"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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Us: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A visually and narratively muddled disappointment of a movie that tries to be everything and ends up being nothing.

Us, written and directed by Jordan Peele, is a horror film that tells the story of the Wilson family who are hunted by their shadow dopplegangers while on vacation in Santa Cruz. The film stars Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex.

Jordan Peele’s last film, 2017’s Get Out, was a horror/comedy that was also a social commentary on race and white liberal guilt that made a remarkable 255 million dollars off of a 4.5 million dollar budget. The film was a cultural phenomenon and critical darling that besides making gobs of money also garnered Best Picture and Best Director Oscar nominations and actually won the award for Best Original Screenplay.

The context in which Get Out became a “thing” is important to remember though, as the #OscarsSoWhite hysteria was at a fever pitch at the time and Hollywood and the media were desperate for any artist, actor or director of color to succeed. Jordan Peele was at the right place at the right time with the right type of movie to become a symbol for all of those hungry for a cinematic savior of color.

When I saw Get Out my response was, “what is all the fuss about?” I was entirely underwhelmed by the film and thought it was at best a pedestrian work with a clever premise and political perspective with which I actually agreed. I also thought that critics were, ironically considering the film’s spot-on theme of White liberal guilt, over-hyping the film and Peele’s filmmaking skill due to a “woke” agenda where all things related to diversity are wonderful. It seemed obvious to me that the incessant and exuberant critical love for Jordan Peele and Get Out was a function of grading on a diversity curve as opposed to on merit, which as a cinephile I find grating and frankly unethical.

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Which brings us to…well..Us… Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out. It might come as a surprise to some that despite my misgivings about Get Out, I was actually really excited to see Us. The reason for my anticipation was that the trailer is absolutely fantastic. The trailer makes the film look super creepy, scary and bursting with thematic and symbolic potential and possibilities. Add in the fact that it dealt with dopplegangers, which I equated to the Jungian concept of the shadow (which intrigues me as an amateur Jungian), and I am all in for Us. As proof of my excitement for the film, I actually went and saw it at a 10:30 AM screening on the Friday it opened.

Then the movie started and my excitement dissipated and diminished with every passing second that the film played until I was left completely bored and uninterested for the final hour of the nearly two-hour film. I was not the only one who was bored, as in my screening there were only four people, me and three Black men in their twenties or so, who came in individually and sat by themselves. The “phone check index” with Us was very high, as every single one of those men checked their phones at least ten times times throughout the screening.

The biggest problem with Us is that for a horror movie, it isn’t even remotely scary. There are no legitimate thrills or chills in this movie and there is a startling lack of tension.

Another problem is, much like Get Out, it is poorly shot and not very well-made. There are a lot of shots of darkness in the film, which is to be expected in a “horror” movie, but they are poorly executed and end up being little more than just a murky, dark screen. I know that sounds bizarre to the uninitiated, but there is a difference between darkness and a lack of light. “Darkness” is created by using lighting techniques to create a crisp contrast where you enhance the mood but maintain visual clarity and with it interest. For an example of cinematographic “darkness:, go watch The Favourite from last year and see how well they shoot with just a single candle as the lighting. On the other hand, “lack of light” is simply a lack of a light source and brings with it little to no visual structure and fails to create or enhance mood but only diminishes visual clarity and capacity.

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In addition, how is it that the filmmakers couldn’t figure out that you need to light people with darker skin tones differently from lighter toned people when you shoot them in low light? Besides being exquisitely beautiful, Lupita Nyong’o is very dark skinned, so why wasn’t there any subtle light used to reflect off of her in the shots with lower light? Lighting her properly would not only make her visible to viewers but highlight her powerful performance and accentuate her exquisite bone structure and features (like was done in the photo to the left). By not lighting her effectively in the film, Nyong’o gets washed out by the faux darkness/lack of light, and even in the light Peele’s camera often loses the detail of her striking features. Maybe I am simply going blind or maybe the projector at my theatre was sub-par (I saw it at the Arclight, a high end theatre here in Los Angeles) or maybe the cinematographer, like cosmetic companies, doesn’t realize you need to light differently and use a different color palate to accommodate different skin tones. Again…maybe this is an issue with my vision or with the poor condition of America’s projectors, both of which are very distinct possibilities, but then again so is cinematic malpractice.

And finally, another problem with the film is that while the trailer presented an intriguing premise, the film’s narrative ends up expanding too broadly and in doing so dilutes any potential tension. Instead of making a focused and intimate film about just one family and their personal/familial shadow, Peele expands his thesis and by doing so neuters the film of all its power. The trailer had me thinking this film was sort of a crazy combination of The Shining, Straw Dogs and Cape Fear or something like that…all of which show families/couples under extreme pressure from relentless evil foes.

In narrative, thematic, symbolic, mythical and even political terms, Us is ultimately kind of a mess of a movie that feigns both artistic and popular entertainment pretensions whilst spoon-feeding its political/social message with such unsubtle and cringeworthy lines as '“We are Americans.”

Us is everywhere and nowhere all at once, and tries to be everything and ends up being nothing at all. Is the film about capitalism? Racism? Collective guilt? Collective shame? America’s shadow? The film is sort of about all of those things all at once and thus ends up not really being about any of them. The film lacks narrative cohesion, thematic coherence and dramatic compulsion and it never commands your attention.

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On the bright side, the cast do the very best they can with the little they are given. Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the Winston family matriarch Adelaide, should be commended for picking the movie up and carrying it on her back. Nyong’o is a magnetic screen presence and it is impossible to take your eyes off of her, which is why it is so frustrating that she is so poorly shot and lit. Nyong’o gives her all but the film fails to live up to her strong work in it.

Winston Duke plays Adelaide’s husband Gabe, and is another top notch actor who is poorly served by the film. Duke is a charming presence but is terribly underused in Us, and his character often feels tonally out of place with the rest of the film.

The two younger actors, Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex, play the Wilson’s children Zora and Jason, give solid performances that get scuttled by the visual and narrative mess that is the movie.

In the lead up to Us’s release, the media has once again turned on the hype machine regarding Jordan Peele. There are some who are actually calling him the new Hitchcock, which is pretty stunning considering he’s only made two films and both of them are painfully mediocre. Trust me when I tell you that Jordan Peele is not the next Alfred Hitchcock…he isn’t even the next M. Night Shyamalan…at least not yet. Maybe Peele will grow into being a Hitchcock or will have a few more moderate hits then be exposed for being a cinematic fraud like Shyamalan…anything is possible…but the latter seems much more likely, especially after seeing Us.

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The critical love for Us is transparently, blatantly and shamefully a result of a “woke” cultural agenda held by film critics which holds diversity and inclusion in much higher regard than it does the art of cinema. I get the excitement around Peele, I genuinely do, but at the end of the day there is simply no there there. Peele, much like his films Get Out and Us, is cinematic fool’s gold, and anyone holding him up as an a formidable auteur is going to be left looking very foolish…the ham-fisted attempts at making on-the-nose social statements in Us are proof of that.

I remember decades ago Nicholas Cage was revered as some sort of acting genius, like the second coming of Brando except funny. Well…I knew back then he was a fraud and no one listened…and history proved me right and exposed Mr. Cage’s artistic vacuity. I think the same will be true of Jordan Peele. And to be clear, I don’t dislike Jordan Peele and I don’t want him to fail, in fact he seems like a good guy and I wish him success because I want SOMEBODY…be it Peele or anybody else, to be the next Hitchcock or Kubrick or Altman or whomever because I love cinema and cinema needs great auteurs. I wish there were more great film makers in the world not less, but wishing doesn’t make it so, and all the film critics in the world wishing Peele’s movies were great doesn’t make them any better and it certainly doesn’t make him a great filmmaker.

The hype machine is doing Peele no favors either, at least not in the long run. Yes, it will drum up business…hell, the hype and the great trailer had me so excited to see Us I trudged out to the theatre on opening day and I was really hoping it was awesome. The problem though is that it wasn’t…and that is sort of a big problem. The critical hype around Peele can only last so long before audiences tune out or get angry. This is what happened to M. Night Shyamalan, whose early films were considerably more financially successful than Peele’s. Once the bloom came off the Shyamalan rose his career plummeted and he has been struggling for years to try and get his filmmaking head above Hollywood waters ever since.

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, Us currently has a 95 critical score, which is extremely high. In contrast, the film has a 69 audience score, which in my eyes, and probably the eyes of the other audience members at my screening who would rather look at their phones than at Us, is a much more accurate assessment of the quality of the movie. It is striking that in the crazy world in which we now live, critics adore a supposedly crowd pleasing, populist piece of entertainment like Us much more than the crowd it is supposed to be pleasing. As previously stated, I think the critical love for this film and for Peele is mostly powered by the White liberal guilt of film critics, which means that while the film is not philosophically or politically insightful enough to be worthwhile viewing, the hype surrounding it and Jordan Peele is much more instructive and insightful about the world we live in than anything found in the film.

In conclusion, Us could have been a really fascinating movie, but it ends up being a terribly boring disappointment because it is so poorly written and executed. Us is too visually muddled, narratively incoherent and cinematically flaccid for me to recommend you see it in the theatre, but if you really do want to see it I say wait until it is on Netflix or cable and see it for free.

©2019

Transit: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT/SKIP IT - Cinephiles should definitely check out this meditation on fascism, but be forewarned, this is a very “foreign” film so those not accustomed to such unconventional storytelling might want to skip it.

Language: German and French with English subtitles

Transit, written and directed by Christian Petzold and based upon Anna Segher’s 1942 novel of the same name, is set in modern times and follows the journey of Georg, a German trying to escape Fascists as their totalitarian reach stretches out of the Fatherland and across France. The film stars Franz Rogowski as Georg, with supporting turns from Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Barbara Auer, Maryam Zaree and Ronald Kukulies.

Transit is a fascinating and politically prophetic and potent film that masterfully creates the visceral experience of modern world where fascism reigns supreme. The film is based upon Anna Segher’s novel about the Holocaust, but in its more modern setting it is equally chilling. The suffocating sense of impending and unstoppable doom that permeates this movie makes setting this story in modern times all the more chilling because it seems so effortlessly believable. The archetypal energy currently on the rise across the globe (and whether we want to acknowledge it or not, in our own hearts) is that of the fascist, and in the long shadow of the fascist, fear, isolation and resignation grow like poison mushrooms. Transit tells the story of those under the boot of fascism and the attempt to balance primal instincts to survive against the spiritual need for human connection and love.

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Director Christian Petzold’s strength in this film is in making fascism feel tangible and palpable. The ominous sense of danger that Petzold conveys in this film, be it with a simple siren, screeching tires, a women on a street corner pointing or refugees refusing to look each other in the eye, is electric.

Petzold’s minimalism in respect to creating this menace is magnificent. By not physically transforming the world in which we live, but simply distorting our perception of it, Petzold makes the fascist threat feel immediate, intimate and personalized.

On one level, Transit reminded me of Michelangelo Antonioni’s intriguing film The Passenger (1975), in that it deals with a man stealing the identity of a dead man and having to face the repercussions of that act. In Transit, Georg assumes the identity of a dead writer in order to escape Paris as it comes under the perilous grip of the fascists.

Georg’s escape out of Paris leads him on a odyssey that reveals his external desperation to survive and his internal yearning to maintain humanity at all costs. The fascist menace forces Georg to fight this battle between his instinct and his humanity, where he must choose what kind of man he is and what kind of life he will lead.

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Transit, which is in French and German with English subtitles, is a decidedly foreign film in that it does not conform to Hollywood conventions. This eschewing of storytelling convention can be somewhat frustrating for the uninitiated or for those not prepared for it, so consider yourself warned. Understand that this film is really about the pressures of living, or trying to live, under the toxic cloud of fascism, and how the existential fear of obliteration at the hands of totalitarians turns people upside down to the point where they behave emotionally and in ways that seem irrational to those on the outside. Seeing the film through this lens will hopefully help make any moments in the film that seem unclear or unrealistic much more palatable.

As for the cast, Franz Rogowski does stellar work as the conflicted Georg. Rogowski is Joaquin Phoenix’s German doppleganger, cleft lip scar included. Rogowski even has the same energy as Phoenix and he carries that burdensome darkness and despair with him through this film like an iron cross on the road to his Golgotha. Rogowski’s intensity is heightened by his silence and stillness, which are filled with a vibrant intentionality that acutely convey his internal struggle.

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The ever luminous Paula Beer (last seen in the Oscar nominated Never Look Away) plays Marie, a mysterious beauty who keeps stumbling into Georg on his journey. Beer is a captivating and dynamic screen presence whose Maria is a compelling cauldron of regret, determination and despondency that never falls into caricature or fails to surprise.

The rest of the cast all do solid work, particularly Barbara Auer as a steely architect turned maid, in creating the atmosphere of maddening, dehumanizing and frantic fear that descends upon those under the thumb of a fascist threat.

In conclusion, Transit is not for everyone as its unconventionality can be at times unsatisfying, but for those who make the leap, they have the chance to be rewarded with a film that isn’t perfect but that is rich in psychological drama and political poignancy. My recommendation is for cinephiles who enjoy foreign film to definitely see Transit in the theatres. For those with less sophisticated film tastes, maybe start by watching Antonioni’s The Passenger, it stars Jack Nicholson and can be pretty challenging but is a good place to dip your toe into the water. If you like that then it is worth giving Transit a shot when it becomes available on Netflix/Amazon or Cable because even if you end up thinking the movie fails as entertainment, you may find that it succeeds as prophecy.

©2019

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse : A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A well-made and fun exploration of the Spider-Man mythos that is original and unique.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, written by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman and directed by Rothman, Peter Ramsey and Bob Perischetti, is an Academy Award winning animated film that tells the mind-bending story of Brooklyn teenager Miles Morales and his introduction into Spidey-dom. The voice actors starring in the film are Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Bryan Tyree Henry, John Mulaney and Nicolas Cage.

This past Friday, March 8th, was International Women’s Day, so to celebrate this momentous occasion I tried to get as far away from women as I could, so I went to the movies. Much to my chagrin, when I got to the theatre I discovered that the female powered Captain Marvel had 36 showings going on that day and would no doubt draw a multitude of feminist harpies. Not wanting to get caught up in a tidal wave of man-hating and menses I instead chose to make a stand and rebelliously vote with my wallet, so I went and saw… Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse! Take that Girl Power brigade!!

Ok…to be completely honest, not everything is the previous paragraph is true. Yes, it was International Women’s Day. No, I did not go to the movies to escape being near women. Yes, there were 36 showings of Captain Marvel on the day at the theatre. No, I didn’t see Spider-Man as a form of protest. The truth is I figured Captain Marvel would be packed since it was opening day and I greatly dislike seeing movies in crowded theatres…so I chose Spider-Man because it had been out a long time already and probably wasn’t going to be crowded or in theatres for much longer. Sure enough, I was the only person at my screening for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which I was extremely happy about.

As for the film itself, I don’t have anything against animated movies, it is just rare that I actually see one. For this reason i really had no expectations heading into the theatre, so it was a nice surprise to discover that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was a really energetic and compelling bit of fun.

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Animation is very creatively freeing as it allows audiences to suspend their belief to a much greater degree than with live action which is a very useful tool with a superhero narrative and the directors use it to great effect in this movie. Animation also allows for interesting world-building and the New York City the film is set in is proof of that. The animated city is so vibrant and visceral it becomes a character all its own.

Animation is also useful when it comes to superhero movies in that it enables the action sequences to be much more “believable”. In Spider-Verse the filmmakers play this up by not just focusing on what their animated creations can do, but more importantly on what they can’t do. The world and characters of Spider-Verse have limitations, and that is what makes them so satisfying.

The lead character of the film is Miles Morales, a Latino teenager trying to navigate the perils of adolescence which in his case include a strict police officer father and a new and academically rigorous school. I am not a teenager, although absolutely EVERYONE says I look young enough to be one, but this film does a remarkable job of transporting the audience into the immediacy of Miles’ world. Miles feels like a very real kid trying to juggle all the demands placed upon him while hormones torment his body and the world barely acknowledges him.

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As I watched Miles Morales on screen I couldn’t help but think of my neighbor, who is also a Black Latino teenager named Miles. My neighbor Miles is just the nicest kid on the planet and is always very kind, patient and generous with my own toddler son even when he doesn’t have to be, and what I appreciated about this movie was that it gave me an impression of the world through his eyes.

Considering this is an animated movie I was stunned at how thorough and genuine the relationships were. The characters were all multi-dimensional, even the villains, and the world they inhabited felt entirely real. This dramatic foundation in human relationship is what allows the film to expand its narrative into more and more complex areas. The movie’s multi-dimensions and multiple realities colliding would seem like a muddled mess if it weren’t for the film’s grounding in genuine human emotion and its established reality.

To its credit, Spider-Verse does not ignore the oddity of its premise, and is also able to poke fun at the superhero genre and its formulas while also using them to its storytelling advantage. This is a delicate balancing act, but the filmmakers are able to acknowledge the absurdity of the superhero genre while also taking their subject matter entirely seriously.

The film has an undeniable charisma to it, which is a function of both the first rate artistry of the animators, as the film is beautiful to look at, and also the pulsating soundtrack which includes Juice WRLD, Post Malone, Swae Lee and Nicki Minaj among others. The popular music in the film is not my taste but it is undeniably infectious and extremely effective in developing Miles as a character and conveying his perspective.

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I hope the success of this film, it has made $366 million with a $90 million budget, will convince studios to create more high-end animated feature films of their superhero properties. The DC canon (Batman, Superman Etc.) has been flailing around in their most recent live action Justice League ventures, and it seems to me that Warner Bros. would be wise to try and package those characters in high end animated features like Spider-Verse. This would give Warner Bros. an opportunity to create dark live action films, like The Dark Knight Trilogy, and offset that darkness with animated features that are sophisticated yet fun and geared towards kids 10 and up.

Another idea would be to do the darker material in animated form and the lighter material in live action. For instance, the film Sin City was a very dark, neo-noir animated drama that made a solid $158 million in 2005. The market for high end animation geared either partially or in full towards adults exists, and the studios, be it Warner Bros. or Disney, would be wise to exploit it.

At the very least, making quality animated superhero features helps to connect younger audiences with the characters and expands the life cycle of fandom. In addition, as Spider-Verse and the upcoming live action Spider-Man movie proves, you can have simultaneous story lines, one in live action and one in animation, that creates a scenario where studios can double dip into the wallets of superhero fans. As long as the movies are well-made, it is a win-win for everyone involved.

In conclusion, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is well-deserving of its Best Animated Feature Academy Award. While my son is far too young to go see a movie like this, when he gets older this is the type of film I’d want him to watch, not only because it is an example of well-made art, but also because it is a great myth for young adolescents to explore in order to help get them through the trials and tribulations of the teen years.

I don’t know how much longer this movie will be in theatres, but if you have a chance you should check it out, either at the cineplex or on Netflix/cable when it becomes available. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a joyous film that is perfect for kids 10 and up (your mileage for your kids may vary) that carries a message that even resonates with kids grown old…like me.

©2019

Birds of Passage: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A unique and original take on the drug lord narrative that is heightened by its setting among an indigenous tribe in Columbia.

Language: Spanish, Wayuu, Wiwa - With English Subtitles.

Birds of Passage, written by Maria Camilla Arias and Jacque Toulemonde Vidal and directed by Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego, is a story that chronicles the rise of an indigenous Wayuu family who are key players in the birth of the illegal drug business in Columbia from the 1960’s to the 1980’s. The film stars Carmina Martinez and Jose Acosta with supporting turns from Natalia Reyes, Jhon Narvaez and Juan Batista.

Having just recently watched all three seasons of the Netflix show Narcos, which tells the story of Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar, I was intrigued to learn more about the origins of the drug business in Columbia. Birds of Passage is a fantastic companion piece to Narcos, as it goes back to the beginning when the drug trade genie was let out of the bottle In Columbia.

Birds of Passage is part biblical fable and part Homeric saga that teaches of the perils of avarice, ambition and the betraying of core familial and tribal traditions. If you mixed the biblical stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel (along with dashes of Noah and Exodus) with The Iliad and The Odyssey, threw in the Prodigal Son and a plague, mixed them all together in a bowl of Jungian and Shamanic dream analysis you’d get the mythic core of Birds of Passage.

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The story is structured in the form of a historical epic poem sung to life by one of the tribal word-keepers/historians and is broken into five cantos (songs) that tracks the trials and tribulations of the protagonist family. At the epicenter of the birth Columbian drug trade were the indigenous peoples known as the Wayuu, who are a collection of various large extended families and clans. The Wayuu are culturally shamanic and it is their ancient traditions that kept the peace between the clans and the tribe functioning.

When a prodigal son of the tribe, Rapayet, returns from time away working with the distrusted alijuana (Spanish Columbians) and wants to marry the daughter of the clan’s steely matriarch Ursula, who is against the union, this story takes its first fateful steps.

Birds of Passage is sort of like a Columbian version of The Godfather, except maybe would be better titled The Godmother due to the matriarchal power on display. Rapayet is a Michael Corleone character, bound by traditions and a conservative temperament but surrounded by those who are less controlled and more reactive than he. Ursula is like Don Corleone, a looming presence whose reputation is the real power behind the throne.

The film is also reminiscent of other famous drug lord/crime saga stories like Narcos and Scarface but what sets Birds of Passage apart is the setting of this character arc within the highly structured Wayuu shamanic tradition. As the tag line of the film eloquently and accurately states, “Generations of tradition. Consumed by greed.”

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Having spent centuries fighting off other tribes and colonialism, the Wayuu are distrustful of outsiders. This sort of nativism is a survival mechanism and as Ursula continually points out, the Wayuu ignore this tradition at their peril. The drug business is the Trojan horse that invites the outside world into the protected enclave of the Wayuu. The tight circle of trust around the Wayuus even excludes Rapayet, but once he is let in the walls become thinner and it is easier for the alijuana to follow and with them the Americans and all the trouble.

