Tuesday, June 30, 2020

RIP Carl Reiner

I remember December 2001 quite vividly. Back then, you could sell a movie on great actors instead of nostalgia and brands. Funny enough, the movie that comes to mind when remembering that month and year was actually a remake. "Ocean's Eleven" from 2001 was at the top of my must-see list. It looked like a fun caper. With George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Scott Caan; I was already on board. I went the first weekend it opened. My expectations were met with flying colors, but the actor that stood out most to me wasn't any of the actors I listed above. Even though, I did enjoy each and every one of them during the movie. No, the actor who really made an impression on me was Carl Reiner. This is really going to show how much of a Millennial I am, but this was my first encounter with Reiner.

Carl Reiner's early work included such television shows as "Caesar's Hour," "Your Show of Shows" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show." He appeared in many movies, such as "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad World."

He also directed movies such as "Where's Poppa," "The Jerk" "Oh, God!" and "All of Me." He has a famous son named Rob Reiner, who has been an accomplished director for decades.

Carl Reiner was a comedic legend, may he rest in peace, and my greatest condolences to his family.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Michael Keaton Returns As Batman

There's no denying the fact that Michael Keaton is the World Heavyweight Champion of actors who have played Batman. Still to this day, Keaton is the most beloved man to take up the cape and cowl. Something that I feel I can't argue against. So of course, in this time of nostalgia and branding, Michael Keaton will be returning as Batman.

He will play the character again in the upcoming "Flash" movie, which will see Ezra Miller return as the title character and which will be set in the DC Extended Universe, sharing continuity with the films with Gal Gadot and Henry Cavill. They will be exploring the Flashpoint storyline, which involved the flash running so fast that he changed something in his past, which only had repercussions for not just his reality, but for multiple realities across the multiverse. If you don't follow the Arrowverse shows on The CW, DC comics has a knack for telling stories in which our favorite heroes mess with the multiverse. The multiverse being a concept where there are multiple earths across millions of realities. Which is why Michael Keaton's Batman can participate in the story.

While Michael Keaton returning as Batman represents something big in nostalgic popular culture, it throws up some red flags for me. The single biggest problem with DC movies thus far is how quickly they feel the need to jump the gun with their cinematic characters and stories. No other studio in the business seems to be reacting to other studios' success on the level DC and Warner Bros. does. DC comics is full of great characters, no doubt. But Warner Bros. seems determined to drop the ball each and every time out. Just look at the history of the studio with the characters for proof. There's a reason why Marvel got to where they are today, they took their time. I can tell it drives comic book fans mad having to sit through origin story after origin story on the big screen. The thing those fans have to remember is Hollywood is trying to make movies that appeal to both the comic fans and the general public. Because Marvel didn't make movies for a niche audience, because they showed the world how the characters are different and how they are alike, people have fallen in love with the Marvel world and their brand.

DC is always ready to just shoot from the hip with their concepts, and they just kinda pretend you know everything you need to know going in, which is why audiences and critics have been mostly left cold. The Flashpoint story is certainly cool, but I would much prefer Ezra Miller getting a solo Flash movie, away from the greater DC universe and the multiverse, in order to really get to know him as a character. Plus, it would be nice where we get a Flash-centric movie that doesn't feature characters already sucking all the air out of the room. Miller's Flash has cameo ed in "Batman vs. Superman," was apart of "Justice League" and will now get a solo movie that isn't totally his. Your mileage may vary, and that's okay, it just seems very problematic for my tastes.

The CW shows work better with their crossovers simply because we've spent so much time with the characters and we've taken the time with the development. If you want to get an audience involved with your character, you need to take that time. You need to make that development. You need your whole audience to care. If you do those things, the money and longevity in the franchise will be able to last in a meaningful way.

In late December, I published my 100 Favorite Films of the 2010's and one thing I talked about in that piece is how disappointed I was overall that the 2010's will mostly be defined as the decade of the fan. We got a decade full of nostalgia brought to life, but when you think about it, how many of those movies were really worthwhile? I don't mean to sound like a snob, because there were certainly some big franchise fair that made my top 100, but it was mostly smaller, character-driven original films. During this COVID quarantine, I've been pretty immersed in old Hollywood, before movies based on random pop culture really became a thing. A time when great actors sold a story, not "GUESS WHICH FRANCHISE/CHARACTER/WHATEVER WE ARE ADAPTING" and there was something wonderful about those movies on their own. I'd love to get back to a time where we told great stories, not just copied the past. Not just went after easy money by turning something random into a franchise. But as Hollywood reboots "Twister" for no reason, as Universal tries to fit their old Monsters into modern movies and as WB makes a sequel to "Space Jam" featuring seemingly every pop culture character they have rights to, it doesn't seem like that non-stop franchise mindset is going away any time soon.

