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Does it meet the genre challenge?
This kind of flick sets a high goal: Convince me of the hero's transformation by the end of the story. Sometimes this can take an arcane, quasi-mystical form, like Ibsen's Nora and her Tarantella.
But before I look at that, let's talk about other things.
I have to say the flick feels "of a piece" and flows nicely. It looks like they handed the cameras to folks who routinely shoot color commentary travelogue. So for much of the flick, it's just a sort of running film travelogue tinged with various odd premise undercurrents, including the hero's family crisis.
I normally don't cotton to flicks that appear to think they can slide by with a trenchant premise, but then present an interminable, bright, shiny light-show of a visual experience and expect us to wait patiently in anticipation of the personal crisis-resolution denouement.
So I guess I'm bringing it back 'round to the key expectation we're supposed to have per the genre: Will our hero find the needed peace and resolution in his heart?
To tell you would be the spoiler. But I think I can say this: No, the flick doesn't exposit a tidy mechanism of catharsis and resolution. But I daresay it still can be said to show/tell us everything we need to see/hear.
I enjoyed the hell out of this flick. Give it a shot.
Best of Enemies (2015)
Enjoyable? Thoroughly. Even-handed? If you weren't there, can't say for sure.
WRT the "even-handedness" question, I will say that the editors of this work kept that goal in mind as they proceeded, such that you wind up seeing an interplay between Vidal and Buckley, which shifts gravitas and reason to and fro in an even-handed way.
Specifically, I came away with awe at what appears to have been a caginess on the part of Vidal. Vidal uses the first few debates to make Buckley think he doesn't have something substantial to say, then blindsides him with unexpected substance.
It's brilliant, and I think an unspoken component to the now-famous endgame outburst by Buckley. It's not about that outburst. Or, rather, the outburst isn't about its apparent target--getting name-called by Vidal. It's about the shock and revulsion at (from Buckley's perspective) a grimy little pseudo-intellectual pimp besting him at his own game.
Very enjoyable watch, if you go for this sort of thing.
Aaaarrrrrgh! As you watch, you desperately want this flick to surprise you; to break away from its B-flick moorings and soar.
But as things proceed... little by little, balls get dropped, false narrative notes get hit, unmitigated preposterousness creeps in, and you realize you wasted your time watching it. So unfortunate, particularly when you sense it might have tweaked a few things, here and there, and pulled it off.
If you value artfulness in a flick, ignore this one, sad to say.
Triple Frontier (2019)
ripping yarn, i guess, but an uncertain mix of parable and polemic
Much to like about it--a lot of nail-biting stuff. If you like he-man action with a bit more soul and realpolitik, this is the flick for you.
But I have to say that it would've been better if they'd managed their symbols and scenarios better. Sure, they didn't pull punches on the motivations of the characters, and we're certainly invited to notice certain moral paucities... but all told it's hard to come away moved by a vision of exactly what it is that goes awry in a "republic" that might produce a social effect such as this.
Still: Fantastic writing, no-hold-barred scenario work, fantastic production, fine direction, superbly close-to-the-bone acting.
Can't exactly put my finger on exactly what it is that niggles... but something does niggle.
Worth watching for the action and, one supposes, to find out if something niggles for you as well.
Love, Death & Robots (2019)
Yep. Sometimes I have to log in, come here to the comments, and put in my two bits JUST because... a show or movie made me cry. This is one of those times.
And even when a particular episode doesn't tug at those particular heartstrings, it winds up tugging at some others. And there's just not enough of that in popular media products, these days.
Netflix is picking up the old narrative gantlets that traditional media money is now leaving to (otherwise) shrivel up and die on the ground. Good on 'em.
Miracle Workers (2019)
Yet-another tilt at this old windmill; hit-and-miss
I appreciate effort to take on the "Big Dog", as Miracle Workers does.
But I can't give the effort very high marks, as big ambitions set you up to be judged by the apparent inspiration which ensues... and the inspiration here doesn't quite measure up.
An odd story: I was singing an old song to myself today... and it made me reflect on Miracle Workers, then come here to comment.
The song takes on the Big Dogs (feeble theology, misdirected romanticism, failure to think things through to meaningful conclusions), and it reminded me of how fey and ultimately distracting this new TV show is. It doesn't really take on the Dogs that desperately need taking on.
