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The First: Two Portraits (2018)
One of the most outstanding episodes of television I have ever seen. The first few episodes were each rich, layered, and compelling; they culminate here in something truly riveting and beautiful. Bravo.
Brilliant until the ending
All of the other reviews here cover the reasons to praise this film - the writing, the acting, the visual creativity. How do you make a story compelling for 90 minutes when it's one man alone in a car? You do it like this - plausible drama that builds in an organic way, with just enough backstory and circumstance to make your main character likable despite the mess he's gotten into. Unfortunately, that plausibility grinds to a screeching halt in the last few minutes of the film. The main and unforgivable mishap (SPOILER ALERT) is that Locke's mistress goes from debating whether or not to let the doctors perform surgery on her, to having the Cesarean, to then calling Locke with a crying baby in the background all in less than fifteen minutes. WHAT?? Maybe there have been massive advancements in medicine since one of my children was born this way, but a tooth-pulling takes longer, for Pete's sake. And maybe I'm being too critical, but everything else rang true and felt carefully constructed until this last bit, this awful punt.
Relentless. Brutal. Gripping.
For me, there are two ways to rate this docu-series. The first is on an emotional or abstract level. The second is purely technical.
This six-part documentary, or docu-series, somewhat follows in the line of other true crime docu-series of late such as the Making a Murderer about Steven Avery or The Jinx, on Robert Durst. There aren't as many "twists" as with the Steven Avery story – Browder's is pretty straightforward. But the structure of storytelling is so noticeable so as to be distracting. Each episode follows a formula: presage the episode, then conflict builds to a climax, then a summary of the episode, then a teaser of the next episode, all woven together in a highly stylized way. As this pattern repeats, you hear certain sound bites more than once, you see the same pieces of footage again and again interpolated with close-ups of speeded-up clocks, to the point I wondered if I'd inadvertently replayed an episode. I found myself thinking that the whole thing was stretched out to fill six episodes when three would have contained it – the length of a feature film.
At the same time, this repetitiveness might be deliberate, meant to achieve an emotional end rather than just keep the brain stimulated and interested – we hear Browder tell ABC's Nightline at least a dozen times that he refused to plead guilty because he didn't do anything. We hear Van Jones say more than once how Browder wasn't a perfect person, but the position he took was perfect. We see the same security footage from Rikers multiple times, reinforcing the brutality of the experience. It's not enough, the filmmakers seem to be saying, to show you this just once. You're going to have an experience that evokes the experience Browder himself had – an endless string of court dates leading to adjournment, repetitive violence; system inadequacy on multiple levels ad nauseam. So, in this way, the film's technique is effective.
Some cynical viewers are likely to say, then, that it's the manipulation of the filmmakers which provoke an emotional response to sympathize with Browder and his ordeal. I don't think so. I think the filmmakers used the medium to present some small sliver of what his ordeal was like so there was something – beyond a kneejerk judgement – to truly sympathize *with.*
It's an old trope – "I'm gonna put the *system* on trial!" – but it's never been more apposite than it is in the case of Kalief Browder. We could simply be told – in a short news article or even in an internet meme – that 97% of criminal cases go to plea bargain, that due to a limited number of judges and criminal defense attorneys, without plea bargaining, the system would collapse. We could be told, then, that if a man claims he's innocent of an allegation (theft of a backpack), and gets denied bail because he broke probation by being arrested for allegedly stealing said backpack, and then languishes in one of the most violent prisons in the world while exercising his constitutional right to a trial for THREE YEARS – just knowing these facts doesn't pack the full punch of sitting through the footage of Browder getting gang-beaten or witnessing his mother break down on camera.
Van Jones, at one point observes that, like with Syria, the casualties are "just a number" until one child washes up on a beach – then the world takes notice. Jones says, "Browder is that baby." Certainly Browder got the world to pay attention to the major flaws in the New York criminal justice system. But I like what someone else says in the documentary even better – that Browder, in standing up for his rights and refusing to cop a plea for something he says he didn't do, no matter how bad the violence of jail, the torture of endless months of solitary confinement, acts like America's last true patriot. And I think this is where, today more than ever, America needs to really come to terms with itself in defining and understanding what patriotism really is.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Great filmmaking, but loses me with endorsement of authoritarianism and Harvey Dent as 'Two-Face'
Ah, 2008... Those were innocent times. In 2008, you could have a main character in a movie talk about how great authoritarianism can be, and not completely split the room, politically.