Hollywood seems to think right now that if they adapt the right things, if they tap into the right nostalgia, or if they bring back the right passed treasures that people will automatically love it. Maybe they are right. I do see many people flipping for these movies, and it does seem that just merely seeing their favorite character come to life is enough to call a movie a timeless classic. Not for me. I need character and theme above all else. I need to character about the story being told. You maybe wired differently and that's perfectly fine. I just can't be won over simply because an actor I love is playing a character he hasn't played since the 90's.

I don't mind Batman showing up in a "Flash" movie, just as long as the movie is still about The Flash.

Monday, June 22, 2020

RIP Joel Schumacher

RIP Joel Schumacher

When we look over the filmography set by Joel Schumacher, he doesn't have the career that say somebody like Martin Scorsese or Steven Spielberg has. The thing is, now that Joel Schumacher has passed, I don't want his legacy to simply be "the guy who put the nipples on the batsuit." There were so many more movies to his name than anything Batman related in the mid to late 90's. I hope we take the time celebrate his entire career, because Joel was never a guy who simply did the same thing over and over again. 

Joel was the guy who made "The Lost Boys," an 80's horror movie that is a particular favorite of mine. There was the 80's teen comedy "St. Elmo's Fire." He made the 2004 rendition of "Phantom of the Opera," and that is definitely the musical, through and through. He also made the intense courtroom drama "A Time To Kill," which although uneven is certainly worth a look. None of the four of those movies have much in common with each other. So many filmmakers deal with the same themes and the same styles. You honestly can't say that of Schumacher.

One thing that has shocked me upon this research is that I had no idea he was a costume designer for Woody Allen's "Sleeper."

"Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin" may not be very liked by all. I personally don't think the Adam West anesthetic worked with the Burton atmosphere. I do think "Batman Forever" is more silly fun, whereas "Batman & Robin" is just plain silly. Jim Carrey was a great Adam West era-style Riddler, it just didn't belong in the world already established by Burton. Seeing Tommy Lee Jones as a goofball Two-Face is something you have to see at least once.

At some point, you probably ran into a Schumacher movie or two. No matter if you liked them or not, you have to admit, they were wild rides. That's what Schumacher did best, made some rides. I hope you enjoyed the ride while it lasted.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Coolest Pop Culture Dads

As a Father's Day gift to myself, I am watching "Daddy Longlegs." It was the first feature film by Benny and Josh Safdie, the impeccable team behind "Good Time" and "Uncut Gems." Like many filmmakers, they full indie on their first full-length feature, so there aren't any big names in this, but that certainly doesn't rob the film of its power. In typical Safdie fashion though, this isn't some cute and cuddly tale. This is a movie that is by far about the worst father in history, and leave it to this brotherly duo to lift all the entertainment possible from that idea.

To celebrate Father's Day today, here's a look at some of the coolest Dad's in all of popular culture. I got to celebrate my real Dad today, and now it seems like a good plan to celebrate all the great Movie and TV Dad's out there as well.

Enjoy and Happy Father's Day to all.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

RIP Ian Holm

RIP Ian Holm
The hour has gone dark and Bilbo is finally in the Grey Havens forever.

Ian Holm is being remembered mostly as the star of "Lord of the Rings," and for good reason. I can tell you from my own experience, "Lord of the Rings" was a massive achievement. I still remember when those movies hit big in the early 2000's. I was in junior high, and since each movie in the trilogy came out in the middle of my 6th, 7th and 8th grade years, that trilogy pretty much defined my junior high years. This trilogy is always going to be part of my life. All of those actors made a huge impression on me, especially Ian Holm with his wonderful work as Bilbo.

That wasn't close to my first encounter with the great Ian Holm. In 1997, I went with my brother and father to see "The Fifth Element." Ian Holm's work as Father Vito was magnificent. 

Ian Holm has also been amazing in films such as "Alien" "Time Bandits" and "Big Night." 

Thanks for everything, Ian.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Review: "The Night Clerk" is uneven neo-Hitchcock

The Night Clerk Review
I was definitely swept into "The Night Clerk" initially. Simply because it reminded me of Alfred Hitchcock.