As the film points out, the drug trade is a direct result of America’s fight against communism and its evangelizing of capitalism. Without capitalism and American imperialism, the drug trade never metastasizes, and the drug war never becomes a permanent state.

Birds of Passage is a meditation on capitalism and how, for good or for ill, it is an acid that destroys everything it touches. The futility of the drug war is intentional and that becomes glaringly obvious whenever you watch any film about drug lords because what makes illicit drugs so profitable is the fact that they are illicit. Because the drugs are illegal is also why violence surrounding the sale of them is inevitable.

The film is also a contemplates shamanism, traditionalism, tribalism and the loss of cultural memory. The cost to the Wayuu for the easy money made growing and selling marijuana is for their entire culture to be dashed upon the rocks of American capitalism with their history and sense of self lost forever.

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Birds of Passage visually looks terrific and a big part of that is the setting. The region of Columbia where the Wayuu live is part desert and part lush forest so the contrasts of the washed out white of the desert and the lush green of the forests makes for a sumptuous visual feast, as do the wide open expanses. Directors Guerra and Gallego also wisely use a lot of animal symbolism and some cinematically striking dream sequences to further heighten the film’s visual style.

The acting is also solid across the board. Jose Acosta as Rapayet is particularly good going from a brash young man (hunter) to powerful tycoon (hunted) without skipping a beat. Carmina Martinez as Ursula is terrific too, embodying the power of her position with an exacting precision.

Beautifully photographed, well-acted and profoundly insightful, Birds of Passage takes a distinctly original path through the familiar territory of the drug lord narrative. The perilous journey from rags to riches and beyond on display in this film doesn’t just apply to greedy Columbian drug lords, but also to those who created them in the first place…Americans. It seems obvious that, like the Wayuu, America has sold its soul to the highest bidder and will soon enough come to the same end as the Wayuu…victims of their own success and to their own addictive greed.

©2019

5th Annual Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® Awards : 2018 Edition

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Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes 12 seconds

The Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® awards are a tribute to the absolute worst that film and entertainment has to offer for the year. Again, the qualifying rules are simple, I just had to have seen the film for it to be eligible. This means that at one point I had an interest in the film and put the effort in to see it, which may explain why I am so angry about it being awful. So any vitriol I may spew during this awards presentation shouldn't be taken personally by the people mentioned, it is really anger at myself for getting duped into watching.

The prizes are also pretty simple. The winners/losers receive nothing but my temporary scorn. If you are a winner/loser don't fret, because this years Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® loser/winner could always be next years Mickey™® winner!! Remember…you are only as good as your last film!!

Now…onto the awards!

WORST FILM OF THE YEAR

Aquaman - A garbled and muddied mess of a film that both scales the heights of Mount Ridiculous and dives to the bottom of the Sea of Inane, this movie is the equivalent of watching a toddler play with action figures in a puddle.

Mary Queen of Scots - If a corporate human resources department had the budget to make a period piece training film that espoused the virtues of diversity, inclusion, political correctness and woke culture…that movie would be Mary, Queen of Scots. An abysmal butchering of history and cinema, this movie is proof of my maxim “Wokeness kills art”.

Mission Impossible - Just when you think Tom Cruise and the Mission Impossible franchise can’t get any worse, the Scientology Messiah kicks it into high-flying gear and barfs out yet another stupid, unrelenting and unrelentingly stupid piece of action crap. This movie is a two and a half hour cinematic lobotomy.

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AND THE LOSER IS…MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS - Congratulations to Mary, Queen of Scots for completely fucking up what could have and should have been a very good if not great movie. As a Scotsman (and Irishman), this movie was so irritating and abysmal I would rather dive head first into the Worst Toilet in Scotland than sit through this shitshow again.

WORST PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

Alec Baldwin - Mission Impossible: Fallout - Alec Baldwin has a death scene in this movie that made me laugh so hard I had root beer flying out of my nose. Baldwin’s acting in this scene is so horrendously awful it felt like he was just doing it to pull a prank…sadly I think the joke was on us.

Mark Ruffalo - Avengers: Infinity War - Mark Ruffalo is a terrific actor who has done outstanding work in films such as Spotlight and Foxcatcher among many others, but in Infinity War it seems as if Ruffalo has stumbled onto set after a decades long nap. Like some thespian Rumpelstiltsken, Ruffalo awakes in this movie and finds himself entirely out of time and place. Ruffalo’s listless stroll through Infinity War is one of the most bizarre performances in recent memory.

Female Featured Extra - The Death Scene in The Wife - The Wife is a truly awful movie, but the cherry on top of its awfulness is the performance from the actress playing a female hotel employee during the climactic death scene. This young actress’s over-acting and mugging for the camera is so epic as to be amazing. Hopefully this actress goes on to great things in her career and can look back and laugh at how horrendous she was in this scene.

Armie Hammer - On the Basis of Sex: The extent of Armie Hammer’s acting in this movie is to perpetually give a soft and insipid smile and to never let you forget his character only has one testicle. Another in a string of truly deplorable performances, hopefully Hammer has either hit the low point of his career or has finally realized this acting thing is not for him.

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AND THE LOSER IS…ALEC BALDWIN : Alec Baldwin has been a good actor before, and hopefully will be a good actor again, but I think playing the brain addled Donald Trump has addled his own brain. Hopefully Baldwin returns to form sooner rather than later because the Trump shtick is fun but is most definitely wearing thin, and if his work in Mission Impossible is any indication, it is having a very detrimental effect on his commitment level and deteriorating his skill.

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WORST SCENE OF THE YEAR - The Mule Court Room Scene : The Mule is not a good movie…but to its credit it made me laugh out loud…not with it, but at it. The court room scene in question is just atrocious because 1. It is totally unnecessary and shouldn’t have been in the movie in the first place. 2. The acting in it is so over-the-top and ridiculous as to be absurd and it feels like something stolen from a telenovella. 3. The writing in this scene is even worse than the acting…which it quite an accomplishment.

If you want to see film making at its nadir, watch the court room scene of The Mule because it is a master class in superfluous shittyness.


MOST OVERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR

Black Panther - Black Panther is not even a good Marvel movie, nevermind a good actual movie, yet for some strange reason that I can’t quite figure out (hmmmm…what could it be?) it was nominated for Best Picture and some fools (like me) even thought it would win. Regardless of what the politically correct gatekeepers keep telling you, Black Panther is not a good movie, the acting is not good, the directing is not good and the writing is not good. None of this is good…can we please stop pretending that it is? Wakanda For Never!

A Star is Born - I get why Lady Gaga fans went goo goo over this film, but why on earth would anyone else? Lady Gaga can sing her balls off…but acting is not her strongsuit. Another weak point in the film is the trite script and the narcissistic cinematography. There were some who were clamoring for A Star is Born to sweep the Oscars…what the fuck is wrong with people? On this story’s fourth go around, this Star was still-born.

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AND THE LOSER IS…BLACK PANTHER: Good Lord, please enough with reducing art to being little more than the diversity Olympics. If you like Black Panther…fine…but let’s not pretend it is some iconic, Best Picture level piece of cinematic history. It is a middling Marvel movie that is much closer in quality to Doctor Strange than it is to Avengers: Infinity War.


SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENT IN CINEMATIC MALPRACTICE

Josie Rourke, director, Mary Queen of Scots: Josie Rourke is a theatre director whose first feature film was Mary, Queen of Scots. I genuinely hope Ms. Rourke is better at directing theatre than she is at directing film because she is abysmal at the latter. Ms. Rourke’s painfully bad decisions when it came to casting and her even worse decision to use colorblind casting, were equally awful when compared to her inability to do the most rudimentary blocking of scenes or to use the camera to tell and enhance her story. This film revealed such a pronounced level of directing malpractice as to be shameful. Ms. Rourke’s amateurish direction should cease her filmmaking career in its tracks…but because of her pronounced political correctness, I doubt we will be so lucky as to never have to see her work again.

POS HALL OF FAME

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MICHAEL JACKSON - A once in a generation talent who could sing and dance as well or better than anyone else we have ever seen, Michael Jackson is one of the great musical icons of the 20th century. Jackson was also a raging pedophile who flaunted his pedophilia by strutting around the world with young boys on his arm like a rock star with super model arm candy.

Jackson’s insatiable appetite for young boys seemingly knew no bounds and his depraved crimes were aided and abetted by those who were enthralled with his celebrity and his bank account or those cowed by his entertainment industry power.

My great shame is that Michael Jackson was not inducted into the Piece of Shit Hall of Fame sooner. Oddly enough, the reason it has taken five years for Jackson to achieve this great dishonor is that his crimes were so obvious it seemed passe to point them out. With the Leaving Neverland documentary currently airing on HBO and making headlines, now seems like an appropriate time to pay tribute to Michael Jackson, one of the all-time great pieces of shit.

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BRYAN SINGER - Just like his POS Hall of Fame fellow inductee this year, Bryan Singer has been a piece of shit for a long time. Singer’s sexual depravity and sweet tooth for teenage boys has been an open secret in Hollywood for decades. The fact that Singer basically started a pederast ring with fellow Hollywood scumbags that they used to exploit, abuse and pass around teenage boys like trading cards, officially came to light with a damning article in The Atlantic recently, but those of us with half a brain in our heads knew this was the reality regarding Bryan Singer for a long time.

Singer is not alone in Hollywood in his desire for underage and barely of age young boys...in fact he has some very high profile company. Hollywood has a very pervasive pedophilia and pederasty problem among its upper echelons. Some of the most well-known people in this business are involved in this evil. Some big names that are always on the periphery when it comes to these stories…including both Bryan Singer and Michael Jackson…are so powerful that no one dare ever even hint at their nefarious sexual proclivities. Hint: Think of the most successful and iconic film maker of the last 50 years whose films often star or feature young children.

It is for this reason that I have a funny feeling that Bryan Singer is not long for this world. Something odd will happen, an accidental overdose or a suicide or some other banal calamity that will end his horrid life and silence him forever in order to protect those higher up the totem pole that he could implicate for being partners in his degeneracy. But for now, Bryan Singer should bask in the stench of his induction into the Piece of Shit Hall of Fame…he’s earned it.


POS ALL-STARS -

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Lena Dunham - Lena Dunham is a perennial piece of shit all-star and her appearance this year is entirely predictable. Ms. Dunham made the POS All-Stars three years ago for lying about having been sexually assaulted, and two years ago for wishing she had an abortion. This year Ms. Dunham made the all-stars for lying to discredit an alleged rape victim and then making a self-serving non-apology apology for having been such a shameless hypocrite.

Ms. Dunham has been a strident and vociferous supporter of the #MeToo movement but even though she says she “believes all women”, when a women accused her friend and co-worker of rape she came to the man’s defense. This mere hypocrisy would not have been enough to get on her back on the POS All Stars though, what put her over the top was when she faced a backlash for her defense of the man she issued a rambling, performance art diatribe of an “apology” that was so self-serving as to be masturbatorial.

I pray to the almighty Thanos that he make Lena Dunham…GO. AWAY. FOREVER.

Jussie Smollet - Prior to faking his own hate crime, I had never in my entire life had heard the name Jussie Smollett. Little did I know how wonderful my world was before my Jussie Smollett bubble was so rudely shattered.

First things first…who the fuck names their kid Jussie? It’s not Jessie, it’s not Justin…it’s Jussie. Fuck you Jussie and your stupid fucking name. Secondly, how awesome is it that Jussie Smollett, of all the fucking useless individuals on the planet, is the one who so expertly exposes the identity politics crowd for the hysterical and emotionalist dipshits that they are.

And finally, not only is Jussie Smollett and awful actor, as proven with his Good Morning America performance which is sublimely absurd, but he is also an atrocious writer and director. This entire hoax was so poorly conceived and executed it felt like an Adam Sandler film or a Trump press conference.

Congrats Jussie, you made the POS All Stars, enjoy it while it lasts because I have a funny feeling this is as good as it will get for you for a long time.

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Brie Larson - Brie Larson is a terrible actress…you know how I know that? Because I’ve seen her work. Go watch Kong Skull Island or Trainwreck…she is painfully awful. Brie Larson is also a terrible human being…you know how I know that? Because I’ve had to listen to her talk. Not only is Ms. Larson a moron, she is a racist misandrist too.

Ms. Larson earns her all-star status this year for being a shameless hypocrite who demands inclusion but only judges people by their race and gender. For instance, this year Ms. Larson proclaimed, “I do not need a 40-year-old white dude to tell me what didn’t work for him about A Wrinkle in Time. It wasn’t made for him. I want to know what it meant to women of color, to biracial women, to teen women of color, to teens that are biracial.”

Great…I agree with Ms. Larson because I do not want to hear what a white braud has to say about superhero movies, or Scorsese or PT Anderson or Kubrick or Kurosawa or any other great filmmaker’s work because that work wasn’t made for them. And if Ms. Larson is so interested in diversity and inclusion, why is she playing Captain Marvel, and not a “women of color, or a biracial women”?

How about this Brie Larson…why don’t you judge people on the content of their work instead of the color of their skin or their gender? And if you cannot do that, if you cannot help yourself from labeling everyone by the identity that you deem to give them, then why don’t you just shut the fuck up and go away because you are a shameless hypocrite and an intellectual dwarf.

And thus concludes another Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® awards. If you are one of the people who “won” this year I ask you to please not to take it personally and also to try and do better next year….because remember…this years Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® award winner could be next year’s Mickey™® Award winner!!

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©2019

5th Annual Mickey™® Awards: 2018 Edition

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Estimated Reading Time: The Mickey™® Awards are much more presitigious than the Oscars, and unlike our lesser crosstown rival, we here at The Mickeys™® do not limit acceptance speech times. There will be no classless playing off by the orchestra here…mostly because we don’t have an orchestra. Regardless… expect this awards show article to last at a minimum approximately 5 hours and 48 minutes.

The ultimate awards show is upon us…are you ready? The Mickeys™® are far superior to every other award imaginable…be it the Oscar, the Emmy, the Tony, the Grammy, the Pulitzer or even the Nobel. The Mickey™® is the mountaintop of not just artistic but human achievement, which is why they always take place AFTER the Oscars!

This year has been an erratic one for cinema, but with that said there are still a multitude of outstanding films eligible for a Mickey™® award. Actors, actresses, writers, cinematographers and directors are all sweating and squirming right now in anticipation of the Mickey™® nominations and winners. Remember, even a coveted Mickey™® nomination is a career and life changing event.

Before we get to what everyone is here for…a quick rundown of the rules and regulations of The Mickeys™®. The Mickeys™® are selected by me. I am judge, jury and executioner. The only films eligible are films I have actually seen, be it in the theatre, via screener, cable, Netflix or VOD. I do not see every film because as we all know, the overwhelming majority of films are God-awful, and I am a working man so I must be pretty selective. So that means that just getting me to actually watch your movie is a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself…never mind being nominated or winning!

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The Prizes!! The winners of The Mickey™® award will receive one acting coaching session with me FOR FREE!!! Yes…you read that right…FOR FREE!! Non-acting category winners receive a free lunch* with me at Fatburger (*lunch is considered one "sandwich" item, one order of small fries, you aren't actors so I know you can eat carbs, and one beverage….yes, your beverage can be a shake, you fat bastards). Actors who win and don't want an acting coaching session but would prefer the lunch…can still go straight to hell…but I am legally obligated to inform you that, yes, there WILL BE SUBSTITUTIONS allowed with The Mickey™® Awards prizes. If you want to go to lunch I will gladly pay for your meal…and the sterling conversation will be entirely free of charge.

Enough with the formalities…let's start the festivities!!

Is everybody in? Is everybody in? The ceremony is about to begin...

Ladies and gentlemen…welcome to the fifth annual Mickey™® Awards!!!

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cold War - Lukasz Zal: Zal’s masterful use of a black and white with sharp contrast and his at times eye-popping framing make for exquisite visuals in Cold War that help to propel the narrative and tell the story in theri own right.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron: Cuaron’s virtuoso camera work in Roma, which includes dazzling camera movements and remarkable framing, is a master class in the art. Any single frame from this movie could hang in a photography exhibit in any of the great museums of the world.

The Favourite - Robbie Ryan: Ryan deftly uses light and darkness, especially with candles, to illuminate the dramatic sub-text in The Favourite.

If Beale Street Could Talk - James Laxton: Laxton paints this film with a striking and lush palette in this film that is gorgeous to behold.

Widows - Sean Bobbitt : Bobbitt’s framing, particularly his use of mirrors, is simply stunning and elevates this rather sub-par material.

First Man - Linus Sandgren: Sandgren’s ability to contrast the claustrophobia of space travel to the vast expanse of the moon is breathtaking and aids in giving this film a visceral element.

You Were Never Really Here - Thomas Townend: Townend’s wondrous cinematography amplifies the fever dream feeling that envelops this entire film.

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And The Mickey Goes To….ROMA - ALFONSO CUARON - This was an absolutely stacked category this year but Cuaron’s masterful work on Roma takes the award. Cuaron's cinematography on this film is stunning as he pulls off numerous, extremely difficult maneuvers with an ease and subtlety that is staggering to behold. Is Cuaron winning a Cinematography Oscar this year a big deal? Yes it is. Is Cuaron winning The Mickey™® Award for best Cinematography a bigger deal? You bet your ass it is.


BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

First Man : A film more about grief than space travel, this script is able to take an expansive and historical subject and reduce it into a viscerally intimate and personal film.

The Sisters Brothers : An extremely well-written narrative filled with deep symbolism and genuine humanity that turns the western genre on its head.

Leave No Trace : This script perfectly captures the powerful relationship of a young girl coming of age with a damaged father, and never falls into the trap of sentimentality or caricature.

You Were Never Really Here: Intense and disturbing, this script grabs you and pulls you into its protagonist’s tortured mind and soul and never lets you go, even when you want it to.

The Death of Stalin: An uproariously funny script that is masterfully paced and wondrously smart.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE - Lynne Ramsay’s script drags us kicking and screaming into the mind of her kicking and screaming main character, Joe, and never lets us leave. A wonderfully woven nightmare of a movie that is both grotesque and gripping. Lynne Ramsay is now among the best of the best having won a Mickey™® Award.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Cold War: A narrative that stretches over decades and vast swaths of Europe but with an immediate pace that never loses its sense of intimacy.

Roma: A story of a simple woman that is anything but simple. Riddled with rich symbolism and moments of magical realism, Roma is a magnificent script.

The Favourite: Darkly funny and deeply insightful, The Favourite never fails to shock, compel or intrigue.

The Quiet Place: A fascinating story that transcends genre and speaks to the larger issues of our time without ever losing its horrifyingly entertaining value.

First Reformed: An extraordinary script that seriously grapples with matters of faith, theology, philosophy and eco-politics while also being a poignant and exacting character study.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…ROMA - Alfonso Cuaron masterfully weaves a precise and detailed story of harsh realism with mysticism in this slice of life/family drama that never fails to compel. Cuaron has already won more Mickeys™® in this ceremony than other mere mortals could dream of winning in their entire lives.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams - Vice: Amy Adams is stunning as Lynne Cheney, the Lady MacBeth who is the straw that stirs the drink of Darth Cheney’s nefarious political career. This is the very best work of Ms. Adam’s stellar career.

Sakuro Ando - Shoplifters: Ando gives a mesmerizing performance as the de facto mother of this rag tag family trying to make ends meet under the oppressive boot of capitalism. A powerful yet delicate performance that is simply wondrous.

Emma Stone - The Favourite: Stone gives a delicious performance as the ambitious social climber who will do whatever it takes to survive and thrive in Queen Anne’s court. A sexy, funny and compelling piece of work.

Emily Blunt - A Quiet Place: Best Actress Mickey Award winner (for Sicario) Emily Blunt proves once again that she is not just a movie star/pretty face, but one of the very best actresses working in film today. A kinetic, immediate and stunning performance.

Claire Foy - First Man: Foy imbues her character with a frenetic and unrelenting power that bubbles just beneath her calm facade. When that power boils to the surface it brings with it a magnetic intentionality that is palpable and mesmerizing.

Rachel Weisz - The Favourite: Weisz’s use of physicality to convey her character’s intellectual and political prowess is a master class in posture and stance and is something actors should study and steal from.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…AMY ADAMS - VICE : Adams’ very first scene in Vice is the best acting I have seen by an actress on film this year. Adams’ Lynne Cheney is a force of nature and when unleashed is a sight to behold. Adams’ Lynne has an insatiable hunger for power and an arrogant streak that drives the film even if it is from the backseat. Amy Adams is a hugely rich and famous movie star, but it wasn’t until now, when she won her first Mickey™® Award, that she finally “made it”. Congratulations m’lady!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Ben Foster - Leave No Trace: Foster is one of the great under rated talents of his generation and in Leave No Trace he gives yet another magnetic performance by imbuing his character with a palpable wound that torments and propels him to seek solace from it.

Sam Rockwell - Vice: Rockwell gives a delicious performance as Dubya, never falling into imitation or caricature, Rockwell turns Bush into a genuine yet damaged human being that is always compelling to watch and often times hysterically funny.

Thomas Hoult - The Favourite: In lesser hands, Hoult’s character in The Favourite, a sharp tongued and sharp elbowed dandy who plays to win the game of palace intrigue, would have been reduced to a punch line, but Hoult turns him into a dynamic presence that elevates the film considerably.

Joaquin Phoenix - The Sisters Brothers: Phoenix’s tortured character is a combustible mess who never fails to make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons but also never fails to be a compelling, unsettling and dynamic screen presence.

Jonah Hill - Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot: Hill creates an intriguing character in this film who is both a self-help bullshitter and a complicated and real human being. A subtle and finely crafted piece of acting that is a testament to Jonah Hill’s skill and commitment.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…BEN FOSTER - LEAVE NO TRACE: This is Ben Foster’s second Mickey nomination (Best Supporting Actor Hell or High Water) and first win. Foster has been known to be a rather explosive actor in the past and often thrives in roles where he is combustible, but in Leave No Trace he eschews his usual pyrotechnics for a more subdued, more nuanced and more subtle approach. Foster’s Will is an explosive character, but Foster takes all of that combustibility and stuffs it into a little furnace inside him. The furnace gets hot and even feels like it could explode, but Will fights to keep it contained and it is this struggle which makes for such a compelling and satisfying performance from Ben Foster…who rightly takes his place among the best actors of his generation with this Mickey™® award win.