You know what I'm talking about – the dinner scene between Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne, and Dent waxes philosophical about what it means to be a hero; to "do your duty" – how the Romans would "suspend democracy" and appoint one man to watch over the city in times of crisis.
Different world we're living in a decade later. I won't name names, but let's just say some people have called our own president an autocrat and authoritarian who behaves like a billionaire playboy, wants to run the country as a business, and receives twice-daily 'flattery reports' on how great he is. Hero at the gates, indeed. Hail Caesar.
I've seen TDK probably five times now. This last time was with my 12 year old son. He loved it – a little boring in places, sure, lots of talking and set-up in the first half of the long film - like that scene with Bruce getting all dewy over Dent at the dinner table – but the 'batman moments' are great. Dark, gritty, exciting. My favorite is the chase scene through downtown Gotham. "Take lower fifth." "Lower fifth?! We'll be like turkeys on Thanksgiving down there " There are lots of reviews for TDK – nearly 5,000 – but I haven't seen one praising Nicky Katt as the mouthy, freaked-out guard transporting Harvey Dent across the city.
What an epic sequence. The directorial choices of suspending the score for most of it, the scope of the action, the perfect pacing of it – these are a testament to Nolan.
Of course there are things that are silly about the film. But you take these with a grain of salt – you suspend disbelief. It's 'realistic,' but really only among the pantheon of superhero films. It's as realistic as Johnathan Hensleigh's The Punisher, anyway – where even though the main character has no supernatural powers, and his motivation for being a vigilante seems psychologically plausible, and he uses the resources available to him to augment his revenge, there's still a giant man in a sailor shirt and the super-hot model / truck stop waitress neighbor, lending the movie its 'comic booky' feel. The Dark Knight has its own comic booky feel, but it stays within plausible (read: not supernatural) parameters
Almost. (Spoiler alert below?? I doubt it - but just in case)
I've seen some 'haters' criticize the idea of sonar from cell phones, but that doesn't bother me. (Though there's another political inference there: authoritarian heroes = okay; NSA-like spying on people = not okay, since Fox is against it and Bruce agrees to destroy the program after its use.) Nor does it bother me that the Joker blows up a hospital when the cops knew about it. I'm suspending disbelief, aren't I? This is Gotham, it's a parallel universe no matter how *realistic* things are supposed to be, and the cops are particularly inept in Gotham, and people clap in the court room when the DA disarms a mobster on the stand and still wants to cross-examine him. You see? You could pick apart everything in this movie if what you want is "State of Grace" instead of "The Dark Knight." No, the only moment that breaks continuity for me is when Harvey Dent becomes Two-Face.
Okay, so, a billionaire with nearly unlimited resources as a masked vigilante, fine. A disfigured man with antisocial personality disorder and loads of psychopathology, yes. – These fit within certain parameters. But a guy walking around with half his face stripped to the bone and muscle, eyeball hanging out? What if an insect flew in there or something? I jest, and I'm sure people can explain it away (oh, his wounds were cauterized, i.e. there's no infection, or something) – but I'm sorry, Dent just tips things a little too much toward the Joel Schumacher Batman for my tastes; he's too cartoony - he's supernatural.
Still, the ending of TDK is great. The idea that Batman has to be the antihero in order for the city to heal and maintain hope – okay, it's a little bit melodramatic and we're talking about a fallen District Attorney, not the pope – but it's done so well.
Season One: At times I thought this show was ridiculous
Unmotivated character actions, ludicrous scenarios, a protagonist as unlikeable as the antagonist, and that incessant claim that it's all a "true story." These things detracted from my enjoyment of Fargo: Season One...yet I could not look away. Maybe it was those little moments in the show that kept me sustained, the lines writer/creator Noah Hawley gives Lorne Malvo, delivered with delicious malice by Billy Bob Thornton in what may be his best turn since Sling Blade. These moments of transcendence, these hints at something more than man, something sublimely and timelessly evil. Maybe it was the captivating performance of Allison Tolman, understated, riveting, sweet without being saccharine, driven and imperturbable, like a good cop/deputy should be. Maybe it was Martin Freeman's ostensibly gormless but ultimately wormy, sinister Lester Nygaard.
