Friday, September 18, 2020

ANOTHER ROUND: TIFF 2020 HIGHLIGHT #4



It makes sense that Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round was put out by Lars Von Trier’s production company (Zentropa). The story kind of plays out like an actual Lars Von Trier film to some degree (Von Trier & Vinterberg have had a 20+ year friendship & working relationship). The basic plot of the film is centered around a set of loose/unofficial rules. Four school teachers come up with the idea/theory that by keeping alcohol in their system constantly it will help & improve their overall life. There’s lots of games that people add alcohol to in order to make them more fun. From peer pong to taking a shot every time someone does something repetitive, alcohol - when consumed as responsible as possible - can make things slightly more enjoyable. The teachers in the film adopt this basic premise and apply it to every day life.
If you stop and think for a second, this sounds like something out of a Lars Von Trier film.
Anyone familiar with his work knows that the plots to his movies, the process/making of his movies (or both) are usually bound by a set of rules (The Idiots & Epidemic), chapters/sections (Breaking The Waves, Manderlay, Dogville), laws and/or beliefs (The Element Of Crime). Another Round is no different. Our characters set out a basic set of rules & guidelines to live life by.
Thomas Vinterberg is no stranger to setting rules, guidelines, laws or restrictions around his movies either. His directorial debut (The Celebration) was the first Dogma feature so it was created by following rules. The characters in his misunderstood/underrated movie Dear Wendy are also bound by a set a specific guidelines they follow. This latest effort fits in with the rest of his (good) body of work perfectly.

It’s important to note that the main characters in Another Round are teachers. My mother was a high school teacher so I’ve seen that side of things. It can drain you and break your spirit. Dealing with teenagers that aren’t your own can be tiring even for one day (sometimes you have to deal with the teens and their parents). Imagine that being your job for decades. I’m not saying teachers deserve unconditional sympathy just because they’re teachers. They chose their line of work. No one forced them to do what they do. But with teaching, and almost any other profession, you sometimes hit a wall. You become jaded and less passionate about what you do every day (the first 20-25 minutes of Another Round are incredibly sad & depressing).
In an effort to combat the sadness & depression and make life “fun” again, the four friends/teachers keep their alcohol levels at a specific range at all times to feel some form of happiness. To me that’s both funny and sad. Mostly sad. If drinking is the only thing that makes life enjoyable then there might be a bigger problem to address (which does slowly come out in the film).

The experiment starts to work. The teachers find meaning again. Their students are happier and the overall tone of the film changes and that sad depressed vibe we get at the beginning is replaced with silliness, joy & happiness.
But, like most humans, the teachers push things too far and what starts out as a fun experiment eventually breaks down and becomes a problem.

When Thomas Vinterberg isn’t phoning it in (Kurske, Far From The Madding Crowd, etc), he has this unique ability to show how childish, silly & irrational adults can be in a really fascinating way. The family in The Celebration, the brothers in Submarino and the supporting cast in The Hunt are all perfect examples of this. The childishness & irrationality of men comes out in Vinterberg’s films more than anything else. But not necessarily in a judgy way. It just is what it is and a lot of men are wired a certain way. I don’t mean to make this all about gender but Another Round plays out like an updated slightly more sensitive Danish remake of Cassavetes’ Husbands. Besides the obvious fact that alcohol fuels both movies, it shows how, at times, men revert to being little boys even when they’re pushing 50. Women do the same thing but this particular movie just so happens to be about about men.
I may be reaching here (this wouldn’t be the first time), but Another Round speaks to the people who sometimes grow sick of their family life and daydream about doing whatever they want as a way to both “escape” and avoid a life of predictability & monotony. To have those thoughts is understandable. As humans we have a lot of irrational & unrealistic thoughts every day. That’s fine. But acting on it is another thing. Not everyone subscribes to what I’m about to say but when you hold a job, have a wife and children (like the main characters in Another Round), you sometimes have to put others first. You should always take care of yourself first in order to do for yourself and others to the best of your ability, but when you have a family you really can’t do whatever you want (even if you don’t have a family you can’t just do whatever you want).

What’s so great about Another Round is that in someone else’s hands it could’ve been a mediocre goofy comedy about teachers being drunk on the job. But Thomas Vinterberg made a sad, soulful & somewhat celebratory film about men dealing with a mid-life crisis and I honestly love that.

Monday, September 14, 2020

NOMADLAND: TIFF 2020 HIGHLIGHT #3



While watching Chloe Zhao’s excellent Nomadland I was immediately reminded of Kelly Reichardt’s Wendy & Lucy. I imagine Frances Mcdormand’s “Fern” is where Michelle William’s “Wendy” will be in 30 years after the events of Wendy & Lucy. But then realism set in. The realism that Zhao portrays in that even if you want to be a nomad/gypsy/transient, you still have to have some sort of steady/regular-ish income in order to live/exist in the specific way both Wendy & Fern want to live. There has to be some kind of a “trail”...

You can’t get an address without an address. You get a job without a job. It’s all fixed - Security Guard (Wendy & Lucy)

I like Wendy & Lucy very much but there is a bit of fantasy to it. The plans & goals set in the film don't seem realistic. Unlike Wendy, Fern has her shit together a bit more (she's also older and more experienced). Fern isn’t exactly homeless. To use her own words; I’m not homeless. I am without a house. She lives in a camper/RV. She also has a bit of money saved and would be eligible for retirement benefits (although not enough to live off of at this point in her life). She’s part of a community of people who live in campers/RVs/cars/vans/etc. This (real) community exists because they are the remnants of the small town of Empire, Nevada that essentially went extinct (Empire was kept alive by a local mine which employed a lot of the town. When the mine closed the town slowly died). Midway in to Wendy & Lucy there is some brief talk about how a mill closed in town leaving a lot of people jobless, making the bond between the two films even stronger.
Fern and her small community get by working various part time & seasonal jobs in order to live and maintain their nomadic lifestyle. At Nomadland feels like a mix between a documentary on day to day living and a handy instructional video on nomadic life. We’re shown how to maintain a camper, how to fix flat tires, how to barter for the right stuff and how to live in tight/small spaces. This makes a lot of sense as Zhao’s first films are just as much fiction as they are non-fiction (her previous films use real people/non-professional actors from the actual communities that Zhao documents in her work).