Tye Sheridan plays Bart Bromley. Bart works as a clerk at a hotel. He seems kinda off at first, but we are not entirely sure what it is. We can't really put our finger on it. He has set up bugs in one of the rooms in the hotel and spends lots of time watching people. Imitating people. Looking at how they speak and how they move and how they think. It's a little creepy at first. But as the movie wears on, we learn that Bart suffers from Asperger Syndrome, and he has purposely put cameras in the room in order to practice coming off normal and not socially awkward. He doesn't share with anyone where he has hidden cameras, nor is he very open about his condition.

One night, he gets to go home early from work. So he is watching footage from cameras in his home. Everything comes to a near-crashing halt when Bart views a murder occur in the room where he keeps the cameras. He immediately flees to the room in order to get the bugs out of the room. A co-worker catches him in the room, Bart doesn't do such a good job explaining himself and he soon becomes suspect one for the case. The hotel company eventually moves Bart to a different location. While working at the new location, he meets Andrea Rivera (Ana de Armas) and the quickly hit it off. During her time at the hotel, they create a bond and Bart actually opens up to her about his syndrome.

There is a man Andrea is seeing at the hotel this week. Apparently this man is married. Not to Andrea though. She is his secret lover and it is beginning to tear her apart. It doesn't help that Bart seems to like Andrea. But the secret Bart learns of the man Andrea is seeing changes everything forever.

It's a pretty tight thriller, with some big unevenness throughout the film. A bunch of information is dumped on the audience throughout the movie and there is no effort to make anything we learn compelling. The climax occurs simply because Bart finally decides to make a decision that hinges on the entire storyline. "The Night Clerk" could have easily been a short film, if the movie itself decided to finally get on with it. Still, even at feature length, the movie just kind of stops and that's the end. No real closure beyond that. We are not even sure if the killer gets caught or not.

I've never really known what to think of Tye Sheridan. He was a good kid actor growing up, but didn't get much off of him during his run as Cyclops in the X-Men movies nor in "Ready Player One." I have to say here though that he portrays Asperger incredibly well here, very vivid rendition of the condition that felt authentic. Ana de Armas has a striking rapport with Sheridan's Bart. She's kinda like the typical femme fatale we see in these kinds of movies, but with a genuine heart. It's uncanny work, and she does the most with the material. Armas is going on to big things, in case you were unsure. The film also features great supporting work by legends such as Helen Hunt and John Leguizamo.

Whether "The Night Clerk" works for you depends solely on you. Not sure how middle-of-the-road people are on this one. The performances are there, but the story is a mystery that never really feels urgent.


Monday, June 15, 2020

The Two Best Movies of 2020 so far: "Da 5 Bloods" & "The King of Staten Island"

We are almost halfway through the year, and I have finally discovered my top two of the year so far. I can't believe I found them in the course of roughly three days. This usually doesn't happen and even as the world is falling apart, it still seems there are stories being told that fill me with hope.

My favorite two movies of 2020 so far are "Da 5 Bloods" and "The King of Staten Island." It's not even close. Maybe it would have been close if COVID-19 didn't happen, and we would be getting even more movies right now and we wouldn't have to be jumping through hoops to see new movies. BUT that's the hand we've been dealt this year. For right now, "Da 5 Bloods" and "The King of Staten Island" are the two best movies of the year so far. Ironically, they are two movies that would fit nicely as a double feature.

"Da 5 Bloods" and "The King of Staten Island" are both about men affected by their pasts in a big way. In "Da 5 Bloods," a group of soldiers who served in Vietnam together hid some found treasure during their tour in the war. They go back many years later to retrieve the treasure they hid, and the memories of their time there begins to bleed out. In "The King of Staten Island," we meet a free loading loser who is going nowhere in life because he's crippled by the memory of losing his father, who died doing his job as a firefighter. They are both movies that remind us how we truly are the lump-sum of our experience and how life bounces off of us really shapes us into the people we become.

"Da 5 Bloods" couldn't have come at a better time, with all the social upheaval going on in our country right now (justifiably so). That's Spike Lee for you, he thinks long and hard about the African American experience in this country. But just because he shines light on some hard truths doesn't mean he isn't a patriot. He's been fighting for social changes in this country longer than we probably know. He's an artist that firmly believes that art can change the world, and that's one of the many reasons I keep going back to movies. That finally we'll all see enough movies or the right movies and we'll finally figure out who we are supposed to be in this world. The opening of "Da 5 Bloods" begins with news footage of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. repeatedly denounced our involvement in the Vietnam War, and shed history on how African Americans constantly defended the freedoms this country guarantees but barely saw any of those actually freedoms coming home.

