Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ingrid Bergman As the Forgotten Catalyst of the #MeToo Movement

After a loooooong hiatus, probably the longest one I've taken because I just didn't know what I could say in a world of more turmoil than most of us can handle. Example: My last post was about gun control and how it's intimately tied to nationalist seeds that were planted in the 90's when there was too much domestic terrorism going around. Interestingly enough, this wast in response the Charlottesville rally, way before #NeverAgain and the shootings in Parkland and subsequent student outcries and marches. It's as if the minute you think of something important and culturally appropriate to write, something else happens before you type your first sentence. Our world under the Trump administration is 'sour cream in the sauna' as Patton Oswalt put it. The minute you think you have something important to say about one catastrophe another one comes around and that one becomes moot. And after a while you're depressed thinking; what's the damn point? However this blog was started about film tv and the media, and in my account I noticed many drafts that I started but never finished; about Taylor Swift's new ridiculous album where she reinvents herself and contradicts herself at the same time and why do we care ...the brilliance of the Ryan Murphy machine and why I believe that American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace contrary to popular opinion was actually pretty brilliant. But I had lost my mojo. Sounds better than I'd lost my will to give a shit. 
Today a movie I had heard of, but had never seen was on TCM and I watched it because I love (I was about to say 'old movies' but that's so disrespectful) The Golden Age of Hollywood and everyone knows how much I geek out on that shit. I had heard the psychological term that was taken from the title of this film, surprisingly from my therapist but never really understood what it was about until I watched the film Gaslight (1944). It stars Ingrid Bergman in an Academy Award-winning performance, Charles Boyer, and Joseph Cotton. Because it's a 1940's film there has to be an angle and an actual diabolical plot, but I can see why the term 'gaslighting' comes from the film. For those not in the know, first of all good for you ...but we've probably all been gaslighted in one way or another, usually by a person close to us and intimate in our lives. It means when a person systematically and psychologically wears you down and makes you mentally weak; making your ability to recognize your decisions, your opinions, and your very relationship to reality to be questioned. Ingrid plays the victim of gaslighting before psychological therapy was even a thing. What really got to me was that Bergman is able to not necessarily recognize what is happening to her, is able to get away (with male help) but still. 
A beaten down, psychologically exhausted Bergman shows in her eyes that she's had enough. 
Most people, when they think of Ingrid Bergman they have the picture from Casablanca (1941) in their mind when an emotional beauty asks Humphrey Bogart how she will go one without him and he just hold her chin and says 'we'll always have Paris.' Then she waves at her one true love through a fog as she climbs on a plane that will take her to safety. But her career has taken a turn for the more inadvertently sociopolitical since then.
Then it made me think of other Bergman films and realized that there is a fundamental feminist thread inadvertently running through her film career and her roles. She almost always plays a victim of some kind of psychological torture. Another famous example is Spellbound (1945) directed by Alfred Hitchcock and co-starring Gregory Peck, where his character has amnesia and she plays HIS therapist and to get him to remember his past correctly she must travel to the darkest depths of his subconscious and risk her own sanity in the process. 
Moving to the 50's, she at that time had been ostracized by the Hollywood community for leaving her family to marry Roberto Rosselini and have children with him. It must've hard to be blacklisted like that for personal decisions. Yul Brynner costarred with her in Anastasia (1956) for which she won her second Academy Award (and not her last one), and he in fact said that unless she was cast, he wouldn't do the film. She (again) plays a woman with many psychological dysfunctions and appears to be weak emotionally and mentally. And yet, she always overcomes, and how more feminist can something like that be, even in those times? When the patriarchy is not only not in your favor, but is telling you that everything you say or do is wrong, and you have the courage to stand up to that and say; I don't care. I know who I am and you can stop trying to take that away from me. 
A woman found about to kill herself on the banks of the Siene River is rescued by Yul Brynner but through her own initiative takes her rightful place among what she knows is her destiny. 
It was cataclysmic in the 40's and 50's. Most people would point out Katherine Hepburn or Marilyn Monroe for being so overtly opinionated and strong whether they use intellect or their sexuality as their weapon, but to look at Ingrid Bergman and her behavior both on and off the screen would make her at the crux of the #MeToo movement. 
To back track just a little. My favorite film of hers was always the Hitchcock film Notorious (1941) where she plays opposite Cary Grant as a spy. Here's the background. Her character Alicia a party girl and quite the drunk, which is understandable considering her father was just prosecuted and jailed for Nazi war crimes and she wants nothing to do with him or his affiliations. To redeem herself, she is offered a job by the American government as a spy to infiltrate a Nazi collective in Argentina and is made to go further and further into the inner circle until she is proposed to by a Nazi war criminal. She decides for the sake of the mission to accept, throwing herself into greater danger. Once her husband discovers that he's married to an American agent, he and his mother decide to slowly poison her so that they can kill her but it wouldn't look like murder. After a while, she gets wind of exactly what's going on but decides to see the mission through, and it is only because they have weakened her so much physically that she is unable to save herself and Cary Grant has to swoop in and literally carry her out of the house to safety. 

Adapting a more androgynous look, trying futility to hide her incredible beauty, Bergman knows that she is a pawn in a game between covert operations by the United States and the clandestine Nazis in Argentina and still fully throws herself into danger, because she can handle anything anyone throws at her in Notorious (1945). 
But her gall, fearlessness,  off the wall intelligence and intuition, is absolutely astounding in this film. I wish every young girl can see any of Bergman's work because she was a role model without even knowing it. Yes, she did what she wanted, and she put every part of herself into her very complicated roles and left her blood and sweat on the floor. She did it with class, with grace, and with an unshakable sense of assertion. She brings strength to very vulnerable characters and gives women a voice and a dignity in an era when that was most usually overlooked. She gave women a great role model whether she meant to or not, and she did it over 60 years ago. She did this by being hyperaware of the type of woman she wanted to be and to portray, and did it with absolutely no fear. She's not trying to be 'as good as a man'. She's being a woman, and a woman who is stronger and better than a man could ever aspire to be.