And so while the wild, unbelievable scenarios kept on, and the body count stacked up, I kept watching. I kept watching through the episode with the epic "blizzard" - really one of the poorer uses of CGI I've ever seen on screen. Kept watching through the silliness - like the FBI agents Laurel and Hardy routine. Kept watching when, in the penultimate episode, something happens which seems to make absolutely no sense. I won't spoil it, but it really threw me off.
And then I came to understand something. It had been percolating throughout the series, but the final epiphany came with the sublime final episode: This show is about something. I won't say what, because you should discover it for yourself. I will say this: Lester Nygaard, he's not the protagonist. Both he and Malvo are the antagonists. They're equally rotten. It's Deputy Solverson that's the hero - patient, methodical, temperate, brave, loving. You'll come to root for her - and her fella Gus Grimley. Oh yah, sure, you'll come to see it, as I did, that this show is a little bit of magic.
True Detective: Church in Ruins (2015)
People sit. They talk. I've given this show six episodes. I'm done. There are so many grievances, I just don't have the time to list them all. But for one, Vince Vaughn's acting is so one-note, so bad, his character seems superfluous. But he sits. And he talks. Occasionally in this six episodes, something happens, usually not until the tail end. I knew where it was going long ago, and yet so many long scenes, everything so endlessly grave, the maudlin musician in the background, cut to another sweeping helicopter shot, cut to Colin Farrell acting morose, or drinking a fifth of whiskey, doing an eight ball of cocaine, then having a lucid, sober conversation with his ex-wife. Then more sit downs, more wooden conversations, more weird music, more of Nic Pizzolato run amok. What the hell happened. This show takes itself so seriously, it breaks.
But...what happened with season two??
I'm leaving my 10 star rating because the first season of this show was just that - a 10/10 for me. That's not hyperbole. The show was genius.
Now what. The heck. Happened.
Okay, I know - I know - we can set ourselves up for great expectations. Put things on a pedestal. Everybody's so darn hard on sequels. But sophomore efforts come with a price - you really have to take things up a notch, break new ground - SOMEthing - to keep that narrative fresh and keep people entertained.
Season two was one of the most boring, draining series of television shows I've ever watched. Why hang in there? Because season one was that good. Never before have I seen something so mystical, yet so granular and hard - grounded in the most dire of realities. The luxuriousness of the southern Gothic tale was this living thing, just behind the scenes, like an empowering divine force.
And season two was...not. Not even remotely. It just went on and on, around and around. Back to the same characters, the same problems, rehashing the same conversations, getting nowhere.
I know - a lot like real life. Unpredictable, unstable, repetitive. Chaos and sameness - entropy. But there's something to be said for economy of storytelling that can trump realism. Sure, sure, the Grapes of Wrath and all of that - but you've gotta have some kind of motor on that thing, something that...ah well, I don't need to just sit here and run my mouth anymore. Just disappointed is all. Bravo for a great season one, though.
Fantastic. Pay no attention to the hate.
What an epic movie. Full of heart and spectacular cinematic moments. Top filmmaking. I can hardly wait for more.
I'm not sure what to make of all the negative reviews. Certainly everyone is as entitled their opinion as I am to mine. Suffice it to say, if realism is your biggest concern, maybe a movie about apes taking over the planet is not for you. There are lots of how-to documentaries on survivalism and end-of-world scenarios. Yes, movie-guns often expel more rounds than real guns. Sorry, some dialog and emotional interaction was warranted for the narrative build up. The storyline may have deviated from your expectations, or from the lore of the original movies - though those vintage films did have people wearing rubbery ape masks that jiggled when they talked. So I think this is an improvement. Oh and more good news: with all the CGI, the preponderance of violent explosions was not real. For films that burn through natural resources, see the Fast and Furious franchise or anything with Jason Statham.
Cheers to the writers and actors and all the craftspeople and artists involved in this film. Bravura performances, outstanding soundtrack, a fantastic film all around. Thank you.
I guess you call it "meta"
I'm not as hip as they come, but I guess you call Birdman a "meta" film. And that's why I really liked it. Watching actors portray actors can be wonderful. Very meta. A highlight of the film, for me, is when Edward Norton and Michael Keaton are playing two stage actors playing two roles of two characters a play and they're working out the scene. Amazing to see them peel the layers and dig deeper and get to the heart of it, find the raw truth, and so on.
