"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

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The Last Black Man in San Francisco: A Review

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

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A unique and original film that is beautifully shot, dramatically compelling and painfully insightful.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco, based on a story by Jimmie Fails and written and directed by Joe Talbot, is the story of Jimmie, a black man trying to reclaim his childhood house, a beautiful Victorian built by his grandfather in the 1940’s, that sits in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood. The film stars Jimmie Fails as Jimmie, with supporting turns from Jonathan Majors, Danny Glover and Mike Epps.

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Thus far, 2019 has been a pretty dismal year in terms of American film. Of the four lonely films I have recommended so far this year, all of them are foreign. Thankfully, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is like a tall, cool glass of cinematic water in the parched desert of American movies in 2019. The film, which is based upon a story created by its lead actor Jimmie Fails (who is black) and its director Joe Talbot (who is white), pulsates with a life, artistic vibrancy and intelligence that is an utter joy to behold.

On the surface the film examines gentrification in San Francisco and the consequences of it. What I really loved about the movie though is that it does not take the easy, emotionalist route in exploring this complicated issue. Although it is often lumped in as simply a racism issue, the changing face of a neighborhood is a result of a much more nuanced set of elements. For instance my white family (and extended family) were part of the white flight from Brooklyn in the 1970’s because the neighborhood was rapidly changing from Irish, Italian and Jewish to Haitian and Jamaican. It is easy to chalk this up as simply racism, but the reality is, regardless of race or ethnicity, people like to be around people who not only look like them, but have the same culture and relatively same belief system. This is why immigration is such a huge issue, it isn’t a function of racism but rather a function of cultural comfort. The same is true here in Los Angeles where black neighborhoods get really angry when white people move in because they feel the “essence” of the neighborhood is changing. That isn’t racism…it is human nature.

To the movie’s great credit it does not take the easy road in addressing this polarizing issue, but instead embraces the complexity and subtlety of it. Besides the maze that is gentrification, the film also dances through the minefield that is toxic black masculinity, black violence, myth and identity, the cancer of capitalism, self-deception, self-delusion and most especially…the importance of Truth.

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Jimmie yearns to return to the house of his childhood, which has no doubt been sanitized in his own mind. His dream of a return is fueled by his tumultuous life since leaving the house and the myth that gives meaning to the structure, namely that his grandfather built the house from the ground up in a Japanese neighborhood. Unlike the greedy white people taking over San Francisco now and pushing out minorities, Jimmie’s black grandfather didn’t steal anyone’s house, he defied racial stereotypes and oppression and created one from scratch.

Jimmie’s journey is a fascinating one, and while the actor Jimmie Fails (playing a character with the same name) is not the greatest actor in the world, he is certainly likable and does Yoeman’s work as the protagonist. Fails succeeds at being a worthy host for his two-hour narrative journey.

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The performance that I did find remarkable though was that of Jonathan Majors as Montgomery Allen, Jimmie’s best friend. Majors brings such a beautiful and delicate sense of humanity to Montgomery that it is mesmerizing. Montgomery is the consummate artist as he is a writer, director, actor, sketch artist, wardrobe…you name it, and because he is an artist he is motivated by only one thing…the Truth. Majors fills Allen with an off-beat but very specific and detailed intentionality that gives him an understated but undeniable charisma and power.

Danny Glover and Mike Epps have small roles in the film but do quality work in them and bring a certain level of professionalism to the cast. In general, the other supporting actors feel a little rough around the edges, but that aesthetic works well for the movie.

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Director Talbot does a tremendous job of bringing what could have been a maudlin and middling story to life with a dazzling emotional and dramatic vitality. The movie is beautifully shot as Talbot and cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra do an outstanding job framing their shots and even throw in some delicious 70’s, throw-back, long shot zooms. I loved those shots as they not only gave the film a distinct look and feel but were also imbued with a much deeper, archetypal meaning.

Talbot’s direction reminded me a little bit, just a little, of Spike Lee, in that he masterfully uses music, particularly jazz and/or classical, to build both dramatic and narrative momentum. Also like Lee, he populates his story with eccentrics who never fall into stereotype or caricature, no easy feat. Unlike Lee, and to his credit, Talbot wholeheartedly embraces a narrative complexity and subtlety that forces introspection rather than accusation, and is not afraid to tell the Truth even when the Truth hurts.

Even though the director Joe Talbot is white, the story is told exclusively from a black man’s perspective. What I found intriguing about this is that Talbot establishes this fact from the opening shot and makes clear that white people are aliens…literally…as they look like astronauts walking on a distant planet. What is so refreshing about Talbot’s approach is that he keeps white people as “alien” throughout…they are, ultimately, truly unknowable to black people. Of course the reverse is true as well, but in this movie we only see the black perspective and it was refreshing because it forced all of the issues and responsibilities back onto black characters. There are no one dimensional, white villains to blame or scapegoat (unlike, for instance, in some of Spike Lee’s films, or in last year’s If Beale Street Could Talk).

In conclusion, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a gorgeous film that never takes any short cuts and never fails to challenge, captivate and illuminate. This is a smart, original, unique and extremely well made film that I highly recommend you take the time and effort to go see in the theatre.

©2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix - A Review

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

My Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. Absolutely no reason to ever see this derivative and dull snooze of a movie.

X-Men: Dark Phoenix, written and directed by Simon Kinberg, is the the story of Jean Grey as she comes to grips with her mutant powers and murky past. The film stars Sophie Turner as Grey, with the usual X-Men suspects James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and Nicholas Hoult along for the ride, as well as a supporting turn from Jessica Chastain. Dark Phoenix is the sequel to 2016’s X-Men: Apocalypse and is the seventh and final installment of the current main X-Men saga.

After I see a film I usually either sit in the theatre or go out to the lobby and write down my brief thoughts. After X-Men: Dark Phoenix I sat trying to think of something to write and was stumped. It wasn’t that I had no opinion about the movie, it is that I only had the most distant, passing and fading memory of what had just transpired on screen. Dark Phoenix is such a derivative, dull and middling movie that it proves to be instantly, and almost entirely, forgettable.

X-Men movies over the last 19 years have, in general, been aggressively mediocre, visually banal and dramatically mundane (the notable exception being 2017’s Logan). While some of the X-Men movies have been mildly entertaining and thematically intriguing, for the most part they have failed to live up to their extremely rich source material.

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20th Century Fox came into the superhero market with a great deal of fanfare by handing the creative keys of the franchise to at-the-time esteemed filmmaker Bryan Singer, who directed the first film, X-Men in 2000, and four of the seven main X-Men films in total. But nearly twenty years after the X-Men’s cinematic debut, Fox leaves the superhero arena with barely an audible whimper. Dark Phoenix is a continuation of the downward trajectory of X-Men movies that was undeniable with 2016’s abysmal Apocalypse. It seems as though Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix were in a race to the bottom of the X-Men filmography…Dark Phoenix wins that race by a surprisingly strong margin, and is only notable for the fact that it is indeed the very dregs of X-Men movies.

For Fox to end their X-Men run with Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix is a humiliation almost equal to everyone’s least favorite pederast Bryan Singer’s fall from grace. One can only hope that Disney, which purchased Fox and with it the X-Men, can reboot this wayward franchise with some fresh creative blood that can resurrect this moribund series.

As for the particulars of Dark Phoenix…where to begin? The movie is stultifyingly dull, thematically trite, lazily acted, dismally written, impotently directed and is as visually stale and flat as possible. Besides that how was the play Mrs. Lincoln? No doubt better than Dark Phoenix.