And in this lack, it highlights the mainstay virtues of contemporary high-dollar media production: Production folks have on-fire-hot rolodexes, which they use to bring to bear awesome talent; folks who can dependably and even admirably put it "in the can". And they do... and it *is* quite admirable. And that *is* what most media commentary/criticism is tending to fall back on.
But because they made that fateful choice to make this show yet-another Divine Romp, it naturally induces us to hold it to a higher standard. Blow my mind, or get out of my sight. And this show is a bit slipshod in that department.
But... I did rather enjoy seeing truly talented folks strut their stuff, and that truly is a sight to see. But the gulf between the expectations for the genre (Divine Romp) and the end product's tame/sloppy addressing of those expectations... niggles.
I've seen worse: "Angel from Hell" was (is?) worse. I've seen better: "God, the Devil, and Bob" was better.
An adventure (&... RIP)
Never really knew about him 'til an illustrator FB friend mentioned his passing.
Watching the documentary, I realize that I do remember "Crictor", which was a wonderful book. You're struck by the ballsy whimsy of it.
And the documentary tells you all you need to know, and it's a story about a unique man's adventure. It gives you the grand tour of a life lived among a very special family, on the Alsatian cusp, through war and fascism, foraging out an "art life" on the streets of New York.
Which reminds me of an important idea that this flick illuminates so well; when you have a story about a guy surfing the wave of his times, it's also about that wave. And I truly appreciate this movie's characterization of an age when capable illustrators "were King" in the media world; when magazines were ascendant, and illustration was an especially important outlet for those magazines' strainings for conveying ideas, insights, and... yes... (koff) marketing.
What a life! Take it in, enjoy it... and tip your hat to the great illustrators who still Roam The Earth even to this day!
El Topo (1970)
An inescapably personal experience... in a movie theater
This flick is one of those that is definitely more than a mere 2D light show: There's something about the experience of it that makes it very, very personal; psychedelically like your presence in the theater, watching it, is very much a part of the reality of the film. El Topo caught me in a place and at a time.
But... what I've said above could come off to some readers as at least as pretentious as they've come to see this movie. It deserves better from me.
Here's what it is: I saw the movie on "the big screen" in a local art house joint, shortly after it came out... so I was 16 or 17 or so when I saw it.
And it neatly concretized and confirmed my views on key things naturally on my mind as a kid who was trying to ramp up to be an adult contributor to ongoing dialog about matters of morals and policy in the American republic.
And what are those "key things"? They are: Being aware of hypocrisy and face-saving among my presumed "political betters"; the limits of popular "evangelical" notions of spirituality; the complicity of those notions in masking/deflecting honest private reflection and righteous change; how to metabolize a shocking and challenging fantasy of on-the-ground comeuppance.
That's a fair summary of the elements of El Topo which are clearly delineated in its exposition. And that's in spite of its arguable expressionistic excesses. It's a mixed bag, for sure: It has jarring imagery and swings to and fro... yet I have a distinct memory of a majestic, epic episodic block structure; an interminable portrayal of societal blindness and corruption... finally punctured thru with the advent of the sweet, innocent Christ figure, trying to gently bend that arc of corruption toward something less corrupt. Anyone telling you that the film is "simply" a mess is very likely a bit of a... simple person.
El Topo is not simply a mess. It's not.
I think that pretty much nails it, for me. It's one of those flicks that simultaneously reached out to touch me in a deeply personal--you might say subconscious way--and at the same time reflects a thoroughgoing interest in the usual nutsy-boltsy expectations associated with narrative craft. Kudos for that!
Oddly, this analysis obviates the usual downstream encouragement to all and sundry to hie themselves to the art house or DVD/Blueray emporium for forthwith delectation. Like I said: My experience of El Topo felt very participatory. Can you participate today?
Well... Who's to say? Maybe you should try to see it, and find out for yourself.
The Amazing Screw-On Head (2006)
Fantastic, accessible steampunk farce
I guess I wish this'd gotten picked up for series development, tho it perhaps only attests to my own pauperized imagination that I find it hard to imagine subsequent development living up to the high bar set by the pilot. Maybe that's why it didn't get picked up: The suits figured they'd really have to shell out the shekels to make it "work", and... just got cold feet at the thought of spending so much on what, after all, would be a lush, fantasmagorical fanboy snack.