BREAKOUT PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR

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Thomasin McKenzie - Thomasin McKenzie is so great in Leave No Trace it is miraculous. She masterfully brings to life a teenage girl struggling to make sense of her ever changing world and also her damaged father. A deft and subtle performance, highlighted by her ability to have the impulse to cry but the skill to not let herself, McKenzie proves her worth as a vibrant and compelling actress in Leave No Trace. Much like Jennifer Lawrence, who starred in director Debra Granik’s previous film Winter’s Bone, which launched her career, McKenzie has an undeniable screen presence and a surprising level and command of craft for such a young actress. I look forward to seeing what her very bright future holds.

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale - VIce: Bale proves he is one of the very best actors working in film with his remarkable transformation into Dick Cheney. A master of physicality, Bale also is able to fill Cheney’s silences with a palpable intentionality that gives even the quietest scenes an unsettling air of menace.

John C. Reilly - The Sisters Brothers: Reilly gives the very best performance of his versatile and stellar career as the older and more sensitive of the Sisters brothers. Reilly’s well-crafted and nuanced work never falls into the trap of sentimentality and is a testament to his great talent.

Joaquin Phoenix - You Were Never Really Here: Joaquin Phoenix is may be the best actor on the planet right now and his volatile, magnetic and dynamic performance in You Were Never Really here stands as a monument to his towering talent and his mastery of craft. Phoenix creates an unsettling character suffering a Sisyphean wound that eats at his soul but never contaminates his pure heart.

Tomasz Kot - Cold War: Kot masterfully portrays a man who seems above the fray of life and then adeptly shows his unraveling and descent at the hands of love. A compelling and finely crafted piece of work that highlights Kot as both a movie star and a sublime actor.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…JOAQUIN PHOENIX - YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE: This is Joaquin Phoenix’s second nomination (Best Actor Inherent Vice) and first win. Joaquin Phoenix may be the very best actor working in film today. Phoenix is blessed with an undeniable talent and an interesting look, but what makes him so potent as an actor is his mastery of craft and exquisite skill. Phoenix never half-asses his way through a role, always committing fully to whatever is demanded. Phoenix’s work in You Were Never Really Here is as unnerving as it is glorious, as it reveals the tormented soul of a man on the edge and falling off of it. For this hypnotic and mesmerizing piece of work Joaquin Phoenix rightly takes his place atop the acting world with his much deserved Mickey™® Award.

BEST ACTRESS

Joanna Kulig - Cold War: Kulig gives an electrifying and explosive performance as an alluring Polish songstress. Kulig is like a Polish Jennifer Lawrence, charming, sexy and beguiling with a dash of danger sprinkled in. A truly mesmerizing performance.

Yalitza Aparicio - Vice: Aparicio makes her debut in Roma and could not have been better. Entirely genuine, present and grounded, Aparicio makes us feel as if she isn’t acting at all, but those of us in the know realize she is doing incredible and complicated work.

Olivia Colman - The Favourite: A deliriously delicious performance that is both funny and poignant. Colman won an Oscar for her dazzling work in the film, but being nominated for a Mickey trumps winning an Oscar…this is a fact.

Thomasin McKenzie - Leave No Trace: The winner of the presitgious Breakthrough award, McKenzie is one to watch as her work in Leave No Trace proves. A finely crafted and intricate performance that shows an actress with a refined skill set and in command of her craft.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…JOANNA KULIG - COLD WAR: This is Joanna Kulig’s first nomination and first win. Joanna Kulig is an intoxicating screen presence in Cold War and she expertly makes the audience fall in love with her even while keeping them at an arm’s length. This performance is so dynamic as to be glorious and is a pure joy to watch even when things take a darker turn. Masterfully crafted and palpably brought to life, Joanna Kulig’s work in Cold War gives her the highest honor an actress can ever receive…The Mickey™® Award.

BEST ENSEMBLE

Vice: Christian Bale and Amy Adams give career best performances in this uneven film and are joined in their sublime acting by Sam Rockwell and even Steve Carrell. Across the board this film is blessed with top-notch talent doing high level work.

The Favourite: A cornucopia of delectable performances make The Favorite a delicious joy to behold. Boasting four Mickey™® acting nominees, The Favourite is an actor’s delight.

The Death of Stalin: A cavalcade of talent lends their skill to this phenomenal dark comedy. Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough and Jeffery Tambor are among the multitude of actors who shine in this movie. A very skilled and very deep cast.

The Sister Brothers: The four actors in this film, John C. Reilly, Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed all give nuanced, layered and standout performances in this alt-western gem. Reilly and Phoenix in particular have a crackling chemistry that is a pure pleasure to watch.

Shoplifters: A wonderful cast which includes Mickey™® nominee Sanduro Ando, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka and the late Kirin Kiki. All of the actors in this film, including the child actors, do tremendous and very complex work.

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AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…THE FAVOURITE - Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz and Nicholas Hoult give stellar performances in The Favourite that are intoxicatingly funny and layered. When you put a collection of talent this strong with a director of such vision, great things happen…like winning a Best Ensemble Mickey™® Award!! I am truly looking forward to this cast claiming their award and joining me for a feast fit for a Queen at Fatburger!

BEST DIRECTOR

Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War: A stunning piece of film making that is concise, precise and beautiful. An achingly beautiful yet complicated love story set in the shadow of European history that never takes a misstep.

Alfonso Cuaron - Roma: Cuaron’s masterpiece is a piece of virtuoso film making that is undeniably compelling and viscerally heartbreaking. At once a beautifully shot piece of magical realism as well as an earnestly told and acted slice of life. A simply stunning and unforgettable piece of work.

Hirokazu Koreada - Shoplifters: A finely crafted film that never lets you go and haunts you for weeks after seeing. An exceedingly well directed film that boasts top notch performances from a big cast of actors.

Lynne Ramsay - You Were never Really Here: This film is a disturbing and unrelenting fever dream and character study that draws you in and refuses to let you go. Both visually and dramatically dynamic, this movie is a testament to Lynne Ramsay’s talent and vision.

Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite: Lanthimos has been nominated twice before for a Mickey™® and is proving himself as one of the great and original filmmakers of our time. The Favourite is proof of Lanthimos’ great ability and intriguing style.

Debra Granik - Leave No Trace: Granik is one of those understated directors that often gets overlooked. She has the increasingly rare skill of coaxing terrific performances from actors without surrounding them with cinematic pyrotechnics. A highly skilled, old school director who puts character and drama before spectacle.

AND THE MICKEY GOES TO…ALFONSO CUARON - ROMA: This is a loaded category but Cuaron has made a personal film that is universal in its beauty and insight. A gorgeous movie to look at and a heart breakingly human story make for a glorious piece of cinema. Cuaron has established himself as the auteur of our times with this masterpiece and with his unprecedented 3 Mickey™® Awards tonight!

ACTOR/ACTRESS OF THE YEAR - JOAQUIN PHOENIX

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Joaquin Phoenix gives three stellar performances this year in the films You Were Never Really Here, He Won’t Get Far on Foot and The Sisters Brothers. All of these performances were intricate, delicate, dynamic and magnetic and show him to be a master craftsman as well as a transcendent artist. Few actors have ever churned out three performances of this caliber in their career, never mind in one year…and it is for this reason that Mr. Joaquin Phoenix wins the prestigious, and first ever, Actor/Actress of the year Mickey™® Award.

BEST COMEDY OF THE YEAR - TIE BETWEEN THE FAVOURITE & THE DEATH OF STALIN

Two dark and exceedingly hilarious films, that boast rapturously glorious and deep casts, and speak volumes about the corrupting influence of power in history and today. In dark times, these two films bless us with their morbid but enlightening humor mixed with drama that make for spectacular cinema.

BEST BLOCKBUSTER OF THE YEAR - A QUIET PLACE

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A Quiet Place came out of nowhere to dominate the box office and to open my eyes. Who knew that Jim from The Office, otherwise known as John Krasinski, could be such a great writer, director and leading man? A Quiet Place isn’t just a fantastically well-made, finely-crafted, heart pounding and stomach churning horror/thriller, it is also an insightful commentary on our current culture. A remarkable and entertaining film that is both scary and smart and that beat out other blockbusters like Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2 and Ready Player One, who all won the box office battle but lost the prestige war to A Quiet Place, the first ever Mickey™® Blockbuster of the Year award winner.

BEST PICTURE

10. HAPPY AS LAZZARRO - A magical movie that uses the mystical to peal back the scab of capitalism and exposes the gangrenous wound festering underneath.

9. LEAVE NO TRACE - This film poignantly reveals that genuine masculinity is dying in America. Subtly directed and marvelously acted, Leave No Trace is an understated gem.

8. A QUIET PLACE - A shockingly good movie that is extremely well-crafted. This movie was so well-made I exhaled a breath of relief when it was over…and I wasn’t even consciously aware I had been partially holding my breath the whole time.

7. THE DEATH OF STALIN - A masterful comedy with an exquisite cast that is perfectly paced and precisely acted.

6. THE SISTERS BROTHERS - A film that challenges conventions and overturns genres, The Sisters Brothers was an overlooked piece of gold.

5. SHOPLIFTERS - This movie is haunting as it stayed with me for weeks after seeing it. An insightful that challenges us to question what we think we know about our world and ourselves.

4. THE FAVOURITE - A top notch cast and a daring director combine to make a rabidly funny mediation on the intoxicating and corrupting sway of power.

3. COLD WAR - A gloriously shot, extremely well-acted and well-directed film that is so mesmerizing as to be hypnotic.

2. YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE - This film is an electrifying and pulsating fever dream of a movie that transports us into its lead character twisted mind and never lets us go. A masterfully directed and acted film that shows the moral decay on the soul of America.

1. ROMA - A true masterpiece, impeccably shot and directed. Alfonso Cuaron brings his artistic vision to life with such originality and technical skill that it is a marvel to behold. Cuaron has a lot of Fatburger meals waiting for him after winning an unprecedented FOUR Mickey™® Awards tonight!

MOST IMPORTANT FILM OF THE YEAR - THE FAVOURITE, VICE, THE DEATH OF STALIN AND YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

What could these four seemingly disparate films have in common that could make them the most important films of the year? The answer is that they are all meditations or contemplations on corruption.

In The Favourite and The Death of Stalin we see those who get closer to power losing their minds and distorting or ignoring reality just to stay in close proximity to power. If this doesn’t reflect the current state of Washington and the establishment media, nothing does.

In Vice we see the full arc of corruption when the same type of sycophants on display in The Favourite and The Death of Stalin finally finagle their way into the top spot and unleash their power on to innocents across the globe.

And in You Were Never Really Here we see the how the moral and ethical cancer that infects those in the power structure, compels the ruling elite to seek out the innocent in order to satiate their depraved desires and pass on their sickness by devouring the purity of the next generation.

All fo these films high mirror back to us the sickened world in which we live. As far fetched as the narrative in You Were Never Really Here may seem, a cursory glance at the news will reveal that it is not as fictional as we would like to believe. Whether it be the Catholic church and its never ending sex abuse scandals or Bryan Singer and the pervasive pedophilia in Hollywood or Jeffrey Epstein and his Lolita Express that exposes Washington’s elite sexual abuse of young people, this issue is very very real.

These stories are not the whole ugly truth, they are but the tip of a repulsive iceberg. If you think the Catholic church is the only institution to sexually prey upon young people, you are a fool. If you think Bryan Singer is the only Hollywood power player to systematically sexually exploit young people, you’re an even bigger fool. And if you think the Lolita Express is the last word on Washington depravity, you are the biggest fool of all.

The moral and ethical corruption on display in these films and in these scandals are epidemic in American culture. Corruption doesn’t just infect institutions but also individuals. When the powerfully depraved and the depraved powerful control the levers of power then truth gets perverted and reality itself comes under assault….this is America in 2019.

The Favourite, The Death of Stalin, Vice and You Were Never Really Here shows us that the corrupting influence of power has made the world mad (crazy), which in turn has made the world mad (angry). This anger and this madness combine to create an unstoppable force, a vortex of spiritual, mental, emotional and political insanity, that will eventually gather more and more momentum until it destroys absolutely everything in its path.

We aren’t at this tipping point just yet…the despicable Dick Cheney is still allowed to live free and walk the streets of America without fear of someone bludgeoning his brains out with a hammer. Donald Trump, the Queen Anne of our times, still skates through life without a care. Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, act like a modern-day version of Beria, Khrushchev and Melenkov as scramble to hold up the illusion of democracy in the wake of America’s death, all while feeding at the corporate trough like the insatiable pigs that they are.

That said, it does become clearer and clearer as every moment passes that this shit house is a tinder box that is going to go up flames. So the time is fast approaching when we will have to grab our ball peen hammers and get to work...the ruling elite are a target rich environment…we will have a lot of smashing to do.

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On that upbeat note…WHO’S READY FOR SOME FATBURGER!!

And thus we conclude our 5th annual Mickey Awards™®!!! Thank you for reading. I appreciate all my readers, their support and openness to debate and discussion!! We’ll see you next year at The Mickeys™®!!

And tune in later this week for the shadow of The Mickey™®, the Slip-Me-A-Mickey™® awards!!

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©2019

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. One of the Coen’s very best films that is both disturbing and funny and distrubingly funny.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, written and directed by the Coen Brothers, is a six-part western anthology available on Netflix that stars Liam Neeson, Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Zoe Kazan and Tom Waits.

Much like Steven Soderbergh, the Coen brothers are held up by some to be cinematic gods and geniuses who can do no wrong. Once again, I disagree with my cinephile brethren on this point but not to the same degree as I do regarding Soderbergh. That said, I am more agnostic on the Coen cult than I am an atheist.

I find the Coens to be at times brilliant and at times terrible, and rarely in between. For instance, No Country For Old Men is a phenomenal film, where as Burn After Reading is an abomination. For every Fargo there is a Hudsucker Proxy, for every A Serious Man there is a The Ladykillers.

The Coens are famous for their subversive dark comedy, but for me I much prefer them when they lean more towards the dark and less towards the comedy. Because of this, my moments of Coen appreciation and distaste are often at odds with popular opinion. Unlike most people, I am not a fan of The Big Lebowski or O Brother, Where Art Thou, but love The Man Who Wasn’t There and Hail, Caesar!

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Which brings us to The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is structured as six chapters that are not connected to each other in anyway except that they are set in the old west. This anthology approach behooves the Coens because it allows them to touch upon both the dark and the comedy without ever having to fully commit to either. It is also a benefit when watching it on Netflix because you can watch it smaller increments and not miss anything, which will benefit those with shorter attention spans (which seems to be all of us).

The first chapter in the film is titled “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” and is easily my least favorite. I almost didn’t make it through this chapter because it is so forcibly “Coen” with its comedic sensibilities. It also didn’t help that Tim Blake Nelson is the lead actor in this chapter, as I find him to be a less than appealing screen presence.

This first chapter is an over the top send up of westerns and and for me bordered on the unbearable. This is just a matter of taste so others may appreciate it, but I almost turned the movie off and never returned. Thankfully I didn’t.

The second chapter, titled “Near Algodones”, is where the film starts to take flight. In this chapter James Franco plays a bank robber who gets taken on a twisting and turning journey. This chapter shows the Coens trodding their well-worn but well-played ironic existentialist playground.

Chapter three, titled “Meal Ticket”, which stars Liam Neeson and Harry Melling is simply fantastic as it follows a pair of showmen traveling the old west. Melling dazzles as the showman and Neeson does his best Irish brooding in years. This chapter is almost peak Coens and it is a cinematic delight.

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Chapter four, titled “All Gold Canyon”, which stars Tom Waits, is the slowest paced of all the chapters, but it still delivers a powerful cinematic punch. Waits is fantastic as a gold miner who stumbles across Eden and lives out a biblical fable. The Coen’s use of animal symbolism in this section adds one more layer onto the usual mountain of old testament morality which they so frequently and effectively mine (pun intended).

Just when you think the film has peaked along comes Chapter Five, titled “The Gal Who got Rattled”, which stars Zoe Kazan as a young woman making the long journey west with a wagon train. Kazan dazzles as Alice Longabaugh, a delicate young woman who is forced to face a cruel world and an uncertain future. This chapter may be the very best thing the Coen’s have ever made.

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Kazan, the granddaughter of the iconic filmmaker Elia Kazan, gives a beguiling and compelling performance that never falls into caricature. Her ability to fill her character with a vivid inner life and intentionality allows her to be vibrant on screen even as she keeps herself tightly contained. I am not very familiar with Kazan’s earlier work, but I look forward to seeing how bright her future gets, I have a feeling it could be as bright as a supernova.

The final chapter, titled “ The Mortal Remains”, is interesting but not compelling enough and ends the film on a slight misstep. This chapter, which stars Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson and Saul Rubinek, is similar in some ways to the prologue in A Serious Man. The existential and mystical blend in this section, not always to great effect. While I thought this was one of the weaker chapters, I also thought it was the one that held the most potential. Sadly it never lives up to its intriguing premise.

On the whole the film, shot by Bruno Delbonnel, looks great with a simple yet precise visual style. What I appreciated was that, unlike say Soderbergh’s recent Netflix film High Flying Bird, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs looks lush and crisp even on the smaller screen.

In terms of the acting, it is very good across the board. Neeson, Melling, Waits and Kazan give truly impressive performances that elevate the film to great dramatic heights.

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In conclusion, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is among the very best of the Coen Brothers filmography and I can’t recommend it to you highly enough. If you are a Coen brothers afficianado, you’ll love this movie, and even if you are lukewarm on them, you will find something to like in it. The film is dark, funny and darkly funny, but it also has a philosophy driving through it that gives it a narrative and mythic coherence.

The western genre is the most American of all film genres, and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a collection of epic fables that insightfully and accurately diagnose the American affliction. The American affliction that the Coens examine in this film is gaining in power and potency, and if we don’t understand its origins we will never survive this pandemic. A good place to begin to understand our affliction is by watching The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.

©2019

High Flying Bird: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A rather empty cinematic venture that ultimately means nothing.

High Flying Bird, written by Tarell Alvin McRaney and directed by Steven Soderbergh, is the story of sports agent Ray Burke as he tries to navigate the perilous waters of an NBA lockout. The film is available on Netflix and stars Andre Holland as Ray Burke, with supporting turns from Zazie Beetz, Sonja Sohn, Zachary Quinto and Kyle MacLachlan.

There are people in the world who love director Steven Soderbergh and claim he is a master auteur and cinematic visionary. I am not one of those people. I find Steven Soderbergh to be a middling talent at best and to be terribly overrated. To re-watch his filmography is to discover a rather shocking lack of any greatness whatsoever and an even more alarming lack of artistic instinct and sensibility.

Soderbergh skyrocketed to fame and acclaim with his first film Sex, Lies and Videotape, a daring and unique film that showed the director to be an edgy auteur. But then something funny happened on the way to cinema immortality…Soderbergh kept making worse and worse films with less and less artistic value showing himself over time to be remarkably artistically toothless for such an alleged avant-garde auteur.

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Oddly enough, Soderbergh, the poster boy for “independent film making”, has perhaps become best known for the highly successful, mindless popcorn chomping, Hollywood star-fueled, Oceans 11 trilogy that boasted George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon among many others in its cast. Those films are a perfect representation of Soderbergh’s abilities, as he elevates the below average material with a certain level of cinematic and visual professionalism but never pushes beyond formula and convention to find meaning under the veneer of Hollywood glamour. The truth is that the Oceans movies only succeed because of the stars that power it. But even with all of that star power and Soderbergh at the helm, the Oceans films at their very best are slightly above average Hollywood fair and never even sniff greatness.

Soderbergh’s Oscar winning film, Traffic, is another example where Soderbergh fails to soar. Upon a first watch the film is compelling and Soderbergh’s visual choices, such as using three different base color gels for each different narrative, keep you interested. But upon further viewings Traffic is exposed as being a shockingly mediocre and thin film with little meat on its Hollywood bones.

All of Soderbergh’s other films suffer from a similar lack of both narrative and cinematic substance. Erin Brockovich, Magic Mike and Logan Lucky are more mainstream Hollywood junk from this supposed master of independent cinema.

Which brings us to High Flying Bird. In recent years Soderbergh has experimented by shooting his films on an IPhone and High Flying Bird is one of those films. By shooting on an IPhone 8 (with a specially adapted lens) Soderbergh saves money, obviously, on camera equipment, but he also saves on production costs by not having to get a permit to shoot in New York City (a clever way to skirt the city’s production laws). It is in some ways an ingenious move, but the problem with shooting the film on an IPhone 8 though, is that the film looks like it was shot on an IPhone 8. To be fair to our Apple overlords, it doesn’t look awful…but it certainly doesn’t look good, nevermind great.

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The visuals of the film aside, what struck me about High Flying Bird is one of the same things that strikes me about most of Soderbergh’s films…it means nothing and has nothing to say except maybe deference to the status quo. There is no cinematic or philosophical depth to Soderbergh’s movies. In High Flying Bird there is a plot about an NBA lockout and the relationship between labor and management, but at the end of the day, Soderbergh scuttles any serious debate and resorts to the same tired formula he uses in the Oceans 11 films where he withholds information from the audience in a linear time frame but then does a time jump to explain the mystery of why things turned out the way they did.

So High Flying Bird is at its core a heist movie, where we see everything happen and it looks impossible but then the heist succeeds and we don’t know why until Soderbergh jumps back in time to show us a conversation that he chose to withhold from viewers in real time explaining it all.