"Da 5 Bloods" has an incredible cast; including Delroy Lindo as Paul. Delroy Lindo gives the performance of his career, playing a man so tainted by the history of blacks in America, that it turned him into a Trump supporter. Don't get it wrong, Lee is no fan of Trump, but the movie deals with how so much anger can blind us from our well-being at times. It also co-stars Clark Peters as Otis, Norm Lewis as Eddie and Isaiah Whitlock Jr. as Melvin. These were the men who hid Vietnamese treasure along with their commanding officer Storming Norm, given life by the great Chadwick Boseman. They thought, since MLK was assassinated during their tenure, they go off-mission, take some treasure, and do something worthwhile with the money. Something that will help the country better. The work done by Peters, Lewis, Whitlock and Boseman is all incredible, but this really is Delroy Lindo's show, and you might be hearing his name award season time.

Another name I won't be surprised to hear around award time? Pete Davidson. A part of me can't believe I just typed that. I haven't always thought much of Davidson and never found him overly-funny, but he comes alive in a way here that I've barely seen before. Not bad for being the type of character he's comfortable playing. Davidson plays Scott, a slacker who can't keep to his dream. He's 24-years-old and he still lives with his Mom (Marisa Tomei), which looks worse now that his kid sister (Maude Apatow) is headed to college. He's got this idea of having a tattoo parlor and restaurant hybrid, but has made no moves whatsoever to get there. He spends most of his time getting high and doing stupid shit, like practicing tattoos on ten-year-olds.

This leads his mother to meet Ray, also a firefighter played by Bill Burr. Ray and Scott's Mom begin to date, and Ray slowly makes his way into Scott's life. Scott hates the idea of his mom dating someone who had the same occupation as their deceased father. But eventually, his guard goes down and he actually comes to respect Ray. I don't want this movie to sound like some kind of Hallmark movie. It's not. It doesn't have the cheerful cliche Hollywood ending, but its also not an unhappy ending either. It's just an ending made by a realist.

Judd Apatow made this, and it may remind you of "Funny People" in a lot of ways. But I have to say that "Funny People" was a good idea buried in a boring movie. There's plenty of humor in "The King of Staten Island," but it's mostly a drama about how hard it is to shed the trauma of our lives. It's got much better pacing compared to "Funny People" as "The King of Staten Island" is nearly two hours and twenty minutes long, never once feeling that long in any way. There are plenty of great small roles sprinkled throughout the movie. I think Scott's girlfriend Kelsey, played by Bel Powley, is probably my favorite. That one person who sees the best in you despite being an absolute trainwreck are rare in this world, and Powley brings that to life with aplomb.

As films slowly begin to churn out and as the theaters slowly begin to open again, know that both of these movies are worth a look. They compliment the times of our country right now and they both also work as pieces of entertainment, marrying humor and heartbreak in equal measure in the best possible ways. Two movies so great never come out so close together, a minor miracle as the world continues to turn upside down in this year we call 2020.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Streaming Wars are heating up. What do you think?

In the last week of May, TimeWarner released their latest in HBO-branded streaming services, titled HBO Max. Even though they are using HBO as a brand name (and ultimately to overprice the thing), when in reality, its all-purpose TimeWarner app. It features a little of everything TimeWarner owns right now, as well as exclusive distribution rights they aggressively bought up prior to the app's release (see Adventure Time and South Park) to make this a larger-than-life HBO app. Given all the content you can find on HBO Max, they might as well called it WarnerMax, since its really a grab-bag of WB licensed content.

Now that some years have passed and we've seen streaming services come into focus. Over here at my house, my wife and I cut the cable cord and picked up a couple more streaming services based on our interests at the end of 2019. A decision we both liked. The reason why people are finding streaming services appealing is that if you buy up four or five at time, you are saving money without cable while having access to lots of entertainment. That's if you play your cards right. We've come a long way from just having Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video at our disposal.

I wrote about this subject before. I wrote about how streaming services were on the rise and how eventually the bubble is going to burst. The few media conglomerates out there are seeing what its like to create one of these apps and they are drawing lines in the sand, holding onto their content and slowly creating their own apps. You won't  see "Parks and Recreation" for long on Netflix, because it will all eventually go to Peacock, which will be a haven for all NBCUniversal content. The thing is, as more and more of these services are made, the more money people are going to have to spend on these. People aren't going to want to throw all their money at two dozen different apps, and the outlet has the danger of imploding.