Nomadland is an obvious comment on the idea of work and what it actually means to have a job (along with the struggles of being unemployed). If I were to compare it to other films, I’d say it was kind of a continuation of Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You. If anything, some of the characters in Sorry We Missed You will eventually be forced to live like Fern and her friends down the road as the cost of living continues to go up everywhere. Nomadland is also a close 2nd cousin to Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You (definitely not in tone but in terms of major companies literally using poor people to keep the machine going). The way Zhao uses amazon in her latest film is similar to how Boots Riley portrays google in his.
Actually, I'm kind of confused/surprised as to how Amazon allowed their factories and logos to be used all throughout a movie that's about poor people working for them and not being able to make a living wage.


Vagabond /
Nomadland


And I imagine at some point down the road some film programmer will pair Nomadland with Agnes Varda’s Vagabond as part of some themed double feature. The basic skeletal stories have much in common and they’re shot similarly (one thing I did notice is that unlike the other aforementioned movies in this review, Chloe Zhao doesn’t really play up the added layer/danger of a woman living on the road on her own. Perhaps Fern has been in dangerous situations in the past and now knows how to avoid all of that).

Nomadland is also a character study. When Fern is offered help she gets both standoffish and aggressive at the same time. When she’s offered friendship she accepts it but still keeps everyone at a distance. There are various reasons why she lives they way she does (and the film gives little tiny hints and clues as to maybe why that might be), but I think a major reason why is that she’s just wired a certain way that can’t really be described or nailed down. Yes, she’s realistically eccentric, but she’s not “off” or weird or crazy (something I imagine the average person would call her). Just mildly eccentric (although not in a distracting way). This aspect of the story is interesting as Mcdormand really nails the little tiny mannerisms and shows a side of her acting we really haven’t seen before. And while she gives an excellent performance and the cinematography is beautiful, this is an incredibly dreary & depressing movie at the end of the day (besides poverty, cancer is another element that plays a major part in this movie in many little small ways).


Chloe Zhao has found her lane as a filmmaker which is why I’m a little perplexed that she’s directing The Eternals for marvel next. I know this sounds like the typical "cinephile" getting snooty but this is a legitimate concern. I’ve seen all but five marvel films in the theater so I don’t want this to be seen as an anti-marvel rant, but after watching this (excellent) film I really don’t get what she can contribute to the marvel machine at this point. I’m glad she’s getting marvel money and I understand she is a fan of the comic, but Marvel isn’t exactly a director friendly system. Zhao directs, produces, write and sometimes edits all of her work. Seems like an odd transition to make. Marvel has their mold/cookie cutter system at this point. 
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’d really like for her to stay in the lane she’s in right now because she’s so good at what she does (I really don’t want this to come off like I’m being critical of Zhao or that she can’t tackle the world of marvel). And who am I to tell an artist to stay in their lane?
Either way, I’m fine with a great/promising filmmaker getting a lot of money as well as consistent work.

Friday, September 11, 2020

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI: TIFF 2020 HIGHLIGHT #2



Regina King’s directorial debut, based on Kemp Powers’ stage play of the same name, is about a semi/mostly-fictionalized meeting/hangout between four Black icons on the night of February 25th, 1964 (the night Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston). These Black icons just so happen to be Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown & Sam Cooke. All four men are at somewhat of a crossroads in their lives. Cassius Clay has just won the world heavyweight championship and is about to convert to Islam under the name Muhammad Ali. Malcolm X is on the verge of parting ways with the Nation of Islam. Jim Brown is pondering leaving the NFL and pursuing a career in acting, and Sam Cooke is about to make the switch from fun party music to more socially conscious songs.
I said semi/mostly-fictionalized earlier because we don’t know the details of the conversation/hangout/meeting between Clay, Brown, Cooke & X, but they really were all together that night for a brief moment. That part is true. The match between Cassius Clay & Sonny Liston was huge so naturally, like all big boxing matches, the celebrities came out to see the fight. So the fact that Malcolm X, Sam Cooke & Jim Brown were all at the same venue isn’t all that hard to believe. What is hard to believe is that instead of hitting the town and celebrating Clay's win in a club or at a bar, the four Black icons (along with a couple of Nation of Islam security guards) stayed in a hotel room and kept it lowkey. The semi-fictionalized aspect of the story is the discussion they have on the state of Black America (orchestrated mostly by Malcolm X).

Right out of the gate Regina King is faced with a few challenges. First, King has to honor the original source material (the transition from stage to screen isn’t always successful).
The second and most challenging task is honoring the very real history that comes along with each subject/“character” in a film that’s part fiction yet still falls under the umbrella of something that kind of/sort of happened. Sounds like a lot, huh?
The fictional aspect of the story is intentional but there’s still multiple legacies to honor & uphold. One misstep or mistake and we’re taking something that’s already semi-fictional to begin with, and turning it in to empty Black History fan-fiction (something I wouldn’t put past anyone these day). I enjoy certain specific elements of shows like Watchmen (which starred Regina King) & Lovecraft Country, but they’re playing with the idea of Black history fan fiction when it isn’t necessary. The real stories & facts behind Black history are fascinating enough. We don’t need to add superheros & scary monsters (thankfully One Night In Miami avoids that). People like Emmett Till aren’t “easter eggs” or little references like something in a Star Wars movie (if you're watching Lovecraft then you know what I'm talking about).