The long steadicam takes are impressive. Zack Galifianakis, who I've been a fan of since he played his piano and delivered his churlish stand up comedy, was a real joy. Emma Thompson looks like a Disney character, her eyes are so big and her little nose so perfect. Oh and she's a terrific actor. They all are. Naomi Watts turns in a great performance as well. And the birdman thing, you know, awesome to hear that stereophonic voice booming in the protagonist's ears.
Meta, because this movie is about Michael Keaton, who played Batman once. Isn't it? A little bit? Is the script a love letter to him, is the film designed as his vehicle? I don't know for sure, and I'm too lazy to research it, but I think so. Besides, it works.
So all this said, I don't know why Birdman didn't completely blow me away. I was engrossed, I laughed a TON, and marveled at the multiverse it presented. It was both a visceral and intellectual enjoyment. So why isn't it one of my favorite movies? Too much hype? Too many expectations? Just a smidge too "artsy" for me? Or maybe it was because my wife wasn't that into it - it wasn't her thing. The magical realism was there for her, but, she's not an actor-type like me. So, I dunno.
The scene with him running through Time's Square is pretty great. Anyway, I'll shut up now.
Racism is Learned Behavior
Scully. It's all about Scully. The young football player turned stage actor is the pivotal character in this compelling documentary. Scully represents the hope of redemption in the racism that plagues our society.
We're all products. This is never more evident in the film than in the scene where people of region rally with t-shirts declaring "I order my food in English." The ignorance is astounding, worthy of outrage, tempered only by this unassailable fact: it is learned behavior.
Racist parents rear racist children. Ignorant parents rear ignorant children. These people are a product of their society, of deep, systemic issues in the United States, including an amnesiac's perspective on our origins. We all came from somewhere.
To stake some dubious claim, to gather and chant "USA! USA!" ... to be unaware of one's position in this pointless culture of football, of overweight people sneering at anyone whose heritage is not Irish or German...it's just sad.
And that's why Scully is so important. Scully shows us how each individual has a much greater power than the blinding ignorance of group-think. Scully starts thinking for himself, putting himself in the shoes of the victim. He starts to feel something where he was just "empty" before.
That's called compassion, Scully. And it's more powerful than a million people chanting "USA!" in those ridiculous t-shirts. Good for you.
Falls short of greatness because of gimmicks
Interstellar is a great film. That's first and foremost. It's Olympic. But, once you're in the Olympics, you have to compete against the other Olympiads. You ought to be held in the highest esteem for the rest of your life for achieving that level in the first place, and then you compete for the gold medal. That's the way we are. We always look for more.
Interstellar is (insert details about director and actors here). The film feels like an independent feature at the same time it sweeps with epic grandeur. It's beautiful. It's exciting. But I would stop short calling it a work of art.
Kubrick's 2001 is a work of art. The reason I say that is simple. 2001 doesn't try to wrap things up in a neat little bow. 2001 ends as art. Art, in my humble opinion, approaches the inexplicable without the conceit of explaining it. Where Interstellar falls short of the gold is that it goes for the gimmick ending. I don't want to spoil it... Let's just say I liken it to Gravity, another amazing sci-fi movie that fell apart for me at the ending with the red baby shoes. (That film is old enough now that I feel comfortable with the spoiler.) She sees a dead guy, she thinks about the dead shoes, suddenly she knows how to get home and then she does and it's a happy ending. It does have its poetry and it's allegoric ministrations – how she floats like a fetus, how she takes her first woozy steps on land after her "birth" in the ocean back home – but it errs on the side of happy ending goo.
Interstellar had a theoretical physicist consultant. The film charts the full-circle course. Of course, the theoretical physics needs to be dumbed-down for a big audience. So there's that. The plot mechanics surrounding the fourth dimension et al start to fall apart once you think of them. They wouldn't though, if the film took a different tack for the denouement.
In 2001, Kier Dulla flies off into the great beyond. There is symbolism. There is magic. There is little that is explained. In Interstellar, the ending is peppered with sudden bursts of explication. Oh, this happened because (In case you didn't put it together yourself.) All of that magic, all of that build up is explained away by this ending exegesis and one pretty lousy "twist" gimmick.