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What is striking is that Dark Phoenix boasts a cavalcade of really top notch actors but is riddled with insipid performances. Jennifer Lawrence is a great actress and one of my favorites, but in her turn as Raven she so lifelessly mouths her lines it feels as if she is working the graveyard shift at the 24-hour Arby’s in Podunk, Kentucky. She seems genuinely embarrassed to be in the movie and entirely disinterested in being there.

Jessica Chastain is another quality actress who sleepwalks through Dark Phoenix. You can almost see the money signs in Chastain’s eyes as she vacantly goes through the motions.

Michael Fassbender reprises his role as Magneto and try as he might he simply cannot muster any mettle/metal in his performance…pun intended.

James McAvoy suffers even worse humiliations than the rest of the cast as in one scene, that is so ridiculous it made me laugh out loud, his Professor X is forced to “walk” on his crippled legs, to hysterical affect. This scene was like a bad Saturday Night Live skit, although that is something out of the Department of Redundancy Department.

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Sophie Turner, last seen as Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, is the film’s lead and she does not prove herself up to the task of carrying a feature film. Turner is a beautiful women but, sadly, as my life proves, beauty can only get you so far. Turner simply does not have the skill, charisma and magnetism to command audience’s attention for a feature length film. That doesn’t mean she will never be able to do that, it just means she cannot do it now.

The overwhelming feeling I had about the cast while watching this movie was that they were simply playing out the string and cashing in while they could. This is the last X-Men movie of this cycle, and these actors will most likely never play these roles again…so they need to get while the getting is good…and these performances felt more like a heist and a getaway than commitment to acting artistry. I suppose there is nothing wrong with that, the mortgage isn’t going to pay for itself after all, but it definitely leaves a sour taste in the mouth of fans as the movie’s stars grab the money and hustle to get out of Dodge as fast as they can.

Simon Kinberg wrote and directed Dark Phoenix, proving that he is not even remotely good at writing or directing. Kinberg’s script is abominable and his miserable direction is a major reason why such a stellar cast turned in such horrendous performances.

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Kinberg’s script is so shallow and empty that the biggest feeling I had at the end of the movie is…what is the point of it? Obviously the point is to make money, which it might, but on a more philosophical level the question truly is…what is the purpose and meaning behind this movie? What is the animating philosophical/psychological/spiritual principle of this movie? Yes, the film does have some of the usual Girl Power posing and preening, which has become de rigueur lately, sprinkled throughout. Lines like “since women are always saving the men around here you should change the name to X-Women"!” and “your mind has been poisoned by men with small minds” and “you’re not a little girl anymore” and my favorite exchange where the villain (a female) says to Jean Grey, “you’re emotions make you weak” and Jean replies, “no, my emotions make me strong!” give the impression of a philosophical foundation but are nothing more than vapid and vacuous bullshit meant to appease and patronize the neo-feminists in Hollywood and no one else. In reality the film has no philosophical, logical, dramatic or narrative foundation upon which to build itself, instead it is a soulless, paint by numbers exercise in vacant big budget franchise movie making and nothing else.

In conclusion, Dark Phoenix is a flaccid, unimaginative cinematic venture that is truly unsatisfying in every single way. Even if you are a super hero fanatic, there is absolutely no reason to see this movie in the theatres or anywhere else for that matter. Sadly, this Phoenix was engulfed in the flames of its awfulness and avarice but was never able to rise from the ashes of its own failings and should be condemned to remain forever alone in the Dark…where it truly belongs.

©2019

Godzilla: King of the Monsters - 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: 2.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. It isn’t awful, but unless you are an avid Godzilla and monster movie fan like me, there is really no need to make the effort to see this one in the theatre.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, directed by Michael Dougherty and written by Dougherty and Zach Shields, is the story of the Russell family, Mark, Emma and Madison, as they come to grips with their grief and with famed monster Godzilla. The film stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown as Mark, Emma and Madison respectively, with supporting turns from a cavalcade of actors such as Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford and O’Shea Jackson, to name just a few. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the 35th film in the Godzilla franchise and is the third film in Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse (Godzilla 2014, Kong: Skull Island 2017).

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As I have stated before, I am a confirmed Godzilla fan. As a kid growing up, as all the other kids were going crazy for Star Wars…I was obsessed with Godzilla and Planet of the Apes. During my childhood, if on a Saturday one of the local UHF channels just happened to be showing a Godzilla movie, it felt like Christmas. As a kid I also maintained a treasure trove of Godzilla toys and that compulsion has stayed with me well into adulthood. As a young and eligible bachelor living the high life in Brooklyn in the 90’s and 00’s, I had a circular table in my living room that was covered with Godzilla action figures which I proudly dubbed “Monster Island”. As you can imagine it was a huge attraction that brought many ladies into my lair and acted as a powerful aphrodisiac upon them. Nothing gets panties to drop quicker than a prominent display of Godzilla figurines.

It was during this time that Hollywood ventured into the Godzilla waters with Roland Emmerich’s accurately titled Godzilla (1998). Being the idiot fan that I am I rushed out to see this Godzilla reboot as fast as I could. The film, which I’ve since re-named Ferris Bueller’s Godzilla because it starred Matthew Broderick of all godforsaken people, was atrociously bad.

It took another 16 years, but Hollywood got back in the Godzilla business with 2014’s also aptly titled, Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards. Once again I rushed out to theatres to see my favorite monster and once again I left the theatre deflated after suffering through a truly terrible monster movie.

For further proof of my Godzilla nerd-dom bona fides, one need look no further than the fact that I actually wrote a very controversial and polarizing piece of Godzilla fan fiction and posted it to this website to coincide with the release of Godzilla (2014). This piece was so culturally radioactive it was met with an avalanche derision and scorn, up to and including death threats.

In 2016, much to my relief the Japanese studio and originator of the Godzilla franchise, Toho, released Shin Godzilla. I am such a fan of Godzilla (and Toho), that I actually waited in line early on a Sunday morning outside the Royal Laemmle Theatre to get tickets to see it. Thankfully, this was an enjoyable Godzilla movie experience.

In terms of the recent Hollywood Godzilla franchise, the 2014 Godzilla was the first film in Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse, and it definitely got that franchise off on the wrong foot. It was followed by Kong: Skull Island, starring the dead-eyed and empty-headed Brie Larson, which was so awful it made my teeth hurt. Kong: Skull Island was so bad it did the impossible, it made Godzilla (2014) look like Citizen Kane in comparison. Which brings us to the most recent film in the Legendary Monsterverse…Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

After my checkered Godzilla movie-going past, you might have thought I'd be hesitant to rush out and see Godzilla: King of the Monsters, well…you greatly over-estimate my intelligence. While I certainly did not have high expectations, in fact, my expectations were incredibly low, that didn’t stop me from going to see the very first showing of the film on opening day…which ended up being a 4 pm show on Thursday afternoon.

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My basic takeaway from King of the Monsters is this…it isn’t good…but with that said I also must admit… it could have been a hell of a lot worse. The biggest problem with the Hollywood Godzilla movies is that they use Godzilla as a prop for human drama as opposed to using humans as a prop for Godzilla drama. These movies spend so much time trying to get us to care about stupid people doing stupid things instead of just giving us what we came to see…Godzilla. I mean, Godzilla’s name isn’t above the title…IT IS THE TITLE.