I find this narrative style to be deeply unsatisfying because it strikes me as inherently dishonest. Deceiving audiences into buying into your story only to have a surprise “twist” that is purposefully kept from them isn’t clever, it is lazy, contrived and manipulative. This style isn’t a sign of film making genius, it is a parlor trick, ham-handed hackery and a cheap ploy.

In this way Soderbergh is in the same category of filmmaker as David Mamet…and that is most definitely not a compliment. Mamet likes to make “con” movies (that are awful) that con his viewers while showing them a con on screen whereas Soderbergh makes “heist” movies that steal from his viewers just as the characters pull off a heist in the story.

High Flying Bird is not on its surface a heist movie, but it really is, for it has the same structure, theme and intent as all of the Oceans films and the god-awful Logan Lucky. High Flying Bird is about deception…deception between the characters on-screen and the deception of the audience by the director.

The biggest problem I have with High Flying Bird and most of Soderbergh’s films is that it doesn’t mean anything. It has no cinematic higher purpose at all. Why make this particular film in this particular way? Why tell this story and why tell it now? At the end of the day there is no compelling answer to that question and that is damning.

As for the cast, Andre Holland struggles to carry the weight of the film on his shoulders. Holland, and most of the other actors in the film, all feel very mannered in their performances and I can’t help but wonder if Soderbergh directed them toward this style, which I found off-putting and disingenuous.

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The two bright spots for me were Zazie Beetz, who has a natural screen presence and an appealing magnetism to her, and Bill Duke who perfectly embodies the grizzled old coach archetype he portrays. Both Duke and Beetz felt like real people whereas the rest of the cast felt like actors and came across as very stilted and stylized and not grounded in a reality I recognize. Their dialogue felt like speeches and everything felt manufactured.

In conclusion, High Flying Bird is an absolutely forgettable piece of film making from Steven Soderbergh. The film serves little to no purpose and offers even less insight or genuine drama. Even though High Flying Bird is “free” on Netflix, I simply cannot, in good conscience, recommend you watch it because it will be a waste of your valuable time…I certainly felt it was a waste of mine.

©2019

Post Oscar Musings

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Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes 47 seconds

The Oscars are over and it was a bit of a surprising night. Yes, Green Book won in an upset and Olivia Colman shocked the world by beating out Glenn Close for Best Actress, but the biggest shock of the night was that my Oscar picks were so dreadful (15 out of 24). But in a striking sign that this years award’s were so incoherent was that even with my awful picks I still won my Oscar pool…again…which in the big picture is really all that matters.

In terms of the Oscar show, I have to say the lack of a host was perfectly fine with me. Not having to suffer through some hackneyed bit or contrived comedy made the evening much more bearable. Some of the presenters were mildly amusing, some were not. Some of the winners had decent speeches, some of them not. Melissa McCarthy was funny, Awkwafina was not. Mahershala Ali’s speech was good, Spike Lee’s was not.

The trio who won Best Hair and Makeup and tried to choreograph their shared speech were an embarrassment to humanity. This speech made me want to have a new rule at Oscars going forward…whoever gives the worst speech of the night is executed live on stage at the end of the show. This would accomplish two things, first it would make people really prepare a speech and practice it so they don’t mess it up, and secondly the ratings for the show would go through the roof because America likes nothing more than competition and violence.

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I dvr’d the show and watched it later sans commercials and it still felt oppressively long. My solution to the Oscar show problem is to declare that there is no problem. The show is once a year and if it runs long who cares? Also, the Academy is concerned about dropping ratings, well, tough luck, ratings across the board are down. People simply don’t watch anything for more than 30 minute intervals at the most anymore.

That said, if you want to cut time off the show you could drop the short film categories and put them at the technical Oscar awards that are held at another time. I think the show should focus more on the craft of filmmaking and less on celebrity, which puts me in a very miniscule minority, so I don’t want the show to jettison the technical and behind the camera awards like editing or cinematography or even hair and makeup. But not televising the short film awards seems alright even to a cinephile like me.

Another thing would be to cut the musical numbers…or at least some of them. I know some dopes loved the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper song last night, but good lord I thought it was just awful. And I did not need to see Jennifer Hudson and Bette Midler of all people sing totally forgettable songs. If you cut the song performances down to two you cut approximately 15 minutes off the show. Non-problem problem solved.

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As for the actual awards, the thing that sticks out to me is that Green Book winning Best Picture is a perfect encapsulation of the shit show that is our culture. Green Book is a good movie, it isn’t a great movie, but that said there was only one great movie nominated this year and that was Roma. Green Book is better than Bohemian Rhapsody, Vice and Black Panther but it definitely wasn’t better than Roma (or The Favourite). Green Book is a finely crafted, well acted and well-made film, it just isn’t an artistically made film. Roma is both an exceedingly well made film and an artistic vision made manifest.

Roma is a complicated potential Best Picture winner though because it is a Foreign Film, which have never won Best Picture, it is a black and white film, and it is a Netflix film, which makes it controversial in the movie industry that hasn’t quite come to grips with Netflix. For these reasons, Roma losing is at least understandable according to industry logic. I loved Roma with a passion, but I don’t think that the voters who chose Green Book over Roma did so because they hate Mexicans…I think they have their reasons that makes sense even if I disagree with them.

Unlike me, the elite pundit class is less nuanced in their feelings about Green Book’s win. The LA Times declared in its headline this morning that Green Book is the worst Best Picture winner of the last decade…and equal in its awfulness to Crash, which is the meanest thing you can say to a Best Picture winner.

The other and more insidious talking point making the rounds is that Green Book won because older White male voters in the Academy are racist. The reasoning behind this is that Green Book, because it is a story about racism told from a White man’s perspective and allegedly propagates the “White savior complex”, is “regressive” on race issues and anyone who likes it is racist. Therefore, Green Book winning Best Picture means that the Academy is racist.

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Of course, what this talking point fails to take into account is that the same allegedly racist Academy nominated BlacKkKlansman and Black Panther for Best Picture (and gave Best Picture to Moonlight 3 years ago), gave awards to people of color in 3 of the 4 acting awards, and gave awards to minorities in Adapted Screenplay, Director and Cinematography. The “Oscars Are Racist” people seem to think that these “good” outcomes only happened because of the non-old White Male voters and that the “bad” outcome of Green Book winning happened only because of the old White male voters.

This sort of twisted illogic, which is simply a short cut to thinking, is similar to the politics of declaring America a racist cesspool after electing a Black man as president in two straight elections. After Obama’s eight years in office, the cries of racism following Trump’s win were still deafening, with many saying bluntly that anyone who voted for Trump was a deplorable racist, even those who had voted for Obama in the previous two elections. This goalpost moving by the super woke in our culture does little more than lead people to throw up their hands and tune out any discussion related to race in America.

The New York Times ran an op-ed by philosopher Crispin Sartwell on Monday titled, “The Oscars and the Illusion of Perfect Representation” that made similar arguments to what I have been writing for the last few years, and that is using awards shows as a referendum on racial equality is a fool’s errand that actually undermines the genuine struggle for racial equality in America.

Mr. Sartwell makes the case that the issue of “representation” in films is a band-aid on a bullet wound that is little more than a distraction.

“Whatever the Grammys or Oscars looks like in the long run will have little actual impact on social justice. Perhaps, over all, the emphasis on what sort of person is on television has been a distraction from much more urgent matters. Imagine an America that gets the awards shows exactly right but in which, for example, mass incarceration or the internment of asylum seekers just ticks right along, or in which income inequality grows or residential segregation remains unchanged. It’s easy if you try: That’s liable to be the reality of 2020. And 2030, and beyond.”

As I have written in the past, my addition to Mr. Sartwell’s criticism is that not only are the award show representation battles a distraction but they actively undermine legitimate issues because award show “under-representation” is a myth that is provably false. When liberals decide to die on the hill of awards show representation they are not only striking a blow against their cause elsewhere but also fighting for an observable lie, thus decimating their credibility on other more important issues.

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I find these race based awards arguments to be so frivolous as to be absurd but I readily admit this sort of nonsense is going to get much much worse before it ever gets better, if it ever gets better. Major awards shows like the Grammys and Oscars have already been reduced to mostly affirmative action/quota competitions that have very little at all to do with merit and everything to do with virtue signaling.

As for as Green Book being a racist film, this carries with it a very uncomfortable side effect, namely that those calling Green Book racist are in essence calling the Black people associated with the film, like its star, Mahershela Ali (who won his second Supporting Actor Oscar last night), its producer, Octavia Spencer, and Congressman and Civil Rights icon John Lewis, who passionately introduced and advocated for the film, Uncle Toms.

This is the problem that arises in woke culture, no one is ever pure enough, and the White people who are calling Green Book racist are actually calling the Black people associated with the film self-loathing racists as well.

Green Book is considered racist mostly because it is a story about racism told from the perspective of a White man. I also find this argument specious at best, for as Hall of Fame basketball player and extremely insightful cultural critic Kareem Abdul-Jabbar so astutely noted in his defense of the film in the Hollywood Reporter,

“The film is much more effective from Tony’s point of view because the audience that might be most changed by watching it is the White audience.”

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To Green Book’s credit, it at the very least attempts to try and grapple with racism, and yet just by taking on that issue from a White perspective is declared “not woke enough” by the woke gatekeepers who then quickly label anyone who likes it irredeemably racist. What woke culture tends to forget is the obvious, that America is a majority White country, and if you want to reach as large an audience as possible, connecting to that White majority through perspective is a rational maneuver for a film maker.

There is some talk that Green Book’s win is a result of a backlash against the backlash to the film. This makes total sense to me. Green Book was singled out as this “unwoke” abomination and I think voters who liked it simply kept their feelings to themselves and may have ended up voting for it out of spite just as a way to tell the politically correct brigade to fuck off. I understand the sentiments.

As I am fond of saying, “wokeness kills art”, and eventually it will kill commerce too, which is when Hollywood will really see a backlash to the backlash. In our current “woke” moment no one is ever woke enough, and so minorities winning 3 of the 4 acting awards and a plethora of the other prestigious awards is not enough, and Green Book winning is an apostasy because it doesn’t fit entirely into current rigid racial orthodoxy and sensitivities.

In my review for Green Book I said that if it came out twenty years ago it was a shoe in for Best Picture, but that it stood no chance nowadays. Obviously I was wrong, and in my defense the reason I was wrong is that I constantly under estimate my fellow man and woman. In the case of Green Book winning over Roma, I was wrong in thinking that Green Book had no chance, but right in underestimating the people in the Academy, who failed to give Roma Best Picture, not because they are racists, but because they have simple tastes.

©2019

91st Academy Awards: The 2019 Oscars Prediction Post

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Estimated Reading Time: Just Like the Oscar Ceremony this article will last 4 hours and 38 minutes

As every sentient being on the earth, in the solar system, in the galaxy and in the universe knows, this Sunday night is the biggest night in the history of history. Yes, Oscar night is upon us. Ever since a loathsome but determined little creature crawled out of the primordial ooze, that creature has been making its way to this Sunday night, which will be, after billions of years of evolution, symbolic of the apex in human development. When most impossibly beautiful people gather to congratulate one another for their superiority, be it artistic, moral or both, mankind will officially have made the Kubrickian leap from fighting monkeys to star children.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is my church, movies are my religion and the Oscars my high holy days. I have been fasting and meditating for months to prepare for this most sacred of nights…and to hopefully fit into my gown by Karl Lagerfeld (RIP)!!

This has been an awful year for Hollywood movies and I have to admit that this years Oscars are particularly difficult to predict. Since the “New Academy”, formed in the wake of the ridiculous #OscarsSoWhite controversy three years ago, I have yet to figure out with any confidence or certainty how these new members and the old guard come together to form some sort of consensus. Obviously identity politics, diversity and inclusion are important issues to the new members…but how important? And how much has the old guard either embraced these issues out of solidarity or rejected them out of resistance? The answer of course is…I have no idea.

But will my ignorance stop me from making not just humble predictions but bold and assertive declarations of my Oscar picks? No. No it won’t. As long time readers can attest, not having a clue on a subject has never, ever stopped me from loudly pontificating my less than useful opinion…and that is most definitely true when it comes to the Oscars.

So with that in mind…light some incense, spike the holy water and buckle up because the most holy and most sacred Oscars are here. Like the Israelites in Moses’ absence, we must worship the golden calf of the Oscar statuette, for it may bring us salvation!! But please keep in mind that since the Oscars are a religious holiday…please no wagering.

So here are my picks for the 91st Academy Awards…

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Amy Adams - Vice : Amy Adams has had a great career garnering 6 Oscar nominations. Adams’ portrayal of Lynne Cheney is the best performance of her stellar career, which is saying a lot.

Marina de Tavira - Roma : I loved Roma…but I have no idea why Marina de Tavira is nominated. Her role is so small and unremarkable that I am entirely baffled as to why she is here.

Regina King - If Beale Street Could Talk : Regina King is a fine actress but If Beale Street Could Talk is not a fine film and her work in it is just as underwhelming as the movie.

Emma Stone - The Favourite : The Favourite is proof that Emma Stone keeps getting better and better with each year. Stone’s manipulative social climber is a finely-tuned, sexy and charismatic performance that is a testament to her skill and talent.

Rachel Weisz - The Favourite : Weisz’s immovable object meeting Stone’s irressistable force makes The Favourite one of my favorites. Weisz’s masterful use of physicality in this role is something that actors should study closely.

Who Should Win - Amy Adams : Amy Adams first scene in Vice is so good as to be delicious and sets the stage for her powerhouse performance. Adams deftly turns Lynne Cheney into a formidable Lady MacBeth that is the straw that stirs the drink of Darth Cheney’s career. A truly great performance from one of the best actresses working in film today.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY : The Academy’s push for diversity clearly gives the edge here to Regina King over Marina de Tavira because for some reason diversity, at least in the eyes of the New Academy, only relates to Black people.

WHO WILL WIN - Regina King : King’s work is strikingly inferior when compared to Adams, Stone and Weisz, but she will walk away with the Oscar due to the Academy’s yearning to be “inclusive” and to quell any charges similar to the #OscarsSoWhite nonsense from a few years back.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Mahershala Ali - Green Book : Ali does strong work as Dr. Don Shirley, the Black, gay, effete (and upper class) pianist struggling to survive in a decidedly hostile 1960’s world. Ali makes Shirley a genuine human being and uses his formidable skill to masterfully avoid falling into the easy trap of caricature.

Adam Driver - BlackKklansman : Adam Driver is…fine…in Spike Lee’s racial drama set in 1970’s Colorado. I didn’t think the performance was Oscar worthy…but what the hell do I know. It isn’t awful…but it isn’t great either. To be fair, I am entirely baffled as to why Adam Driver is a thing…I just don’t get it.

Sam Elliott - A Star is Born : I think you have to love Sam Elliot to love A Star is Born or love A Star is Born to love Sam Elliot. I love neither.

Richard E. Grant - Can You Ever Forgive Me: This is not a great movie…but Richard E. Grant is great in it. Grant turns what could have been a stereotype into a fascinating, frustrating and engaging character that captivates every second of his screen time.

Sam Rockwell - Vice : Rockwell gives his dim bulb character George W. Bush a desperate yearning for acceptance and respect that is genuine and compelling and shows an exquisite command of craft in avoiding the pitfall of imitation.

WHO SHOULD WIN - Mahershala Ali/Richard E. Grant - Both men give stand out performances that highlight their mastery of craft and undeniable talent. A win for either will not garner complaints from me.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY - The New Academy will want to reward Ali, who won the award just two years ago for his work in Moonlight, for no other reason than he is African-American in order to satiate the knee-jerk #OscarsSoWhite criticisms. That said, Ali’s award for Moonlight could actually hurt him this year as the Academy may feel they don’t NEED to award him since he already has one.

WHO WILL WIN - Richard E. Grant : Mahershala Ali has won all the preceding awards and is the favorite, but I am sensing that this will be the first upset/surprise of the evening. Grant has been on a charm offensive recently and with my ear to the ground I am picking up a great deal of support for him. Another factor helping Grant is that Mahershala Ali won the award two years ago and the actor’s actor, Grant, has never won it.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

The Favourite - Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara : A tight and smart script that plumbs the depths of palace intrigue to create a darkly funny and insightful story. The dialogue is exceedingly smart, funny and crisp.

First Reformed - Paul Schrader : Paul Schrader is one of the great screenwriters in Hollywood history, having written both Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. First Reformed is a better script than it is a movie, which is both an indictment of Schrader’s directing and an endorsement of his writing.

Green Book - Nick Vallelonga and Peter Farrelly: This average script was elevated by Farrelly’s skilled direction, and with the addition of the controversy surrounding the writers, I don’t think it will win. If it does…this is going to be a very interesting Oscars indeed…and a very controversial one too.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron : A phenomenal script in terms of the themes it tackles and the scope of its narrative. Cuaron’s singular vision starts with his script and this one is chock full of magical realism mixed with working class reality. A truly terrific piece of screenwriting.

Vice - Adam McKay : I felt this script bit off more than it could chew, lacked focus and was structurally flawed. Definitely could have used a few more re-writes and edits to fine tune the whole thing.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma/The Favourite - Two high quality scripts that were exceedingly well written. An Oscar for either and you’ll hear no complaints from me. If Alfonso Cuaron wins this award…expect Roma to have a very, very, very big night.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: With no “diverse/inclusive” candidates to choose from (the New Academy doesn’t count Mexican men as diverse/inclusive for some reason), the New Academy will only work in the negative here by cutting Green Book off at the knees. Vallelonga and Farrelly have made enemies among the New Academy for their less than politically correct behavior and will be punished accordingly.

WHO WILL WIN: The Favourite : While I’d like to see Roma sweep the entire awards ceremony, I think voters hold a grudge against the film because it is a Netflix movie and it is foreign, the former of which will particularly hurt it in this category since the dialogue is in Spanish and Mextec. The Favourite is certainly deserving of an Oscar though as it is a beautifully written movie.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs - The Coen Brothers - I have seen Buster Scruggs but have not reviewed it. I enjoyed it. I don’t think this script deserves a nomination though.

BlacKkKlansman - Spike Lee and friends - This was a good movie, but I do not think it deserves a nomination for its script. Spike Lee has written some masterworks in the past, Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X, Jungle Fever, but this is not his strongest work.

Can You Ever Forgive Me - Nicole Holofcener - I thought this script and this film was pretty shitty as it never figured out what it wanted to be and ended up being not much.

If Beale Street Could Talk - Barry Jenkins - Again…a bad script and an at-best average movie. The story and characters did not translate well at all from James Baldwin’s book.

A Star is Born - Bradley Cooper and friends - This script was a piece of junk too. God what an awful category. How is modernizing a movie that has been made three times before considered Oscar worthy?

WHO SHOULD WIN: BlackKklansman : As I said, I don’t think this is an Oscar worthy script…but this category is pretty terrible so this movie wins the tallest dwarf award.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Well, obviously the New Academy want to reward either Spike Lee or Barry Jenkins due to their race. Nicole Holfcener is another sleeper pick because she is a woman. The fact that Jenkins won this award two years ago, and Lee has never won and has never been properly awarded in his entire career, and his film was so politically charged for this moment in time, I think the New Academy goes with Lee.

WHO WILL WIN: BlackKklansman : Spike Lee finally gets the Oscar he deserves but only for a script that is undeserving.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Cold War - Lukasz Zal: Zal’s use of black and white and his framing in Cold War is impeccable and stunning. A beautifully photographed film whose cinematography was integral to the storytelling.

The Favourite - Robbie Ryan: Ryan’s use of candles, shadow and light is exquisite in The Favourite and is a wonderful cinematic device that reveals much of the sub-text.

Never Look Away - Caleb Deschanel: I found Deschanel’s work on this film to be less than Oscar worthy. Not terrible at all, but just not noteworthy.

Roma - Alfonso Cuaron : Cuaron puts on a virtuoso performance with Roma, and his cinematography is the icing on this cinematic cake. A stunning film to behold, Cuaron’s use of black and white and his extremely effective and complex camera movements and beautifully rendered framing is simply magnificent.

A Star is Born - Matthew Libatique : I found Libatique’s cinematography, with its excessive use of flares and close-ups, to be as underwhelming as the film.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - Roma is a cinematic masterpiece and Cuaron’s cinematography is absolute artistic and technical perfection.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Since the New Academy doesn’t recognize Mexican men as qualifying for their diversity/inclusion games, then this category offers no chance to virtue signal.

WHO WINS: Roma - Alfonso Cuaron: This is a tough category where virtually anyone can win. The knock against Cuaron is that the Academy, for a variety of reasons, do not want him to win all the awards. In this category cinematographers and other behind the camera technical people will resent Cuaron a bit for being a director AND a cinematographer…this stuff can be very territorial. A sign of that was when Lukasz Zal won this award at the American Society of Cinematographers Awards. Anyone can win this thing…and as much as I think the Academy has a bug up its ass over Cuaron and Netflix…I still think he sneaks out of here with this win. But if he loses it will be to Zal…who to be fair is a very deserving candidate as well.

BEST FOREIGN FILM

Capernaum - Due to time constraints, this is one of the few noteworthy films I haven’t seen this year…which bums me out. I hope to see it soon though.

Cold War - One of the best films of the year that boasts two outstanding performances and luscious black and white cinematography.

Never Look Away : An enigmatic movie that never quite lives up to its grandiose ambitions although it does raise something interesting thematic questions.

Roma - An absolute masterpiece that is as heartbreaking as it is gripping.

Shoplifters - An absolutely mesmerizing film that stayed with me for weeks on end after seeing it. Deftly directed and wonderfully acted, Shoplifters is an understated yet exquisite gem.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - It is easily the best film of the year and should easily win this award.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Roma hits all the right notes for New Academy voters but because it is a Netflix movie there is resistance to it.

WHO WILL WIN: Roma - There is an outside chance that the Netflix/Cuaron related backlash against Roma elevates Cold War to the victory. If that is the case, then this Oscar night will be turned upside down. I adored Cold War and it is one of the very best films of the year, but Roma is the best film, foreign or domestic, of the year, and if it doesn’t win here it will be a major upset.