I wrote about how I think Netflix will be fine no matter what. Even though the app is changing in lots of ways. I have to admit that I think its dangerous for Netflix to push towards an original content only service. I don't know for sure if Netflix will end up going that way entirely, but the way they are freely allowing the licenses they've bought to simply expire is daunting. Can they make enough strong content to coast on originals only? I may be out of the loop, but I'm not sure how well AppleTV+ is doing on only original content. But perhaps Netflix has a strong enough name and has been in the game long enough that they will be fine.

One thing that seems nice about HBO Max right now is its layout. They feature hubs representing the big ticket items that you can find on their app. Want just HBO? Click the HBO app. Want to watch old Looney Tunes cartoons? Simply click the Looney Tunes hub button. What will give future streaming services a leg up in this war is how well they organize their content. Disney Plus has something similar to the hubs on HBO Max, where they split their content between all the big things they've bought up over the years. That's a good way to spread the content out. While Netflix and Hulu has gotten better at organizing their content, it still isn't perfect. And Amazon Prime Video feels so bloated, going through that service feels like a chore. I know for a fact there are way more movies on that app then we know, and if they just made things a little bit easier to navigate, we could see that content unleashed.

I'm not in the market to buy any more apps at the moment, but I did take some free trials the passed week specifically for this write-up. I can honestly say that one reason I'd buy HBO Max tomorrow is the level of movies they have and from different eras. Their Turner Classic Movies hub is a marvel, featuring American classics from now until all the way to the silent era. For a movie nerd like myself, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon...they all drop the ball on something very specific. I don't like that movies made before 1985 are largely ignored. So having access to a bunch of older classics is big for someone like me. A streaming service you may not know much about is The Criterion Channel, which much like the company itself, features 2100 movies from several different years and several different companies. It truly is an app for movie nerds, and its been great looking through it.

It will be interesting to see how the niche streaming services do in the future, especially since many of the popular apps feel like dumping grounds more than anything. A hodge-podge of content. Shudder is an app that is specifically designed for horror, suspense and mystery. If that's content you want, Shudder does a damn fine job curating it on their app. DC Universe speaks to a very specific fanbase, but man I continue to be a huge fan of "Harley Quinn" the animated series. When you create a special audience and really dig deep for that audience, it can payoff and I hope some of these that do that right can survive.

Another thing these services need to do is have a very strong opening to their services. Remember when Disney Plus came out? There was quite a bit of hyper surrounding the Disney app. The Mandalorian certainly made a splash and the nostalgic factor really played a part. But tell me, how many of you readers who don't have families, how many of you really use the app now that The Mandalorian is over for the season? I have to say, ever since its over, I've hardly touched it. I have a daughter that's 2, so she isn't watching movies yet. She likes PJ Masks, but only watches a little bit of episodes here and there. While I like many of the Disney movies out there, I'm really not spending most of my time watching old kids movies. I'm 31 years old and really not watching that stuff by myself. I think the app will become more valuable as my children get older, but for now. It's just something I have access to. I think Disney kinda fumbled the release, with not giving much fresh content. Time really hasn't been their ally either though. Those long-hyped Marvel shows get pushed further and further away thanks to COVID-19, but there's really no helping that.

How Disney didn't treat Hulu like a sister app is baffling to me. When Disney recently bought Fox, it gave them 50% owning rights of Hulu and they simply bought up the other 50% because its what Disney does. They buy shit. The thing is Fox has an incredible line-up of movies. But since Disney Plus is obsessed with keeping their app family friendly, that means several of Fox's films won't end up on the service. So why not put them on Hulu? I mean, you can buy the Disney bundle right now that includes Disney Plus, ESPN+ and Hulu for the price of Netflix. So why not put everything you don't want to put on Disney Plus on Hulu? Deadpool too vulgar for kids? Boom. Hulu. Die Hard and Alien and Independence Day? Boom. Hulu. Planet of the Apes a little too much for kiddies? Boom. Hulu. I have to admit too that I am baffled that none of the X-Men movies are available on Disney Plus currently. Even though Hulu has been around for awhile, its still just a dumping ground for networks. It has no real identity yet as a streaming service yet, which is surprising.