Some clips below to entice you: 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Our Government Surrendered This War a Long Time Ago

McVeigh's defiant mugshot. 
Netflix has a new documentary out on the Oklahoma City Bombing that I've decided to watch, partly because I have a morbid fascination by the dark and the devastation that can occur in a country that supposedly is the greatest in the world (that's why we moved to it), and partly because I did live through it and the precursors that led up to it. 
If you were born in the 90's or something, or just didn't pay 1995, on April 19th, a 26-year-old disaffected Gulf War vet named Timothy McVeigh planted a giant fertilizer bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in a rented truck and set off the fuse. The front of the building was leveled, over 600 people were injured with almost 200 people killed, a lot of them being children who were dropped off that morning at the day care center that was on the first floor. It was domestic terrorism on a level that Americans had never seen, and the deadliest attack on American soil of civilians until 9/11. He was caught, tried, and convicted. He was executed in 2001. 

McVeigh's chilling perp walk. 
A few years ago, living in Los Angeles, I started writing a script about the bombing, not about McVeigh, but about what happens to a person that leads him to create such a horrifying act of hate against innocent men women and children. He did not have a criminal record, he had an honorable discharge from the army, and when they did a perp walk with him and people got a look at him for the first time, amidst shouts of 'baby killer' and 'monster', he looked like a regular home-grown salt of the earth kid, with a thousand yard stare on his face. His subsequent interviews show no glimmer of any type of mental illness nor any remorse, which is terrifyingn and blood curdling. He had just murdered almost 200 innocent people and not an ounce of regret was expressed. The way he spoke about it, seemed like he was talking about a mission that he had to do in Iraq. 
The first thing investigators noticed that April 19th happened to be the anniversary of the Waco compound standoff that culminated in the Branch Davidians setting the building on fire without letting many adults and children out despite the plea of the Government. 

David Koresh mid-preach. The media labeled him 'the sinful messiah' who would talk politics, have a beer with you, and just happens to have sex with underage girls. 
Backstory on that: In the 70's, in a small town in Texas, on Mount Carmel the Branch Davidians created a cult that eventually passed to its most passionate follower David Koresh. He preached a lot, saw himself as the messiah, bible-thumped, you know, cult bullshit like that. Oh I forgot to mention he had over 20 wives about half of whom were minors. One day a FedEx delivery man calls the FBI because one of his crates that he regularly delivered accidentally opened and a large amount of grenades fell out. The FBI conveyed this information to the ATF (that's bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms for those of you that don't live in Bible Belt states) and they discovered that Koresh and his followers had been turning semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons which are illegal in readiness for the opening of the Seven Seals, and Armageddon and other cult bullshit. Then the stand-off began. I forgot to mention, it was a siege that lasted 51 days in 1993. It attracted a lot of media attention and many drove down to Waco to see it, many of whom had anti-Government pro-gun nationalist beliefs, and saw the Government as this big bully who was trying to take away people's guns. One of those spectators was Timothy McVeigh who was actually interviewed for a local news segment. The negotiator knew that there were children inside and begged Koresh to at least let them out, most of them were able to go. But about 30 of them (whom Koresh claimed were his children stayed). On the 51st day, Janet Reno the Attorney General under the Clinton Administration saw the films that Koresh had sent to the media during the siege, and ordered the FBI, ATF, and SWAT special forces to go into the compound with battery rams. 

The compound at Mt. Carmel engulfed in flames after 51 days of negotiation. 
Let me make this PERFECTLY CLEAR. I never in my life nor do I now, believe that the fire that engulfed the Waco compound was started by the Government. The documentary that I watched and eye-witness testimony confirms that they clearly heard Davidians inside dousing the compound with petrol and telling others to put on their gas masks. And then, the unthinkable happened. A small billow of smoke was seen out of a window on the top floor, and all special forces were ordered to back off. Within seconds the entire compound lit up like nothing I had ever seen before, with over 100 Davidians still inside. 
Timothy McVeigh was incensed by this. He grew up tall and lanky and was bullied in school and in the army. He saw the Government as a big bully that had to be taken down a peg. And if innocent lives got in the way, so be it. His rage was also fueled by the incident at Ruby Ridge (I believe it was in '91), where Randy Weaver and his family were killed in a stand off by with the FBI after they had learned that he had been sawing off shotguns for the KKK. So white nationalists put two and two together and basically started a battle cry that was something along the lines of; the Government is attacking whitey and taking away whitey's guns, fuck them, let's destroy them. 
Today, it seems like gun violence and white supremacy go hand in hand, and the seeds of this were planted in the '90's with the aforementioned events. Many guns around the '90's were purchased at gun shows, which were frequented by mostly white supremacists at the time. Along with this hateful rhetoric, something that really affected McVeigh's belief in nationalism and gun ownership was a book called 'The Turner Diaries'. It's basically the KKK bible. I haven't read it (obviously), so I have no idea what it's about. I heard in my research that it's about a man who fears 'white genocide' pfffft...and goes to live in a cabin in the woods with his most precious possession; his guns. White genocide...I mean the gall that you have to have to use that term. Seriously. If you're a white person and you say that to a Jew or an African American, or an American Indian...etc., you deserve to have your ass kicked. 