To King of the Monsters credit, it does give us much more Godzilla than its predecessor did…but that isn’t exactly a high bar as Godzilla (2014) had so little Godzilla it should have been titled Waiting for Godzilla. Why studios need to stick to the usual formula of spending time trying to get audiences attached to second rate actors like Kyle Chandler or Vera Formiga is beyond me. You can show them, and spend a wee bit of time developing them, but then just leave them to try and survive the ultimate god encounter…namely…Godzilla.

King of the Monsters goes through the motions of trying to be a real drama, and uses certain cliched narrative devices…over and over and over and over again…in an effort to give deeper meaning to the monster festivities, but this all rings monotonous and hollow. It is like the film gets stuck in a plot loop and can’t get out of it so it simply repeats the same dramatic pattern every half hour except with different characters.

The cast are all fine I guess. I mean, I totally get how difficult it is to act in such an absurd movie with such terrible dialogue, so I cut the cast excessive amounts of slack. That said…the ever-awful Bradley Whitford does his very best to ruin the movie all by himself. Whitford is so repellent a screen presence he needs to be thrown into a volcano and sacrificed to Rodan for the good of all humanity.

On the bright side, 15 year old Millie Bobbie Brown is a really good actress. Brown has hit it big after her captivating work on Netflix’s break out hit Stranger Things. Brown’s greatest asset is that she is alive on screen and pulsates with a palpable humanity. She is also very beautiful, and I have to admit I find myself very concerned for her well-being, as Hollywood is a tough town for anyone, nevermind young people, and it is riddled with predators who use their power to prey upon the young and the weak. It is disconcerting to see Brown being “sexxed-up” by the industry and her handlers, and I only hope she can keep her wits about her as success can be very disorienting at such a young age.

Another plus is seeing Ziyi Zhang in a prominent supporting role. Zhang, who you may remember from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is a beguiling beauty and formidable actress and it is a shame she has been missing from American cinema for so long.

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As for the monsters…well…the results are mixed. Godzilla looks great, really great, and we do get to see more of him and his rampages than we did in Godzilla (2014), but not enough of him. The other monsters, King Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra are all just ok. I actually thought Ghidorah was pretty underwhelming visually especially compared to the dragons on Game of Thrones, which surprised me as you’d expect a feature film to have better effects than a tv show. Rodan also felt a bit off visually and that was a disappointment as he has historically been a good foil for Godzilla.

Mothra makes an appearance and is also not the most captivating visual presence. To be fair though, I have never liked Mothra at all. I always thought it was moronic to have a moth be this powerful being…I mean…it is a fucking moth for goodness sake.

The visuals of King of the Monsters are, much like its predecessor, decidedly dark, although this time around there is a higher level of clarity and coherence with the cinematography. We do get to see some clear shots of Godzilla and have a better idea of what is happening during his big fights, but I could use a hell of a lot more of it.

There are a few notable shots in the movie as well…including the usual iconic posing from Godzilla himself. There is one gorgeous shot of Ghidorah that is bursting with symbolic and thematic power, where Ghidorah spreads his wings atop a mountain with a cross in the foreground, that is really well executed. But then the impact of that shot was diluted when the filmmakers made the curious decision to literally show it about four more times.

The plot of King of the Monsters is riddled with illogic and inconsistencies and makes little to no sense. The movie also has little sense of time and space which can make it somewhat dizzying affair. The reality is that the film needlessly tries to explain everything and by doing so just confuses things even more.

In conclusion, if you love Godzilla movies you will find this one to be passable but not particularly great. If you are lukewarm on Godzilla movies and are looking for some mindless fun…stay away from this one as it is a little too mindless and a little short on fun. At the end of the day, Godzilla: King of the Monsters isn’t good enough to do anything more than preach to the most adamant of the Kaiju faithful.

©2019

The Souvenir: A Review

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

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. No need to ever suffer through this meandering art house pretender.

The Souvenir, written and directed by Joanna Hogg, is the story of Julie, a film school student who falls into a relationship with Anthony, a mysterious older man. The film stars Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie and Tom Burke as Anthony, with a supporting turn from Tilda Swinton.

Joanna Hogg (no relation to Dukes of Hazzard’s Boss Hogg or Sir Denis Eton-Hogg of This is Spinal Tap) is a British filmmaker who in the last decade has made a bunch of fringe art house films that have occasionally garnered some mild critical attention. I have never seen any of Ms. Hogg’s previous work, and after seeing The Souvenir, I don’t feel obliged to.

The Souvenir is a narcissistically indulgent art house poseur of a film that has pretensions of profundity but ultimately is nothing more than an exercise in cinematic futility and philosophical frivolity.

Ms. Hogg’s film school training is noticeable as she is proficient in the technical aspects of filmmaking, some of her shots of wonderfully framed for example, but she is totally devoid of even the most minute storytelling or character developing instincts. The Souvenir’s characters, relationships and narrative are so poorly constructed the film has no foundation upon which to build any sort of dramatic momentum.

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The characters have absolutely no arcs to them at all, they start in one place and end in exactly the same place. No one goes anywhere or learns anything…things just happen and time goes by and then, mercifully, the movie is over. The movie is so devoid of any dramatic pace or rhythm, the film’s meandering two hour run time drags on and on. It seems Ms. Hogg’s greatest skill as a filmmaker is the ability to make two hours feel like eight.

The film is a semi-autobiographical story about a relationship Ms. Hogg was in during her film school days, and it shows. Ms. Hogg takes for granted the character’s motivations and their connections because she has lived them, but she never does the work of conveying those things to the audience, so we are left with no connection to anything or anyone on the screen.

The film not only has no answers, it has no questions, but instead spins its wheels in the muck and mire of its own emptiness. Nothing makes sense, nothing means anything, and nothing matters. I sat watching this film wondering why on earth Julie would spend time with this dullard and dope of a man Anthony who brings nothing to the table…nothing…he is not charming, smart, funny, good-looking or charismatic.

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Honor Swinton Byrne (Tilda Swinton’s daughter) is a pleasant screen presence as Julie but is not developed enough as an actress to be able to carry a film like this which, if made correctly, would need a complex performance at its center. Byrne may well grow and mature into a more formidable actress, but for now her charm and quirky, but undeniable, beauty can only carry her so far and do not make up for her lack of skill. That said, I do look forward to seeing where she goes from here.

Tom Burke as Anthony does as well as he can with the very little he is given. Anthony is a vacuous and vacant character, a cardboard cutout from Ms. Hogg’s perspective on her own history. Burke gives Anthony a distinct and precise manner but cannot give him any specific intentions because the character has none.

Tilda Swinton plays a small role as Julie’s mother and brings a noticeable amount of dramatic heft that is missing from the rest of the cast. Tilda Swinton elevates the proceedings a great deal but is not a miracle worker.

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Seeing this film made me remember being in a play a few years ago. In the play I played a date rapist and had to simulate a rape on stage. My scene partner, who is one of the loveliest people I know, was also the writer and star of the production and she had written the play about her own personal experience. Obviously, rehearsing this scene was difficult because of the emotional minefield we were walking through. In one rehearsal I improvised by changing one small word in a line, and my scene partner/writer and her director friend got very upset. They said that I shouldn’t change the word, and when I told them that the way I changed it actually conveyed the emotional sentiments more clearly and with much more dramatic impact, they countered by saying with the utmost sincerity and earnesty, “but that isn’t what he said in real life”. Needless to say, I bit my tongue, I am not going to argue with that statement in that situation. But the reality was and is that it doesn’t matter how it happened “in real life”…what matters is how you convey it to the audience and how they perceive it. How does the audience receive and process the information you are giving them? By sticking to strictly “what really happened”, the essence of that rape scene, and its horror and emotional power, were diluted due to a sort of emotional narcissism more akin to psychotherapy than drama/art/entertainment. While that may benefit the actress/writer, it didn’t benefit the story or the characters and therefore the audience.