When these streaming services announce that they have "4000 hours of content" I can watch, none of that means anything to me if its hard to find and not well organized. If an entire company is promising the consumer something, it'd be cool to simply pay a fee then that company completely open its vault. That's the future I hope we can settle into eventually. This is why I continue to have a pretty deep movie collection here at my house. I don't want to be shackled to the licensure of these services. Things come and go so fast sometimes, and I want what I want when I want it.

Availability will play a huge role for me as well. Playstation 5 made a big splash this week. I have an Xbox and I like Xbox because they are compatible with all the services I like. Our gaming consoles are turning into all-purpose media machines, and what I can and cannot get on them will determine which machines I buy. But that's a problem too. I don't want to continually buy machines and boxes and doodads just for things to watch. These services need to get better at being available everywhere through several channels, because it will definitely affect how much I use said service.

So what are the rest of you thinking. What streaming services do you have? What do you like? What do you not like? Are you willing to buy dozens of these things in order to have access to every little thing you watch? Or are you edging toward just getting cable again? I don't think this war is coming to a close yet. Time will tell how the chips fall.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Review: "Becky" is the blood-soaked adult edition of "Home Alone."

Becky Review
Imagine, if you can, a blood-soaked version of "Home Alone." Where Kevin McCallister is a teenage girl instead of a little boy and instead of playfully toying with the Wet Bandits, this female version kills her home invaders. In the most brutal fashions possible I might add. If you can imagine that, you've pretty much nailed down what "Becky" is like. 

Lulu Wilson plays Becky Hooper. Becky is a girl who is normally bullied at school. Her father (played by Joel McHale) and Becky have a strained relationship ever since her mother died. Her father also happens to be a former white supremacist. They go to their family lake house for a weekend to try to smooth things over. The problem is her father has brought her girlfriend, and they announce that she won't be a girlfriend anymore, she's going to be his fiance. Meanwhile, a group of Neo-Nazi's lead by Kevin James' Dominick (yes, THAT Kevin James) break out of police custody and head for the lake house. There is a key that Becky finds while she ran out of the house mad from the fiance news, and Dominick and his crew need the key.

Dominick and his crew break in and subdue Becky's family. Becky is hiding in the woods. All the Neo-Nazi's want is the key. But Becky is not willing to give it up. While knowing her family is being held hostage, she sees no other way around fighting her way back into her home. And boy, is she savvy about it.

How did Becky become this savvy? We never really find out. That may annoy some viewers. Sure, there's lip service to her father's former time as a racist. Sure, there are is lip service to how she is treated at school. Sure, there is lip service to her pint-up rage given everything that has happened to her up to this point. Still, it doesn't really quite explain how a pre-teen demolishes hardened career criminals with a genuine amount of ease. Maybe Kevin McCallister was a bad example. She's more like Bryan Mills; a certain set of skills that makes her very dangerous. How she acquired those skills is the mystery that is never solved. 

Also, if you are wondering the significance is of the key, you will also again be disappointed. The key is nothing more than a McGuffin, to get the bad guys to the lake house and set them at odds against Becky. Again, there is plenty of mysterious chitter-chatter around the motives and the needs of the characters, but everything is left so ambiguous that I wonder what the point of all of it was.

Still, if you were wondering if Kevin James can play a convincing evil-doer, please don't worry. Kevin James comes alive the same way that his colleague Adam Sandler did in "Uncut Gems." It's a spontaneous great performance we would have never expected from the comedic actor. I don't know if this group is deciding to turn a new league (I still can't wait to see Chris Rock in "Fargo.") but whatever is inspiring this is working. And Lulu Wilson...whoa!

If you are in the mood for a bloody revenge thriller, and if you really need to see some racists die horribly as a form of catharsis, "Becky" will more than likely fit the bill perfectly. Just expect action non-stop, nothing important or innovative.


Monday, June 8, 2020

Review: "Shirley" isn't the average biographical movie

Shirley Review
When we go to see a biographical movie, something is usually apparent. They all seem to look the same. We find out how the person in question became the person they are famous for being. We see their trials and tribulations. We see them hit rock bottom then soar to the top. It's been standard operating procedure for decades, possibly since the beginning of celluloid. There have been good biographical movies, even great biographical movies. Sometimes though, they are plain boring simply because nobody has jumped in to reinvent the formula. Is this a wheel that can't be broken?