To be clear - One Night In Miami is kind of Black History fan fiction but it’s respectful. The film does a few things that I personally cannot stand in biopics/true stories. Obvious on the nose references, spoon fed historical moments etc. But this has been a problem for a very long time with biopics/true stories so it isn’t fair to put it all on this one movie.
The separate/individual histories that come along with Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke & Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali are all monumental each in their own way. That’s usually the case for any singular biopic which is why I’m often so critical of them. You can’t fit someone’s entire life (along with the respective/accompanying historical backdrop) in to a 110 minute film. You can’t even do that with most single 220 minute films. Look at everything from Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev to Soderbergh’s Che. Even the most epic-length biopics still only focus on certain specific time periods or brief moments from a person’s life. They don’t try to cram one’s entire timeline in to a single film. It’s too much.

On paper, Regina King’s directorial debut quietly sounds like “too much” (both the original play and the film adaptation), but it stays mostly true to the original story/source material in that it mostly focuses on the one night where some of the stuff kind of sort of happened (like I said earlier, the conversation in the movie is fiction but it's safe to assume that at various points of crossing paths these four men have had serious discussions with each other behind close doors). There isn’t an attempt to try and cram everyone’s history and life story in to one film.


This isn’t the first time a version of this story played out on film. Some folks might not remember, but Michael Mann briefly touched on the events that would eventually become One Night In Miami in his Ali biopic. There’s a brief moment in the first half of Mann’s Ali where we see Clay, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke & Malcolm X hanging out briefly in a Miami hotel room after the Sonny Liston fight. Mann’s film didn’t dwell on that night or it’s importance too much but he did make the viewers aware that we were witnessing something special.
In a way, One Night In Miami is an unofficial sequel/extension of that scene in Ali (the boxing scenes in both films are shot & lighted similarly).

Ali (2001)

Ali (2001)



At the end of the day, One Night In Miami is more of a catalyst to pursue & learn about the many small (yet major) moments in Black history that don’t always get the spotlight.
Well...I hope that’s the intention. If not, we’re just kind of left with the empty Black history fan-fiction I spoke of earlier. But neither Kemp Powers nor Regina King insult the history or the subjects of the story and this movie isn't empty.

Visually, King’s execution is subtle yet still nice to look at. The majority of the film takes place in one room (although not the entire movie) and the cast is made up of mostly four actors, so this movie doesn’t go for the grandiose approach. You feel as if you’re in the early 1960’s without it being shoved down your throat with bad wigs and over the top wardrobes.
The actors do a mostly fine job but it was Kingsley Ben-Adir's portrayal of Malcolm X that stood out to me (Eli Goree’s performance as Clay/Ali was physically on point although his acting kind of came off like an imitation Will Smith doing Ali).
It’s important to note that this is one of the few recent Black films that doesn’t fall victim to copying the likes of Barry Jenkins or Jordan Peele (respect to Jenkins & Peele but so many Black films these days feel like knock-off versions of the aforementioned filmmakers from the overuse of slow-motion close-up shots as seen in the recent films of Jenkins or the overly Easter-egg/homage filled visuals from the films of Jordan Peele).

Most Black films are burdened with the task of carrying the weight of everything concerning Black history on it’s back. While One Night In Miami has a lot of important history behind it, the film is still about one night/one event. I think this is needed more & more within the unofficial world of Black cinema. This film is “important” but it's importance isn’t on the level of singular biopics like Ali, Malcolm X, Selma, etc etc. In a weird way, King's debut comes off as intentionally underwhelming which I kind of like.
Funny enough - one aspect of One Night In Miami touches one the burden/pressure of carrying the weight off the Black struggle on your back when you’re in a position of importance or celebrity.

It was a nice touch for Regina King to use “lesser known” actors as to not distract from the story which is what’s important. This isn’t necessarily a vehicle to catapult anyone to stardom and for an/actor first-time director, Regina King does a good job. I think adapting a small-scale play is a good/safe choice for a first-time director (and by "safe" I don't mean "easy"). And on a personal note - it’s nice to see a prominent Black film show young Black men in a positive light unlike recent stuff like Queen & Slim or Harriet...


If white audiences & historians can have films like The Death Of Stalin or the various stylized adaptations of Wyatt Earp’s life, Black audiences can have films like One Night In Miami. That’s not to say non-white audiences can’t enjoy The Death Of Stalin or White audiences can’t get something from movies like One Night In Miami either. Personally, I think the average white/non-Black viewer needs to learn about the individual lives of the subjects in One Night In Miami. Not to downplay or take anything away from the legacy of someone like Martin Luther King or the very long history of slavery, but there are so many important stories & figures surrounding Black history that deserve the same spotlight as something like the Selma marches or the bus boycotts.  
For example - this is now the third major film to kind of portray Sonny Liston as both a thug and nameless bookmark in the life of someone else. Perhaps he deserves a film showing his story...



Given the the subject matter (along with it’s timely release), and this being the directorial debut of Regina King who’s in the midst of her own personal renaissance, this film will do well among the audience it’s geared towards. So I’m sure it’ll be a success on some level. I just hope people who see this movie use this as a starting point (or a continuation) to explore stories concerning Black history that don’t always get the proper attention & respect.


FOUND ME: TIFF 2020 HIGHLIGHT #1



There is a weird stigma and shame that can come along with being a fan of professional wrestling. I’m living proof of this. As a child I was the only kid in my close group of friends that liked it. In high school there were a small few of us but people still thought we were stupid for liking it. And I can’t tell you how many disappointed looks I’ve gotten from certain adult friends in recent years when they discover that the guy who appreciates weird/interesting films & music (that also works on the corporate end of interior design) likes to watch jacked-up men beat each other up in predetermined fights.