We all remember this right? 'Jews will not replace us'. Don't worry potato face, I don't want whatever it is that you do. 
So now, people cling to the Second Amendment like it's drift wood in a violent ocean. Most of these people are more than likely racist, and have grandiose delusions of grandeur. And in the midst of all of this recent gun violence that has been, and will continue to go on and on and on without the government doing anything is because the government is too scared of people starting to bring up Waco, or Ruby Ridge. But those were instances where the Government had full autonomy to do what it did. And where it leads is a situation like the bombing in Oklahoma City. That's the logical escalation. We sit and wonder why even Democrats won't talk about harsher gun control legislation after catastrophes like Sandy Hook, and most recently in Sutherland Springs, because they remember what happened throughout the '90's and what kind of hell will come down on them if they move on it. They're afraid of another Oklahoma City. This does not excuse it whatsoever. The atrocities of the 90's that, I swear to god made me bawl like I've never bawled, will never be erased from the American consciousness and nationalists and white supremacists will always use it as leverage against stricter gun laws.
With the white power rally in Charlottesville, we can see a kind of u-turn back to those cataclysmic times, and it's terrifying to think that domestic terrorism is once again taking front and center in our narrative. All it takes is for one man to have a completely skewed and ill-informed consciousness to lead to unspeakable acts of terror. Mental illness is not the problem. The Government (especially the Trump administration) is quick to blame it on anything aside from laxed gun laws that murder far too many people. Everyone (including myself) is up in arms about; how can Congress not discuss this? How can they say that it is not the time? They understand that they should believe me. They are like those farmers in and around Germany in the 1940's who lived quietly next door to death camps and said and did nothing, knowing full well what was happening, and later denying it. Put a gun in the hands of a white nationalist filled with hatred, resentment, and nothing but rage, and that's all it takes. I don't know if love and tolerance is enough to get us through this, or the understanding that when the Founding Fathers wrote the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution they were talking about gun powder war muskets and bayonets not semi-automatic weapons that are distributed to the Army before they are deployed to a war zone. It's very black and white, and the Government doesn't want to be the bad guy. They know that if they tighten the rope around the 2nd Amendment, there will be an uprising that will very likely lead to another Ruby Ridge, another Waco, and eventually another Oklahoma City. This is however no excuse because it's getting to the point where it's like cancer; every single person will soon know or be someone who was killed due to gun violence. And now more than ever it's out of control. That's a scary thought. 
Side Note: If you Google: 'shooting in...' like I had to for this blog post, every city in the damn country comes up.
Also: There is a mini-series coming up about the Waco Siege. I don't have an opinion on it, but it looks like a Blame-the-Government kind of angle so I'm not so happy about it. Trailer below. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Ode to Musician Bio-Pics

I'm excited, are you excited?
So the production of Bohemian Rhapsody is well under way with director Bryan Singer who debuted with The Usual Suspects back in the 90's and went on to make no more good movies, and of class action lawsuit for having sex with underaged boys at his Hollywood mansion fame. Just so you know, this production went through like 18 casting changes and I don't even know how many fall outs over creative differences. Apparently the gramps with amps, leftovers of Queen; Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor want to make it more about the band than a Fred bio-pic. Let's be real, people only liked or in my case loved Queen because of Fred Mercury. He was the creative glue that gifted us with truly one of the most amazing stage presences and one that seems impossible for imitation, some of the most innovative songs in the Rock 'n Roll cannon, and an unforgettable voice making him truly one of the greatest front men of any era. And without him, the others would have faded into obscurity before the 70's even started. Sasha Baron Cohen was in line to play him and I supported that. He has a great voice as he's proved in the terrible film Les Miserables, and it's an inspiring casting decision considering he's a comic actor but has a presence and eccentricity factor akin to Mercury himself. Then they cast Ben Whishaw, I mean...whatever. Eventually it all fell on Rami Malek's gorgeously flawless shoulders, and early release photos are indicative that he's got this down. What is kind of annoying, aside from having a confirmed rapist directing a film about one of my favorite icons of music, is that Freddie has been dead for 20 years, his long time lover and life partner Jim Hutton died in 2010, and Brian and Roger are the only ones who 'want to do Freddie justice' granted, they know him very well, they were like a family, a band is a marriage blah blah blah, but it still seems like this would be their baby and their interpretation of Fred's legacy rather than an objective homage to this god-like figure. Well, we'll see. In this spirit of this highly anticipated film here's a list of other very inspired casting decisions in music bio-pics

The film culminates in Queen's iconic performance at Live Aid in 1985.

Val Kilmer as Doors frontman Jim Morrison and everyone in the supporting cast of Across the Universe can fuck off.

Also goes without saying that Jamie Foxx and Ray Charles and Angela Bassett as Tina Turner are iconic and it their performances are basically seamless. So here are some lesser-known imitators. 
Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner's Daughter because well yeah.
O'Shea Jackson Jr. as his own father Ice Cube in Straight Outta Compton. That's quite the responsibility, in fact I kinda dig the whole cast of the film.

Gary Oldman's premiere performance as Sid Vicious in Sid and Nancy. I remember thinking; holy shit who is that. They found his fucking twin, also they make being a junkie look pretty glamorous. Also, lest we forget, this is the film premiere of one Courtney Love. (Strangely not as Nancy Spungen).
Most bio-pics about The Beatles really suck. This isn't that. In Nowhere Boy, Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays a very young John Lennon in his art school days, wanting to start a skiffle band and reuniting with his estranged mother only to have her die in a car accident a few months later. He meets Paul McCartney and the seeds of the Beatles are planted. It's really not about the band at all, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson gives a very mature performance while being only 17 during shooting and falling in love with his director Sam Taylor-Wood...they went on to get married despite the 33 year age difference, and she went on to direct Fifty Shades of was a simple time. 