"Shirley" proves all of this wrong. "Shirley" is possibly the most original biographical film ever made. Simply because it doesn't follow the typical formula at all. Not even a little bit. It is the story of Shirley Jackson, a popular horror and mystery writer, popular throughout the 50's and 60's, and inspired such writers like Richard Matheson and Stephen King. One of her most popular books was "The Haunting of Hill House." It could be easy to make a Greatest Hits CD of her life, like these movies typically go. But director Josephine Decker chooses to do something else. She chooses to focus on a certain moment in the life of Shirley Jackson, instead of trying to fit her entire life into two hours. The results are fabulous. 

Odessa Young and Logan Lerman play Rose and Fred Nemser, a young couple who are invited by Shirley and her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman (Michael Stuhlberg) to help jumpstart their young life together. What seems helpful and innocent at first turns very strange. Stanley Edgar Hyman in particular seems strange and controlling toward Shirley, showing strange behavior from the very beginning. Shirley is equally weird though, having Rose participate in very odd things around the house. All throughout this movie, you are left wondering, "did this honestly actually happen?" Where Rose and Fred pawns in forming the new novel by Jackson?

I don't dare spoil anything else for you.

Elisabeth Moss has had a really great decade or so. I think people are really starting to see just how special an artist she truly is. She's a woman who can honestly do anything, and she's just starting to warm up I think. Michael Stuhlberg is a guy I think should have the same cred in the business as Tom Hanks. He commits to every role he gets, and he has shown great range in all of his work. He should be so much bigger than he actually is. Lerman and Young also do great supporting work here, bouncing off Moss and Stuhlberg with ease.

"Shirley" will surely give you creeps and delights in equal measure and I think I'd go as far to say its my favorite of the year so far.


Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Revolution Playlist

It's been a long weekend. That's probably the understatement of the year. The country is feeling raw right now and it feels like our Earth is about to break. I've been taking lots of stuff in. I've been reading opinions of people I agree with, and opinions of people that I don't. I've been taking it all in and thinking about it all. With all the back and forth going on in the last few days, there is something that is always abscent in these times, and that is understanding. I see many people mad at the Effect, but not many people really mad at the Cause and Effect.

It's tough having a conversation in times of social and political distress. Simply put, we spend to much time talking AT each other, instead of talking TO each other. The American Ego is a hard one to crack, many of us go into any sort of conversation already feeling we are right, so opposing thoughts go in one ear and out the other. It's not about reaching understanding, it's about being the one whose right. Which is why it seems like we are constantly running in circles every time an event like the one we are living through right now comes up.

I've had this blog since 2013. It has always primarily been a movie blog. But in the last few days, its been tough mustering up enough courage to write about movies. I have certainly had some things planned, but it feels wrong to me to promote this blog about entertainment when the world is burning around me. There are going to be plenty of movies made about about 2020 in the future, mark my words. Before you get all shaken up when they do, remember that popular culture has mirrored our world pretty much since its inception. Maybe you just started to notice now, maybe its not as subtle as it is now. But the shows and movies we watch, the books we read, the music we listen to, its been a reflection of us. Always. That has never changed.

In order to express my feelings of the world and in an attempt to tie into the themes of this blog, I have created "The Revolution Playlist." If I try and ask you guys to understand the situation and how we got here, that will take some explanation. I am presented a list of movies. Each of these movies represents something that is going on in the country today. I am going to discuss the movies and how they tie into what's happening right now. In order to heal as a nation, we have to understand and respect what is going on here.

See these movies. Actually watch them. Analyze them. Watch them more than once. If you are looking down the side of your nose at a movie, you're not seeing it. Take the time to watch these. Maybe their confirm your beliefs, maybe their challenge them. But in the end, you'll understand more about what's going on then you did yesterday.

Birth of A Nation (2016)
Ever notice when a slavery movie is made, there is always a white character that's not as racist as the others? Almost as if they through in a character in order for white audiences to identify with? Do they think white audiences can't identify with black characters? There is always a need to mainstream slavery movies, even when people are constantly asking why there are so many movies about slavery. The answer is, until we realize this country was built on blood and skin, there will always be slavery movies. "Birth of a Nation," is a pretty raw experience, and there's no less racist white character for white audiences to cling to. Because none of those types of people really existed in the American South at the time. About the rebellion by Nat Turner, this man murdered slavers in their beds, many people who have studied turner have questioned his tactics, just as the tactics are being judged by many right now. Racism and slavery cannot be uncomfortable topics, because racism still very much exists right now. We need to be able to discuss these things head on, otherwise they may never go away.

