnedest to help the innocent and take out the Dictatorship and those who fund them and those who try to take advantage of all sides for their own selfish causes, and God help us that we don't somehow make it worst. I have absolutely no idea whether this is the best of the Syrian documentaries or not that we've gotten, but it's the most shocking and disturbing of the bunch. Yes, they show the White Helmets, yes a lot of this footage comes from the ragtag groups of on-the-ground "journalists" who document this footage, yes there's talking heads to put it in context, but this movie is about images. Powerful, distressing, nauseating images of what a violent Civil War in the Cradle of Civilization has become and I will not be able to get them out of my mind for awhile. It's a hard watch; but it needs to be seen.


JIM & ANDY: THE GREAT BEYOND - FEATURING A VERY SPECIAL CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED MENTION OF TONY CLIFTON (2017) Director: Chris Smith

★★★★

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So, I've heard rumors about this for awhile now, from several differing sources. Just scattered hints about Jim Carrey's behavior while on the set of "Man on the Moon", the Milos Forman-directed biopic on the great Andy Kaufman. I've heard bits and pieces of the reports, but the big rumor was always that he pissed off and annoyed so many of those around him that it cost him an Oscar nomination for the role. "Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - Featuring a Avery Special Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton" is a compilation of both Carrey's interview along with behind-the-scene footage of the movie along with occasional comparison clips of Andy Kaufman. Now, when I remember hearing about the casting, I wasn't a big Jim Carrey fan, but I distinctly remember thinking this was perfect casting. I'm not quite positive it's as perfect a casting as I originally thought, but I honestly can't think of anybody else I would cast as Kaufman, but that's got a lot more to do with Kaufman being such a strange and unique figure.

If you're not familiar with Andy Kaufman, or the biopic, "Man on the Moon" to begin with, this'll sound a little bit weird, but Kaufman wasn't so much a legendary stand-up, although he was that, but he was essentially one of the early modern experimental performance artists, ones that really challenged what exactly performance was. He was funny as hell, but he'd much rather antagonize and frustrate the audience before ever letting them in on the joke. He would have multiple voices and personalities, he even infamously wrestled women which led to a real wrestling angle that spread out on the David Letterman show,- when he died, nobody believed it, everybody thought it was one of his pranks. (Some claim it still is in fact, even close friends and acquaintances of his.)

So, Carrey, an unpredictable comic with a brilliant skill for both imitation and mimicry, he seemed like a natural choice. And he is talented, but for some reason, he decided to go a little too, method, with the performance. Apparently on-set at all times, he was in character, and in some cases, he's claimed that he was basically taken over by Andy Kaufman from the great beyond, during the whole production. And he drove everyone nuts and from what I can tell, was really obnoxious. He's talented as all Hell, there's a great shot of him just slipping into Tony Clifton, Andy's infamous abusive lounge singer, it's startling how good he is at imitating Tony Clifton, and the way he can contort his body and face is absolutely ridiculous. He does a pretty good Kaufman too, during the shooting but also everywhere else. It's not a great Kaufman, and you gotta remember, this movie had a lot of people in it who were actual friends and acquaintances of Kaufman and knew how he acted on set, and that's when the stories started to peel out. A lot of them have to do with Jim completely ignoring those who would tell him what Andy would do and how he'd do it. Instead Carrey, seems just to be using this shoot for his own chaos. Now, I can't say that Andy wouldn't do that, 'cause he had occasionally; that said, it still seems like he was going over the top. It's fascinating to watch and to hear Carrey's perspective on what he was doing. He was convincing if nothing else.

Those who thinks Hollywood actors may be a bit up their own ass with their work, especially method acting performances will probably not be convinced elsewise by this film, but it's an entertaining documentary about how an actor approaches a role and what happens to that performer. The movie does showcase other parts of Carrey's career as well as Andy Kaufman's, although I suspect they have less in common that Jim might've convinced himself that they do. By all accounts, Andy, when he wasn't performing, which might've been never admittedly, but he seemed to be a nice, sweet guy and by some accounts I've heard of Jim Carrey, he's occasionally been a bit of a handful to deal with at times in his career, none worst it seems than during this time. It led to a good movie and an award-winning performance, sure, so I guess it was worth but Carrey does straddle that line between performing and just being obnoxious. Either way, this film is utterly fascinating, whether you buy into Carrey's assertions or not.