BEST DIRECTOR

Alfonso Cuaron - Roma : Cuaron’s directing on Roma is a auteur’s virtuoso performance, a stunning tour-de-force that masterfully brings to life his vision with singular cinematic genius and reminds us of the power and artistry of cinema.

Yorgos Lanthimos - The Favourite : Lanthimos is one of the best directors in cinema and his masterful work on The Favourite has catapulted him to the heights he deserves.

Spike Lee - BlackKklansman : Spike Lee was once one of the most important figures in cinema, but that was over 25 years ago. Lee’s direction on BlackKklansman is not perfect and is at times jarringly shoddy, but in a down year for movies this one is a good enough comeback vehicle for him.

Adam McKay - Vice : I wanted to love Vice…I didn’t love Vice. McKay’s direction is scattered and uneven…a lot like this movie.

Pawel Pawlikowski - Cold War : Pawlikowski direction on Cold War is superb as he crafts a compelling and beautifully profound film that is packaged in a tight 88 minute running time.

WHO SHOULD WIN : Alfonso Cuaron - Not to sound like a broken record, but damn Cuaron showed himself to be at the very top of his game and at the top of his profession with his work on Roma.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: The New Academy want to reward Spike Lee for his career and his making an overtly political film this year that is a favorite of social justice warriors, and because he is Black which would feed their need to virtue signal. Once again, Alfonso Cuaron, a Mexican man, doesn’t qualify for the diversity vote…a fact which helps those arguing that the Oscars aren’t “inclusive” since Mexican men have won this award 5 of the last 6 years.

WHO WILL WIN: Alfonso Cuaron - Roma : There is a chance…and it is actually a pretty good chance…that the New Academy and its “diversity” initiatives rear their ugly head and Spike Lee wins this award. If Roma and Cuaron are getting beat in other categories like screenplay and cinematography, then watch out for Spike Lee sneaking in for the upset which would be a travesty. That said, I think Cuaron’s work, regardless of the fact that it was for Netflix, is so overwhelmingly spectacular that voters will find it nearly impossible to deny him this Oscar…but stranger things have happened.

BEST ACTRESS

Glenn Close -The Wife: The Wife is a truly dreadful film, just awful, and to be frank, Glenn Close is pretty terrible in it. That said, she has been nominated a bunch over her long career and never won. The consensus seems to be that it is her time.

Yalitza Aparicio - Roma : A first time actress nominated for an Oscar is a pretty great story. Aparicio is terrific in Roma, totally present, genuine, grounded and alive on screen. A pleasantly surprising but very well deserved nomination.

Olivia Colman - The Favourite: Olivia Colman’s scenery chewing performance as the emotionally incontinent Queen Anne, who has the attention-span and temperament of a toddler, is a joy to behold. Colman is deliriously and deliciously delightful in The Favourite and is most-deserving of her nomination and if it happens, the award.

Lady Gaga - A Star is Born: I don;t get it. I don’t get Gaga being nominated, I don’t get all the love this film gets. This movie is kind of a hot mess, and Gaga’s performance is most definitely not Oscar worthy.

Melissa McCarthy - Can You Ever Forgive Me : This movie stinks but Melissa McCarthy is a revelation as the curmudgeonly Lee Israel. McCarthy uses he natural comedic ability to great effect in this role but never allows it to overwhelm the dramatic honesty of her character.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Olivia Colman : Colman is so good in The Favourite it made me giddy. Just a ridiculously great performance that is compelling, energetic and devastatingly honest. I can’t wait to see Colman as Queen Elizabeth II on The Crown.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: Glenn Close made a smart move at the Golden Globes by giving a speech that spoke to the Girl Power/Pussy Hat contingent in the media and the New Academy. This speech positioned Close to be the recipient of the New Academy’s diversity/inclusivity vote even though she is a White woman. Well played Ms. Close.

WHO WILL WIN: Glenn Close - The Wife: As much as I want Olivia Colman to win this award, and as much as I think she deserves it, I think Glenn Close wins it because she is a symbol of the #ImWithHer/Hillary brigade due to her always being the bridesmaid and never the bride come Oscar night. The Academy will reward Close despite the shitty work she does in that shitty movie. Such is life. That said, I put the chances of Colman sneaking in and winning this thing pretty high…so don’t be too shocked if Close is left holding the bag once again…and try not to laugh too hard at her expense.

BEST ACTOR

Christian Bale - Vice: Bale’s work in Vice is absolutely stunning. His physical transformation into Dick Cheney never falls into the trap of imitation and that is a testament to Bale’s remarkable talent and skill.

Bradley Cooper - A Star is Born: Cooper’s work is the best thing about A Star is Born and I think he is deserving of an Oscar nomination even though i think the movie is not. Cooper is establishing himself as one of the top movie star/actors in the business. The next few years of his work will be interesting to see.

Willem Dafoe - At Eternity’s Gate : Dafoe’s acting in At Eternity’s Gate is very impressive, but the film never lives up to the stellar work he does in it.

Rami Malek - Bohemian Rhapsody : I like Rami Malek. Everybody likes Rami Malek…he’s a good guy. That said, I was not as impressed by his performance as everybody else was. To me the script was so thin that Malek was never really able to get much depth to his performance. That said, he does the very best he can with the little he is given.

Viggo Mortenson - Green Book : Green Book has gotten a lot of heat for its racial politics, but Mortenson’s solid performance is beyond reproach. Mortenson uses skill and craft to give great depth and nuance to a character that easily could have fallen into caricature.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Christian Bale - Bale is head and shoulders above everyone else in this category. A remarkable performance that elevates Bale into the stratosphere of best working actors on the planet.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: This category has no Black actors in it so it is open to moronic charges of #OscarsSoWhite. But rest assured, Rami Malek is of Egyptian descent so the New Academy will rally behind him and be able to virtue signal their moral superiority due to their embrace of “diversity”.

WHO WILL WIN: Rami Malek - Everybody loves Rami Malek. While his performance isn’t Oscar worthy to me, my vote doesn’t matter. Malek is winning and there is nothing we can do about it. Since he is such a good guy, I won’t get mad about it. I do hope he wears the Freddie teeth to the ceremony though…or at least thanks them in his speech.

BEST PICTURE

Green Book - Green Book is a well crafted and fine film. Is it Oscar worthy? No. If this were 1985 then Green Book would win this award with ease…but this isn’t 1985. This sort of simple film is a lightning rod for those who hate it AND for those that hate the people who hate it. To be frank, I find all this shit exhausting.

Black Panther - It is a total joke that Black Panther, an at best middling super hero movie that isn’t even the best super hero movie of the year (which is easily Infinity War), is nominated for an Oscar. Black Panther is the recipient of the “leg up” program, and its nomination is a blatant piece of pandering and paternalism and is frankly a disgrace.

BlackKklansman - I liked this movie but it is deeply flawed and because of that do not think it is Oscar worthy. That said, due to Spike Lee directing, it is a sentimental and political choice for some.

Roma - The greatest film of the year. A masterpiece.

Bohemian Rhapsody - This movie is an absolute mess, a total shitshow. Yes, it is entertaining and fun to get see Queen rocking Wembley once again…but Oscar worthy? Good Lord no!

A Star is Born - I don’t get it…I just don’t get it. Thought this movie was not great…not great at all. Why people are so invested in it is beyond me.

Vice - An ambitious (and noble) misfire that boasts fantastic performances but never coalesces into a coherent piece of cinema enough to be considered an Oscar worthy movie.

WHO SHOULD WIN: Roma - This is as clear as day. Roma is easily the greatest film of the year and it isn’t even close.

HANDICAPPING THE NEW ACADEMY: I think Black Panther is going to get an awful lot of love for its diversity and inclusivity.

WHO WILL WIN: Buckle up. Roma should win…but in the shock of the night…BLACK PANTHER is going to steal this award. Roma has a lot of hurdles in the voting, the most obvious is that it is a black and white, foreign language film, and a foreign language film has never won Best Picture…and on top of that it is a Netflix film and the movie industry is very uncomfortable with Netflix. The Academy doesn’t want Roma to win Best Picture (or sweep all the awards) and is actively trying to find a substitute…and what I have picked up out here in Hollywood is that Black Panther is that choice. Listening to and talking with Oscar voters over the last month and Black Panther is the film that keeps getting mentioned…and never because people think it is great but because to a person they say they will vote for it because of the message it will send about “representation”, “diversity” and “inclusion”. Sadly, this is the world in which we now live, and Black Panther, that ridiculously shitty super hero movie, is going to beat out one one of the greatest films in recent history, Roma, because of a wave of self-righteous, identity politics driven virtue signalling.

Hopefully I am wrong (Please God let me be wrong!!). Hopefully Roma is justly rewarded, not just in the Best Picture category but in Screenplay, Cinematography, Directing and Foreign Picture…but I don’t have my hopes up.

As for the rest of the categories…I have even less of an idea about these than I do about the previous picks…so take them with a grain of salt as they are my best guesses.

VISUAL EFFECTS - FIRST MAN : If Infinity War wins this award it could signal the Academy’s acceptance of Marvel films and point to a big night for Black Panther.

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING - VICE

ANIMATED SHORT - BAO

LIVE ACTION SHORT - SKIN

DOCUMENTARY SHORT - PERIOD. END OF SENTENCE.

SOUND MIXING - FIRST MAN - Bohemian Rhapsody has a shot here, but the one to watch is Black Panther, which if it wins this award could point to a big night for the Marvel film.

SOUND EDITING - FIRST MAN - Same comment as the Sound Mixing award.

COSTUME DESIGN - BLACK PANTHER - If BP loses these next two awards to The Favourite…then it is done and won’t win Best Picture. (I have my fingers crossed this is what happens!!)

PRODUCTION DESGIN - BLACK PANTHER

FILM EDITING - VICE - Bohemian Rhapsody has a shot here.

ORIGINAL SCORE - BLACKKKLANSMAN - Black Panther is the favorite…but I think the Academy rewards Terence Blanchard…which will make me happy. But if BP wins this…and the Design awards and Sound Awards…look out…Best Picture is coming.

ORIGINAL SONG - “SHALLOW”, A STAR IS BORN - Outside chance BP and Kendrick Lamar wins this award.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE - RBG - This is neck and neck with Free Solo, but I went with RBG because of the politics.

ANIMATED FEATURE - SPIDER-MAN : INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Ok gang…I think I covered all the categories. A few other things to touch upon before I go. Keep an eye out for certain narratives taking shape in the early awards.

The narratives that are in play…

  1. Roma dominates - Roma has a chance to absolutely destroy these Oscars as the film has a legitimate chance to win Best Picture, Best Foreign Film, Best Director and Best Cinematography and has an outside chance to win Best Screenplay and Best Editing as well…and if the longest of longshots happens and Yalitza Aparicio wins Best Actress…that will signal Roma has had a totally and gloriously dominant night…and I will be the happiest man on earth….except for Alfonso Cuaron.

  2. Roma destroyed - There is also a chance that Roma, due to its affiliation with Netflix and its artistic pedigree, could get snubbed across the board. There is a scenario where voters don’t vote for it for Best Picture because they assume it will win Best Foreign Film, and then other voters don’t vote for it for best Foreign Film because they assume it will win Best Picture…and it ends up winning neither. This scenario is much much more likely than I would like to imagine…and that along with all of the cocaine I’ve been doing is keeping me awake nights. In addition, it is very possible that Spike Lee is chosen over Alfonso Cuaron for Best Director out of a sense of wanting to finally reward Lee for his career’s work. Then throw in a Best Cinematography win for Cold War (which won the Guild award) and there is a chance that Roma leaves empty handed. YIKES.

  3. Black Panther goes on a run. As noted above, I have Black Panther winning Costume and Production Design…and if that happens it will look very good for my prediction of a Best Picture win. If the movie wins Sound Mixing, Sound Editing and either Original Score or best Song in addition to the production awards…it will definitely win Best Picture. There is a shot that we are looking at an Oscars where Black Panther wins 7 awards…let that sink in for a minute.

  4. Black Panther gets shut out. Things could go this way if Black Panther loses to The Favourite in costume and production design. If Black Panther loses those awards it is done in the Best Picture race and we Roma fans can breath a sigh of relief. If BP loses in the production awards it will not win Song, Score or either Sound award and will leave empty handed. The fact that this is a Marvel/Disney film could be a hurdle that even its identity politics cannot overcome. We will see.

  5. Bohemian Rhapsody goes on a run. Bohemian Rhapsody is an awful movie but it did win the Editing Guild award and has a legit chance to win Best Sound Editing and Sound Mixing awards as well as the Best Editing award which would be a terrific night for the film. Add in Rami Malek’s guaranteed win for Best Actor and we are looking at 4 Oscars for this fun piece of crap.

  6. Chaos - A totally incoherent Oscars. In this scenario a non-Roma film wins Best Picture, Olivia Colman wins Best Actress, there are upsets in both Supporting actor categories as well as in Best Director and the Screenplay awards. Green Book ends up being a big winner.

  7. Non-chaos. All of the favorites win. Roma does well and everything goes according to plan with the other categories.

If you pay attention to the early awards you might be able to discern how the rest of the night is going to go…or not…who knows. This Oscars has me baffled and it shouldn’t because Roma is so clearly the best of this sad bunch in a very down year for Hollywood Cinema (foreign films excluded).

And thus ends my rambling and ragged Oscar predictions post. I have zero confidence in my picks and am genuinely concerned I will lose for Oscar pool for the first time in my life this year. That said, i do reserve the right to change my mind between now and the awards show. In a fit of cinema idealism I may discard my Oscar cynicism (Black Panther) and embrace my optimism and pick Roma to win because my heart tells me to…I’m just not sure my head will let me.

©2019

Never Look Away: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT/SEE IT. A flawed and uneven film that explores some fascinating themes and boasts solid yet understated acting. Due to its long running time (3 hours and 8 minutes) it isn’t good enough to see in the theatre but is worth checking out on Netflix/cable for free.

Run Time: 3 hours 8 minutes

German with English subtitles

Never Look Away, written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is “inspired” by the life story of famed German painter Gerhard Richter, and follows his life from childhood under the Nazi regime to his adulthood under communism and recounts both his personal and artistic travails. The film stars Tom Schilling as Kurt Barnert - the character loosely based on Richter, and boasts supporting turns from Paula Beer, Saskia Rosendahl and Sebastian Koch.

Never Look Away, nominated for Best Foreign Picture at the upcoming 91st Academy Awards, is director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s third feature film. Von Donnmersmarck’s first feature, The Lives of Others (2006), won the Best Foreign Picture Oscar in 2006. Never Look Away is a more vast and ambitious artistic undertaking than The Lives of Others, but it is nowhere near as good as that sublime study of Orwellian life and love under communist rule.

Never Look Away attempts to cover an expansive period of time, from the late 1930’s to the 1960’s, in a deeply personal and intimate way, this is no sweeping historical epic, but more an Artist’s Guide to Historical Totalitarianism.

The best part of the film is the opening act, that gives us a glimpse of the cold-hearted collective madness of Nazi Germany, where only the insane would tell the truth and where the truth was truly insane. In this section, the lead character Kurt, who at this point is a small child, finds his muse in his painfully beautiful and beautifully pained aunt Elisabeth May, played with exquisite aplomb by the beguiling Saskia Rosenthal.

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Elisabeth, like Kurt, is an artist at heart, and for her, life under the Nazis is a lie her spirit won’t allow her to tell. Her one split second interlude with Hitler causes such a psychological tsunami of archetypal energy that her psyche (and skull) is literally unable to contain it and she is obliterated by it. The physical, mental and emotional destruction left in the wake of the Nazi archetype and accompanying armageddon leaves Kurt with a unique view of the world and a distinct eye through which to observe it.

In Kurt’s art school years he finds another muse, Ellie, played by the luminous Paula Beer. While this section of the film is compelling, it is also where the film begins to occasionally fall into standard Hollywood plot territory, which is disappointing since it’s a German film.

As the film wears on it loses a great deal of momentum as the dramatic potential from the film’s beginning dissipates and never fully blossoms. Watching Kurt struggle with his artistic demons is in theory interesting but in practice less than enthralling and the film’s various sub-plots never gather enough steam to be dramatically worthwhile.

It is either a sign of von Donnersmarck’s great success or great failure that after watching the film for its staggering 188 minute run time (which for those not mathematically inclined translates into 3 hours and 8 minutes) I was left wanting…either more of the film or more from it.

While I found the plot and its surface twists and turns to be unsatisfying and at times frustratingly so, what kept me engaged were the compelling themes upon which von Donnersmarck meditates. Totalitarianism in all its gruesome faces plays a feature role in this film, and that beast’s corrosive effect on humanity in general, and artistry in particular, is front and center.

In a weird bit of synchronicity, as I sat in the theatre waiting for Never Look Away to begin I got an email from a reader who was commenting on an article I had written last year. The article was titled “Echoes of Totalitarianism in #MeToo and Russia-Gate”. I had no idea what Never Look Away was about when I read that email and subsequently re-read my piece…but after viewing the film the synchronicity became clear.

The thing that was so striking to me about that theme, in both the film, the email and my article, is that totalitarianism is now the ascendant, if not dominant, energy of our time, especially in art, or what passes for art in our hyper-capitalist society.

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As I have said previously, “wokeness kills art”, and the suffocating and stultifying conformity of our current culture and its ever present demand for political correctness, is remarkably similar in its totalitarian instincts to the insistence for Romantic Realism in Nazi Germany or Socialist Realism under Soviet communism and avant-gardism in the post-modern art world.

As Elisabeth tells young Kurt, “never look away because everything that is true holds beauty in it”. Truth is an enemy of totalitarianism and the totalitarian will gauge their eyes out in order to avoid looking directly at it. In totalitarian cultures, artistic quality is eclipsed by adherence to political orthodoxy. The artist’s political ideology must be impeccable and if it isn’t impeccable and deviates in any way from political orthodoxy, that artist and his/her work will be disappeared regardless of its quality and worth.

The current wave of political correctness with its accompanying cries for “diversity and inclusion” is just another form of the totalitarian impulse, no different in its intent to banish the idea of an artistic meritocracy or to stifle dissent than Nazism or Soviet communism, although it is hopefully much less blood thirsty.

True artists, not the corporate whores in Hollywood, have a fundamental, if not biological, need to see, know and tell the truth. Totalitarians, whether they be in Berlin, Moscow, Washington or Hollywood, in turn love lies and loathe the truth. Thus the true artist in a totalitarian system is a most dangerous person. This is why the frantic need to silence artistic dissenters or disappear heretics who have sinned against the prevailing orthodoxy of political correctness/diversity/inclusion has spread like a wildfire and is now an inferno engulfing our popular culture. Look no further than Liam Neeson’s recent demise at the hands of the mob or the painfully middling Black Panther’s ascension to an Oscar nomination for proof that truth has no place in our current culture.

In Never Look Away, Ellie’s professor father Carl, played with German precision by Sebastian Koch, is symbolic of the totalitarian instinct, in that no matter what ideology under which he lives, he thrives through a combination of aggressively unthinking and unfeeling conformity and a startling level of righteousness. Carl is the totalitarian leopard who may change trees but never changes his spots. Like Nazi rocket scientist Werner von Braun, Carl is interested in getting to the moon, or at least his own version of it, and will shut off whatever part of his brain or heart is needed, and will play whatever role is demanded, in whatever totalitarian political play going on around him, in order to make that happen.

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As Never Look Away shows us, the lies of the totalitarian will collapse under the enormity of their own blatantly obvious and clearly observable falsity. One can only hope that the Trumpian totalitarians and their equally totalitarian counterparts on the “social justice left” and in corporate America, will suffer the same fate as the Nazis and Soviets and be left on the ash heap of history. At the moment I must admit…my confidence is at an all-time low.

Another theme in the film that was intriguing although never fully fleshed out, was the pseudo-mystical idea of all things being connected. Kurt’s aunt Elisabeth cracks the code of the world playing a single piano note and finds connection in the in-between place of blaring bus horns. Kurt experiences the same feeling high atop a tree as the German countryside reveals itself to him in all its glory. Those fleeting moments of transcendence are the fuel that propel Kurt to his ultimate destiny and ultimately reveal not just his truth, but THE Truth.

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It is this odd concoction of both mystical yearning and political warning that I found so compelling in Never Look Away. Von Donnersmarck shows an artistic daring rarely seen in American films when he explores these themes so unabashedly, in the process even touching upon explosive issues like abortion in less than flattering ways. In this sense, Never Look Away is a form of artistic courage and truth-telling in and of itself and the movie and its themes have stayed with me since I left theater.

That said, the film also is cinematically flawed. As stated, it loses momentum about halfway through its very long run time, and also loses dramatic intensity as well. The film also has some perspective issues that it never fully resolves. The movie is also burdened by a distractingly cloying soundtrack that was much too conventional for my tastes and to me revealed a lack of confidence on the part of the writer/director.

Never Look Away’s cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, a long time veteran of the industry, is nominated for an Oscar for his work on the film. I actually felt the cinematography was, a few nicely framed shots aside, rather mundane and not worthy of a nomination. Deschanel’s work isn’t bad, it just isn’t noteworthy, and I can think of numerous other films that were more deserving of a nomination (like You Were Never Really Here, Widows, If Beale Street Could Talk or First Man among others).

The performances were strong across the board. Tom Schilling, who plays Kurt, has a lot of heavy lifting to do in this film and none of it is flashy. Schilling is able to carry the weight of this movie without ever making it all about him, and that is a pretty rare skill for an actor. While Schilling has no explosive scenes upon which to hang his hat, his deft and subtle work is entirely in the service of the script and the character.

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Sebastian Koch also gives a very focused and refined performance as Professor Seeband. Koch has one scene that I won’t give away, that is so critical for the film and he absolutely nails it. While Koch’s work in that scene is extremely detailed and specific, it is all of the precise work he did leading up to that made it all worthwhile.