The main cast of The Runaways. Yeah Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart did Twilight movies together, but let's just forget that happened for two seconds and focus on this tiny film where no doubt the main cast had to take major salary cuts in order to play one of the most important glitter rock/punk rock cross over all-girl bands in an era of cock rock. But i'm sure Dakota and Kristen could afford it with their Twilight money to play Cherie Currie and Joan Jett respectfully. They actually nailed it. Teenage chicks in corsets and electric the 70' was just so damn cool. I miss them.

professional alcoholic and pouty lip caddy John Rhys-Meyers was only 21 when he undertook the role of Bryan Slade; a Marc Bolan and David Bowie hybrid in Velvet Goldmine, hands down, one of my favorite films; one of my favorite sub-genre's of music; Glam rock. Directed by one of my favorite living filmmakers Todd Haynes, so really pretty fucking perfect. 
Ewan McGregor; same movie. Curt Wild was an amalgam of two of my favorite musicians; Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. And all the other favorites I mentioned prior, so you get it. 
Out of the 7 actors that played a version of Bob Dylan, Cate Blanchett definitely outshines all of them in I'm Not There (again, by Todd Haynes), not just because of the gender fluidity, but her speaking style, mannerisms, and attitude of Bob Dylan during his rock transition was absolutely something else. She should have won the Oscar that year. You know what? She should win every Oscar she's nominated for.
Oddly hot weirdo Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash in Walk the Line was the role he was born to play. It was nuanced and really worked on, you could tell that it was almost an immersion and not an imitation.

Petit Frenchy Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for her performance of national treasure Edith Piaf. I kind of am severely in love with Edith Piaf, the first music I listened to was all of her recordings, so it's kind of an unhealthy obsession. I truly believe that no better music exists. A lot comes close but Piaf poured her heart into every song and the passion of her voice gets under your skin and grabs you by the spine. This metaphor is not making any sense. She is the greatest torch singer to ever torch sing, and the pain of her life is in every note she hits. Marion did her own singing, and she nailed the fuck out of this.

Ok trailers below: 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Movie That Can't Movie

Clever marketing I'll give them that. That's about all I'll give them.
So where do I begin ...I threw up, and I came home shaking. And no this wasn't from a night of heavy drinking. I don't drink anymore but after seeing Mother! I wish someone had stuck a bottle of vodka up my ass. So many things bother me about this absolute garbage presented as art, (and I should know, I wrote my graduate thesis on Warhol). So, let's start with the big one: ripping off so many filmmakers I can't even count. I'll take you through the short list. The obvious one is Polanski, in particular Rosemary's Baby, then the body horror sub-genre created by one David Cronenberg which was totally bastardized. The pseudo-realism of Michelle Gondry, and the female protagonist suffering and being unconscionably passive a la Cassavetes (who is one of my favorite filmmakers).

'What have you done to its eyes!?' The iconic ending of Rosemary's Baby proving that the real horror is on the face of the person reacting, therefore there is no need to actually show it. What the human mind can imagine is always worse than any horror you can show. Again, epic fail Mother!

Horror movie that took forever to horror was not so much a fright or a smart unraveling of a mystery like say Get Out, which breathed new life into a dying genre. This was just torture. I paid Aronofsky to torture me for 2 hours and three showers couldn't shake that shit off of me. 
This blog post might not make much sense but that's how disoriented I am. Fuck this movie, seriously. I know that Aronofsky has a penchant for religious symbolism and imagery but pick a fucking lane. You either utilize the symbolism or you go full monty on the blood and guts. This was the latter as if I was watching a film student ripping off the SAW franchise. To say that this was an unpleasant experience is an understatement, but back to the religion stuff. There's a shit ton of it and he's spreading it thick like cement; he's layering it like a parfait; pick a metaphor. 

This was in the trailer so it's fair game. Really driving the Garden of Eden metaphor all the way home. 
One thing that my friend and I agreed on was this whole idea that Aronofsky seems to be obsessed with is the parable from the Old Testament where God is apparently drunk on the job and keeps creating societies that he disapproves of, boom comes a flood, and clean new start. That's actually explored and nuanced (somewhat sloppily in his prior film; Noah), but that sentiment is crammed down our throats so hard with a chimney sweep's brush. Apparently Aronofsky has never heard of nor is familiar with the concept of subtlety. I really can't go further into it without revealing the plot and the marketing department made so sure that they weren't going to give away ANYTHING to trick people into shelving out 12 dollars to see CENSORED CENSORED of fucking CENSORED CENSORED. Here are a few biblical themes that I'm just going to shuffle for you just to confuse you because I'm confused and I don't want to be the only one: Cain and Abel, immaculate conception, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus healing the blind, lots of Jesus actually; garden of Eden, forbidden fruit, original sin, there's some myth of Sisyphus sprinkled on it as well. It literally just builds until even the most well versed graduate student in Divinity would go; fuck this shit. 

Director David Cronenberg in between takes with his star James Woods on the set of the film Videodrome; which this film steals heavily from and as a Cronenberg superfan, it's infuriating. 