THE LOVERS (2017) Director: Azazel Jacobs

★★1/2

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Okay, before I even get into anything else, and I don't normally bitch about this detail, but the Score for "The Lovers" is awful. I don't know what the hell they were going for, but I hated this score. It felt like,- I think they were kinda going for an operatic vibe, but every time this loud pompous score would blare through the screen, it took right out of the movie.

And what of this movie, "The Lovers". Well, I don't normally make this criticism, because it isn't really a good critique; it's not meeting the movie on it's own terms, but this movie is told in the wrong genre. It's not completely off, we're still in the subgenre of romantic-comedy essentially, but this is a film that's played for drama essentially, but my God, if any plot is begging to a comedic farce....- Okay, so, "The Lovers" are Mary and Michael (Debra Winger and Tracy Letts) an aging couple that's fallen out of love with each other, and are both in the middle of having affairs, and both of them, are pressured to tell the other by their fellow paramour to leave their marriage and both of whom are somewhat gunshy about that prospect, especially when their son Joel (Tyler Ross) calls to announce he's coming home from college for a visit, so both Michael and Mary decide to hold off revealing their affairs until after Joel and his girlfriend he brings, Erin (Jessica Sula) head back to college.
See, even without giving details of who their cheated on each other with, this is already a funny premise, for a farce, and yet, it's a rom-com, but it takes itself way too seriously. Mary's dating a younger writer named Robert (Aiden Gillen) and Michael has fallen for a bit of a crazed, obsessive dancer named Lucy (Melora Walters) and while they're both frustrated and annoyed with having to deal with their double-lives for a little bit longer, Mary and Michael's own romance starts to heat up.

Yes, this is a movie, where a husband and wife, are essentially cheating on their partners, with their own spouse. And it's played, for romance?!?!?! You know, I tried to accept this, I mean, I know Azazel Jacobs's work a bit; he did a movie that was also a dark comedy called "Terri" that I really liked and he's been directing some television I really admire like "Doll & Em" and especially the most underrated show on TV, "Mozart of the Jungle", but I don't see what he's going for here. It seems like he wants to zero in on the amazing romance between this husband and wife, and it's refreshing idea, I'll give it that, and this could still work in the right context. Noah Baumbach's "Mistress America", the great film penned by Greta Gerwig was also a slow-moving farce that feature a main, relationship at it's core that would lead to a hilariously and disastrous third act old-school single-location farce, comedic farce, but this plays almost like tragedy, even with the tagline joke at the end that I won't give away entirely, 'cause it's funny and progressive, even. which I guess could be the point, but I think it could've gotten there without playing so much the emotional connection and instead play the plot. (And also, this has a lot to do with the ear-bleeding score seeming completely at odds with where the movie wants to go too.)

I was gonna, kinda let this slide, because there is a lot of good here, the acting especially, but after I thought about this for awhile, I couldn't get around why this movie was constructed the way it was? Maybe it's just me rewriting it in my head, but honestly, I shouldn't be thinking about doing that. Remember that Woody Allen movie, "Melinda and Melinda", where he showed up the same plot elements but told from two different perspectives, so you had the same story first as tragedy and then told as comedy, and they also cast the story differently based on the genre? Okay, if you ever do see this, imagine this movie, with a more comedic cast. Nothing against these actors, they were great, especially Melora Walters, who's criminally underused, just in general, but inside of maybe, Letts and Winger, maybe we had, eh, I don't know, Bill Murray and-eh,  Jane Curtin for instance, in the leads, and maybe he cheats with Tilda Swinton and she cheats with, I don't know, Alex Karpovsky perhaps. Even if you don't change the tone, this is already a more interesting film, but turn this material into something slightly more comedy-centric.... I don't know, maybe he's going for realism, and on that level I guess it worked, but there is enough off about this movie, in it's current form that makes me suspect that were better options that were available and the people involved were capable of pulling off. For that reason, I gotta reluctantly pan this. You might appreciate it on a first viewing, the more I thought about it the less it worked.