It struck me watching The Souvenir that Ms. Hogg seemed to be re-litigating an old relationship and using cinema as the vehicle for her therapy. While that may be good for her, that is not so good for us because her therapy is not dramatically sound, artistically worthy or even remotely compelling or engaging.

After seeing the film I thought to myself that, like her young star Honor Swinton Byrne, Ms. Hogg may well grow to be a formidable filmmaker as she matures and grows as an artist. Due to the film’s rather immature philosophical perspective and myopic artistic vision I assumed Ms. Hogg was a young woman in her twenties who was basically still trying to figure out who she is as an artist. Then I looked Ms. Hogg up and was dismayed to find that she is a 60 year old woman. If she doesn’t know who she is as an artist and a person or what she is doing as a director by now, she never will.

In conclusion, The Souvenir is a piece of art house fool’s gold that sells itself as a sort of artistic journey but is neither a piece of art nor does it go anywhere. Ultimately, the film is a frustrating, dare I say irritating, cinematic experience, and for this reason I contend that no one ever needs to see this film at any time or any place for any reason.

©2019

Shadow: A Review

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

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A wonderfully made, visually stunning and dramatically and psychologically satisfying Chinese action film in the vein of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero.

Shadow, directed by iconic Chinese film maker Zhang Yimou, is the story of Jingzhou who is trained from a young age to be a double/shadow for military leader Ziyu. The film stars Deng Chao in a dual role as Jingzhou and Commander Ziyu, with supporting turns from Sun Li and Zheng Kai.

Shadow is best described as a Wuxia film, which is a genre of Chinese fantasy/fiction that revolves around “martial heroes” in a world of magical realism. Notable examples of Wuxia films are Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and House of Flying Daggers by the same director as Shadow, Zhang Yimou.

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Yimou, who is one of the great directors of his generation, has a flair for unique fight choreography and paints his films with a striking palette and dramatic visuals. In Shadow, Yimou and cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding use a muted grey, black and white as the dominant color scheme but the film’s visuals crackle with a stunning intensity. The film is beautifully shot, highlighted by Xiaoding’s gorgeous framing (just look at the poster above) and use of a crisp and clear contrast between the blacks and the whites, the shadow and the light. Yimou and Xiaoding’s masterful use of contrast creates a visual clarity and coherence that is a joy to behold.

Shadow is a psychologically and dramatically rich story that deeply mines the Jungian concepts of the shadow. The most obvious example of this is that Chao plays both Jing and Ziyi, who are essentially the same entity with two different elements of its psyche projected into the outer world, each vying for control. Jing “the shadow”, must be identical to Ziyi, and in a delicious bit of Jungian symbolism, must have the identical “wound” as Ziyi. Ziyi in turn must integrate his “shadow” in order to make himself whole again, or face the consequences of being overcome by his psychological shadow.

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The shadow is a complex and dramatically potent psychological premise used to great effect by other film makers from the East, most notably Japanese master Akira Kurosawa in the terrific film Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior). Like Shadow, Kagemusha also effectively used a single actor (the great Tatsuya Nakadai) to play both the role of the man of power and his shadow. Yimou dives even deeper into Jungian shadow psychology than Kurosawa though by emphasizing the anima (the feminine) and the imperative to also integrate that feminine power in order to become whole.

The ying and yang and wholeness are dominant themes throughout the movie (again look at the poster above) and Yimou emphasizes that battle/balance between the opposites not only visually with the black versus white color scheme, but dramatically with opposing masculine roles and opposing feminine roles. Just as Ziyi has Jing as his literal shadow (and vice versa), Ziyi’s wife, Xiao Ai has a symbolic opposite/shadow in Princess Qingping. That sort of balance in the narrative makes the film dramatically and subconciously very satisfying even while it maintains a pronounced assault and challenge upon our storytelling expectations.

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Wholeness is also represented in numerous ways in the film, most notably by the umbrella. A circle is the symbol for wholeness and in Shadow, Jing integrates his masculine and feminine sides by using a circle, an umbrella, as a weapon not only of defense but of offense. Jing’s learning the use of the umbrella is an integration dance between the masculine and the feminine. The use of the umbrella is not only psychologically resonant but is visually striking as well.

The cast all do solid work with Deng Chao in his dual role and Sun Li as Ziyi’s wife being the most notable. Chao is really remarkable as both men and it is easy to forget the same actor is playing both roles. Sun Li’s work is incredibly layered and she brings a palpable humanity and fragility to the role that profoundly accentuates the drama.

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The fight sequences are all so unique, original and compelling that they are a wonder to behold. Since The Matrix and Crouching Tiger became such big hits twenty years ago, slow motion martial arts moves have become passe, but Yimou fantastically turns everything on its head in Shadow and creates vibrant and vivid fights that are gloriously choreographed and cinematically mesmerizing. Yimou also wisely uses water and rain to further visually enhance the fight sequences.

While Shadow can be a bit confusing at first, especially if you go in unaware of the plot, once it hits its stride it is truly fantastic. I loved the film because it is such a dramatically, psychologically and cinematically rich example of the magical realism of Wuxia in action. If you are a fan of Wuxia or Yimou, rush out and see this movie in the theatres immediately. If you are less a Wuxia enthusiast, but enjoyed Crouching Tiger, Shadow may be a little tougher to penetrate because it isn’t as easily digestible or romantically sweeping as Ang Lee’s epic, but it is equally beautiful to look at. But with all that said, even if you are on the fence about going to see Shadow, why not give it a shot….the shadow you save might just be your own.

©2019

Avengers: Endgame - 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

Popcorn Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. If you like Marvel movies you’ll love this one. A satisfactory conclusion to the epic twenty-two film run of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Unvierse.

Avengers: Endgame, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, is the story of the Marvel Avengers as they do battle with super villain Thanos. The film stars Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Chris Hemsworth, Josh Brolin and a plethora of other movie stars.

Avengers: Endgame is the fourth Avengers film and is the direct sequel to last years smash hit Avengers: Infinity War. Endgame is also the twenty-second film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and marks the conclusion of this cycle of Marvel movies.

Just as super villain Thanos became a de facto god by acquiring the infinity stones, Disney, under the leadership of my dear friend Bob Iger, has turned into an all powerful entertainment industry god by acquiring over the years Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm. Now, with the additional purchase of Fox, Disney will hold an astonishing 40% market share of the box office.

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The crown jewel, at least right now, in Disney’s empire is the aforementioned Marvel behemoth, which Disney bought in 2009 for $4 billion and which has brought in around $20 billion in box office gross alone over the last ten years. I have not always liked the Marvel movies, in fact, I’ve downright loathed a good number of them, but I readily admit that what Disney has pulled off with their Marvel Cinematic Universe is a stunning achievement in popular entertainment that will never be duplicated. To be able to roll out twenty-two different movies over a decade and weave all of the characters and story lines together into a coherent and cohesive whole that culminates in two gigantic movie events, Infinity War and Endgame, is a Hollywood miracle. One need look no further than the shitshow over at Warner Brothers and their inept handling of the DC Cinematic Universe (Batman, Superman etc.) post Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to recognize how remarkable Disney’s efficiency and acumen regarding the Marvel properties has been. No doubt Disney will be further rewarded for their corporate diligence by Endgame’s box office which will break all sorts of records as it rockets past the two billion dollar mark in two weeks with ease.