I have no trouble with the sketchy nature of the animation; it's really all about story... and what a story this is! A story like this... you could really get away with an animatronic storyboard treatment!
Anyway, the pilot is "out there" for our delectation. Check it out!
Love it! I tend to respect movies which consist of one or more rolling spoken expositions, and this one is a series of lectures on film products as more or less witting commentaries on ideology.
Zizek works for me: He gets me to pay attention, and usually to have little "breakthrough(s) in grey room". Some are truly mind-blowing, the rest less so... but one of the great takeaways is to remind me of my own tendency to mine narrative products for ideological subtext. Zizek does what *I* do, tho arguably significantly better than I do; so he encourages me to do better.
Some points of style: I noticed one commenter accused Zizek of speaking in "broken" English. Zizek's English is *not* broken. I know: I teach ESL. Zizek may very well speak English better than that commenter. Zizek does have a thick accent, but to me this is just a spur to pay closer attention.
The spirit here is a wedding of thoughtful insight and just plain ol' FUN. Zizek is having *fun*, here. Enjoy the show *with* him!
The Brainwashing of My Dad (2015)
Entertaining intro to right-wing media methods... tho with flawed overview assumptions
I felt torn after watching this flick. On one hand, it's a not-half-bad way to get introduced to the history and methods of right-wing media. For my money, Manufacturing Consent is better, but "Brainwashing" gets some of the job done, fairly effectively.
But something niggled at me after watching. I needed time to further metabolize my experience and nail down my remonstrances. Luckily, my subconscious mind did it's usual dependable voodoo, and I feel I can now tell you what it is that takes some "stars" away from my rating.
It's this: The movie fails to show the real cure for what it was that ailed the titular Dad of this story.
It ends by describing how the family eventually weaned "Dad" away from right-wing media, and toward more positive social/civic messaging. And, by story's end, Dad seems to have brightened up and appears to be in a better place.
But... why does this not feel like a happy resolution/"positive takeaway" for me?
It fails because it doesn't show the true cure for what ailed Dad. The true cure is an abiding, (small-'r') republican concern for decent governance. These days, I would call this a healthy, life-affirming stoicism. At the beginning of the story the Dad is a dupe for negative emotional oversimplification; at the end he's dupe for positive emotional oversimplification.
The name of the game is to not be a dupe, of *any* stripe.
I remember when I first heard Rush Limbaugh. I heard him for about 20 minutes on a commute to an office gig, driving an old Dodge Colt that only had AM radio. I found him entertaining enough on that first exposure. So I turned him on again on my next commute. It was either on that second exposure, or maybe by my third, that my stoic self sat up and took notice: Rush had no real civic sensibility. I eventually would have needed to hear that he had his feet solidly on the ground of civic engagement and factual awareness. But I began to notice that his exposition was like a swiss cheese riddled with holes, where those holes are various and sundry dodges and tricks of emotional oversimplification that I was supposed to metabolize as an abiding concern for the American republic, but which I recognized for the sham they were. I probably didn't listen to him a fourth time, done with him after a week.
The film can't give us an image of a Dad who's become more truly circumspect and stoically engaged with the world around him... which is what's fundamental to the promise of sustainable (small-'r') republicanism. It can't give us that image probably because the Dad never figures that out.
Not the best resolution to the key issue, by my way of evaluating these things.
Which is why I can't really recommend this movie, or might give it a hedged recommendation.
I recommend the writings of Chomsky and Herman if you want to understand how right-wing media works. As mentioned above, the Canadian production of the "Manufacturing Consent" movie is a pretty decent way to get a fairly comprehensive overview of the issues broached by the book(s).
It is *so* gratifying to see that these guys still have it.
They mix some great new stuff with old faves and tear the house down.
There's really nothing else to say about the performances: They're still super creative and funny after "all these years".
The production for the special is excellent. The sound is perfect, and the video includes some very clever superimposed dual cam shots which seamlessly cross fade.
Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)
Rated highly because it's been a long, long time...
...a long, long time since I've seen a flick which struck me so much of-a-piece.