Paula Beer does impressive work as Ellie, never failing to be magnetic on screen. Beer and Schilling’s chemistry makes this long movie very compelling to watch even when it dramatically falters.

Saskia Rosendahl is absolutely fantastic as Kurt’s aunt Elisabeth, as she never falls into the trap of caricature. Rosendahl imbues Elisabeth with a palpable energy and intentionality that jump off the screen. Elisabeth goes through a series of twists and turns and Rosendahl imbues her with a combustibility and fragility that never fails to be genuine and vibrant.

In conclusion, Never Look Away is a good, but not great film. The more I think of the film the more I think the story would be better served as a miniseries on Netflix rather than as a three hour feature film. Even the long run time does not allow the entirety of the story to be told with adequate depth and nuance. That said, the film is propelled by interesting themes that have kept me thinking since I left the theatre and solid performances that kept me engaged. As the movie teaches us, totalitarianism is on the rise and it is more imperative than ever that we never look away from that truth.

It is for this reason that I think Never Look Away is ultimately worth seeing for the truths it reveals about its world and our current one too. Due to the long run time I recommend you watch it at your leisure at home on Netflix or cable when the opportunity arises…that way you can “look away” by having some bathroom breaks and intermissions when you like and not actually miss anything, or you can stretch the film out over multiple nights, a sort of do-it-yourself mini-series. Never looking away is vitally important nowadays and is a hard discipline to master, and a good place to start your training in that practice would be with Never Look Away.

©2019

Vice: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. Although a cinematic misfire of sorts, it is worth seeing for the extraordinary performances and for the civics lesson.

Vice, written and directed by Adam McKay, is the story of the meteoric rise of former Vice President Dick and his Machiavellian use of power. The film stars Christian Bale as Cheney, with supporting turns from Amy Adams, Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell.

Vice is another one of those films of 2018 for which I had high hopes. I absolutely loved director Adam McKay’s last film, The Big Short, which brilliantly dissected the 2008 financial meltdown and I hoped that when he set his sights on Dick Cheney he would be equally effective in his vivisection of that worthy target. McKay proved with The Big Short that he was more than capable of turning a dense, intricate, complex and complicated topic into an entertaining and enlightening movie, a skill that would be desperately needed for a film about Dick Cheney.

Watching Vice was an odd experience as I found the film had multiple great parts to it, but on the whole, while I liked it, I didn’t love it and ultimately found it unsatisfying. I was so confounded by my experience of Vice that I have actually seen it three times already to try and figure out specifically why I feel that it missed the mark and is not the sum total of its parts. And yes…I realize that seeing a movie I don’t love three times makes me sound insane.

Why am I so interested in figuring out why Vice is not great, you may ask? Well, the reason for that is that Vice desperately needed to be great because it is such an important film for the times in which we live. Trump did not come out of nowhere…he is a fungus that grew out of the shit pile that was Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush/Cheney and Obama…and as we all know, past is prologue, so if we don’t fully understand and integrate the lessons of Dick Cheney’s nefarious political career, we are doomed to stay stuck in the tyrannical rut in which we find ourselves.

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Dick Cheney was a pivotal, behind the scenes player in American politics for four decades (70’s through the 00’s) and so bringing his sprawling yet mundanely bureaucratic career successfully to the screen is a massive and difficult undertaking. It is also an vital undertaking as the argument could be made, and Vice makes it, that Cheney’s underlying cosmology and his political and bureaucratic success are what has brought the U.S. and much of the world to the brink of collapse.

Sadly though, Vice is so structurally unsound as to be nearly untenable. McKay cinematically stumbles right out of the gate and makes some poor directorial decisions that lead to a lack of narrative coherence and dramatic cohesion that diminish the impact of this important movie.

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I could not help but think of Oliver Stone as I watched Vice. Stone’s Nixon is an obvious cinematic parallel to Vice in that it is a bio-pic of a loathed political figure whose career spans multiple decades. The problem with Vice though is that McKay not only lacks Stone’s directorial skill and talent, he also lacks his testicular fortitude and artistic courage.

In Nixon, which is a terrific film you should revisit, Stone and his cinematographer, the great Robert Richardson, go to great lengths to show us Nixon’s point of view and perspective, and it works in drawing viewers into the man who otherwise may have repulsed them. Stone and Richardson occasionally used the technique of switching film stocks and going from color to black and white in order to distinguish Nixon’s point of view and to emphasize flash backs and time jumps. (Vice certainly could’ve used this sort of approach to make the time jumps it uses more palatable and cinematically appealing)

Of course, Stone was pilloried for his dramatic speculation in Nixon by the gatekeepers of Establishment thinking, but despite the critical slings and arrows, it was the proper creative decision. Stone turned Nixon into a Shakespearean character and we knew him and understood him much better because of it, which turned the film about his life into fascinating and gripping viewing.

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Cheney, like his one-time boss Richard Nixon, is also cold and distant figure in real life, but McKay never emulates Oliver Stone and bridges that distance by using dramatic speculation in telling his story. McKay makes the fatal directorial error of only on the most rare of occasions allowing viewers into Dick Cheney’s head and giving them his distinct perspective and point of view. For the majority of the film the audience is forced to be simply spectators to Cheney’s villainy and not participants or co-conspirators, which undermines the dramatic power of the film.

The most interesting parts of the film are the two parts where we are actually given Cheney’s perspective and inner dialogue. The first time that happens is when we hear a voice over of Cheney’s thoughts as he meets with presidential candidate George W. Bush to talk about the Vice Presidency. In this scene we are given access to Cheney’s Macchiavellian musings about the man, Dubya, that he will use as an avatar to bring his dark vision to life, and it is intriguing.

McKay’s brief speculation of Cheney’s inner thoughts in the Bush scene propels the audience into Cheney’s head…which is where we should have been all along. We are then ushered out as soon as we arrive and are left with only a bird’s eye view of Cheney’s world until the final scene. Vice would have benefited greatly from McKay throwing the audience into Cheney’s head from the get go, but instead we get a rehash of Cheney’s greatest hits, or worst hits, depending on your political point of view, which is neither illuminating nor gripping. ( to be fair, McKay’s refusal to speculate on Cheney’s inner thoughts and motivations could be a function of the fact that Cheney is still alive and able to sue, but regardless of the reason, it does a terrible disservice to the cinematic enterprise)

McKay was obviously going to great lengths trying to be “historically accurate” in this bio-pic, but he falls into the trap of many, if not most bio-pics, in that he tries to recreate history instead of creating cinematic drama. McKay simply shows a series of well-known events in Cheney’s life (hey…remember that time Cheney shot somebody in the face!) without any new or interesting insights into them. In this way, Vice is less a drama/comedy than it is a docu-dramedy that merely skims the surface of its subject and re-tells history for those who already agree with its political perspective.

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The biggest hurdle though in telling the story of Dick Cheney is…well…Dick Cheney. When your film’s lead character suffers from an egregious charisma deficit and has created a persona of impenetrable banality, you have quite a hill to climb. Besides mastering the art of dullness, Cheney is also an unlikable and politically despicable person, which only adds to the burden that this film must carry. Unlike in The Big Short, where McKay was able to use multiple characters to propel the narrative, each one different and interesting in their own right, in Vice, McKay is forced to have Cheney be the sole focus and driver of the narrative.

As vacant a character as Dick Cheney is, Christian Bale makes him a genuine human being. Bale disappears into Cheney and crushes the role to such an extent that he solidifies his place amongst the best actors working today. Bale’s confident use of stillness and silence is volcanically potent. There is no wasted motion with Bale’s Cheney, and it is when he isn’t saying anything that he is saying everything. Bale fills Cheney with very specific and detailed intentions that radiate off of him and penetrate his intended target with deadly precision.

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The rest of the cast do outstanding work as well. Amy Adams is simply one of the best actresses on the planet and her work in Vice is a testament to that fact. Adams’ first scene as Dick’s wife Lynne is so dynamically compelling I nearly jumped out of my seat. Right out of the gate Adams tells the viewer everything we need to know about Lynne, she is smart, tough and will not put up with any bullshit. Adams’ Lynne is insatiable when it comes to power, and she is the Lady MacBeth behind Dick’s throne. Amy Adams has given a plethora of great performances over her career, but she has never been better than she is as Lynne Cheney in Vice.

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Sam Rockwell is also outstanding, playing the cocksure but dim-witted poseur of a president George W. Bush. Rockwell plays Bush as an unwitting moron and dupe who is so stupid he doesn’t know how stupid he really is. Cheney’s manipulation of Bush is seamless and entirely believable with Rockwell playing the insecure second generation President. Rockwell never falls into caricature with his Dubya, and fills this empty man with a delightful and at times poignantly meaningful nothingness.

Steve Carell is also great as the enigmatic Don Rumsfeld. Carell morphs into the irascible political climber Rumsfeld with ease and shows a deft touch in making Rummy a genuine human being, a sort of arrogant fly boy whose wings never get permanently clipped.

All in all, the entire cast do great work with Bale, Adams and Rockwell all deserving Oscar nominations for their work, and Bale and Adams very much deserving of the trophy.

As much as Adam McKay won the casting room, he did have other failures when it came to filmmaking. I am sure it is no coincidence that McKay hired editor Hank Corwin to work on his film, as Corwin edited Stone’s Nixon as well. Surprisingly since he was so good on Nixon, Corwin’s editing on Vice lacks a cinematic crispness and is one of the weak spots of the film. Corwin repeatedly uses a black screen for transitions which I found broke the pace and rhythm of the film and scuttled any dramatic momentum. Of course, this is not all Corwin’s fault, as McKay may have demanded that approach, but regardless of why it happened, it happened and the film suffers for it.

Another issue with the film was the use of a narrator. Well, to be more clear, it wasn’t the use of a narrator, but the choice of the narrator and how that character fit into the story. Jesse Plemons, a fantastic actor, plays the role of the narrator but it never quite comes together. Plemons is fine in the part, but considering the amount of information that needed to be passed along to the audience, a more direct and straight forward narrator would’ve been a better choice. Once again, Oliver Stone comes to mind and his mesmerizing opening to his masterpiece JFK, where Martin Sheen (and phenomenal editors Pietro Scalia and Joe Hutshing) masterfully set the complex stage for everything that follows.

As much as I was frustrated by McKay’s direction, there were some moments of brilliance. McKay’s use of Alfred Molina as a waiter explaining the crimes of the Bush administration was absolutely magnificent. His expanded exploration of the idea of the “Unitary Executive” was smart and well done too.

Other sequences by McKay that were simply sublime were when McKay would show the global and life altering power of the Presidency. In one sequence we see Nixon and Kissinger having a discussion about their Vietnam and Cambodia policy…and then we see the catastrophic results of that policy on regular people. The same thing occurs in relation to Bush and Iraq in one of the finer cinematic moments of the movie, where all of the power politics in America reduce people half way around the world to cower under a table in fear for their lives.

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There was one other scene that is worth mentioning, and not because it is so great, but because it reveals something nefarious about the film itself. In one scene where the principals of the Bush administration, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice etc., are debating whether to invade Iraq or not, there is a bit of dialogue which states in essence that Israel is opposed to the U.S. invasion because it will destablize the region. This is historically completely inaccurate and entirely at odds with reality. Why would Adam McKay put this bit of Israeli misinformation into his film that purports to tell the truth about the Bush administration? I think I know the reason why…but that is an uncomfortable discussion for another day.

In conclusion, as much as I wanted to love Vice because it shares my vision of the world and of the Bush administration, I didn’t love it. Cheney, like Nixon before him, should have been prosecuted and imprisoned for his crimes, instead of having his lackeys turned into exalted talking heads on MSNBC and CNN. If Vice were better made, if it were more coherent, cohesive and effective in its storytelling, it could have done to the Bush/Cheney administration, what The Big Short did to Wall Street…exposed them bare for the repugnant, amoral and immoral criminal pigs that they are.

Sadly, Vice doesn’t rise to the challenge, and so the historical myopia that pervades our current culture will persist and prosper. Liberals will continue to think everything was great before Trump and that Trump is responsible for all that is wrong in the world…and thus they doom themselves to repeat the cycle that brought us Trump in the first place. Just like Nixon gave us Reagan and Reagan gave us Clinton and Clinton gave us Bush/Cheney and Bush/Cheney gave us Obama and Obama gave us Trump…Trump will birth us another monster and it will devour us all unless we wake up and understand that it isn’t the individual that is rotten, it is the system that is rotting.

With all of that said, if you get a chance I do recommend you go see Vice, it is worth seeing for the exquisite performances of Bale, Adams and Rockwell alone. It is also worthwhile to see Vice to understand that as much as we’d like to blame others, be it Russians, Republicans or Democrats for all of our troubles, the truth is that Cheney bureaucratically maneuvered to give us the fascist tyranny for which we were clamoring. The fight is simply over who gets to control it the beast that is devouring us, and to see how much we can make selling rope to those who wish to hang us. My one solace to this national existential crisis is revenge, and the hope that I will get to see Dick Cheney and the rest of his gang at the end of one of those ropes before I die.

©2019

Aquaman: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A real bore of a superhero movie that is as odious as week old chum.

Aquaman, written by David Leslie Johnson and Will Beale and directed by James Wan, is the origin story of DC comic book superhero Aquaman, who is the bastard son of a queen from the underwater empire of Atlantis. The film stars Jason Mamoa as Aquaman with supporting turns from Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Amber Heard and Patrick Wilson.

Having spent the last few months almost exclusively at the art house and reeking of its pretentiousness, I decided to head out to the cineplex in search of some mindless fun. Aquaman is putting up Black Panther-esque numbers at the box office as it has made nearly a billion dollars since its release in late December and has come in first in the money tally for three straight weekends, so I figured it would be a good choice for my descent back into the cinema of the unwashed hoi polloi.

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The problem with Aquaman is not that it is mindless fun, the problem with it is that it is so mindless that it is absolutely no fun. The film is so chock full of nonsense it feels like a parody of a superhero film. This version of Aquaman made me feel as if the dead eyed Vincent Chase from HBO’s faux-Hollywood sexploitation show Entourage really did get to make his Aquaman movie in real life.

A few weeks ago I saw a headline that read “Director James Wan Says to Blame Him if Aquaman Fails”. It is nice to know who to blame. I am sure that Wan was referring to the film’s box office and not its artistic merit when he spoke of failure, but since I judge a movie on its merits and not its finances, I’ll still point the finger at Wan. Although to be fair, Wan is not the sole owner of blame for Aquaman’s stinkiness. The suits at Warner Brothers and their DC point man Goeff Johns are just as guilty if not more so than Wan. I mean, who thought up this monstrosity and more importantly, who thought it would be a good idea?

Aquaman is such a derivative and unoriginal bore it is like a sea serpent that wraps itself around you and slowly suffocates you to death over two and a half long hours. It is so unrelenting in its imbecility that the harder you fight against it the harder it squeezes the life out of you until you simply acquiesce and let it drown you in its inanity.

The film is basically trying to turn Aquaman into King Arthur of the Sea or something but is so convoluted and tone deaf it ends up being less an homage to that myth than a vomiting up of a rancid cliche fish stew of every other super hero movie. The pacing and the tone are all over the place, the narrative structure is distractingly serpentine and the film lacks any and all thematic and dramatic depth.

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On the bright side, Jason Mamoa is a very likable actor and to his credit, at the very least, proves himself worthy of carrying a big budget action film for two and a half hours, which is no small feat. But even his charms wear pretty thin as he has to repeat the same old tired superhero moves over and over again. In the opening fight sequence, I counted at least three times that Momoa’s Aquaman did the standard superhero three point landing along with three superhero “gonna kick some ass” looks with accompanying music cues, and that was just in the first 5 minutes of Mamoa’s screen time. So much posing, so little time…how exhausting that must have been.

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As I said, I like Jason Mamoa, and frankly it is to his credit that I cannot imagine anyone else playing the part anymore. Mamoa has a natural charm and charisma on screen and combined with his surfer dude/biker gang persona, makes his Aquaman palatable. Although to be fair, I probably like Jason Mamoa because we look so much alike. If it weren’t for the fact that he is a little bit shorter and has a slightly higher body fat percentage than me, we could be identical twins.

As for the rest of the cast, they pretty much embarrass themselves by being stuck in this dull and ridiculous farce. Having worked with coaching clients on roles like these, I know how hard they can be. I have clients rolling around on my office floor fighting imaginary monsters all the time, and let me tell you, it is one of the most difficult things for an actor to do. Buying into this sort of nonsense, especially when the script is so hackneyed, takes a Herculean effort and a great deal of self-confidence and commitment. That is why I felt so bad for poor Willem Dafoe, who deserves so much better than this mess, or Nicole Kidman and Patrick Wilson, who had to do all of this foolishness with a straight face. I also felt awful for Amber Heard, who is absolutely dreadful in her role and seems like a puppy lost on a highway.

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To the actor’s and film’s credit, it is not only a tremendous filmmaking accomplishment but a tremendous evolutionary accomplishment just to get this film made at all. I mean, how all of these actors were able to hold their breath underwater for such long takes is literally a miracle. Add to that the fact that they were able to speak all of their dialogue so clearly and engage in very complicated fight choreography despite the lack of oxygen and under the massive pressure of the ocean, is a staggering achievement for humanity. And then to think that it wasn’t just the actors under water for hours on end for days, weeks and months, but the crew as well. I shudder to think of the poor hair and makeup people and how they kept everyone beautiful at such cold, pressure filled depths.

Another group that deserves credit are the animal wranglers on the set. I had no idea that sea creatures, from great white sharks to giant squid to octopus to giant crabs, could be so tamed and controllable. To see Willem Dafoe riding a hammerhead shark with such aplomb is not only a testament to the death-defying skill of Dafoe, but to the professionalism of the shark as well. I know the Academy Awards scuttled the Popular Film category this year, but I hope they consider a Best Non-Human Acting category in order to reward the fish cast of Aquaman, because they sure as hell deserve it!

In conclusion, Aquaman didn’t make me angry because it was so bad, it simply made me tune out very early on because of its repetitive and stultifying dullness. As someone who is one of those rare people who actually liked DC’s Batman v Superman and mildly approved of Justice League, I had no use for the mess that is Aquaman. Even if you love superhero movies, you can skip this one in the theatre and see it on Netflix for free. If you are even remotely less than a superhero uber-fanatic, there is no reason to ever waste your time watching this stinky and decaying fish tale.

©2019

Destroyer: A Review

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***THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!***

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A rather derivative film and a missed opportunity from Nicole Kidman who doesn’t rise to the challenge of playing the archetypal anti-hero.

Destroyer, written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi and directed by Karyn Kusama, is the story of LAPD detective Erin Bell who is haunted by an undercover assignment that went wrong years ago and 17 years later is rearing its ugly head. The film stars Nicole Kidman as Bell with supporting turns from Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell and Bradley Whitford.

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While Destroyer spends its time in the all too familiar crime ridden gutters of Los Angeles, the film has much loftier artistic ambitions. Marketed as a gritty character study that highlights Nicole Kidman’s acting chops, Destroyer is hoping to reinvent the the old anti-hero cop drama with a female lead. While all the pieces are in place for this to take place, they never coalesce, and Destroyer ends up being a painfully derivative, dramatically impotent art house wannabe.

The main reason that Destroyer fails to engage is Nicole Kidman. I like and respect Ms. Kidman as an actress, and greatly admire her more daring choices in the second half of her career. Kidman can act, of that there is no doubt, but sometimes a good actor is just so ill-suited for a role that no matter what they do it doesn’t click. Such is the case with Kidman as world weary detective Erin Bell.

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Kidman is a beautiful women, but that beauty can be a curse at times, and Destroyer is one of those times. Kidman is uglied up for the role, given an atrocious haircut, deep and dark bags under her eyes, dirtied teeth…the works. But in the film’s incessant close ups of Ms. Kidman, and boy are there a multitude of incessant close ups, she doesn’t look ugly, she looks like Nicole Kidman trying to look ugly.

The two biggest issues with Ms. Kidman’s performance are her physicality and her voice. The key to the film is that Kidman must be believable as this grizzled and street smart detective, but she never pulls it off because she lacks the necessary physical gravitas. Kidman doesn’t significantly alter her posture or gait, and with her more delicate physical features like her thin legs and arms and impeccable bone structure, she comes across as very wispy and slight.

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Kidman makes the mistake of walking with her feet too close together and with no slouch from the heavy symbolic cross she must carry. She is erect and elegant even as she is supposed to be drunk and slovenly. Finding the right physicality is crucial for a role like this and should start with becoming more grounded and centering her gravity in her chest. Kidman’s center is her heavily made up face, and this creates the impression of her being airy, flighty, weak and inconsequential. Kidman’s voice is equally poorly positioned as it is centered too high in her head/throat and not in her gut. This takes away all of the power from her voice, her body and thus the character.

With her physicality and voice not in sync with the role, the internal emotional life of the character, no matter how dynamic Kidman tries to make it, comes across as hollow and vacant. Kidman certainly pushes for moments of emotional combustibility but when they arrive they are limp and flaccid due to a lack of a powerful and grounded physical foundation.

I greatly admire Kidman’s tackling a role so out of her comfort zone, but sadly she simply doesn’t pull it off and since she is the core of the film, the entire enterprise is scuttled because of her failure.

As for the rest of the film, director Karyn Kusama doesn’t do much more than try and make a female centered lone wolf cop story. Sort of Dirty Harry meets Bad Lieutentent meets Nicole Kidman, which in theory is interesting, but in practice is mired in its own maze of cliche and illogic. There is even a minor homage (or brazen theft) to Bad Lieutenant, a vastly superior film, that involves following a baseball game on the radio. Baseball is a mini-sub-text that could have blossomed into something interesting or profound, but it ends up being something that just comes and goes and like the rest of the film, doesn’t mean much.