STAYING VERTICAL (2017) Director: Alain Guaraudie

★★

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So, I'm not terribly familiar with Alain Guaraudie's work, like, at all, so you might have to take this review with a grain of salt, but, from what I can gather, this film is not that unusual for him. Take that for whatever that's supposed to mean, for me, my initial observation was that for a film called "Staying Vertical" it had a lot to do with it's characters constantly being horizontal. Not to mention a particular focus on a vagina when it's in a horizontal position. There are a lot of sex scenes and a lot of vagina closeups in this movie. I'm sure there's a reason for them....

(Shrugs) Honestly, I'll spoil the review a bit here, but this movie mostly just bored and confused me. What the hell happened here, based on the description I read, it sounded like "Three Men and a Baby" minus the two other men. Sure, that was originally a French film that was darker than the American remake I suspect most of you are more familiar with but still, that's not gonna help you, or me, try and figure out this movie, that seems to be a movie about how babies are like wolves that eat our sheep and so we, eh,  love them?!?!?!

So, the movie has a weird opening, that I'm told is important involving the main character, a screenwriter named Leo (Damien Bonnard) sees a kid, Yoan (Basile Meilleurat) who he mentions that he thinks he could be in movies and basically sorta/not really but kinda, propositions him. Honestly, it's creepy and I'd rather just think of this scene as the arbitrary Steinbeck opening scene, that's supposed to give us insight into the characters through an unusual scene. At least I hope that was an unusual scene, although I doubt it. Anyway, he drives down to some rural house, (Apparently this director likes to shoot in rural France, a lot.) and eventually he comes across a young woman named Marie (India Hair) and after a few moments, they have sex and jump cut to a kid being born. Again, I'm not joking about the vagina closeups. Leo, at some point ends up back at the house, where apparently Yoan actually lives with an old man, Marcel (Christian Bouillette) who I presume is the Kid's grandfather, and I- I guess he mostly listens to this acid rock track that perpetuates much of the movie. (I'm not 100% positive but I think it's "Persephone" by Wishbone Ash; um, remind me to defer to my music friend on that one, that's a little outside even my classic rock purview, but-eh, I like the song anyway.) At some point, Marie isn't there anymore and while he's supposedly working on a script, he's now watching a baby. (Shrugs) And yeah, there's this thing with wolves terrorizing the shepherd's sheep...- I'm sure there's a metaphor or point I'm missing with this but I don't really care if I ever dissect this and figure it out.

"Staying Vertical" is a pretentious mess, and not in the good way either. I think there's a bit of flash forwards and flashbacks in this as well, and that just makes it more confusing. There's the mood piece elements like the acid rock soundtrack and the ambience of the French prairies and grazing land, but even these moods seem to be from different movies. It's like part, "High Art" and part "The Tree of Life", those are two great films that you could describe as mood pieces, but they don't go together tone-wise, and I'll be damned what any of that has to do with the plot about the baby and the relationship and what that has to do with his career as a filmmaker/screenwriter, whatever. Oh, and all the goddamn sex scenes....- Look, I'm not a prude, at least not when it comes to movies, but I-, I guess they're an interesting couple and that she leaves this kid with him. Hell, that should've been the plot of this movie, like I referred to earlier. I think we're supposed to care and ride along with Leo as he goes through these erratic feelings and emotions, but here's the thing, A. he doesn't change enough for us to care about him, and he already started out like a creep, and B. it doesn't seem like he really goes through any substantial changes, at least none that I can see, not enough for me to care about how well he's improved. Maybe this makes sense within Guaraudie's work, but I doubt it's actually any good either way, honestly.


SHIN GODZILLA (2016) Director: Hideako Anno; Co-Director: Shinji Higuchi

★★★★

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So, just as a general rule, and partially as a joke,  I've always tended to think that we as Americans should just leave Godzilla movies to Japan, well, after seeing "Shin Godzilla", yes, we should definitely leave the Godzilla movies to Japan, mainly 'cause based on what I've seen, they do them a lot better than we ever will. Case in point: "Shin Godzilla". Now, I'm not a Godzilla aficionado, or expert, I've seen one or two films in the-eh, mother genre, "Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell" for instance, but Godzilla, has just never been an idea that translates well, but I'm an American, and Godzilla or Gojira, as he's known there, has a lot of powerful connotation, starting originally with how he was the end result of the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This case however, while there is part of that story, this movie I like in particular more than any other, "Godzilla" film I've seen, which is admittedly a sample size I can write on a piece of confetti, but this one, is both symbolically powerful, as well as just a well-scripted logically interesting film.