This is a wonderfully organic movie, from bottom (production) to top (myth).
I'm not going to go on about production, save to say everything is perfect.
Though touching briefly on direction and acting; it's perfect.
And finally EVEN THE MYTH is a clean, clear, atomic, operatic, droning presence, from start to finish. Again, this is of-a-piece: Lee's alienation from other humans and her will to deceive are one-and-the-same thing. That's very, very refreshing to see in a Hollywood product. You could say it fills the gap between big-budget filmed entertainment that obfuscates this reality, and smaller-budget stuff that simply doesn't address it. The fact that they could produce a compelling story from a theme which is notoriously intimidating to watch on the Big Screen (because it's so painful) is certainly something to think about.
Side Note: A famous film that stunningly showcased Hollywood's aforementioned market-driven compulsion to ply its moral obfuscation also featured Richard E. Grant; Altman's The Player!
Anyway... I dare say this is really, practically a perfect movie. It had me on the edge of my seat while showing something ultimately quite predictable: Only the alienated can routinely commit such acts of shabby-yet-criminal fraud.
bloody and irrelevant
Weird flick. Nice visual stylizing, shot-by-shot. Odd choice to mix French and English. I guess it was a effort to shoehorn a pretense of european classiness into a marketing-driven "need" to play to an English-speaking demographic.
They started with a sure-fire premise, which was essentially a "spit on your grave"-type story rehash. But the script was written by a hack, and the direction/production thought they could just run with it. But that never really works: The scripted weirdnesses shine right on through. There were all these little childish touches, like an eye-rolling take on "peyote", recovering from solar plexus impalement, makeshift cauterization in lieu of stitches, unlikely character glitches, a furtive "search party" sequence that wasn't blocked in a way that built tension and momentum, ... and other stuff.
And I know that in the current day we have to be careful about this, but as you assimilate the character "development", some modulated slut-shaming is not uncalled-for. I suppose you could say this part of the character development cleverly pointed to an "all-creatures-great-and-small" moral imperative--that is, even sluts deserve basic decent treatment. But I'm not sure I bought into that. And I'm NOT saying the "slut deserved what she got." I'm saying that she is "who she is", and however you want to label her is trumped by the overriding factor that she appears to self-identify as a piece of meat from frame one. So the scenario creates a challenge for the filmmaker: Can she(?!) convince us to discover a redemption of the woman *in her own heart*. That's the best I can offer, and I daresay the filmmaker fails on this. To me, she morphs from a piece of meat into a pissed-off piece of meat. Huzzah.
Truth be told, the script is hit-and-miss, but misses often enough where it eventually loses a discriminating viewer, and you're just left assimilating a morally adrift manhunt blood sport sequence.
And if that floats yr boat, fine. But if you appreciate narrative integrity, skip it.
Yea, verily: A Classic
So much muddy Woody water's run under the bridge over the years, that I've come to be turned off by Allen. I suppose there's some chance I may have missed something he did that's worth watching in those intervening years, but... well, there you have it.
But "Sleeper" falls on the cusp of two eras for Allen: Before, he pretty much just adapted thematized stand-up routines for the screen. After, he fancied himself an "auteur". Here, he hits a sweet spot. And how sweet it is!
It's homage, it's wacky, it's new, it's physical, it's comic and comedic. I daresay for the dated techniques and low-budget limitations it nonetheless gets off the ground, then fairly soars.
A fun flick to take in, of an evening. What's stopping you?
Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018)
sigh... yes, Moore bends reality... but what a master.
Moore makes me wonder what all he's trying to slide under my radar because... my radar sometimes registers weird blips.
I'll talk about that in a second. But first, kudos on Moore doing yet-again what he does so well: He gets us to sit up and take notice, and does so by reminding us not to lose sight of "the ball"--that being, the things that really matter in a sustainable republic: Public health; preparing the next generation to assume the mantle of sustaining that republic; and the glue that binds all that together, a healthy reality-basis for policy and praxis.
And that why I rate this flick relatively highly. Someone has to remind us of these things, and if one of those people is Moore, so be it.