Visually the film lacks a distinct aesthetic and therefore feels decidedly flat. While the settings in Los Angeles were mildly interesting to me because I know them so well, they aren’t photographed particularly well or in an intriguing manner so everything is washed out and cinematically lackluster.

That said, the best part of the film was the end, not in terms of the narrative but in terms of the filmmaking. In the final sequences it seems that director Kusama and cinematographer Julie Kirkwood finally find a style and aesthetic worth watching, sort of a poor man’s ( or as the case may be…woman’s) Malick, but by then it is far, far too late to save the movie.

The movie is not aided by the script, which is an amalgam of every gruff and gritty cop story ever told. The cliched dialogue is cringe worthy at times and feels as though it would be better suited as a parody of anti-hero cop movies or something laughed out of the writer’s room of Baretta.

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The cast is pretty underwhelming across the board as well. Toby Kebbell is an actor I really like, but his pseudo-guru, Manson-esque Silas is not given enough time to develop into anything more than caricature. The same is true of the dirty lawyer played by Bradley Whitford, who is remarkably one-note. Sebastian Stan is an interesting actor but he is decidedly underused and his character undeveloped.

In conclusion, I really wanted to like Destroyer and I really wanted Nicole Kidman to be great in it…but neither of those things happened. I give Destroyer an “A” for artistic ambition and a “D +” for execution. I cannot recommend you see this film in the theatre as I found it to be totally forgettable, but if you stumble on it on Netflix or cable feel free to check it out. Destroyer destroyed my cinematic hopes for it, but maybe it’ll fare better with you than it did with me.

©2019

Cold War: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 our of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A fantastic foreign film that is both personal, political and philosophical that boasts tremendous performances from both of its leads.

Cold War, written and directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, is a Polish drama set during the Cold War that tells the story of the love between a young singer Zula, and the musical director who discovers her, Wiktor. The film stars Joanna Kulig as Zula and Tomasz Kot as Wiktor.

Just when I thought 2018 was to be officially designated as cinematically irredeemable, a bunch of foreign films have appeared late in the year that have been a lifeline to artistic redemption. Four of the best movies this year are foreign films I’ve seen in the last month, Shoplifters (Japan), Roma (Mexico), Happy as Lazzaro (Italy) and now Cold War (Poland).

Of course, context is everything and a less gracious interpretation of my adoration of these four foreign films could be that their artistic success is a result of their being in such stark and glaring contrast to the cinematically vapid garbage vomited upon the movie-going public by Hollywood this year. Regardless of why foreign films are so good this year and Hollywood films so bad…the fact remains that it is decidedly so and I will simply enjoy quality cinema without compromise where I can find it.

Which brings us to Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War. Cold War is a beautiful and brilliant film that is both personal and political, poignant and prophetic. Shot in a stunning black and white that highlights a bleak but bold aesthetic, Cold War is both visually striking and dramatically potent.

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Pawlikowski, who also directed the Academy Award Best Foreign Picture winner Ida (2014), deftly crafts a lean film that is able to thoroughly tell the story of Zula and Wiktor amidst the wider Cold War that comes in under 90 minutes. Pawlikowski trims all the fat from the narrative and we are left with a strikingly effective and deeply insightful film that flows seamlessly through decades of personal and political history without skipping a beat.

Cinematographer Lukasz Zal masterfully uses the stark black and white to enhance the sub-text and narrative by deftly painting with shadow and light. Zal’s framing is impeccable, as evidenced by his very subtle but extremely effective and polished use of mirrors throughout the film to highlight the difficulty in discerning what is real and what is illusion. There is a shot of an after-concert party with a mirror for a wall that is so ingenious, precise and finely detailed I nearly fell out of my seat.

Pawlikowski and Zal never hit you over the head with their artistic virtuosity, as it is so understated as to be sublime, and creates an exquisite cinematic experience that is not only gorgeous to behold but extremely useful in propelling the narrative.

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Joanna Kulig gives a transcendent and mesmerizing performance as the singer Zula. Kulig is a luminous talent and she is blessed with a vivacious, vibrant and voluminous magnetism that is unrelentingly irresistable. Ms. Kulig’s Zula is a wild animal from the hinterlands of Poland and she is as palpably dangerous, untamable and uncontainable as she is volcanically compelling, charismatic and complicated. Zula is a singer of traditional Polish folk songs and jazz, but she has a rock and roll soul as evidenced by her ecstatic and deliriously contagious reaction upon hearing Bill Haley and the Comets in one electric scene.

Ms. Kulig is like a Polish Jennifer Lawrence, stunningly beautiful with a relatable groundedness and charming fearlessness. Simply said, viewers, much like the character Wiktor, are unable to take their eyes off of Zula whenever she is on screen.

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Tomasz Kot is equally effective as Wiktor but in much less dynamic ways than Ms. Kulig. Mr. Kot’s Wiktor is much more intellectual than the visceral Zula, but once she awakens the primal nature within him there is no putting it back to sleep. Wiktor is at first a rational man who is securely contained in a distant coolness, but as the film progresses and he gets ever closer to the inferno that is Zula, the ice melts and with it goes Wiktor’s rationalism.

What is fascinating in Cold War, is that the love story of Zula and Wiktor is such fertile ground for very profound political, social and philosophical symbolism. Zula is not just a firebrand from the back woods of Poland, she IS the Polish anima. While she may be swayed from one camp to another, be it the lure of western decadence or the security of Soviet protection, she is ultimately true only to the “folk” of Poland. In this way, Cold War is a meditation on the nationalism that is currently spreading across the globe in general and Europe in particular. Throughout history, Poland may fall under the rule of the Soviets or the West or some other power, but it will never fall under their spell. As Zula and Wiktor show us, Poland is for the Poles, and only Poles can truly understand it…which is true no matter what nation you plug into that statement.

Both Wiktor and Zula find “freedom”, at least as freedom is defined by western capitalism, but they don’t experience it as freedom at all but rather as decadence that is corrosive to their hearts and souls. The “easy living” of the west is a fool’s gold and Zula and Wiktor would rather be prisoners to political oppression in the east than slaves to their own desires in the “free” west. Zula and Wiktor learn that the “lie” of Soviet communism is dreadful, but the even bigger lie of the capitalist west is even more destructive to them.

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Zula struggles to survive no matter where they go in Europe because at heart, she is the Polish countryside, and it is only there where she can find transformation and transcedence, and only with Wiktor. Early in the film Wiktor stumbles upon the ruins of a church and discovers giant female eyes painted on the wall that look right through him and watch him wherever he goes. Wiktor then looks up and sees a large round opening where the church roof used to be that reveals the sky. This circle, a symbol of wholeness, is the key to the film, as it reveals that both Wiktor and Zula, must go on their grueling journey of heart and soul in order to complete that circle and be transformed. The circle is atop a Catholic Church because the Catholic Church is the container for the spirit of the Polish people and the Polish anima - Zula. The Catholic archetypes are the ones that resonate in Poland, and Wiktor and Zula need to transcend the limitations of not only the Cold War powers that govern them, but also the religion trying to contain them. Their love is a love of wholeness that is as boundless as the heavens that dance above that whole in the church’s circular roof, but they can only attain it by going through the archetypes of the church.

In conclusion, Cold War is a stunning film about love, loss, identity and artistry that is dramatically powerful and politically poignant. Visually stunning and propelled by glorious performances from its two leads Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot, Cold War is a must see for any cinephile. More conventionally inclined viewers may struggle with the film as, like most foreign films, it is rather existential in nature and is less rudimentary in its storytelling. That said, if you love movies or have a cinematically adventurous heart and open mind, then you should definitely see Cold War.

©2019

Happy as Lazzaro: A Review

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****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!! THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!****

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. An insightful Italian fable that eloquently and poignantly speaks to our modern world and our fallen nature. Be forewarned, it is a foreign film, so those with more conventional tastes may find it a bit odd…but it really is worth giving a try if you can.

Happy as Lazzaro, an Italian drama written and directed by Alice Rohrwacher, is the story of a good-hearted simpleton, Lazzaro, who lives and works in a farming community in Italy that gets turned upside down as the modern world encroaches upon the isolated village. The film stars Adriano Tordiolo as Lazzaro, with supporting turns from Nicoletta Braschi, Sergi Lopez and Alba Rohrwacher.

Happy as Lazzaro is a fable that insightfully exposes the “progress” of 21st century capitalism that has crushed most under its heel and has broken the spirit and stolen the souls of all those fall under its spell.

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Lazzaro is exquisitely portrayed by Adriano Tordiolo who imbues the character with a genuine humanity that is impeccably good-hearted without ever being cloying or gratuitous. Tordiolo gives Lazzarro a distinct physicality, his arms hanging straight down by his sides, his posture erect, his heart exposed. Like a rural Italian Chauncey Gardner, Tordiolo’s doe eyed Lazzaro is immune from cynicism and illuminated by an eternal optimism.

Lazzareo is at once a holy fool, a saint and a martyr. He is the memory of innocence and the hope of salvation. His entry into the modern world is reminiscent of the scene from The Brothers Karamozov where Christ meets The Grand Inquisitor, echoes of which are seen when Lazzaro is thrown out of a Catholic church and the sacred music follows him. Lazzaro, like Christ, is a shepherd who is unwanted in our cruel and dehumanized world.

Writer/director Rohrwacher deftly tells this gem of a story and allows the narrative to unfold at a leisurely but effective pace. Rohrwacher exquisitely creates Lazzaro’s idyllic world, and then masterfully pulls the rug out from underneath it and the viewer.

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In the latter portion of the film, Rohrwacher expertly uses tempeture, both climate and color, to indicate how Lazzaro’s world has changed, from the warmth of the old village to the foreboding bleakness of the modern city.

Lazzaro’s village, Inviolata, is a symbol of both innocence and a quaint version of shared feudal exploitation. The simplicity of the earlier part of the film is then overtaken by the dark inevitability in the latter part of the movie. Everyone from Inviolata is violated and learns from this violation to spend their time out of that Garden of Eden violating others. Rorhwacher shows that the old ways of exploitation in the village have metastasized and are now global in scale, but the modern world is actually much worse because its exploitation strips the comfort, security and solace of community away from people. The modern world turns everyone into a hustler and grifter, afflicted with a narcissistic myopia focused solely on their own survival at the expense of others.

As the film teaches us, capitalism is exploitation upon exploitation, a cancer of competition where everybody is exploiting somebody…the lone exception being Lazzaro who only gets exploited but never exploits, for he is in this world but not of it. Only saints like Lazzaro can keep their integrity and humanity in tact under capitalism, but integrity and humanity is no protection from the corrupting beast of the free market or the wolf of mankind’s darker nature.

Lazzaro stands guard against the wolf, he communicates with the wolf, he knows the wolf and the wolf knows him. Lazzaro is not afraid, he is immune to fear, which is epidemic in capitalism and is also its fuel…fear of lack, fear of other, fear of self…keep us all on in a state of pain and capitalism sells us the snake oil to soothe our discomfort. Lazzaro is devoid of all of these fears and, even though he is a tireless and selfless worker, is an existential threat to capitalism.

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Lazzaro is a saint, literally the last good man, an innocent whose soul and spirit is pure even though he has been exploited many times over. In the modern capitalist world all things are violated and violate…the church, government, business, people. It is no coincidence the climactic scene of the film takes place in a bank and shows that the spiritual corrosive of capitalism turns everyone into wolves…hungry and insatiable and afraid…always on the hunt for the weaker, needing to exploit…in the end, the actual wolf is replaced by us.

In conclusion, I was deeply moved by Happy as Lazzaro as it is a powerful fable that insightfully speaks to our current spiritual void and how capitalism feeds our darkest impulses. Lazzaro is like a character from a dream who comes to remind us who we really are but have long forgotten, it will do you good to spend two hours with Lazzaro trying to remember. Happy as Lazzaro is currently on Netflix and I whole-heartedly encourage you to watch it.

©2018

22 July: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. Not the best film of the year but maybe the most important film of the year.

22 July, written and directed by Paul Greengrass, is based on the book One of Us: The Story of a Massacre in Norway and Its Aftermath and tells the true story of the infamous 2011 terrorist attacks in Norway committed by right wing extremist Anders Breivik which killed 77 people. The film stars Anders Danielsen Lie as Brevik and Jon Oigarden as his lawyer Gier Lippestad.

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I have been a fan of director Paul Greengrass since I first saw his film Bloody Sunday in 2002. Greengrass’ direction on Bloody Sunday was extraordinary and his frenetic cinematic style made that film a viscerally unnerving movie to experience. As a first generation Irish-American, my attachment to the Irish people protesting against the British in Bloody Sunday was already entrenched, but Greengrass’ innovative visual approach made the film and the horrific slaughter it depicts so emotionally jarring that I had difficulty containing myself as I watched.

Greengrass has tackled other emotionally raw material besides Bloody Sunday, as he also made the 9-11 film United 93, which told the story of the passenger rebellion against the 9-11 hijackers on that ill-fated flight that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. On United 93 Greengrass’ signature mixture of documentary-style realism combined with a hectic stylized hyper-realism through manic camera movement made that already emotionally combustible story all the more charged.

Grenngrass has used his style on other films such as Captain Philips and three of the Bourne franchise movies to good effect even though those stories were not so emotionally imperative and volatile as Bloody Sunday or United 93.

Which brings us to 22 July. 22 July is a very emotionally potent story even without Greengrass’ cinematic maneuvers, as it deals with children and young adults being in mortal peril. Any story dealing with the violent targeting of children is bound to arouse an emotional response from viewers, especially parents. I don’t know this for sure, but I would assume that the response of being revolted and unsettled at the sight of children being harmed is hardwired into the human brain. (and this biological auto-response is a useful tool for propagandists, as I have written before).

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As I watched 22 July for the first time, as a father I found my reaction to be similar to my reaction to Bloody Sunday, I was shaking with emotion, projecting my son onto the children in peril in the film. But I also noticed something peculiar about the film, namely that as much as I was shaken by it, Greengrass actually seemed to be pulling his visual punches in telling the story. The scenes of Breivik’s attack on youth campers was jarring, but the way Greengrass shot it actually felt a bit watered down. The violence was palpable and garnered a visceral reaction from me but it was not even remotely explicit. Even Greengrass’ shaky camera seemed tamed down a bit.

I don’t blame Greengrass for being more strategically sensitive in his depiction of such an atrocity, but that decision to soften the blow of the tragedy a bit seemed to permeate the rest of the story. The more I watched the more I felt as though the drama Greengrass was trying to build was being undermined by the earlier decision to spare the audience of the grueling physical aspects of Breivik’s carnage.

After the attack sequences, which as I stated, were emotionally effective if visually subdued, the film struggles to maintain a compelling pace and narrative, as it focuses on the struggle of the survivors to come to grips with Breivik’s destruction.

The action skips between the Rocky-esque physical, mental and emotional recovery story of a young man and the story of Breivik’s attorney, who accepts the thankless job of defending this monster.

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The survival story is uncomfortably trite and feels as though it is from another movie altogether as it is paced differently and thematically is out of rhythm. Jonas Strand Gravli plays the wounded young man, Viljar, and he gives a good effort to a very difficult role, but he never quite moves beyond indicating and graduates to experiencing. Viljar is not as multi-dimensional a character as he needs to be, whether that is Gravli’s fault or the fault of Greengrass’ script is open to debate, but regardless, the film suffers because of it.

The lawyer story though, is fantastically compelling, and is in many ways the best part of the movie. The lawyer, Gier Lippestad, is precisely and exquisitely portrayed by Jon Oigarden, who is a fantastic actor. Oigarden plays Lippestad as an understated hero, an archetypal Knight in Invisible Armor who does his duty because it is the right thing to do even if he doesn’t want to do it.

For those not familiar with the Norway Massacre upon which the film is based, which is probably true of most Americans, 22 July will be a startling and unnerving revelation. Breivik accurately foretold of the coming populist and nationalist wave that is currently engulfing the entire planet. In some of the darker corners of the web, Anders Breivik, who massacred 77 people, 69 of them children, is referred to as St. Breivik because he is part prophet/part martyr for the cause of European ethno-nationalism. Breivik told Europe, the U.K. and the world what was coming, and no one listened to him. Breivik may be evil, he may be mentally ill, but he certainly wasn’t wrong.

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The Lippestad character is the one that viewers should focus on if they are looking for a way to quell the call of St. Breivik upon their countrymen and the equally thoughtless reaction of liberals to Breivikism. Lippestad does not embrace emotion, he does not embrace revenge, he does not embrace reactionary measures to silence dissent. What Lippestad does is pledge his loyalty and his life to the law. Lippestad understands his place in Norwegian civilization, and his critical role in keeping it afloat. Lippestad’s courageous decision to defend the heinous Breivik, despite what it costs him personally and professionally, make him a hero not just for Norway, but for all of Western Civilization.

The U.S. is well beyond repair now because it has long lacked people like Lippestad, most strikingly in the wake of 9-11. The Patriot Act, the expansive surveillance, the torture, the illegal wars…all of it…were a result of America and Americans embracing myopic and emotionalist vengeance. As is always the case, when emotion is your guide and an eye for an eye is your philosophy, everyone ends up blind.

Besides embracing the Lippestad ethic, viewers would be wise to not label Breivik as an irrational loon or outlier and should focus more on answering the legitimate questions he asks and the problems he raises. Breivik was not created in a vacuum, and while it would be comforting to simply try and eliminate or ignore him and his far right acolytes, the idea that propels them is uncontainable and on the loose, you ignore it or try to banish it at your peril. Liberal’s tactic of reducing their opponents to nothing more than irrational “racists” not only doesn’t solve the problem, it greatly exacerbates it. Stifling debate, delegitimizing serious concerns and ignoring observable reality is a sure fire way to radicalize opponents even to the point of violence. If liberals shut down the immigration debate with cries of “racism”, that doesn’t mean they’ve won it, or changed people’s minds, it just means they’ve abandoned the debate and shoved the resentment of their opponents into the closet, thus turning it into a shadow element that grows in power and intensity in the dark. Breivik is a fungus that grew in that shadow darkness…and he won’t be the last.

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Breivik is a monster, but he was also right. Immigration is a major problem in Europe. European cultures are under siege and attack and Breivik’s logic was pristine when seen through that lens. Ignoring these realities doesn’t make you an enlightened liberal, it makes you a damn fool. When a people or culture are under attack one of two things can happen, these people can either capitulate or they can fight. Throughout human history the usual response has been for people to fight. You can see this in recent history, from the Middle East to Britain. Not surprisingly America was not welcomed as liberators in Iraq…or Afghanistan…or Syria…or Yemen…or Libya…or anywhere else. Just like the waves of African, Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants have resulted in Brexit, Viktor Orban, the Five Star Movement, Geert Wilders, Marine Le Pen and Trump and every other anti-immigrant, pro-nationalist movement on the rise in Europe.

As I have written before, when an invasion occurs, war breaks out. Whether that invasion is of military troops or migrants makes no difference. And when war breaks out, always bet on the home team…that is why the U.S. has lost in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. And that is also why the nationalist surges in Europe and even in the U.S. are the favorites to prevail.

An example of why this is can be seen in the behavior of my liberal friends out here in Hollywood, where everyone likes the idea of diversity, but once it costs them a job, or their children an opportunity or puts their children at risk, diversity goes out the window. People either fight or they capitulate. Here in Los Angeles, a very diverse city, many of my liberal friends who literally say that “diversity is the most important thing” to them, don’t send their kids to the very “diverse” public schools, but rather move to a tony neighborhood where the diversity isn’t “so diverse”. Either that or they send their kids to extremely expensive private schools in order to embrace “diversity” but just not too tightly. Like most things, diversity is great in theory, but more difficult in practice. In most cases when it comes to Hollywood liberals, “diversity” is deemed mandatory but only for those “racist” other guys, which is just like the Hollywood liberal approach to immigration, which they wholeheartedly support just as long as it doesn’t negatively effect them.

In conclusion, while 22 July is not the best film of the year, it is among the most important ones. I urge people to steel themselves and watch it, especially because you can see it on Netflix for free. 22 July asks viewers very uncomfortable questions that we all need to find the courage to deeply and honestly ponder, as we might not like the truth that presents itself when we look deep enough to find the answer. For me, the greatest takeway from 22 July is that Breivik was a prophet of doom and Lippestad is the needed antidote to Breivikism. The unsettling reality is that the Breivik infection has spread while the Lippestad antidote is in very short supply.

©2018

Roma: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE. IT. NOW. A directorial tour de force and utter masterpiece from Alfonso Cuaron.

Roma, written, directed, shot and edited by Alfonso Cuaron, is the story of Cleo, an indigenous young woman who works as a live-in maid for a middle-class Mexican family in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma neighborhood in the 1970’s. The film stars Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in her first acting role.

2018 has not been a good year for movies, and as the final days of the year quickly fall away the chances of a cinematic redemption have grown ever more bleak. But sometimes a Christmas miracle occurs and a movie comes along that reminds us why God invented cinema in the first place…Roma is that movie. Simply said, Roma is a stunningly beautiful, staggeringly well-crafted masterpiece.

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Director Alfonso Cuaron has made some very good movies in his time, the most notable of which were Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001) and Gravity (2013), for which he won the Best Director Oscar. My personal favorite of Cuaron’s movies is the under appreciated Children of Men (2006), which I thought was magnificent but was maybe a little too dark and too existential for audiences and Oscar voters to embrace. Cuaron’s filmography is a testament to his storytelling ability and his dedication to craft, which brings us to Roma…and in the case of Alfonso Cuaron, all roads lead to Roma.

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Auteur Cuaron puts on a remarkable directorial and cinematographic tour de force with Roma. Cuaron’s direction is intimate, intricate and impeccable and creates an immersive cinematic experience that is so sublime as to be hypnotic. Cuaron’s artistic visual prowess is on full display from the very first shot of the film, which is cinematically glorious in every way, and only grows from there.