The metaphor this time, as a lot of Japanese art has been using, is of course the Tohoku Earthquake and subsequent tsunami that killed, over 18,000. However, the movie doesn't focus so much on the Godzilla creature as it does, with everyone dealing with it. Conveniently, this Godzilla, which runs on nuclear radiation has a temporary period of time where he has to pause and, refuel in an area populated with radiation periodically, granted much damage is caused in the meantime, but it's a great device for the politicians, scientists, diplomats, business executives, and other locals and foreign dignitaries as well, to figure out and dissect a plan of attack. I'm sure this is something that's always been apart of Godzilla films to one extent or another, but it's never been such a focus for me, not like this. This is a boardroom movie where the boardroom may not survive the next day. It's not that surprising and it's even cliche in disaster movies, but it works. There's a lot of tension and drama and it's actually impressive and smart how they try to figure out how to defeat and manipulate it. Reminds me of stuff like, the original filmed version of "War of the Worlds", or more impressively like Steven Soderbergh's "Contagion', yes, it's a giant nuclear dinosaur trying to destroy Japan, but this movie deals with it in a realistic and believable way, even during the most harrowing and horrific of scenarios.

I like both aspects a lot, the destruction and special effects were great, and I equally love the international diplomacy at bay as Japan's government struggles to keep itself standing while the rest of the world also fights to determine what the true best approach to destroy Godzilla. This was a surprising intense and enjoyable experience. Apparently this is a reboot of "Godzilla" so it's no technically involved in any of the main Godzilla worlds,-, those things I can barely care about. That said, we have a good film with strong writing and a real good cast. I had trouble following who played who, and part of that is my unfamiliarity with Japanese actors but there's a lot of constant stream of new characters coming in anyway, it's like "24" how every four or five episodes, somebody new comes in and declares that they're in charge. If you don't particularly have affection for Godzilla this'll probably be the Godzilla movie for you, but I suspect Godzilla fans will also enjoy and appreciate this as well.


NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU (2016) Directors: Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady

★★★★

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So, one of the best and most underrated shows on television at the moment is Netflix's reboot of "One Day at a Time", I highly recommend it; it's a modern-day take on the original series, (Which BTW, is also seriously underrated) of a struggling single mother raising two kids. It sets the story in Miami, the family is now Latino, it adds a grandmother character played by Rita Moreno and is one of the sharpest, freshest and most progressive and funny sitcoms on television right now, arguably one of the best three-camera series on TV right now, and it actually proves despite a lot of trepidation that that format is still viable and can work on a premium streaming service, and more impressively maybe, under the Netflix release method. The original series was of course created by Norman Lear, the shocking thing is that, he's involved in this show; in fact he's an executive producer still, and not in name only. No, he's not running series the way he used to in the '70s when he had six shows in the Top Ten at one point, but this guy, is in his mid-90s; as youthful and vigorous as ever, the guy dates back to the earliest days of television-; he was a writer on "The Colgate Comedy Hour" and he's still revolutionizing television, to this day. He's one of my heroes, truly, and he should be everybody's hero who's in this industry.

"Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You", which admittedly is a title that unfortunately makes me think of that horrible Season Three theme song of "Felicity", which he had nothing to do with thank God, is a fascinating documentary on Lear, who is more relevant and important than ever all of a sudden. It's a biodocumentary that analyzes the myth, the legend and the man. It's fascinating to know that he helped write and make up on all of them. The guy is basically the response everyone should have when people complain that three-camera sitcoms don't seem realistic. There's nothing new here for people like me, who've idolized Lear for years, although he admits that some stories about his past that have been legend, but some legends are true. He owns a copy of the Constitution that he often donates for displays during major events like the Salt Lake City Olympics. Something that I found interesting was how he quit television, not because of a lack of success or too much work, (Although he was amazingly overworked considering how many Top Ten shows he was running at the same time) but to fight the Moral Majority influence in America. I mean, good, but it's amazing to think that he feared them having that kind of power and influence. (He wasn't wrong on that either). Of course, I was most interested in the classic behind-the-scene footage of him on the TV sets like "Good Times" and "The Jefferson" and going back and forth between all of them.