Look...I get it. As much as I love the sport even I know it’s kind of silly. Even more silly when it’s out of context. I like to imagine people that aren’t familiar with the world of pro-wrestling flipping through channels and stumbling across something wrestling-related and being genuinely confused...





If you’re unfamiliar with this form of entertainment, what are you supposed to make of all this??


That’s part of what David Findlay’s latest short film Found Me is about. The stigma of liking something (pro wrestling specifically) that’s super niche. In this particular case it’s independent French-Canadian professional wrestling (which should explain why I used the term “super niche” as international indie pro-wrestling is a world unto it’s own outside of “Major” pro-wrestling that's scene on television).
Found Me also plays off of the commonly used phrase; “wrestling isn’t for everyone” (commonly used among people within the pro-wrestling business). It’s not. Even large people with giant muscle and great “looks” aren’t guaranteed success in the business. So you can imagine the additional hill that “smaller” wrestlers have to climb in order to make it. Smaller wrestlers are often told “no” and hear “can’t” so often that at a certain point they must become numb to the sound of those two words. That’s why when “smaller” physique wrestlers like CM Punk or Daniel Bryan finally become household names, it makes it just a little more special because they had to work slightly harder than a John Cena or a Dave Bautista (no disrespect to either Cena or Bautista).


The nameless main character in Found Me is a small-framed guy but he doesn’t want to be a pro-wrestler. He wants to be a referee. I think the reason why this film is a play on the phrase “wrestling isn’t for everyone” is because I think this nameless main character knows he doesn’t have the build to be a pro-wrestler but he can still participate in some way. Sometimes you love something so much that at one point you want to stop being a fan. You just have to find your lane. As long as you have the drive and respect for the business, there are multiple things to do in pro-wrestling outside of being the main attraction. Besides referees there’s managers, announcers, ring side assistants, ticket takers, bookers, etc.

That’s what makes this film so unique and additionally niche in that it focuses on a smaller and sometimes overlooked role (refereeing) within a niche world (indie wrestling) within a bigger niche world (pro-wrestling as a whole).
Found me is a short film so we don’t get in to the specifics of a referee’s job but the film does convey the importance of having one in a match (besides counting to 3 or calling for the bell due to a submission or interference, they sometimes have to keep time, enforce specific rules & stipulations and just maintain a general sense of order).

Earlier on I used words like “shame” and “stigma” because our protagonist keeps his love of wrestling a secret from his friends and significant other. He secretly goes to wrestling shows by himself late at night almost as if he’s ashamed (his secret is eventually found out in a scene that’s quite possibly one of the sweetest cinematic moments of this year).
I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that Found Me is one of the greatest films to focus on both the joy and shame of loving something like professional wrestling.
I’m not sure what David Findlay’s plans are with this after the festival season but I hope he makes this special film accessible to all. The execution of this movie is much more serious and heartfelt than most movies about Pro-wrestling but at the same time it would make for a great triple feature with Ready To Rumble & Fighting With My Family.


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

THE GIFT (2015)


This is probably an unpopular opinion but as far as the exploration of bullying goes (and it’s sometimes long-lasting effects), I think The Gift did a much better job than something like Oldboy. There are plenty of twisted revenge films centered around getting back at someone because of past bullying but I think we can all agree that Oldboy and The Gift have been compared the most in recent years. And rightfully so. They’re both modern films about elaborate revenge plots against a protagonist who started a damaging rumor that essentially ruined the lives of multiple people back in the day (although in all fairness, the rumor spread in Oldboy wasn’t exactly done on purpose like the rumor in The Gift).

Both films are very much close first cousins at the end of the day...

Oldboy / The Gift

Oldboy / The Gift

Oldboy / The Gift



Oldboy might be a better movie-watching experience overall, but when it comes to the bullying aspect - The Gift does something that Oldboy really doesn’t which is show that some kids who bully, spread rumors & antagonize don’t always learn from their old ways and become better people later in life. Not everyone “grows”. Some do. And that’s important. Depending on past discrepancies, some people should be forgiven and allowed to learn from their mistakes in order to be better people as adults. But some people who were assholes between the ages of 13-18 will remain assholes for the rest of their lives. 
I’m fully aware that when children/kids/teenagers bully, there’s usually something deeper going on that makes them that way. But in recent years - and this is just me - I see more empathy for the bully than the actual victims. Not always, but sometimes. It’s important to get to the root of what makes young people mean and lash out at others. But let’s not forget that there are still victims of said meanness & bullying that deserve some empathy & understanding as well. I feel like some people romanticize the idea of “fixing” and/or “helping” bullies so much that they step over and forget about the actual victim. Again - it is important to understand and potentially stop the reasons that would make someone a bully. But it’s also important to help & heal the victims of the bullying at the same time.
Most of us know that it’s often times a cycle. A kid who is a bully is usually bullied/picked on or abused by someone older/bigger so they take it out on an easy/smaller/vulnerable target. That easy target could (and sometimes does) eventually lash out at someone/something smaller and defenseless thus creating the cycle of bullying (there’s a few lines in The Gift that give some insight in to why the bully character is the way he is and I guess it’s up to the viewer to decide if they want to express empathy & understanding or not).

In the film Jason Bateman plays “Simon” - a successful, career driven husband with a child on the way (there is an important subplot surrounding his wife’s previous miscarriage and her mental health as well). Things seem to be going great on the surface until Simon reconnects with an old high school classmate in the form of “Gordon” (Joel Edgerton). It’s clear from the start that Gordon’s intentions are obviously rooted in some type of sinister revenge plot but what’s so interesting is that before his plot is really set in place, Simon’s world slowly starts to fall apart. His job, marriage etc.
This is important to note because while Gordon’s plan to get revenge on Simon is a big part of the story, you get the sense that Simon’s world was going to fall apart regardless because of the kind of person was and still he is  (back in high school Simon spread a nasty rumor about Gordon that escalated in to something very serious). Simon is still the same antagonistic asshole as an adult that he was as a kid (we learn this more & more as the story unfolds). This to me hammers home my beliefs that when some people (...SOME) continue to live life as an asshole, karma will eventually come for them in some form. 
Jason Bateman is excellent at playing a charismatic pricks which is what Simon is. This was perfect casting. The Gift utilizes his specific acting talents very well. Rebecca Hall’s performance as Simon’s wife “Robyn” shouldn’t be understated either. The subplot surrounding her is important and she’s also the vessel that exposes Simon's bullying.