It's unfortunate. Perhaps William Blake is appropriate. "When nations grow old, the arts grow cold, and commerce settles on every tree." Kubrick wanted to retool filmmaking. He was an artist. Nolan may or may not be an artist, but Interstellar is a commercial film. There is nothing inherently wrong with this (Blake quote notwithstanding). It's just, for my taste, I want to be jettisoned off into that great beyond, left to wonder, left to feel the void, the abyss, the art. Not to be yanked back home by some watered-down theoretical physics that doesn't hold up too well under scrutiny.
In fairness, it provokes some fun thinking and good debate possibilities. And it is, as a work of entertainment, a ton of fun. There are beautiful vistas and some really clever moments. It's a fun ride. It's an Olympic film, but I think it will be caught doping.
Tee'd Off (2012)
High-energy, hilarious, a playful yet searing indictment of the Disney-fication of Broadway.
Writer /Director / Actor Chris Federico is a juggernaut. Long, wild, Samson hair, built solid as a statue, yet kinetic as Woody Allen, Federico's character suffers his demons, a laundry list of frustrations as a struggling actor, and a terrible back swing.
Meanwhile, his buddy is as calm as a Buddhist Monk. As Federico rails against the corporatization of Broadway, the buddy cracks the golf balls out over the East River with Zen-like precision, the perfect foil to Federico's wild-eyed New Yorker.
Brilliant, flash cutaways of Federico's obstacle-course of city streets, restaurants, and casting call wait rooms, balance his blistering tirade, a monologue of an actor's misfortune and an indictment of the impenetrable establishment.
If ever there was a film that spoke to the masses of aspiring actors, writers, directors - artists - looking for the big break, besieged by the limitations of every day life, this is that film.
Oh - and the balloons are a small stroke of genius.
Wake Up (2010)
No Way, No Thanks
I'm surprised there are no other reviews on here. I'll be brief. This film did not impress, and the subject matter struck me as a fakery almost right away.
As far as the craft of making a documentary film, there is very little here. Docs need skilled hands just like narratives do. Shooting things on a camcorder and cutting it together does not automatically a documentary film make.
As far as the subject matter is concerned, if someone is making claims to be able to see the supernatural (angels, demons, ghosts, etc.) then that person should not be the director of the film. Don't ya think? That's a little bit of a conflict of interest.
An even-handed approach to this would have been nice; an objective point of view from a third party filmmaker may have made this watchable. Instead, viewing the subject / director, Jonas, turn the camera on himself as he sits in front of the psychiatrist with this self-deprecating, dismissive schtick about seeing spirits only seemed like a performance.
I believe Jonas is lying, and that this is a hoax. But even "hoax" is too big of a word. This is just a guy pretending. The giveaway, for me, is in his put-on cavalier attitude. He continually downplays what is happening to him, acting as though it is embarrassing. He is a very subdued character, shuffling around and mumbling about how he feels goofy burning sage because it is "new age." The film takes a chance and tries to show the viewers something like Jonas is claiming to see. These are CGI "spirits" which float around some people on a New York City street. They look like colored paper underwater, or like the teleporter characters in the X men movies. This could have been a nice touch in a better film, but here, it's only a reminder that we're not actually going to be able to see anything Jonas claims to see, because it doesn't exist. At least, not for him.
I give Jonas a little credit for putting this into place with a back story about "how it all happened" - he basically planted seeds for a while before making the doc. This is the only crafty thing I found about his synthetic story.
And I have one admission: I didn't make it through the whole film. I got maybe halfway. So maybe in the second half I would have become a believer. I would have stuck around had the crafting of the film been better.
Stir of Echoes (1999)
I realize that this film was based on a book, but still, aside from being overly predictable I couldn't help but find elements of The Shining, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Sixth Sense and many others. Am I being overly-shrewd and critical or is this a merited perception?
To Die For (1995)
Breakthrough for Joaquim...
Joaquim Phoenix is the true gem of this twisted yarn, nailing the depiction of a troubled, white-trash but typical teen replete with salacious, albeit innocent desires for the sexy Susanne Stone. Matt Dillon is the quintessential not-too-bright hunk husband for Stone to manipulate and thwart, and the rest of the gang fills out the ensemble like an exquisitely decorated trailer home. This movie is probably best recommended to any young man whose had his heart squeezed and popped like a bullfrog by a scintillating older woman or even same-age girlfriend. Even for someone who has just had a crush, gotten in too deep, or has ever known anyone (and we all have) that is as simultaneously seductive, wickedly loveable and atrociously cold as Kidman's Stone, this flick's got the goods. Bravo.