Overall, he remains a sharp, fascinating and talented man, with the energy and mindset of something much younger man, and the determination and clout to basically do whatever he wants. He's more of a sad figure to some extent. One who's a great observer of human behavior and a storyteller of others, and yet, surprisingly coy and nervous about how he talks about his own family. I'm glad he's back to work revolutionizing television; that's what he was built to do and arguably nobody's ever been better at it. Definitely watch "Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You", and then, go and watch all those great versions of him he's created. Maybe start with Archie Bunker, or go backwards and start with Penelope Alvarez, either way.


SEED: THE UNTOLD STORY (2016) Co-Directors: Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel

★★★1/2

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I actually knew a little bit about this, going into "Seed: The Untold Story". I looked into it somewhat when I watch Ramin Bahrani's film "At Any Price" which was about main characters who sold seeds to farmers in the Midwest, and the territorial war going on between the chemical and GMO companies that produced those seeds that they were forcing to sell to farmers, after they had bought up most of the more natural seeds they had, mainly 'cause I wanted to look up if that was a real thing; which it turns out, it was. It's like when you hear about Nestle trying to buy the water rights in parts of South America and you think that sounds like a weird conspiracy theory nonsense, but then you look it up and it's way worst than you thought it would be. That's kinda the story of what's been going on with seeds lately.

Directors Jon Betz and Taggart Siegel, the latter you might remember from some other ethereal documentaries about farming like "The Real Dirt on Farmer John", dissect this story and give us a good historical overview on why important. I know, that sounds like the kind of thing that shouldn't have to be said, actually you'd be shocked. Protecting seeds, in an emergency, could be the thing that saves civilization, and we have not been doing it. For those who are foodies, it can saddening to hear about how many varietals of food out there, that just, do not exist anymore. I don't know there used to be so many different kinds of cabbages, and now there's like, three, worldwide. I never liked cabbage that much, but hell, if I had known, I would've at least tried to some of the others to see if I like them, if I had the opportunity, and that goes for nearly every fruit or vegetable you can think of. The metaphor they keep going back to is that Seeds are both life, naturally, but also, in some ways, currency. There's a lot of talk about how, back in the day, seeds were something that's collected as such and saved, because, essentially they kept you alive, you farmed them and then your food resources would be set for the year. In fact, that's the great metaphor of "Jack and the Beanstalk", it's seeds that lay the golden eggs. They're right really, we tend to think about Jack as the dimwit who made a bad deal, but actually, it is totally the opposite. I bet beans go pretty well with golden eggs, assuming they're the right kind of beans of course.

Lately though, these GMO seeds and the companies that create them have not only infiltrated the market but have severely eliminated a lot of it. Some because the seeds weren't good, and polluted the land, other times, they've basically indebted farmers to indentured servants, and make them personally indebted to them by buying out the seeds and their lands. It's bad in America, although there's some fighting back against companies like Monsanto, (Of course, Monsanto was involved...) but it's apparently worst in places like India. I'm simplifying and leaving out parts of the history, 'cause the science is even tricky for me to follow, I was never good at biology, but basically, a couple bad turns and we could seriously be running out of food soon.

That's why there's been several seed banks and seed storage sites opened up around the world, and why there is a vast effort to collect as many seeds and beans as possible. We see some of these people who travel the world collecting as many varietals of seeds, and even one guy who's traveling in Africa seeking out need food sources in general that he hopes he can introduce into the food supply. That is a difficult process, but it is possible.

I suspect "Seed..." is only gonna be about as interesting to you as you are in the subject, admittedly it takes me a little while to dive in, but it is an important subject and they seem to cover every aspect of it, and do it well-enough. I wish I knew or I'd save some seed those few times I actually eat a fruit. This movie made me want to learn how, so, that's a recommendation to me.