Now...people getting what they deserve isn’t always the case. Some bullies/assholes/pieces of shit will go through life unscathed. Some go unscathed through life and manage to haunt their victims well in to adulthood. I think that’s what’s always so sad about the idea of these revenge stories. The revenge laid out in The Gift is slightly more realistic than the absolute batshit crazy revenge plot laid out in Oldboy, but it’s still kind of unrealistic (no disrespect to Oldboy because I do like that movie). No one is going to go through what Gordon went through to get revenge in real life (I say real life because The Gift does make a point to be rooted in reality whereas Oldboy does not). You need to be in a position of money & power to execute a revenge like in The Gift. And if you get to a place in life where you have the money & resources to ruin someone’s life, you don’t want to risk your position in life no matter how much trauma someone put you through. You should be enjoying your life and happy that you’re far removed from your shitty past (also - it goes without saying that holding on to certain traumas and wanting to get revenge on someone for over 20 years is incredibly unhealthy & destructive). I realize that’s easier said than done in some cases. I’ve never been bullied (or been a bully) so perhaps it isn’t my place to give advice on the subject.


While The Gift makes for a great (and obvious) double feature with Oldboy, it would also make for a great triple feature with Lynch’s Lost Highway & Haneke’s Cache.
All three films not only use similar imagery and have a lot of the same scenes, but they’re all tied together by the idea of a (well-off) couple being tormented by cryptic messages & voyeuristic video footage. All three films also deal with the idea of one’s skeletons slowly coming out of the closet...

Lost Highway / Cache / The Gift

Lost Highway / Cache / The Gift

Lost Highway / Cache / The Gift

Lost Highway / Cache / The Gift

Lost Highway / Cache / The Gift

Lost Highway / Cache / The Gift



While most victims of bullying don’t deserve what they get, it should be noted that the victims in movies like The Gift or Oldboy aren’t the “good guys”. I understand that there are undeserved traumas that people like Gordon had to deal with, but breaking the law and putting the lives of other innocent people at risk (which is an understatement in the case of The Gift) isn’t the route to go down (I say most because there is a small percentage of weirdly sadistic people who instigate and openly invite bullying then turn around and play victim).
What’s interesting is that a story like the The Gift is also a perfect case for indifference. While I don’t think potential murder, potential rape and ruining someone’s life is something I would do if I were Gordon, I would also kind of look the other way depending on the situation. I wouldn’t stop Gordon’s revenge plot against Simon but I also wouldn’t encourage it either. Being indifferent can be a shitty thing depending on the situation (and it certainly would be in this case), but if you’ve seen The Gift I think some of you would agree with my stance on some level. If you haven’t seen this movie yet (which kind of flew under the radar back in 2015 in comparison to other films), I think once you see it you’ll understand where I’m coming from considering what happened to Gordon.


I’ve taken a few light shots at Oldboy in this piece but no matter how much of an absolute fantasy that movie is, it does get one thing right depending on your outlook on things. The suicide at the end of Oldboy makes the most sense as far as the story goes (I’m talking about fake characters in a fake movie. I would never suggest this in a real scenario). It’s sad and I don’t wish that on anyone but if you’ve dedicated the large majority of your life to getting back at someone and you finally achieve that goal - what else is there to live for? That sounds harsh (and I know there’s still plenty of life left worth living), but the amount of time that was spent/wasted when you could have moved on with your life is kind of overwhelming & devastating once you take a step back and think about everything (I swear I’m not trying to sound insensitive but that was a small part of Lee Woo-Jin’s decision at the very end of the film). The victims in Oldboy and The Gift essentially had their heads down for the entirety of their 20’s & 30’s and never looked up. There was so much more to live for. As the kids say these days - these bullies were (and forever will be) living “rent-free” in their heads. Don’t let bullies win by living rent-free in your head long after childhood. Do you what you can to move on and perhaps karma will do it’s job. 


Thursday, August 13, 2020

KEVIN GEEKS OUT: WEIRD SUBURBIA


When Kevin asked me to participate on the subject of “weird suburbia” a few things came to mind. Blue Velvet, Parents, Meet The Applegates. All personal favorites of mine. It’s a broad & beautiful topic so naturally there are a wide range of things to chose from. But nothing says “weird suburbia” to me more than The Adventures Of Pete & Pete. It’s the perfect example of G-rated dark humor (a rare & odd mix).

“Field Of Pete” is, in my opinion, the perfect example of the show’s overall tone, vibe, humor & ambiance captured all in one episode. It has everything. Surreality, creepy adults, goofy humor, disorienting cinematography & editing and even a reference to The Night Of The Hunter...



In this “kindest cut” of Field Of Pete, Kevin & I captured the essence of the episode (and the show in general) by highlighting the important moments all while maintaining the narrative.

It should be noted that this episode (and other episodes of Pete & Pete) were shot by Michael Spiller who happens to be the semi-regularly used cinematographer of Hal Hartley (one of my all-time favorite directors). Actually, my love for Pete & Pete grew even bigger when I became an adult and discovered quite a few Hartley regulars were involved with Pete & Pete throughout the years (Spiller, Martin Donovan, Damian Young, etc). This connection sort of combined one of my favorite things from childhood with one of my favorite things from adulthood.
Actually, if you haven't explored the films of Hal Hartley I high suggest you do as his films (specifically the early films) explore the idea of weird suburbia on Long Island which is a world unto it's own.