Want to watch a competent film with religious allegory check out Fellini's Satyricon, Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, Todd Hayne's Poison, ANYTHING by Ingmar Bergman, or even some episodes of 'Lost' will do. 
Another thing that really pissed me off was that Aronofsky decided to throw out structure all together. You really would think that this was some bullshit made by a first year film student at a bottom tier film school (sorry film schools). Movie takes two and a half acts to movie and most of the first 110 or so minutes are following Jennifer Lawrence with a shaky hand held, camera making me more nauseous than watching Blair Witch on the big screen. It was done so much ad nauseam that I actually got to study her cool updo's and french braids pretty well because there was little else to do. 
Again, I really can't go into the plot, and if I did, you wouldn't see the film, but how about this; take my word for it. I'll even throw money into the pot. Don't see this movie. Or do, you might be a masochist, whatever. 
The golden rule of filmmaking that was first coined by the late great Billy Wilder and echoed by filmmakers worth their salt for generations is; 'respect your audience'. You're not making a film for yourself, you're making it so others will see it otherwise, what's the damned point? Aronofsky apparently didn't get that memo. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Battle of the Tennis Movies

LaBeouf and Gudnason.
TIFF just opened its doors and premiered with the anticipated Borg/McEnroe with Hollywood's favorite bad boy de jour Shia LaBeouf as the favorite bad boy of tennis John McEnroe, and newcomer (at least to American Cinema) Sverrir Gudnason as Björn Borg; the machine. This film (bio-pic what have you) is about the 1980 Wimbeldon match. The first Wimbeldon and Borg in his record-breaking 5th. It was perhaps the most important match of 21 year old's McEnroe's career and just so happened to be the first out of the gate. He was the only thing standing between Borg and a record of 5 straight Singles Men's Wimbeldon wins. This is all before McEnroe started a reputation of yelling at referees, throwing rackets, and just turning the whole sport into a spectacle. Don't get me wrong, he's talented AF, so the spectacle was still one hell of a sport to watch when McEnroe was playing it. That's perhaps why LaBeouf was cast. Perhaps they are kindred spirits. The film premiered a few nights ago, and LaBeouf received almost universal praise for his portrayal of the tennis legend even though he looked nothing like him nor really played tennis.  

The real Borg and McEnroe minutes before their showdown. Costume and makeup are going to get major props for this. 
LaBeouf is a damn good actor (as tired as that hyperbole is), and yeah I said it so you know where I stand. I haven't seen the film yet, but I'm optimistic as hell. Everything about it looks like those great sports movies that used to exist in the 80's before Disney had to go fuck it all up; one word - Miracle
The only person that didn't praise his performance was the man himself, shocker. But I also want to see if Sverrir was any good and coming from a Swedish/Icelandic background I'm sure he's a machine, much like Borg. But what I really want to touch on and provide a good segway into the next film is the idea of sports films. In the 80's you had really great sports films; from Chariots of Fire (which started the trend), to The Natural, to Hoop Dreams, to Breaking Away.  It all climaxed with Field of Dreams, and then it all went to shit. And my generation was stuck with crap like Blue Crush, Hot Shots! and fucking Varsity Blues. What the hell happened there? I'm not big into sports but my god. Yeah, have a protagonists perhaps two and make it about the primal struggle which is basically what sports is. It's about winning and losing, no philosophy, no fuss. Just simple human competition. That's drama right there. I believe that these two films are going to restore that void that's been missing in cinema. Some sports moments last forever. One of which that I'm sure everyone has heard about is the Miracle on Ice in 1980 when team USA beat the Soviet Union in the Olympics. Basically accomplishing the impossible hence the term 'miracle on ice'. Thanks Disney for ruining it for a generation that never got to live through that or experience the actual brilliance of that moment. (I didn't live through it either, but I've seen the actual footage and it was way more intense and dramatic).

The media was right there capturing every insane moment leading up to the Battle of the Sexes.
Anyway! Speaking of another thing I didn't live through (I was born in '85, ok gimme a break, I'm not that old, but I do know my history) was the Battle of the Sexes. It was a tennis match, and that's what they called it. It is also being screened at TIFF and stars Emma Stone (whatever) as feminist icon and tremendous tennis player Billie Jean King and Steve Carell as Bobby Riggs; the has-been, outlandish and flamboyant champion from a million years ago pinned in a battle of man vs. woman, which really did turn the game into a spectacle when he challenged the former to a tennis match in 1973 basically to make an extra buck and draw attention to himself. Billie Jean King reluctantly accepted, and Bobby Riggs would not stop spouting chauvinist rhetoric at her just to get people's ire up. Billie Jean King was in her prime, and with an actual battle of the sexes going on in society at the time, this tennis match drew a great deal of attention and King's inevitable victory meant a great deal to the American feminist movement. She went from icon to legend. I'm not sure if Emma Stone is the best casting, but unlike Shia LaBeouf, the original that she was portraying gave her a wonderful review.

The real Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs posing for a publicity still. 
I'm excited for both films. I feel like Battle of the Sexes is going to be more of a politically skewed film that deals with the zeitgeist of the times and heavily pushes the second wave of feminism movement of that period, and Borg/McEnroe is going to be a much darker psychological exploration of athleticism and dreams; accomplished and broken. Both sound great to me and I'm really stoked. 
Another film that may redeem the genre is the upcoming Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan biopic; I, Tonya starring Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, which I actually did live through. And I really can't wait for that one because when that whole shit went down, I was actually a figure skater myself. Granted I was 8, but I never lost interest in the sport. If a film can make you fall in love with a sport that you otherwise don't care about, they've done their job. 

Trailers for both films below: 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Casual Racism #SquadGoals

Happy 4th White America!
There was a great article after 1989 came out by I think (and pray) Judith Butler or Linda Williams (there goes my academia swag card) that labeled Taylor Swift and her 'squad' a bunch of neo-nazi Barbies. I tried to find it, and if you Google Search 'Taylor Swift Nazi' you get about 2 million results; the most compelling of which is this one. It's not difficult to see why that is. I'm sorry but Taylor has been selling herself as kind of a faux Jill-of-all-trades, twerking in her 'Shake it Off' video, and most recently blatantly ripping off Beyonce's 'Formation' video with 'Look What You Made Me Do'. She's a tall Aryan-AF looking blonde who loves to play the victim; and what do white nationalists do aside from playing the victim all the time.