As previously stated, I have disliked some of the Marvel movies, the first two Avenger movies in particular were quite dreadful. The Marvel movie formula has always been geared more toward adolescent boys…even the middle-aged ones, with lots of light-hearted action, noise and destruction all with some witty one-liners and comedic self-consciousness thrown in. The Marvel universe is decidedly fictional, a piece of escapist fantasy…whereas something like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy for example, is more grounded in a recognizable, but very dark, “reality”. Marvel’s lack of grit has always irked me because their line up of characters is chock full of archetypal riches which are begging to explored in a psychologically and culturally serious way.

But with that said, I have also loved a few of Marvel’s formulaic films, with Infinity War and Thor: Ragnarok being prime examples. Infinity War is easily the best film in the MCU and that is because its narrative is the darkest and most consequential of all the movies. While Endgame has a certain darkness to it, is not as nearly as good as Infinity War, but it isn’t awful either.

Endgame is really more an event than a movie, a culmination of the franchise that is the perfect embodiment of everything good and bad in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. On the plus side it has fascinating archetypal characters and great moments of poignancy and levity, but on the downside it also has some narrative incoherence, sense-assaulting battle scenes that are relentlessly vapid, and a heavy dose of cringe worthy “wokeness” and political correctness that is shameless in its corporate human resources level pandering.

All of that said, Endgame succeeds because it ultimately satisfies on an emotional, psychological and narrative level as a conclusion to the twenty-two film Marvel epic that has dominated popular culture for the last decade. The story leaves no loose ends or arcs unfulfilled, and that is really all you can ask from a movie like this.

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The sun at the center of this cinematic universe is Robert Downey Jr, whose skill, charisma and charm have propelled the MCU forward from day one. Without Downey Jr as Iron Man, none of this stuff works…none of it. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo and all the rest do solid work as their respective super heroes, but none of them could carry this franchise like Downey Jr. has. When Downey Jr. stops being Iron Man, and that day will eventually come, Marvel/Disney is going to take a big hit…I promise you that.

The ensemble of Endgame all do decent if unspectacular work with a few notable exceptions. On the plus side, Paul Rudd and Chris Hemsworth are fantastic, as both of them fully commit and have impeccable comedy chops (who would’ve thought that Thor would be the comedy gold in the Marvel universe?). As for the negative side…good lord…Brie Larson is just dreadful. Now to be fair, I have not seen Captain Marvel…so maybe she is great in that, but in Endgame you could’ve replaced her with a cigar store wooden Indian and it wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference. Larson is so dead-eyed it seems like she died on the table while undergoing a charisma bypass and we are left to watch her corpse be animatronically maneuvered throughout the movie.

There are also some issues with narrative incoherence in the film, mostly dealing with the topic of time travel. The lack of “time travel rules” clarity makes the whole enterprise pretty confusing and logically unstable if you try and follow it too closely. The best approach is to leave logic at home, where it is hopefully safe and sound, and just go with where the movie takes you. The logic/time travel issue though is a big reason that the film doesn’t soared like Infinity War did, which had a very clear and concise plot from which all of the action seamlessly flowed. In Endgame the plot feels more like a manufactured way for Disney to escape any commitment to what took place in Infinity War that could dare harm the corporate bottom line by taking away some cash cows.

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While Endgame is the end of this phase of the MCU, Disney has a plethora of Marvel movies lined up for the next few years as they keep the assembly line going. As stated, the next phase is going to have a bumpy time of it as Disney is trying to transition to younger and more diverse stars to refill some roles. Disney is betting big that Brie Larson and Captain Marvel will be the female equivalent of Robert Downey Jr. and Iron Man, the new sun at the center of the Marvel universe. That is a bad bet, as Larson has big shoes to fill and very little feet with which to fill them.

Disney’s desire for more diverse Marvel movie characters, like a Black Captain America or a Latina Hulk, may (or may not) be a noble idea, but just as it did in comic book sales, it will negatively affect the bottom line at the box office. In my opinion it will also affect the artistic and cultural value of the films, for as I keep saying, “wokeness kills art”….but that is a painful discussion for another day.

In conclusion, Avengers: Endgame is a worthy finish to this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. The film has its ups and downs but ultimately is a satisfactory ending for the long journey we’ve all been on with these characters over the last decade. If your a fan of super hero movies, you should plunk down your Disney tax and help pad Bob Iger’s bank account by seeing the movie in the theatre. If you have just a passing interest in super hero movies, then wait for it to come out on cable or on Disney’s soon to be active streaming service, which will no doubt bring in even more gobs of money for Mickey Mouse. But Mickey should enjoy this ride while it lasts, because it won’t last forever. Just over the horizon there could be some some stormy weather waiting for Disney.

©2019

Peterloo: 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 noble failure of a film, but a failure nonetheless. The cinematography of the film is, for the most part, exquisite, and cinephiles into that sort of thing should go see the movie in theatres, but ultimately for most everybody else the film is a misfire.

Peterloo, written and directed by British auteur Mike Leigh, tells the story of the events that culminated in the Peterloo massacre of 1819 in Manchester, England. The film’s ensemble cast includes Rory Kinnear, Maxine Peake and Pearce Quigley among many others.

Mike Leigh is well-known as being a master of realist, character-driven, intimate dramas such as Vera Drake, Secrets and Lies, and Naked, whose use of prolonged rehearsal periods, which emphasize improvisation in order to develop character and narrative, is his signature directing style that often leads to stellar work from his actors. Peterloo is a bit of a different beast from his previous work though, as it is a historical drama that must accurately capture the grand sweep of history while accounting for the impact of that history upon regular folks.

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While Peterloo is a politically profound story for our times, the film suffers from a lack of both narrative coherence and character cohesion, and ultimately is never as good as it needs to be. Leigh’s direction on Peterloo lacks vigor and specificity and thus the film’s deliberate pace leads to aimless wandering and pronounced lags for numerous periods of time. The biggest problem of all though may be the fact that the film’s climax is poorly crafted and dramatically underwhelming and instead of being a crescendo it feels more like stumble across the finish line.

On the bright side, the film’s cinematographer, Dick Pope (A Mickey Award winner for his work on Leigh’s Mr. Turner), does stellar work for the majority of the film. His interior shots are so exquisitely lit and framed they are as beautiful and texturally rich as any Vermeer or Rembrandt, and could hang in any museum in the world. Added to this are Pope’s expansive shots of nature that pop with a crisp and delicious color, most notably a lush green, that are spectacular to behold. Pope’s framing and use of color, shadow and light throughout the first three acts of the film is sublime, but in the climactic battle scenes, Pope’s and Leigh’s work falls flat and is shockingly second rate.

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The staging and blocking of the actors and camera in the big climactic “riot” scene reveals both Dick Pope and Mike Leigh to be out of their element. These action sequences are clumsy, cluttered and so poorly executed that they sink any chances the film had to be worthwhile. It is asking a lot for a director and his cinematographer to be so versatile as to pull off such varying shots as intimate interiors and dynamic battle sequences, but this is what the story required and Leigh and Pope failed to fully deliver.