Cuaron shoots the entire movie in black and white and intermittently uses a slowly panning camera which at times goes a full 360 degrees, to masterfully tell the story of Roma with moving pictures instead of words. Cuaron’s camera movement, framing, choreography and blocking are absolutely exquisite, and are the work of a true master. In fact, you could watch Roma with the subtitles off, and if you don’t speak Spanish or Mixtec you would still have an equally profound cinematic experience. There are so many visual sequences in Roma that are so breathtaking, and dramatic scenes so gut-wrenching, that viewers are left in a cinematic stupor when it is all over.

Cuaron’s use of black and white and his complete mastery of craft are reminiscent of another great auteur’s seminal work, Martin Scorsese and his 1980 classic Raging Bull. While the story’s of Raging Bull and Roma are very different, the artistry and craftsmanship that brought them to life and propelled their narratives are very similar.

Roma is a perfect stylistic combination of realism and formalism, where the viewer is shown a realistic slice of life in Mexico City in 1970 but one that is littered with mythic and political symbolism. Everything in Roma is intentional and deliberate, filled with deeper meaning and symbolic significance.

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Water opens the film and plays a vital symbolic role throughout, signifying transitions and/or baptisms and rebirths. The symbolism of dogs (and their shit) rears its head…literally…and carries with it the symbolism of status and social hierarchy throughout the film. Planes, (symbolic of higher planes of spiritual existence), containers such as eggs and cups (symbolic of the womb-the container of the life force) along with natural disasters (symbolic of God/Fate/Destiny) and social unrest (symbolic of the political as the personal) are all used throughout the movie to great affect. These rich symbols are hiding in plain sight in Roma, but their deeper mythic and archetypal meaning is pulsating just beneath the mask of Mexico City’s middle-class mundanity.

Roma is the story of one drop of water lost in the meaningful, yet mystical and mysterious, Sea of Life. It is a detailed glimpse of the specifics of one woman’s life, where tedious work is transformed into transcendent ritual and the minute and mundane into spiritual magnificence.

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Roma’s politics are both personal and profound, as class and social hierarchy are at the fore of the story, and speak to the scourge of income inequality and the enormous disparity of wealth across the globe and the angry populists sentiments rising in reaction to it. The reason viewers so quickly project themselves onto Cleo is because so many of us are in her shoes in one way or another, under the boot of someone higher up the social/economic class totem pole. Cleo is all of us, exploited and degraded by those who consider themselves our superiors and who look down upon us from tony, Ivy League, Washington, Wall Street, Media, Hollywood perches. Cleo’s struggles are our struggles, in one form or another, and as elites across the globe have been slow to discover, that struggle is quickly becoming conscious and growing very sharp and lethal teeth.

Cuaron’s skillful direction is not limited to just his camera work, as he coaxes an astounding performance from first time actress Yolitza Aparicio. Ms. Aparicio is staggeringly good as Cleo, creating a grounded and genuine character that is part sherpa and part lama, whom the audience is instantly drawn to and sympathetic towards. Aparicio is so comfortable on camera that it appears she isn’t acting at all, and while this may be a case of a person just being perfect for a specific role, that does not diminish her incredible work in Roma. There are so many scenes where Ms. Aparicio has to do so much in regards to blocking and specific “business” and has to do them all with perfect timing and in synchronicity with very detailed camera moves, that it is just remarkable she is able to pull it off. I can tell you with first hand, recent experience with some famous actors, that Ms. Apricio’s skill in regards to doing this is very, very uncommon, and extremely beneficial to a director. Ms. Aparicio isn’t painting by numbers as Cleo either, she brings a potent and palpable emotional vitality to the role that is so compelling it drives the entire film.

In conclusion, Roma is a monumental and magnificent masterpiece that is a film for our times and of our times. It is one of those films that restores my faith in the art form and reminds me of why cinema exists in the first place and why I love it so much. I am hesitant to write too much about the film because I don’t want to spoil it, but just know this…I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go see Roma. If you can see it in the theatre, do so to swim in the lush and immaculate waters of Cuaron’s cinematography on the big screen, but if not, watch it on Netflix (it is available now). I don’t care where you see it, just see it, and bask in the glow of Alfonso Cuaron’s talent and skill, because with Roma, he is currently at the height of his glorious cinematic powers.

©2018

The Mule: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. An underwhelming dramatic misfire from Clint Eastwood that never lives up to its intriguing premise or its cinematic promise.

The Mule, written by Nick Schenk and directed by Clint Eastwood, is the true story of Leo Sharp, a war veteran in his late 80’s who becomes a drug courier for a Mexican drug cartel. The film stars Eastwood as Leo, with supporting turns from Bradley Cooper, Dianne Wiest, Michael Pena, Laurence Fishburne and Andy Garcia.

Clint Eastwood is royalty out here in Hollywood, and rightfully so. The reasons for his kingly status are pretty obvious, it is because he has been a huge box office star, a cultural icon and an Oscar winning filmmaker as well as the fact that he has been around forever and has made lots of people lots of money, something which Hollywood REALLY likes.

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As esteemed as Eastwood’s career has been, it is his longevity that has afforded him the ability to be alive while the industry lauds his career accomplishments. For instance, Eastwood won his Best Director Oscar for his genre defining and closing western masterpiece Unforgiven at the age of 62, it felt like the final chapter of a remarkable career. But then Eastwood won Best Director again in 2004 at the age of 74 for the less than award worthy Million Dollar Baby in what most definitely felt like a lifetime achievement award, a gold statuette from Hollywood to say thank you to Clint one more time before he died. But then the unexpected happened again…Clint Eastwood didn’t die. He didn’t fade away. He didn’t retire. To his credit, he kept making movies…and he kept making people money because he was always on time and always on budget, which is the true secret to Tinseltown success.

As great as Eastwood’s Unforgiven was, and it is truly one of the great pieces of cinema, the truth is that this Emperor of Hollywood has no clothes in regards to his later works, which have been decidedly sub-par and shoddy. Yes, he and his movies have won awards and made money, but the bottom line is this, Eastwood’s late career movies haven’t been good films. A good test of this is that you can watch Unforgiven a dozen times over and still come away with something new each time, but if you try and watch any of Eastwood’s later films, like Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, American Sniper, more than once, you are struck by the glaring lack of craft, skill and artistry on display. His late career films, even ones with a lot of accolades and box office bang, are cinematically tenuous and artistically shallow. All of Eastwood’s golden years movies are paper thin, and upon closer examination reveal themselves to be really shoddy pieces of work.

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A hysterical example of that shoddiness is the infamous fake baby in American Sniper, but the problems with Eastwood films runs much deeper than using a fake baby, it is why he used a fake baby that causes the problem. The fake baby came about because the two babies lined up to shoot that day fell through, so instead of shifting on the fly and rescheduling the baby scenes, Eastwood stubbornly stuck to schedule and budget, and shot with a doll instead of a live baby. What this silly little example shows is that Eastwood is more interested in getting it done (on time and on budget) than getting it done right.

Now, the uninitiated and/or “regular people” might think, “hey, why is getting something done on budget and on time bad?” Well, it isn’t bad in and of itself, and it is a wise move in terms of making a living and making a lot of powerful friends in Hollywood, as a minimal talent like Ron Howard has learned, the problem is when it is craft that is the victim of a strict adherence to budget and time. Think of it this way…what if a construction company building the bridge you drive over every day cared more about being on time and on budget than getting it done right. In that case, cutting corners means the bridge will be structurally unsound and will, over time, collapse…which is a perfect metaphor for Eastwood’s later films, as they are structurally unsound and collapse over time and repeated viewings. You wouldn’t want to drive on that bridge, just like I don’t want to suffer through a shoddy Eastwood film.

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Another problem born out of Eastwood’s adherence to tight schedules and budgets is his preference for doing a minimal amount of takes of each scene. This approach works on a film like Unforgiven because you have a murderer’s row of old pros like Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris and Eastwood himself carrying the film. This approach works less well on films like Gran Torino, where Eastwood cast non-actors and amateurs, or American Sniper, where much of the cast were less experienced, less talented and less skilled actors.

Actors with less experience need direction, and direction comes about over the course of a few takes. Eastwood’s hands off approach may keep his schedule and budget in tact, but it also makes his movies feel second rate and amateurish.

What is so frustrating to me is that Eastwood’s films all feel like they SHOULD be good, and in theory they are good as they have good ideas, good stories and often times good actors, but the problem is not in theory but in the execution and in the attention to detail, and that falls on Clint.

The Mule is a perfect example as the story of a 90 year old man working as a drug mule for a cartel is certainly intriguing, and so is the idea of a cultural icon, Dirty Harry or The Man With No Name, playing the role, but it is in the execution where the film stumbles and staggers.

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In The Mule, Eastwood’s weaknesses are on full display, with a notable addition, Eastwood himself is so old at this point, that he himself is not much of an actor anymore, and that is a problem when he is supposed to carry this movie not only as an actor but as a director. It is asking quite a lot for an 88 year old to walk around the block, nevermind muster the energy to act in front of the camera and direct from behind it.

It is for these reasons that The Mule is a bit of a conflicted and underwhelming hodge-podge of a movie. To be fair, The Mule could have been a whole lot worse, but that certainly doesn’t mean it was great or even good. The frustrating thing for me is that The Mule could have been great. Maybe if Eastwood just acted in it and there was a more visionary director at the helm, then it could have risen to worthy heights, but as it is, the film is a disappointment.

Eastwood’s acting is painful to watch. There are moments when he flashes back to being the Outlaw Josey Wales (another great movie) or Dirty Harry for a second, but those glimpses quickly fade into oblivion and are replaced by an actor pushing too much or not enough. Clint never firmly grasps the character, which could be due to the script, and so he staggers around from comedy to tragedy and back again.

Eastwood isn’t helped by the script or by his own directing, both of which leave a lot to be desired. There are some scenes with painfully obtuse exposition, like where Leo, out of the blue, tells a stranger that he has driven all over the country and never…NEVER got a ticket or pulled over. Leo shares this bit of information about five times in less than thirty seconds and then the stranger propositions him to be a drug mule. Yikes.

Leo’s relationship with his wife, kid and grandkid are so hollow their dialogue could echo. There is not a single, genuine, grounded human emotion or encounter in the entire film. Not one. Every interaction rings false and forced.

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The characters are one dimensional card board cutouts, but that would make sense since the plot is equally thin. There are all the usual bad movie tropes in there, the interrogation scene where tough guy cops get a bad guy to flip, the drug lords living their decadent and lavish lifestyle, scantily clad women included, and the family drama of a bitter ex-wife and daughter, and the hope of a new beginning with a granddaughter. The whole movie is painfully predictable and is sort of like a amalgamation of every bad drug movie and family turmoil movie ever made.

Besides Clint, the rest of the cast are less than stellar. Bradley Cooper does the best of the bunch, but even he is hamstrung by a nebulous character. Dianne Wiest does her best, but the script does her no favors. The rest of the cast are pretty dreadful, from the tattoed tough guys to the non-tattoed tough guys to the granddaughter with a heart of gold, none of them seem even remotely believable.

There is one thing that stood out to me about The Mule, and that is that it contains the single worst scene I’ve witnessed in a film this entire year. The scene is not only remarkably poorly executed in terms of the writing, directing, acting and editing, but it is remarkable because it doesn’t need to be in the film at all. I won’t say what scene it is, but I will tell you that it comes very near the end, and you’ll know it when you see it. I audibly groaned when I saw the scene, so much so that my fellow movie goers probably thought I was having a stroke…I should have been so lucky.

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As hard as I am being on this movie, it actually could have been worse, and while a cinephile like me disliked it, people who aren’t quite the film snob I am, will probably enjoy it. For instance, old people love to go to the movies, and they love to see other old people in movies. So old people will probably like this movie since they get to watch someone who is most likely older than they are star in a movie. In fact, as I entered the theatre for my screening, a decrepit old lady, probably in her late 80’s, grabbed my arm as I walked past her and stopped me just to tell me “you’ll love the movie…it’s really great.” I didn’t know this woman and had no idea why she needed to share that with me or why she felt it was ok to grab my arm, but obviously she felt strongly about the film. I would love to share my review with her and hear her counter argument, but sadly, even after passionately and expertly making out with her for the majority of the movie, I never once thought to get her name or number….such is the glamorous life of an internet film critic.

In conclusion, The Mule is a formulaic film that looks and feels more like a made for tv movie than a piece of serious cinema. I am a fan of Clint Eastwood, and he is one of the all-time greats in this business, but his acting and directing fastball left him long ago, so much so that he is basically throwing a slow-pitch meatball up to the plate with The Mule. The movie is so rough around the edges and so soft in the middle that it ultimately fails to deliver much drama or any cinematic punch. If you are curious about it or are an avid fan of Eastwood, feel free to check out The Mule when it comes out on cable or Netflix for free, but avoid paying to see it at the theatre because you’ll end up feeling like The Mule kicked you in the head and stole your hard earned money if you do.

©2018

If Beale Street Could Talk: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. A Beautiful mess of a movie that is gorgeous to look at but story wise is derivative and dull, making it difficult to sit through.

If Beale Street Could Talk, written and directed by Barry Jenkins, is an adaptation of the James Baldwin story of the same name that follows the travails of two African-Americans, Tish and Fonny, as they navigate the perils of young love in a racist New York City of the 1970’s. The film stars Kiki Layne as Tish and Stephon James as Fonny with supporting turns from Regina King and Brian Tyree Henry .

If Beale Street Could Talk, director Barry Jenkin’s much anticipated follow up to his 2016 Best Picture winning Moonlight, is another in a long line of disappointments on the very bumpy ride of cinema in 2018.

Based on the James Baldwin story of the same name (which I have not read), If Beale Street Could Talk is a beautiful mess of a movie. It is at once visually stunning yet also narratively pedestrian and culturally juvenile.

Let’s start with the good news. Cinematographer James Laxton delivers an impeccably lush and cinematically vibrant aesthetic to the film. Laxton’s camera engages in an exquisite dance with his subjects while painting the world of the film with a delicate and ethereal palate that is not only gorgeous to behold but narratively profound. Laxton’s work on Moonlight was equally sublime and dramatically insightful, and with If Beale Street Could Talk, Laxton has shown himself to be not only a master craftsman but a powerful artist.

Sadly, Barry Jenkins script never lives up to Laxton’s stirring cinematography. Jenkins inability to write efficient and effective dialogue and build a coherent and compelling narrative make If Beale Street Could Talk a frustratingly uneven and ultimately unsatisfying film to watch.

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When Jenkins (and Laxton) flashes back and focuses on the blossoming first love of Tish and Fonny, the film crackles with life. The chemistry between actors Kiki Layne (Tish) and Stephon James (Fonny) in these flashback scenes is palpable, and Laxton superbly bathes them in gorgeous light, shadow and color as he lets the viewer see the characters as they see each other, through the prism of unabashed love.

It is when the film shifts to the present moment and its drama of “legal peril”, which is decidedly stale and stultifying with cringe worthy dialogue to match, when the wheels come of the cinematic wagon. An example of which is that there is a scene between Tish and Fonny’s families that is so poorly written, poorly directed and poorly acted that it was like watching kids put on a play…a very bad play…in their basement.

The “legal peril” storyline is so trite, hackneyed and derivative it seems like it was lifted from an episode of Law and Order or some equally awful television show. Anytime the focus of the film shifts to the legal story and its adjacent narratives, it serves as little more than an irritating distraction.

The film is equally abysmal when it tries to convey a political or socially conscious message. When Jenkins tries to use the movie as a statement on race in America, it reveals itself to be, at best, painfully adolescent in its cosmology.

Ironically, in its social themes, If Beale Street Could Talk is as much an unnuanced distorted Black view of America as Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry is a unnuanced distorted view of America through the White perspective. Both film’s are little more than wish fulfillment and fantasies driven by archetypes deeply embedded in the American psyche. In the case of Dirty Harry, it is the archetypal Righteous Gun Slinging Vigilante, who is part of the system but operates outside of it to protect Whites from those lawless “others”, most notably Blacks (think of the “you feel lucky” scene, where Dirty Harry points his .44 Magnum in the face of a “Black criminal”).


In If Beale Street Could Talk, the thematic archetype is one of the Righteous Victim (think of Fonny as the young Black criminal with Dirty Harry’s .44 in his face), who is oppressed by the system and must operate outside of it in order to survive it. In this way, If Beale Street Could Talk is social justice/victimhood porn and propaganda, which on its surface claims to be about speaking the truth of the Black perspective in America, but in reality is about reinforcing and strengthening the victim archetype and narrative.

What is striking to me about this aspect of the film, is that it also reinforces the racist tropes that fueled the Dirty Harry era to begin with and which eventually led to Clinton’s infamous crime bill in the 90’s which further criminalized Black men. For instance, the lead character Fonny which, along with Tish, is whom the viewer is supposed to identify with, and yet when we first learn about Fonny, he commits a crime, theft. Fonny’s lawlessness is not even given a second thought, but in the narrative structure of the film it subconsciously undermines the audiences connection to him to a devastating degree. This is not some personal revelation from me, this is just Cinema 101: Basic Storytelling and Character Development.

The same is true of the other Black men in the movie, all of whom are equally lawless and all of whom commit crimes. Fonny’s father steals from the docks, and his pseudo father in law not only steals but beats the hell out of his wife…and yet these men are supposed to represent “regular Black men”.

Add to that Fonny’s friend Daniel who is fresh out of prison, and just like Fonny claims he is entirely innocent of the charges against him. Apparently Fonny and Daniel are the two guys who really didn’t do it…even though we’ve already seen Fonny commit a crime and Daniel’s sketchy reputation precedes him.

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While all of the Black men in the film are criminals, none of them take responsibility for their criminality. The crimes they commit are all the fault of the system that is screwing them, thus demeaning these men even further as they are deprived of any and all agency. This is the Victim archetype in full bloom, where no matter what the character does it is never their fault. This is an extremely unsatisfying quality in a cinematic Hero, as it simply castrates the Hero and asks the audience to pity them rather than relate or project on to them. It also does not allow for any catharsis on the part of the character, and that in turn doesn’t allow for any catharsis on the part of the viewer, which results in a psychologically frustrating movie-going experience.

Consider other Hero stories where the Hero is brought down by a corrupt system…movies like Braveheart, where William Wallace ultimately loses, but he goes down swinging, screaming “Freedom” at the top of his lungs as he is torn to shreds. Or think of a parallel for the Fonny character to maybe the best known Hero story of them all…Jesus Christ. Jesus is persecuted, just like Fonny, but the key to the Jesus story is that he has agency and chooses to be crucified….thus becoming Christ. Jesus is the empowered form of the Victim archetype…which is the martyr, who is victim by choice. The choice here is the important thing as it means the Hero may suffer a terrible defeat but he still maintains his agency. In contrast, the perpetually disempowered Fonny is just laundry being tossed and turned in a washing machine, who never chooses but always loses.

In terms of the criminality of the characters in the film, there are other contrasting examples, think of The Godfather or Goodfellas. The mobsters in those movies do awful things to people and yet audiences relate to them and embrace them as “Heroes” of the story, why is that? The reason for that is because those characters, from Michael Corleone to Henry Hill, embrace their criminality. They maintain their agency and don’t claim to be victims of the system, instead they are gaming the system.

These details in the DNA of If Beale Street Could Talk may seem minute to the less sophisticated viewer, but it is these specific elements that can make or break a film and its narrative in the unconscious of the audience. In the case of If Beale Street Could Talk, these subtle archetypal issues deter viewers from fully accepting and embracing the characters, story and film.

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It isn’t just the Black men who fair poorly in If Beale Street Could Talk, as White men are portrayed as truly devils in this movie. White men are sexual predators (again, the inverse of the Dirty Harry movie where Black men are predators) and are inherently evil, from a lecherous perfume shopper to a cop who is so consumed with racial hatred he comes across as more than a little insane. For the White characters in this movie, just like Black characters in Dirty Harry, they are entirely devoid of nuance and are absurd caricatures. Even White characters we never see are predators, as there is one who impregnates a poor Latina women and then leaves her with nothing, and then maybe even returns to rape her.

It is for these reasons that If Beale Street Could Talk is just as insidious and insipid as the blatantly racist Dirty Harry movies.

As for the acting, Stephon James and Kiki Layne are glorious in their falling in love sequences. Laxton’s camera holds on their loving gazes for extended periods and their love for one another is tangible in these shots. But when they are asked to do more than just look longingly and lovingly at one another, the two stars lose much of their power.

James is a charismatic screen presence, but he seems rather limited when it comes to the more static shots. James is unable to compress his magnetism and dynamism when he is contained in such a confining space and he loses his power because of it.

Kiki Layne is quite engaging during the dreamy love sequences as well, but she too falls well short when things get much more complicated. Layne’s strong suit is her ability to seem to be overcome by her wonder for the world, but when the world stops being wondrous, she stops being interesting and starts being wooden.

Regina King does solid work as Tish’s mom, but she is hamstrung by being stuck in the intolerably mundane legal drama portion of the story, and while she is a compelling actress, none of her scenes are particularly noteworthy.

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If Beale Street Could Talk, which may be the second most mis-leading title in the history of cinema right behind The Never Ending Story because Beale Street is never seen in the movie and all the action takes place in New York (I am kidding, the title is explained in the opening, but still…I found it funny), is another in a long line of films that underwhelmed in 2018. Barry Jenkins (and his cinematographer James Laxton) has a distinct and luscious visual flair to his work, but his storytelling and character development need serious work. Therefore I can only recommend this film to the most committed of cinephiles who would want to see the cinematography on the big screen. For everyone else, there is no reason to see this in the theatre, but if you stumble upon it on cable one night or on Netflix, feel free to check it out if you like, and tell me if I am wrong or not.

In conclusion, if Beale Street could talk, I’d tell it to shut up because while it talks a lot and does so in a beautifully melodious and mellifluous visual voice, it actually doesn’t say a whole hell of a lot, and what little it does have to say is so vapid and vacuous that it has no value whatsoever.

©2018