Taylor's go-to music video director Joseph Kahn tweeted that the 'Look What You Made Me Do' video is not in Beyonce's art space ...I beg to differ. 
Perfect example: Kanye the villainous African American man is ruining the 'reputation' of a helpless young white girl. What is this, 'Birth of a Nation'? (The D.W. Griffith version). All you have to do is watch the Viceland documentary on the Charlottesville rally to see why that is. I won't go as far as to say that she's their cultural icon, but she's strange not to denounce the rumors much like Trump. However she has no trouble denouncing rumors about her flimsy and flighty love But most of this started when the whole squad became a thing. She surrounded herself with tall blonde girls who looked just like her. It was only when she received criticism for that, that she 'allowed' Zendaya in her clique. Like the whole world is her basic Aryan high school. I think Zendaya is doing just fine without her. 
Squad goals?
Cultural appropriation is just as bad as outward racism in my opinion, so let's move on to the greatest 'culture vultures' of our time; Kendall and Kylie just can't help fucking up can they? Let's get this out of the way. They are white girls. Sometimes, I like to see what idiots on social media are getting up to, and it doesn't look any better for either of them. Firstly, the unspeakable and tone-deaf Pepsi commercial that would have ruined anyone's career that Kendall miraculously survived, where some genius thought that to make her the face of the Black Lives Matter movement was a good idea. Then came the T-shirt line. If you don't know, let me catch you up. Kendall and Kylie are so obsessed with their own faces they decided to super-impose them unto T-shirts of album covers by Biggie and Tupac. Are you fucking kidding me? And because they wanted to market it for basic bitches, the gave it a vintage look and charged a hefty 125.00$ price tag for them before quickly removing them from the market.

I'm sure the Muslim community is totally fine with this. 
Kendall herself is also getting quite a bit of flack because her IG is chalk full of offensive and insensitive imagery such as her dressed up in a Hijab, to a shirt with a confederate flag on it. Also, lest we forget, she tagged a photo of herself and her sisters with the caption; 'girl power ...sister power' with a fist bump emoji on it. Only problem is that the fist bump color was basically three emojis darker than white, implying she was somehow on board the brazen cultural appropriation train without actually doing anything for the community that she is stealing from. I think my fave response to that bullshit was a girl who told her straight up to stick in her emoji lane.
Tupac always wanted his legacy to be two white girls' initials over his image.

The most recent BS regarding members of Taylor Swift's Aryan squad that's popped up is with supermodel Gigi Hadid. You'd think she gets a pass because she's half Semitic; born to a Dutch mother and a Palestinian father. And yet, she got a shitload of well-deserved flack when she announced that she would be walking in the Victoria Secret fashion show that would be held in Shanghai this year. Now, don't think that because she's not full blood that she doesn't enjoy white privilege. Her entire life was spent in Malibu living with her mother and rich, white stepfather, David Foster. Perhaps you're the biggest asshole when you don't admit that yeah you enjoy the fuck out of white privilege. Anyway, someone managed to dig up an IG video of her at a Chinese restaurant with her sister Bella, who did a weird quasi and really racist Asian bow, as Gigi held up her cookie in the shape of a Buddha face and squinted. That's some ratchet shit right there. 

Presented without comment. 
Now yeah, these things may seem minimal, but this is how it starts. And with racial tensions at an all time high, I'd be a bit more careful if I was a cultural icon, especially one that children look up to ...for some reason. Ana Navarro? No thanks ...Kendall. They're role models whether they like it or not, and people are just not having anymore of their casual racism. You don't get away with everything just because you're pretty, ladies. 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nolan Goes to War and Wins