The cast of the film are all fine, but the film’s failure to generate any dramatic momentum leads to the cast’s work being lost in the shuffle. Rory Kinnear, who plays the rebel dandy Henry Hunt, gives his usual top-notch performance. Kinnear’s Hunt is both magnetic and narcissistic, and his complexities make the moral and political Manichaeism of the film more nuanced and compelling.

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Maxine Peak also gives a solid performance as Nellie, the cynical and skeptical wife and mother whose working class family gets caught up in the protest. Peak’s weathered face tells a story all its own about the injustice and unfairness of life in England in the 1800’s.

What frustrated me the most about Peterloo’s cinematic and dramatic failure was that it is such a vital story for our time. Peterloo focuses on the systemic exploitation of working people by ruling aristocrats, who view “regular” people as nothing but serfs to be exploited for profit or as cannon fodder in war for empire and resources.

The same underlying structural problems of government, economic and social injustice highlighted in Peterloo are the same problems that torment us now. The modern-day ruling elite, just like the English elite in Peterloo’s time, still squeeze regular people for everything they’ve got and yet are perpetually immune from any consequences from their actions. And when the modern day proletariat push back or organize against the injustice of our system, the Aristocrats crush them now just as effectively as they did in Manchester in 1819.

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The totalitarian, corporate police state in America is more subtle in its brutality than the one on display at the climax of Peterloo…but not by much…just ask the Yellow Vests in France who have lost eyes and fingers to the rubber bullets of the police. The same structural weapons used back in the 1800’s, debt, fear and intimidation are used today to keep the populace either paralyzed, placid or pliant. The brute force of government, in the form of the police, are used by the elite like a moat, to impose law and order upon the oppressed and to keep them at a distance. The law is the ruling class’s cudgel not to maintain order but rather to maintain “The order”…you know “The order”…the one where they are on top and the rest of us scrap and claw to eat their crumbs at the bottom. Any true challenges to “The order” result first in character assassination, followed by physical violence, prison or both if necessary. For an example of the Establishment’s playbook regarding threats see Assange, Julian.

The lesson of Peterloo is this, the system is rigged and the ruling class despise us, so we must decide to either live as their slaves by maintaining the status quo or arm ourselves and fight for our freedom. Sadly, the dramatically anemic Peterloo is not compelling enough to attract or maintain America audiences who desperately need to learn the vital lessons the movie teaches. At the end of the day, the cold, hard reality is that we are all Soma-addicted sheep being led to the slaughter and we have grown accustomed to authoritarian boots in our face.

In conclusion, Peterloo is a noble effort but a decided failure. Mike Leigh seems to have bitten off more than he can chew by trying to tackle this complex historical narrative. If you are a cinephile who has a distinct love for great cinematography, then I recommend you see Peterloo in the theatre, but everyone else should skip it because, sadly, it simply is not captivating enough to spend your hard earned money and sparse free time upon.

©2019

The Mustang: 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. Really no need to see this uneven film which thoroughly misunderstands the true nature of American masculinity.

The Mustang, directed and co-written by Laure de Clermont Tonnerre, is the story of Roman Coleman, an anti-social prisoner in a Nevada State prison who gets put into a program where prisoners train captured wild mustang horses to be sold at auction. The film stars Matthias Schoenearts as Roman, with supporting turns from Bruce Dern, Connie Britton and Gideon Aldon.

I like horses…I don’t own one or anything, but I have been known to wager a few dollars on one at Santa Anita. I also think horses are actually a wonderful archetypal storytelling device and am down for giving most any movie about a man and his horse a try.

All I knew about The Mustang prior to seeing it was that it was about a horse and it starred Matthias Schoenearts, an actor I like. I had some expectations about what kind of movie The Mustang would be, but none about whether it was good or not. That said…I certainly wanted it to be good…but sadly, it isn’t.

The story of The Mustang is about broken men trying to break horses but at its essence the film is really about the current state of masculinity, particularly American masculinity, which is deeply in crisis. This narrative and sub-text is right up my alley as it is something I think and write about a great deal, especially being a man myself and a father to a young boy.

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The problem with The Mustang though is that it is completely clueless about the true nature and experience of masculinity in general and American masculinity in particular. When the film ended and the credits rolled I quickly discovered why the film felt so foreign to me…the director was a French woman, Laure de Clermont Tonnerre. Now there is certainly nothing wrong with a French woman directing a film, hell, the last movie I saw prior to this was High Life directed by the fascinating auteur Claire Denis, a French women, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The problem with Tonnerre though is that she is biting off way more than she can chew about a topic of which she has no comprehension. Tonnerre writing and directing this movie about American masculinity is the equivalent of me writing and directing a movie about the experience of women in a remote Amazon tribe…that isn’t to say that I couldn’t do it, but maybe that I shouldn’t do it.

Mustangs are singular American archetypes, symbols of powerful wildness being harnessed as the country moved into the vast expanse of the west. The Mustang is a quintessentially American story set in the west about American masculinity trying to find its way in the modern world. The fatal flaw of the film is that writer/director Tonnerre has a deep and profound misunderstanding about the true nature of not only America, but about masculinity. Tonnerre brings little but surface assumptions and presumptions to the story which make profundity on her themes an impossibility. Tonnerre is telling a story of American masculinity through the eyes of French femininity and that was bound to fail. It is the equivalent of a tourist trying to pontificate on the finer points of a complex local issue…it brings no light to the topic but only succeeds in accentuating the foreignness of the tourist.

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Tonnerre is also never able to penetrate the subject of masculinity deep enough to discover what is in the DNA of the American male. It is no surprise that Tonnerre fails to grasp the intricacies of American masculinity, it is an unwieldy topic that most film makers, regardless of gender, fail to adequately understand.

Tonnerre also lacks any sort of understanding of the complexities and politics of the American prison system. Her ignorance of this very lethal form of brutal interpersonal politics undermines her story to a great extent. It seems like all Ms. Tonnerre knows about the American penal system is what she learned watching bad American television and old movies.

I couldn’t help but think of American screenwtiter and director Taylor Sheridan (Wind River, Hell or High Water, Sicario) as I watched The Mustang, as he is one of the rare writer/directors who could have successfully tackled the subject matter of this film. Sheridan understands masculinity, particularly American masculinity, on a primal level, and is able to explore the psyche of man as a resident, not a tourist.

On a film making level, the film’s narrative is structurally and rhythmically unsound and there are numerous plot lines that are unclear, unneeded or unfulfilled. The lack of clarity and storytelling cohesion wears thin as the movie meanders without any significant or satisfying dramatic payoff.

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The movie does boast some decent acting, with Matthias Schoenearts giving a brooding and at times explosive performance as Roman, the combustible felon. Schoenearts certainly elevates the weak material he is given, but ultimately even his dark charisma is not enough to save the film.

Bruce Dern gives a quirky and engaging performance as Myles, the man in charge of the horse training. Dern is a compelling actor and he does his very oddball best in the role, but again, it isn’t enough to raise it from its depths.

The horse in the movie, Marcus, is a beautiful animal, but Tonnerre fails to adequately exploit the animal’s beauty with her middling camera work. Marcus’ natural power and grace are never captured enough to make the horse anything but a prop.

In conclusion, The Mustang was a disappointment because it tried to tackle a very important topic but did not have the requisite understanding of that topic to be able to conjure even the remotest amount of insight. The film feels like a terribly wasted opportunity to tell a profound story about the tortured state of American masculinity, which is a story that desperately needs to be told and understood. At the end of the day Ms. Tonnerre was unable to control The Mustang which, like the American Male, was just too powerful and wild a force to tame.