But at the same time, you occasionally get a whiff of Moore going too far with his editorial decisions as he crafts these pageants to progressive democratic republicanism. What was it for you? For me, it was his decision NOT to point out the specific mechanism by which Bernie Sanders got stiffed during the primaries. Moore sells it as simple highway robbery. It wasn't. Well, it arguably *was* a robbery... but it's vitally important for progressive-minded folks thinking of entering the political fray to understand that Bernie "was robbed" under the auspices of a long-standing institution of the U.S. Democratic Party, and that institution is the "superdelegates".
I don't think this is picking nits to point this out. It's a problem with Moore, from time to time. It verges on "white" lying. I think he figures it's a better sell; a more effective way to agitate and activate a sleeping giant of popular progressive socialist thinking. I differ on this point. People need to know these things. Knowing Things is the basis for activism if it hopes to produce real change.
But... I could also argue that in light of the stakes in this game--the game in which U.S. progressives wage war against U.S. post-war propagandistic social programming that suppresses the implementation of *real* republicanism and furthers the short-term interest of economic/power elites--Moore's "offenses" are small potatoes, indeed. Given that he's fighting for the average American--and he is--more power to him.
I slight my rating by a single star for the abovementioned editorial indiscretion, and another star for a sense that he occasionally slips and fails to artistically segue the segments in his presentation.
Other than that... well worth watching.
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Amazing how NETFLIX is trying to cover all the bases
First: Enjoyed the flick! It was a sort of well constructed Hallmark-style feelgood Xmas special! It teetered on the edge of outright cornball, on the verge of teetering on over into that chasm from time to time... but (by my lights) always managed to pull back in the Nick o' time!
So, if you're in the mood to watch a decent Xmas type fantasy special, check it out.
But this was, for me, the No.2 in a 1-2 punch regarding Netflix. Just read an interview with a Coen brother (forget which) where he seemed to indicate that the normal channels for the kinds of big bucks he and his brother need to make their particular magic happen... were drying up. So he pointed out the nouveaux riches of the Internet media companies as the new go-to sources... which rather blew my mind!
And then... I see The Christmas Chronicles! Someone in Netflix's boardroom had the bright idea that no demographic stone should be left unturned. Bravo to that personage and an extra scoop of Exec Chow in their hubcap tonight!
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
It was interesting to watch this as a sort of period piece.
I have super happy memories of Murphy on SNL. He's a truly gifted guy.
I guess I can see that a flick like this can be entertaining to watch at home. But I really do expect better. I guess it works better for me if a cops-robbers flick is an honest drama infused with comedy, and this appears to be a comedy draped over a "hard-stories-in-the-big-city" dramatic framework. That don't hunt. I suspect they thought the exercise would be redeemed because of (minor spoiler) the sundry inversions: Inversions of (economic) class, flyover vs. coastal, and race are thrown in for good measure. You can feel the storytellers are trying too hard to earn those heartstring tugs.
This dog *could've* hunted--if it'd been better written. But this one wasn't, so it don't.
I accord it a few stars because of the effort. But it was a bit of an effort to watch, so....
Anyway: Can't recommend it, if you like an honest story.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
Moving, touching, thoughtful
One of the Coens (fergit which) made an interesting comment on how the media money system is shifting... and they've had to surf that wave in order to continue to make the kinds of picture shows they're accustomed to making.
Which, in a way, is what you'll find that the segment "Meal Ticket" is all about.
These are six bold, gutsy, little vignettes that... may be set in the Old American West, but... in fact transcend time and space.
Some you may recognize (I read "All Gold Canyon" as a kid), and some will be new to you. The opening number is a riotous explosion of character development, the rest keep the 4th wall neatly erect. But they *all* invite you in.
The acting talent--all of it--acquits themselves with the highest professionalism and artistry.
This is truly a high point of the Coen Brothers' oeuvre. Check it out.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
The key (for me) to The Hateful Eight is that it is fine, fine theater.
And that means that it flows like a vital river--as does all good theater.
It's like a natural phenomenon. But, of course, it's also somehow special, and in that way for which Tarantino is known: Create a scenario in which quiet deceptions and general moral ossifications are flung at high velocities against the wall, examine the data from the scattering, and draw your own moral conclusions.
These are ordinary theatrics. The amazing thing is how Tarantino makes them compellingly ponderable, in real time, on the big screen. Yet again.