I can tell you that this is Tom Hardy, but this is the classic nameless soldier that Nolan uses to magnify the breadth of the viewer to the film.
These are really hard to write, because as anyone will tell you it's much harder to write a good review than a bad review, but I was swept away by Dunkirk (ok that was a tired metaphor) blew my socks off even worse. It was amazing ok? And I dare to surmise that it's Christopher Nolan's best film in his repertoire. I know he has a strong following not only of fan boys, comic book nerds, but also cinephiles, and is revered as like the next Orson Welles or something, I mean he makes good films and is very skilled but he's not Orson Welles. Here's the thing, I watched Memento because everyone was pressuring me to do it when it first came out in 2000, and at the time I was still smoking pot so I watched it. I watched it literally the day before I saw Dunkirk for the second time and after all of these years it's still brilliant. 
Now, I know I'm going to get murdered for saying the following, but apart from The Dark Knight, which I don't even think is the best superhero film; I mean it's up there, but no. I don't like his movies. I think they are very conceptually interesting but very self-indulgent; from the crazy runtimes to the weird time parallels he loves to fuck around with, which I see as very self-serving. I didn't bother watching The Dark Knight Rises, and I hated Inception; Interstellar -- same thing. He's one of those people that I think starts out as a massively talented maverick indie filmmaker who turns completely cray once a studio gives him some money a la Darren Aronofsky. 
I'm a history buff, or huge History Channel nerd however you want to call it, and I am actually completely obsessed with World War II so going into the film, I was well aware about the battle and subsequent evacuation of Dunkirk. 
One of the most iconic scenes in the film, and Nolan spared no expense to make it look as authentic as possible. Word has it that over 10,000 extras participated in the film. 
Nolan does not give you any backstory, and good for him. He's a filmmaker that doesn't talk down to his audience and assumes that they are all as smart as he is. Except for in Inception, where there was a character who's whole purpose was to explain the convoluted plot to the audience by asking the questions that we all silently were. 
But back to Dunkirk. If you don't know the story -- The Nazi army is basically a few kilometers from total occupation of France. The only countries allied against Hitler at this time are France and England. The British are retreating and the only way out is across the English Channel which is pretty fucking far even though we have people swimming that shit now. But then again, those people don't get torpedoed by U-boat's or shot down by the Luftwaffe like fish in a barrel. At this time, Churchill had focused all of his military preparedness on fortifying England with the British Navy which was the best in the world. Unfortunately, he didn't plan for the aggression of Hitler's Luftwaffe air force. About 400,000 British men needed to be evacuated off of the beaches in Dunkirk, France, and this story is about the miracle of their survival. 
An actual photograph of the evacuation of Dunkirk.
As a film, it is a towering achievement in the war film genre. I haven't seen anything quite like it. In a world with wall-to-wall CGI, Nolan used basically none. It is breathtaking what he was able to accomplish filming from the three main locations of the evacuation; land, sea, and air...and yes it did lead to Churchill's 'We Will Fight Them on the Beaches' speech. 
I saw it with a Russian who shall remain nameless, and they're an art major (or were); educated in the Soviet Union. There, they are apparently taught to play against action. It's a very character driven, character-centric aesthetic. In fact, they they refer to excessive action as 'Zhelezo' which means metal. As in, too much metal, not enough humanity. 
A scene where the chaos is humanized and meditated on is usually one of a deafening silence. And yes that's Harry Styles on the left. Happy now?
I countered that by arguing that most war films; yes, have a singular viewpoint. Some of the best in fact; from Saving Private Ryan, to The Pianist, to Kubrick's Path's of Glory because someone apparently wrote it down somewhere that war has to be humanized. I understand that sentiment, but in all actuality war is the exact opposite of that. It is a conflict of chaos where everyone who fights in it from the generals to the privates are anonymous and just have one initiative in mind; survival. I would rather actually compare it to a film like Black Hawk Down, which according to my estimates has about 50 speaking roles. You don't remember who's who most of the time; their rank; and what they're whole deal is, because guess what; it doesn't matter. There is a mission, it goes wrong, soldiers are trapped under huge enemy fire and that's the story right there. It's a documentary style of narrative filmmaking, and Nolan just nailed it. His camera work, his beautiful imagery, and his signature aesthetic all worked in his favor and the film is an absolute masterpiece. Because in war, nothing really matters except staying alive am I right? Did that sound too Hunger Games?
But back to the filmmaking, again with about 30 principals in the cast, with seasoned actors like Kenneth Branagh who basically has like 5 lines and Cillian Murphy who just repeats the same thing over and over again, it's a sacrifice of telling the story as accurately as possible without making it about a particular person or a particular viewpoint. During the evacuation of Dunkirk, everyone's objective was the same, and that's how Nolan approaches it. Most of the characters don't even have names, IMDB it. All in all, well worth the hype, the wait, and definitely now that I come back to it, the best Nolan film to date. 

Trailer below: 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Remake that Doesn't Know How to Remake

Emma Watson makes the best of a movie that doesn't know how to movie taking example from another famous Emma who just won an Academy Award for the same thing. 
There was so much ridiculous hype and over-marketing (if that's a thing) over the live-action remake of arguably the best Disney film of all time. Trying to capitalize on the success of the live action remake of The Jungle Book which actually was useful and interesting, the studio heads decided to basically make a carbon copy of the original with a few new songs to make extra off of iTunes and to stretch the run time. If you haven't seen it, watch the original...and that's exactly what this film is. It's like when Gus Van Sant did a shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho but that was for Avant-Garde performance art purposes so he gets a pass, not to introduce children to a totally bastardized and creepy version of what was a great film to start with. 

Good luck explaining sentient furniture to your kids now. 
So it's set in the most British part of France apparently where only Lumiere has an actual French accent. And in a cartoon world a lot of what was deemed unbelievable could be conceivable with enough suspension of disbelief. Now it raises a lot of uncomfortable questions like can Gaston really lift two heavy-set people with his hands, and do all of the sentient object in the palace actually have human souls? I mean, it's creepy as shit. 

The motion capture on Dan Stevens is basically ridiculous. He's terrifying, which kind of kills the love story which is central to the plot. 
But not as creepy as what they did to Dan Stevens, that poor son of a bitch. They could have used practical prosthetics, hair and make up to make him properly beastly looking, but they decided to CGI the fuck out of him so that he looks like he was drawn by a 12 year old on a Windows 7. Also, the sentient objects with actual speaking parts have more character and facial expression in the original, than the CGI moving objects in the old palace. I don't care how good of a French accent Ewan McGregor can do. 
As I said, with a few new songs added (because Bill Condon has a huge hard on for almost memorable songs that stretch the runtime), the songs are exactly the same, except they sound like cheap karaoke versions of the beloved originals like 'Be Our Guest'. 
They were fun, remember them?
There is a cheap half-assed attempt to fill in some plot holes like what happened to Belle's mother?  How did no one in this tiny town notice that the Beast has been beasting for like ten years? And how the hell did she get the damn Beast on the horse after being attacked by wolves. But it's so lazy, I'd rather just use my imagination. Speaking of which, I remember that as a kid, you really did fall for the Beast and understood why Belle would too, but in the live-action version he's so CGI'd to death that there's nothing remotely attractive about him. 
I'd also like to touch on the controversy surrounding La Fou as the first openly gay character in the Disney-verse. In this great article it actually surmises that La Fou is a piss poor tribute to the gay community. He basically meets the somewhat offensive and stereotypical gay tropes like an effeminate manner, and a one-sided crush on Gaston that's never really nuanced, but apart from that he's the gay comic relief that you expect in a film from the 50's that's more ignorant than anything else. He gets like one sincere moment that would make him a genuine gay character, but that's all that Disney allows him. Lest we forget that his name literally translates into 'the fool'. C'mon Disney, you had more going with Ursula or the Sherif of Nottingham. 
I guess I missed the take-acid-now instruction prior to this scene. 
Bottom line, this remake is not only useless, but it's superfluous. Apparently Disney couldn't leave well enough alone. The most iconic scene in the film; the ballroom dance scene between Belle and the Beast in that stunning yellow dress had more beautiful sprawling camera angles and lighting in the cartoon. It's like they're not even trying. If you haven't seen it, just watch the original and pretend it's in live action. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Sofia's Epic Fail