©2019

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley - A Review

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****THIS REVIEW REVEALS SOME MINOR INFORMATION FROM THE DOCUMENTARY!! NOTHING MAJOR - BUT YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!!****

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT/SKIP IT. This documentary is mildly entertaining but lacks insight and depth. Not awful, but not transcendent either…if the subject matter intrigues you then check it out.

The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, directed and produced by Alex Gibney, is an HBO original documentary film that examines the meteoric rise of “inventor” Elizabeth Holmes and her health technology company Theranos.

There is nothing quite as enjoyable to me as a great documentary. I can watch truly great documentaries over and over as they feel like miniature master degrees in whatever subject they dissect. Film’s like Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job, Errol Morris’ The Fog of War or just about anything by Adam Curtis are films I revisit nearly every year and never regret it.

I was excited to see Academy Award and Emmy Award winning director Alex Gibney’s new documentary The Inventor, as he definitely has a knack for choosing fascinating topics. That said, Gibney, who won his Oscar for the profound Taxi to the Dark Side (2007) and multiple Emmys for the stunning Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, can be an uneven filmmaker who often explores intriguing topics in his movies but at times fails to adequately document his subjects to a deep enough degree to satisfy beyond a passing and surface interest.

The Inventor is one of those type of Gibney films that tackles an interesting topic but fails to do so in an in-depth enough and compelling enough way. The Inventor reminded me a little bit of his highly praised (it won 3 Emmy awards) film about Scientology, Going Clear. I liked Going Clear and found it to be engaging to a certain degree, but ultimately it fell well short of being an earth-shattering revelation. Similar to Gibney’s film on Wikileaks and Julian Assange, We Steal Secrets, a pretty shameless and embarrassing hatchet job on Assange, with The Inventor Gibney seems to be seeing his subject through a biased lens. With We Steal Secrets, Gibney’s was decidedly against Assange, but inThe Inventor he is most definitely biased in favor of Elizabeth Holmes….but more on that in a bit.

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With The Inventor, Gibney once again dives into a riveting subject, but only swims in the shallow water of it and fails to give viewers much to sink their teeth into beyond the headlines. Elizabeth Holmes is a character for the ages, but Gibney barely scratch the surface of who she REALLY is in this film. On top of that Gibney never gets deep enough into the weeds of what exactly Holmes was trying to create at Theranos and how she planned to do it, to ever make viewers feel like anything more than just another mark for her con.

The film, while entertaining to a certain degree, is problematic for a variety of other reasons as well. The most glaring of which is the blind spot the filmmaker has in regards to his subject. Yes, Gibney exposes Holmes’ fraud, but he never exposes HER for being a fraud. Instead, what Gibney does is cloak Holmes in a protective blanket which imbues on her with only the best of intentions and the inability to be consciously or maliciously deceptive.

In this way Alex Gibney is recreating the same psychological, mental and emotional gymnastics that Elizabeth Holmes’ targets did when they fell under her spell. Holmes weilded her femininity like a martial art against the patriarchal system within she worked. Holmes’ juijitsu turned the unconscious sexism and paternalism of the men she targeted against them. The paternalism, sexism and soft misogyny of the powerful men she conned, who are a Murderer’s Row of Hall of Fame assholes that include men like Bill Clinton, General Mattis, David Boies, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz (who proves what a ass he is by siding with Holmes over his own grandson) among many others, caused them to fall for Holmes’ lies for two reasons. The first is that they overestimated her intellect and value because, ironically, they wanted to be seen supporting a women in order to quell their fear of being labelled sexist. The secondly, due to their paternalism and sexism, they underestimated Holmes’ ability for villainy, and she exploited the weakness of these men to her benefit.

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The irony of Holmes’ epic story is that these powerful men treated Holmes different and held her to a different standard BECAUSE she was a women. The reporters and writers who aided her rise to the status of media darling and science and business genius did the same thing, failing to adequately doubt and question her simply because they never considered she was capable of straight out lying to them. Even the reporters who spoke with her AFTER her scam became public, men like Sanjay Gupta and Jim Cramer, didn’t hold her feet to the fire like they would have with a man. Holmes was able to keep her scam alive for so long because these men treated her with kid gloves.

Interestingly enough, Holmes’s scam almost never got started because of a women, Professor Phyllis Gardner, her advisor at Stanford, who basically told Holmes her idea was scientifically impossible. Instead of trying to change her advisor’s mind, Holmes changed advisors…which is a perfect encapsulation of Elizabeth Holmes approach to life. In my eyes, at best, Holmes’ suffers from a the most acute case of cognitive dissonance on the planet, at worst she is a conniving and manipulative criminal mastermind. For director Gibney, who refuses to consider that Holmes was driven by greed for money, power and fame, Holmes is earnest in intent but misguided in execution. According to Gibney, Holmes’ greatest sin is being too much of a zealot for her noble cause.

The reality is that if Holmes were a man, the idea that she wasn’t anything but a greedy and evil con artist would never even remotely be considered…and rightfully so. Think of all the Wall Street snakes who scammed Americans out of their savings with the housing bubble, nobody thinks, “oh gee…they just wanted everyone to be able to own a home”…no…people think that those pricks were trying to get rich off the backs of working people…because that is exactly what they were doing.

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In the case of Alex Gibney’s film, he seems to suffer from an unconscious bias that makes him hold Holmes to a very different standard and lets her off the hook for her nefariousness activities. An example of this is that besides lowering Holmes intent and responsibility regarding fraud, he also lowers the standard for her regarding her sexual relationship at work. Holmes started dating Sunny Balwani, a tech entrepreneur twenty years her senior, when she was 19 and he was married to another woman. Balwani was a key advisor to Holmes in the early development of Theranos and after he got divorced from his wife, Holmes moved in with him. Balwani eventually became second in command to Holmes at Theranos but when the sham was exposed and things went bad for the company, she broke up with him and fired him. If a man had behaved the way Holmes did in her personal life, it would have been a much greater focus of the story of The Inventor, and would have been used to establish the lack of moral and ethical fiber of the person running the company. But in The Inventor, the fact of Holmes questionable conduct with Balwani is reduced to nothing more than a throw away line near the end of the film.

At the end of the day, Holmes captivates our imagination because she is so representative of the surreal age in which we live. Holmes is emblematic of our scam culture where style overwhelms substance, the subjective trumps the objective, where shortcuts are the only way to travel and truth is a punchline.

Holmes is similar to Trump in that her con is so obvious that it is stunning that anybody falls for it. Like Trump with his signature (and ridiculous) hair-do and his never buttoned blue suits with long ties, Holmes literally wore a costume, all black with a black turtleneck, a cheap imitation of her hero Steve Jobs.

Her use of story and language was also absurdly obvious as to her dishonesty as she simply regurgitated and repeated the same origin story over and over again and then used pseudo-scientific/tech marketing talk to cover her lack of any substance. Words like “inflection point” and “paradigm shift” or the use of “chemistry” as a verb were dead giveaways to her deceitful intent.

The most glaring giveaway though was her voice. Good Lord that voice. Her voice is so phony and put on it is remarkable no one did a spit-take in her face upon hearing it. But the voice gives away the game that she is an obvious fraud and walking lie…and those that fell for scam did so BECAUSE THEY WANTED TO FALL FOR IT. These people, and they were mostly men, wanted Holmes’ story to be true so they convinced themselves that it was.