Enjoy...


Friday, August 7, 2020

CLIFFORD

I'm quite fond of this daring, adventurous little picture, and it always makes me laugh when I'm flipping TV channels and there it is - Martin Short


My enjoyment of Clifford is genuine. It's considered a terrible movie by most people so it's easy to assume I'm being ironic when I preach my love for it. Anyone who knows me somewhat well or follows me on various forms of social media knows that I prop up and defend Clifford on a regular basis which might come off as silly or disingenuous. But let me be clear that there’s no ironic “it’s so bad it’s good“ bullshit fetishism over here (liking things ironically is destroying fandom & certain lanes of criticism because you can no longer tell if people genuinely like things anymore).
Clifford doesn’t get the respect I believe it deserves so I only feel it’s right to try and even the playing field by being somewhat overly protective of it...


What we have here is a suitable case for deep cinematic analysis. I'd love to hear a symposium of veteran producers, marketing guys and exhibitors discuss this film. It's not bad in any usual way. It's bad in a new way all its own. There is something extraterrestrial about it, as if it's based on the sense of humor of an alien race with a completely different relationship to the physical universe. The movie is so odd, it's almost worth seeing just because we'll never see anything like it again. I hope. - Roger Ebert


Roger Ebert (R.I.P.) wasn't completely wrong. He may not have realized it when he shared his thoughts on Clifford, but there’s an ultimate compliment embedded within his venomous review. He’s essentially saying there’s nothing like Clifford and I’m inclined to agree. That means something when a legendary critic/cinephile says that a film is pretty much unlike anything he‘s ever seen before (think about how many movies Roger Ebert had seen over the years). At the time of Clifford’s release these words didn’t help. Negative reviews have certainly helped a movie’s popularity but that wasn’t the case here. Clifford was a bomb. But almost three decades later you’re sitting in front of your laptop (or phone screen) reading the analysis that he was speaking of. 

It makes sense that Clifford left most folks scratching their heads since it was essentially birthed from the minds of the Second City comedy troupe. Their brand of humor doesn’t always connect with everyone. Martin Short wasn’t the only sketch comedy/Second City alum behind this misunderstood gem. Clifford director Paul Flaherty (brother of Joe Flaherty) wrote for SCTV, The Tracey Ullman show and has an extensive history of working with Canadian comedy legends like Short (The Martin Short Show, Jiminy Glick, etc) & Second City legend John Candy (Who’s Harry Crumb). These are the minds we’re dealing with when it comes to the humor in Clifford.

One thing that made SCTV so unique is that they never tried to really compete against stuff like Saturday Night LIve. If SNL was doing a skit impersonating a famous recognizable celebrity, SCTV would pay homage to someone like Ingmar Bergman instead...



Some Second City skits weren’t even funny. They were just sometimes brilliant & oddly unique. Like I already said - Second City's humor doesn’t always click with everyone. Martin & Orloff , Neighbors (1981) & Brain Candy are just a few examples of Second City-based movies that bombed or fell flat upon their initial releases.
Now...Second City certainly has a nice share of successful brands (the Christopher Guest movies, Schitt’s Creek, etc). I don’t want to downplay their impact on the comedy world. 
Unfortunately Clifford doesn’t get a place in the pantheon of successful sketch/improv comedy-based movies.

I’m cringing at the term I’m about to use but I am a fan of the style of comedy that some have labeled as “anti-comedy” or “alt-humor”. Stuff like Andy Kaufman, Tom Green, Tim & Eric, Eric Andre, etc. There are a million ways to define anti-comedy or alt-humor. If we tried to get to the root of the definition we’d never actually get to the movie of discussion so we’re not going to make this about that. But one common term/phrase that links/connects every possible definition of alt-humor is "deconstruction". Guys like Andy Kaufman, Tim Heidecker & Eric Andre are all about dissecting typical comedy tropes and exploring what really makes things funny. It's similar to abstract art or various forms of noise music or circuit bending. That’s essentially what Clifford is to me. It travels down the same lane as "traditional" movies & tv shows like Dennis The Menace or even Zazie Dans La Metro - the pairing of a wild untamed child (the comic relief) and the “straight man” (the co-star who usually catches the brunt of all the gags & mishaps).
The deconstruction aspect of Clifford is Martin Short (a grown man) playing the part of a little boy. In the film he's sent to stay with his uncle Martin (Charles Grodin) to give his parents a much-needed break.
There’s a lot to be explored about the relationships between uncles & nephews on film. It's a unique relationship in that Uncles & Aunts aren't exactly parents but they're still authority figures. They're just usually the "cooler" more lenient authority figures (in terms of traditionally functional family relationships). Clifford is definitely one of the more unique uncle/nephew stories in that they go from being awkward & unfamiliar with each other, to hating each other (which is an understatement if you've seen the movie), to eventually becoming friendly in the end.