4 out of these 7 women have speaking roles. 
Was that harsh? Well, watching her new film The Beguiled felt like a one and a half torture ride to nowhere's-ville. I want my time back, and my money. And I want her to make better films, but that's not going to happen is it? 
The film was marketed as a radical feminist revenge story, perfect for the chauvinist rhetoric of the Trump era, but Valerie Solanas it is not. It's not even a 'hell hath no fury…' kind of thing. As I said, it's about an hour and a half of nothing. Which is a fair assessment of basically all of her films, yeah I said it. It had such great potential. It's a Misery meets Gone with the Wind story based on a Clint Eastwood movie from the 70's (arguably the best era of America filmmaking). With a stellar cast like Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell, and the up-and-coming Elle Fanning, you were thinking how could this go wrong? In all respects apparently.

Admit it, this part from the trailer is why we all wanted to see it. 'Get me the anatomy book'.
I have to give it up to the marketing department. They did a great job with the theater art, the promo art, the trailers, etc. Basically building up this turd in a dress so that people would shelve out 11 dollars to see it. I saw it with a friend earlier today and we witnessed quite a few walk outs. At first we thought it was because we were basically screaming at the screen, but we couldn't help ourselves. Eventually, we realized that the walk outs had the right idea. 
So stop fucking with us, Coppola. Just because you're Hollywood royalty doesn't mean you can do no wrong. In fact you can do so much wrong to some seriously ripe and brilliant material that it kind of taints your family's legacy.
The film is photographed beautifully; with low-lit interiors, candlelight and sunshine, and dressing that looks like it's actually a house that has been lived in and not a matte painting that was put up the day before. Costumes are en pointe and that's about the only positive things I have to say about the film. I know it was just released, so unlike most of my reviews I'm not giving away the plot. Here's what we know. Colin Farrell is a Union deserter; a Irish mercenary who has been badly injured and is found on the outskirts of a large Southern plantation in Virginia. He is taken in by the children and their headmistress who have had to lay low three years into the Civil War. It's pretty obvious that 6 girls in their sexual prime or in puberty and a woman a bit past her prime but still hot AF (Nicole Kidman) would create sexual tension with the one man they're keeping in the house so palpable you could cut it with a bread knife.
I will give her the director of photography a lot of credit. He managed to make a dull film very pretty. So you have that to look forward to. 
Firstly, this house she runs with 6 pupils seems to have an endless supply of food and wine. What the actual fuck? Every movie about the Civil War, or any war for that matter is about people having no food or rations. Also, three of the girls don't even have speaking parts. That's a waste of space, they literally do nothing. You could just cut them out of the film and save the budget. For an hour and a half run time, I would say there's about 20 minutes of dialogue which is par for the course for a Sofia Copolla film. Every single time there is a moment for potential pathos, drama, and hubris, she builds that moment and then kills it. It's like getting really close to orgasm, and then the person falls asleep on you.
Although it appears deliciously sexually devious, the actually sexuality of this film has about as much erotica as a 13 year old's vampire fan fiction.  
It's almost as if Sofia is afraid of the sexuality of this film, which is basically the driving force of the plot. Even scenes that should be highly erotic are creepy and weird. Scarlet O'Hara crying on Ashley's chest was more erotic than anything in this movie. For a mostly silent film with no plot and no nuance of the main characters it seems to kind of move into the category of Avant-Garde, which I believe is actually Sofia's calling. But go Avant-Garde all the way. Film on 16mm silent Bolex cameras, with a 10 minute run time, and save us the grief. She so desperately wants to be considered a serious artist, but she comes off as uber-pretentious. She breaks so many film rules that it's just not right. 
I know breaking film rules can be fine, but what we think of as breaking is actually bending. Tarantino does it, Scorsese does it. But rules are there for a reason. Example: Your main characters have to be nuanced. They have to be three dimensional. They have to have motive good or bad. There has to be a plot that moves forward and doesn't just meander around waiting for shit to happen. I don't care how pretty it looks. 
People think that she's so unique because she plays up the subtlety which is actually giving her audience a giant middle finger. There's being subtle, which is fine, and then there's saying nothing at all, and that's what this film does. I don't need resolution, I can leave a film without closure as long as the film presents interesting questions to consider later. This film does not. You leave the theater thinking…'well, that happened'. Sofia is should really stop writing her own films because she writes about 30 pages and stretches it to an hour and a half run time (I keep mentioning that because it felt way longer). It's kind of sad that coming from such a talented family, we'll think of The Bling Ring as 'the good one'. Hard pass.

Trailer below...I mean...whatever.