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In this way Holmes is also the symbol for today’s neo-feminism, which alleges to want equality but only accepts the diminishing of standards and the lowering of bars for women. Neo-feminism loves to demand equal opportunity but also loves to shirk equal responsibility. That said, it is pretty amusing that Holmes used the patriarchy’s literal and symbolic desire for her and their shameless politically correct yearning to be seen as “allies” to women, to advance her scam and sucker investors and big names to support her fraudulent project.

None of these types of subjects, like Holmes as symbol for modern feminism, or the ingrained sexism of the men who fell for her, or the soft treatment she got because she was a women being integral to her scam flourishing, are ever broached by Gibney in his film. Instead Gibney sticks to a very straightforward and very forgiving narrative that never gets too deep or too insightful and the film suffers because of it.

According to Gibney’s movie, Holmes’ scam is just something that happened that is not indicative of anything else and is not symbolic of the age of fraud in which we live. The reality is very different, as one glance at the news will tell you that Elizabeth Holmes is the poster girl for our times. Our charlatan president, the Russiagate hysteria, the Fyre Festival nonsense, the college admission payola scam, Jussie Smollett’s shenanigans and on and on and on including our fraudulent economy and political system…are all hoaxes, scams and frauds. This is why Elizabeth Holmes is the poster girl for our times and it is a shame that Alex Gibney did not have the insight, self-knowledge and skill to bring that much deeper and more important story to light.

In conclusion, while The Inventor is entertaining on a certain gossipy level, it lacks the insight, depth of subject and profundity to be considered a great documentary. The film is currently airing on HBO, so if you want to spend two hours being mildly amused at the absurdity of it all, then you should check out The Inventor, just don’t expect transendance.

©2019

High Life: A Review

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

My Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. But be forewarned, even though it is in English, it is a very “French” film and is definitely at home in the arthouse. If you have conventional tastes in movies, this one is not for you, but if you are a cinephile defintely check it out in the theatre.

High Life, written and directed by French auteur Claire Denis, tells the story of Monte, a young man who is caring for a baby on a mysterious voyage into deep space. The film stars Robert Pattinson as Monte with supporting turns from Julliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin and Mia Goth.

Claire Denis, the writer/director of High Life, is the critical darling of French cinema and the American arthouse. Denis has a distinctive film making style that appeals greatly to film critics but that the general public often finds impenetrable. A good example of this is that her last film, Let the Sunshine In (2018), which starred Juliette Binoche and could sort of be described as a French/arthouse romantic comedy, has an 86 % critical score and a 29% audience score at the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.

Part of the problem with Denis work, at least for American audiences, is that if you market a film as a romantic comedy, Americans will expect a rather simple Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan cute fest and not the verbose philosophizing, existential thesis that is Let the Sunshine In. Expectations play a big part in audience perceptions and thus in the ultimate success or failure of a film.

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High Life may face the same marketing struggle as Denis’ other films, at least in terms of the general public. High Life is being sold as a sort of action-thriller, science fiction, space movie…in the vein of Ridley Scott’s Alien. High Life is a lot of things, but action-thriller is not one of them, and if audiences are aware of that and understand how to digest the film, they may come away with a greater appreciation for it…because there is a great deal to appreciate.

High Life is not Alien meets 2001, but rather is a beguiling, at times bewildering, dark, moody, existential and philosophical meditation on the meaning of life and what it means to be a human. The film is Claire Denis at her very best, using her signature style to create a deliberately paced, deliriously claustrophobic, non-linear dream/nightmare that is intentionally disorienting.

The film opens with Pattinson’s character Monte caring for baby all by himself on a space craft. The film then unwinds and reveals the who, what, when, where, why and how this strange combination of Monte, a baby, and deep space, came to be.

Being a parent is hard. Being a single parent is a Herculean task. Being a single parent in deep space is a circle of hell that Dante could never have dreamed up. Monte’s struggle to care for this baby is palpable, and as the child’s cries pierce through Monte’s space suit to his core, they also cut viewers to the bone. This scenario of the deep space single parent and the vulnerability of an infant, intensifies the suffocating sense of claustrophobia and heightens the ominous sense of foreboding that permeates the entire film.

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Pattinson’s work as Monte is extraordinary. Monte is a psuedo-monk, struggling to control his human desires in order to, ironically enough, stay connected to his humanity. Pattinson gives Monte a very specific internal intentionality that illuminates his every action and drives him through every scene. Pattinson is an actor I never would have given a second thought to after those dreadful Twilight movies, but his fine work in the not so good The Lost City of Z (2017) made me take notice. Here in High Life he commands the screen without ever demanding attention, in fact, it is Pattinson’s use of introversion bordering on camera shyness that make him so intriguing and compelling in this role.

The rest of the cast do solid work as well. Juilette Binoche as the witchy Dr. Dibs chews the scenery like a starving women hurtling through the universe looking for her final meal. Mia Goth also does notable work as Boyse, a destructive and self-destructive anima figure, the polar opposite of Monte.

Claire Denis knows what she is doing when it comes to making movies, and High Life is a testament to that. The film is technically first-rate, as the cinematography, particularly the framing and lighting, as well as the editing, are superb but never overwhelm the tone and theme of the movie.

High Life is deliberately paced, and may be too slow for more conventional tastes, but I found the film to be captivating to the point of hypnotic. Denis’ ability to disorient the viewer’s perception of space and time was a master stroke that simulates for the audience the psychological, emotional and philosophical vertigo that Monte must struggle with and through as he goes along his hero/anti-hero’s journey.

High Life asks a lot of questions but gives no clear answers, which is maybe why I liked it. There were no easy escapes from the void of space or the existential issues raised. Ideas as varied as human value, spirituality, morality, physical purity, incest, humanity, witchcraft v. science, and even cats v. dogs, all come up in the movie and propel the philosophical narrative forward, backward, up, down and all around.

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At the end of the day, High Life, like most space movies, is really an homage to, and imitation of, Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. High Life is no 2001, but to Claire Denis’ credit it is a very distant, but worthy enough, cinematic step-cousin, as it wrestles with the same question of human evolution and being born into, and cast out of, the Garden of Eden with nothing but our humanity to guide and protect us.

Space is cold and forbidding, and the struggle to maintain life amidst that black void is colossal, but not nearly as gargantuan (or heroic) as the struggle to maintain humanity. Monte’s evolution…which may result in being reborn the Starchild from 2001 or left to an eternity in the empty void of nothingness, lies on the other side of a black hole. He isn’t sure he is ready to make the trip…are you?

If you have the courage, and the open mind, I recommend you set aside your expectations and conventions and make that journey with Monte. Yes, there are some bumps along the way, the most noteworthy being a rather odd scene with Juliette Binoche (you’ll know it when you see it - it was the catalyst for two sixty-something women in my screening to make a hasty exit) that serves a certain and minor purpose but which goes on for a distractingly and interminably long time. But if you can simply get into the rhythm of the film, and not try and figure it out as it washes over you but rather experience it and all of the good and bad that comes along with it, I think you may find it as satisfying a cinematic experience as I did.

Again, this movie is not for everyone…even though it is in English, it is a very, very French film, and it reeks of the art house, so if you simply cannot or will not overcome your cinematic conditioning for clear narratives and resolutions, then you should skip this one. But if you are feeling adventurous and in the mood to contemplate the meaning of life and humanity amidst the unrelenting sea of darkness that is space, then gear up, strap in and take the plunge. You may find you enjoy the high life.

©2019

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