Even if you haven’t read a review or watched a trailer for Clifford you still kind of know what to expect before going in. It’s an adult playing the part of a child. That's the (odd) selling point. So before you even start the movie you know you’re about to watch something absurd, overly silly, somewhat surreal & slightly detached from reality. It’s real easy (and cheap) to dunk on a movie with a 10% rotten tomatoes rating (like Clifford) when there are so many other “critically acclaimed” movies that deserve the same type of harsh criticism that Clifford got. Pop culture has given us everything from talking horses (Mr. Ed) to talking dogs (Family Guy) and we’ve accepted it. Is a grown man playing the part of a child (with the idea that the audience is “in the know”) that far removed from all the other odd-sounding storylines we’ve accepted on television and in film over the years? I certainly don’t think so. For 30+ years we’ve suspended disbelief and allowed ourselves to be entertained by a serial killer trapped inside of a child’s doll in the form of the Child’s Play franchise. I know those movies aren’t for everyone but they’ve been successful enough to spawn countless sequels. Child's Play is just as absurd & silly as Clifford when you really think about it.
Look at Saturday Night Live or The Kids In The Hall. We never questioned when adults like Mike Myers or Bruce Mcculloch played children. Clifford is no different. It’s essentially a long comedy sketch (Martin Short has an extensive background in sketch comedy as an alum of both SNL & Second City). I completely understand that the idea of a long-form sketch comedy movie isn’t for everyone but it’s worked before. Why didn’t it work for Clifford

Perhaps people’s problem with Clifford is the comedy and/or the overall execution. That’s understandable I guess. But at the same time, some of Martin Short's movements are a callback to folks like Buster Keaton, Groucho Marx and even Jean-Paul Bel Mondo...

The Cook / Clifford

A Day At The Races /
Clifford

Breathless / Clifford 


What’s also interesting about the execution of Clifford is that director Paul Flaherty took things a step further by making Clifford/Martin Short the actual villain of the story. The tone of the film would have you believe that Uncle Martin’s evil boss (played wonderfully by Daphne Coleman) is the bad guy but it’s really Clifford. The character of Clifford transitions from a lovable funny precocious child to an evil saboteur. Throughout the film Clifford frames his uncle for ped0philia, sabotages his work and almost gets him killed. That's funny to me. The humor here is dark and somewhat fucked up. But it’s legitimately funny! It may not be funny to everyone but I know lots of people who find the scenarios laid out in the movie to be funny.


Perhaps an understanding of silent films and old-timey humor could help one appreciate Clifford a little better. I see a lot of the wacky physical comedy & goofy facial expressions in Clifford as a callback to folks like the Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, and the Marx Brothers. Those guys are just as goofy and absurd as Martin Short.
I picked these specific moments from Clifford (below) to highlight my point. I intentionally made them gifs instead of videos without audio to hammer home the idea that these facial expressions come right out of an old silent movie. Everyone in Clifford acts "big". Almost like they're theater actors performing for the people in the back row instead of the folks in the front...






And Charles Grodin is no novice to these types of performances & facial expressions as he had the same energy in the Beethoven movies (which is interesting because the basic premise of Beethoven is very similar to Clifford)
Beethoven 



Clifford certainly has it’s share of jokes that are somewhat corny & cheap (there’s no denying that). Some stuff is downright cringe-inducing. But - going back to the deconstruction element for a moment - those particular jokes are SO corny and SO over the top that it feels like the movie is aware of that and is almost taking things a step further by poking fun at that style of wacky goofball comedy. I could be reading too much into things tho... 


Movies like this usually go on to find a cult audience... 

Poor box office, bad studio karma, critical excoriation...all the prerequisites for a cult hit. Which is indeed what Clifford has become - Martin Short

Now...with all due respect to Martin Short, I don't think he understands that a lot of people who claim to like Clifford do so ironically.

Today, anyone twenty-five year and under who approaches me in public only wants to talk about Clifford. Some of them tell me that when they and their friends get nostalgic for their early years of childhood, they get stoned and watch Clifford in their dorms - Martin Short

But who am I to tell Martin Short what he knows or doesn't know about his own movie? Perhaps I'm out of touch and unaware that there is a genuine cult of Clifford fans. It's just the idea of having to get stoned to watch it bugs me. Almost like you need to get high in order to laugh at/with it. I can attest that weed can make some things funnier, but Clifford is funny on it's own. It's twisted yet sweet sense of humor should be enough!.

Please understand the point of me writing this isn’t to change everyone's mind or to convert everyone in to liking this movie. I just think some people took the movie at face value and decided they were going to dislike the premise before actually watching it. We’re all guilty of doing that. But one of the many great things about film is that you can revisit something with a different frame of mind later in life. I urge some of you with an open mind to maybe take some of what I’ve said and go back and revisit Clifford. Or, for those of you that dismissed it from the jump and never gave it a chance in the first place - GIVE IT A CHANCE!

Friday, July 31, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA PART TEN: IMAGES/MULHOLLANAD DRIVE


Images /
Mulholland Drive


With this series I usually include actual shots from Persona but it’s no mystery that Robert Altman’s Images & David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive are two of the most popular films to come out of the “school of Persona”. There's no need to insult the intelligence of my readers. The similarities are mostly visual (as you’ll see below), but the plots concerning all three films do connect even on a surface level (mental breakdowns, duality, paranoia & severe anxiety among artistic/creative women).
Articles, reviews, essays & books have already been written on the connections between these films from the lens of Persona and, for the most part, I agree with what’s been said for the last 50 years. So there’s no need for me to regurgitate words & thoughts we're already familiar with.
This is strictly visual (although context does obviously matter so it helps to have seen both movies before exploring this entry). Some of these comparisons are common (like the one above). This is a classic shot that can be traced right back to Persona (both visually and thematically). But there are lots of other minor/lesser acknowledged visual similarities that both films share that I feel don’t get mentioned enough.


Another persona-esque shot shared emulated in Images & Mulholland drive...
Images /
Mulholland Drive

A small detail but both of these close-ups are very similar...
Images /
Mulholland Drive

Similar jump scares...
Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images / Mulholland Drive

Images / Mulholland Drive

Altman & Lynch highlight duality & split personalities through mirrors...
Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive


Friday, July 24, 2020

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG


A 38 year old childless man (like myself) has no business having any kind of strong/strong-ish opinions on Sonic The Hedgehog. Sure anyone can have an opinion on any movie but when a family-less adult has an overly emotional response to child/family-friendly movie, it is a little weird to me. But that's just me. 
Sonic The Hedgehog is a family movie (which is often code for being a kids movie that parents can "tolerate"/sit through). But people my age (with or without families) have a history with sonic just as much as the kids of today. We had sonic first long for before today’s youth (I was a Nintendo kid but my next door neighbor/friend had sega so I have my fair share of memories with sonic & chaos emeralds and whatnot). I think some adults have a legitimate case to voice their opinion. Sonic is the kind of character, video game, movie, etc that can bridge generations. Chances are the kids who watch the Sonic movie have parents who played the video game and watched the cartoon when they were young.