I "fault" my rating by one star, but only because this doesn't exceed a very, very high-water mark set by Pulp Fiction.
Check it out.
A rich media product
Gotta do my part to pull this thing out the low-ratings doldrums!
Can't figure out why folks don't like it; it's got it all: It's got action, it's got heart, it's got "parlor" sensibility. Think of it: It's a "parlor piece" with action and colorful backstory flashbacks.
Loved it! Would like to see more like it!
Enjoyed seeing Raymond Cruz! I've only known him as "Tuco", and really relished the opportunity to have him show me he can stretch.
Come for the dreams
Always liked folks daring to just put their dreams out there via the arts. Love it when cartoonists do it (Woodring, Holt), and filmmakers like Bunuel and Fellini.
And this flick is a fine exemplar of this esthetic. These are the dreams that you rejoice in; the ones that make you stop in your tracks because the level of needed engagement precludes getting on with other things.
And, in keeping with this esthetic, it's surely expected to be something of a garage sale. Some things are going to be immediately recognized as true "finds", and other might not quite blip yr radar--but the point is that you can be sure some of those scenarios that didn't resonate will nonetheless resonate with others. That's the beauty.
Need to add, I suppose, that the production values are fantastic. I was even a little surprised to see some of that production going above/beyond. He didn't need to exert himself that much, but did anyway. Sort of Kubrickian in that way.
If you are a person with a rich nighttime dream life, I think you'll find a kindred spirit at work in this flick. But even if not, if you are a person who understands that the mysteries of those scenarios thrown over the wall from the subconscious are worth delictating, you'll dig this.
Check it out.
Not for me: Superb technically, lacking narratively
Subject sez all, but here's some elaboration.
Beautifully produced: Fantastic and captivating in every sense. But it runs off the rails about 1/2-way through. The simple way to describe it might be "producers' cold-feet syndrome," where the money people didn't trust that the flick's maintaining tone, plus the planned narrative end-game, would put butts in the seats and recoup expenses. So they just ran roughshod over the director and turned the thing into a weird spook house cavalcade. There was some tying together of the first and last halves of the flick, using the grandmom as a ligature, but I didn't buy it.
Of course, there's a chance the film got made as planned, and the planning for the narrative direction was just screwed up from the get-go.
The film's technical mastery starts out so great, I'd almost be tempted to advise that you rent it just to watch the first half. But in the end, ... that's a dumb idea. Forget I suggested it.
I was looking forward to Byrne cutting another notch representing his contribution to another noble artistic effort! So sad!
Sigh: Avoid it.
Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
It's a great story, incredibly well told.
The Coens continue to hone their own craft, and work with able others to create truly fantastic spectacle. Watching this comes close to tipping me over to the view that they do drama better than they do comedy... but I'll demur: They're non-overlapping magisteria.
I've observed other very good, very descriptive comments in these IMDb User Comments, so I'll leave it here and send you there. The stuff folks point out--the faithful reproduction of intimate artistic moments; a portrayal that makes the invisible visible; all production details lovingly attended to--is wonderfully true.
My only qualifier to all the above comes down to whether you find this kind of slice-of-life, everyman heroism compelling.
But I'll add this: If you tend to characterize all that as hoity-toity art-house frippery, I'll send you to this flick, anyway: I daresay it just might bring you around.
Check it out.
Rick and Morty: Pickle Rick (2017)
One of the best, in my book
It's perfect. There's not much more to say. The scenario work, dialog, direction, acting, pacing, EVERYTHING.
The writing is super, super intelligent. Well... I will note a kind of "goof" in the underlying science at one point. (DON'T consider the following a "spoiler":) It shows Rick stimulating "parts" of a cockroach's "brain" to tap it's motor functions. Pretty sure that early stimulus/motor-response scenario is not in keeping with our current understanding of the nervous function of the arthropods. For some time now, robotics researchers have recognized the effectiveness of "distributed intelligence" and point to insects as examples of this.
BUT!!! I don't care! The story is fantastic, and I loved the writing for Dr. Wong, and the challenging thematic treatment of therapy. I'd like to think that if there's a downstream effect, it'll be in the direction of getting *more* Rick and Morty weenies to consider seeing a professional... not *less*.
Please, R&M producers: Hew more in *this* direction in future development!