Sonic The Hedgehog isn’t that bad for what it is. I’m seeing it catch a lot of flack on my “film twitter” timeline but you can’t compare Sonic to something like Barry Lyndon or The Long Goodbye which is what I think some folks are doing (and I don't even think a lot of them are aware of it but that’s a separate conversation for another time).

Unless you were living under a rock then you know the sonic movie was doomed from the start. The original teaser trailer and initial design of the sonic character was somewhat nightmare-inducing. It brought on comparisons to things like Von Trier’s Antichrist rather things like Toy Story, Wall-E or other family-oriented movies of that ilk (Sonic is nowhere near a Wall-E or a Toy Story but it does deserve to be mentioned along with them)...

Antichrist / Sonic The Hedgehog


Even after the sonic character went through an exhaustive CGI redesign brought on by a social media pushback (...bullying), folks still weren’t really having it. It became a punching bag for memes (I will say that this was one of the few times I agreed with the mass social media pushback/criticism of something as the original sonic design was a bit weird-looking).
After the new rollout there were pockets of campaigns from people trying to guilt folks in to seeing the sonic movie following the hard work from the CGI team who were eventually fired after the redesign. While I’m sorry when anyone loses their job, I’m not going to be pressured in to seeing something (especially when the original design was bad from the beginning). Do it right the first time (and that isn't a criticism of the designers. I'm sure the original sonic concept was green-lit by the higher-ups). I think a lot of people reacted similarly and folded their arms at the pressure of being force-fed a sonic movie that took forever to come out because of post-production issues (there were also pre-production issues going back over a year ago that also added to the negative stigma attached to the film).

Even though Sonic The Hedgehog made a nice chunk of money overall, the general consensus ranged from “Meh” to not that great (there were some overly positive reviews here & there). But in my opinion this was a fun road movie that also “tackled” things like representation without doing it in a pretentious/overly force-fed kind of way.

In the film Sonic has to make it from a small town in Montana all the way to San Francisco (with the help of good-guy sheriff James Marsden) in order to open a portal to get him back to his universe where he’ll be safe. The only problem is the evil Dr Robotnik (played perfectly by Jim Carrey) is on their heels trying to stop them. It’s the same premise as everything from E.T. to Mac & Me (the evil scientists/nameless government entity is trying to capture the friendly Alien before he/she can get back to their planet. So while the plot isn't all that original (how many plots are?), it’s a revisit of a classic science-fiction/adventure trope that hasn’t been done very well in a while with the exception of maybe Midnight Special which hasn’t really stood the rest of time (it’s certainly a solid movie but no one is really talking about it anymore which is a shame because, like Sonic, it’s a family-friendly sci-fi adventure that’s better than it’s given credit for).

Sonic has just enough Jim Carrey before things get obnoxious (he’s used sparingly throughout the movie) and it shares a lot of the same imagery & scenarios as other fun action-adventure movies that folks have enjoyed in recent years...

The Matrix / Sonic 

X-Men /
Sonic


And going back to the representation I spoke about earlier - I like to think my two Afro-Latin goddaughters (and their parents) are the prefect audience for this movie. The racial make-up of the cast of Sonic is multi-racial much like Spider-verse. Organic, non-forced/non-pretentious representation is important in movies (and all art for that matter). My goddaughters (age: 6 & 4) look like half of the important characters in this movie and that does matter. Especially for young people. It’s nice to see a non-segregated major motion picture with characters that look like you in a world where you’re still told that you look “different”. Even on a subconscious level.

On the other end of the age spectrum, my podcast partner Scott also thought the sonic movie was surprisingly good. If both children and adults with different backgrounds & perspectives find enjoyment in a harmless popcorn movie that counts for something in my book.

So while this isn’t a masterpiece (or even “GREAT”) it’s still a fun family movie that deserved better. If you haven’t seen it due to all the pre & post-production issues or you’re avoiding it due to bad word of mouth reviews, I’d give it a shot. Don’t expect too much but at the same time, it’s a pretty fun movie.
Throughout the months of April & May I saw an influx of tweets, reviews & thoughts on the films of Michael Haneke. He’s one of my all time favorite filmmakers (easily in my top 10) so I love any attention he gets.
My problem with this newfound fascination & exploration of Haneke is that it took (takes?) place during a very depressing period for a lot of us. In a time when we have covid, ridiculously high unemployment numbers (due to Covid), police brutality (“highlighted” for me with the murder of Elijah McLain), etc - why would you want to watch something like The Seventh Continent, Time Of The Wolf or the The Piano Teacher? It is my belief that Michael Haneke is a masterful filmmaker but you do have to be in a mood to watch his films. 2020 has been a shitty year. It’s a wash. The bad has absolutely outweighed the negative. Why would you want to watch depressing, cold & grim movies in a time like this?
And outside of Haneke, some of the most popular/praised/“critically acclaimed” films of this year are mostly downers. Sorry We Missed You, First Cow, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Da 5 Bloods, Tommaso, etc.
Most of these movies I just listed are great but they’re absolute downers. I don’t know about you guys but after 4-5 sad, serious, depressing movies in a row - I need a fun, mindless, palette cleanser. That’s what Sonic The Hedgehog is to me. Allow Sonic to cleanse your palette of all the depressing shit going on even if it's for 100 minutes or so.


LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...