Sorry To Bother You
A conversation that comes up frequently these days is the question of white privilege. The dissenters like to say "there are poor white people and there are rich black people and white people suffer all the time, therefore white privilege doesn't exist." Sorry to sound harsh, but if you only think of privilege in terms of money, you're missing the point. We have a way of trying to get those of other races to assimilate into our culture, and we get mad when that doesn't happen. Lakeith Stanfield plays Cash, who works as a telemarketer. When he's not doing very well, he is told of the magic of the "white voice," then things really turn around for him. The film is a social satire of the workforce and class, but you can't deny that the film is attacking privilege as well. There's a powerful scene in which Cash's not only gets him to rap, but gets a room full of white people to chant the N-word. It's a powerful scene, and had money not been on the line, Cash wouldn't have put up with it. It's a blisteringly angry film.

When does Disney ever really...challenge the zeitgeist? "Zootopia" may look as cute and cuddely as any other Disney movie. But at the same time when it has so much to say about racial profiling, how we build social diversity and how we play into the roles we are assigned at birth, it becomes something else entirely. Had I made a list of the best animated movies of the 2010's, "Zootopia" would have ranked quite high, indeed.

Black Panther
Up until 2018, Marvel was on top of the world, but a laundry list of problems with their beloved franchise was palpable. One of the most frequent flaws of the entire franchise was how they could never, truly handle their villain problem. Enter Erik Killmonger. There was quite an uproar on Twitter after "Black Panther" blew up at the box office. Anytime a villain is identifiable, you change the ground entirely. Killmonger's plight is of righteous anger. He's sick of seeing what is happening to his people around the world, and he's angry his family history was erased. Right now, lots of people are reacting to the anger we are seeing, and having little sympathy for what has caused all of that anger.

Get Out
Here in America, we have become so obsessed with black culture that somehow we left the actual people responsible for that culture behind. What a set-up for a horror movie, right? Not only is "Get Out" a singular film though, its also wildly subversive. When trailers starting hitting the internet for this movie, everybody thought it was going to be a Conservative hit piece. That's simply not the case. Jordan Peele attacks the flaws of white liberalism harder than those of white conservatism here. Right now, black Americans need allies, totally. But if you are jumping really high, waving your hands in the air to be that ally, it can be a little much. If you are out to prove so viciously that you are not racist, it can come off uncomfortable. When fighting to correct injustice, its better to just be yourself.

LA 92
Dark Blue
Here's a pair of movies, one a feature and one a documentary, that revolve around the Los Angeles riots from 1992. The documentary is the slow burn between the people of Los Angeles and its police department, and how the city slowly got the reputation for having a corrupt police force. When people get angry enough to riot, it's not a spur-of-the-moment thing. Anger and madness has been simmering in that city for a long time, and Rodney King was the stray that broke the camel's back. "Dark Blue" may be fiction, but its about a cop slowly realizing just how corrupt his position is and he tries to make a difference. It's very encouraging during all the carnage over the weekend, that there are several police forces who have chosen to peacefully protest with their communities. That's basically Kurt Russell in "Dark Blue," that realization that you can still do good after having such a bad reputation put on you. It's truly up to us as individuals whether or not the world changes.

Taxi Driver
You probably didn't expect to see "Joker" on here did ya? I still have many problems with the movie, but I also have to say that if Todd Phillips just made his ode to "Taxi Driver" without involving the comic book antics, would have been stronger overall for me. Both movies do an exquisite job of the dangers that come when people feel like they are voiceless. Some may seem shocked by the riots and looting. We have to look further back at history to see that when Black Lives Matter became a movement, it was immediately denounced. When Colin Kapernick took the knee; he lost his job and was endlessly mocked. Any time a celebrity of color speaks out they are regarded as spoiled brats and any peaceful movement is regarded as race-baiting. Fighting the good fight with no affect allows anger and resentment to eventually assimilate.

Ace In The Whole
Whether you are a Republican or whether you are a Democrat, you are probably sick of news media at this point. I can't blame you. I am too. One of the worst things to happen to news media was how different outlets took sides politically. News has always supposed to be the unbiased facts. But now, we've created a world of fake news in order for these outlets to get readers and ratings. It's easy these days to call a story fake news. But is it fake news because the information is false or because it doesn't line up with your beliefs? See the problem, here? You can thank both Billy Wilder and Sidney Lumet got it right early.

If you've seen the video over the weekend by Candace Owen trying to discredit the movement for George Floyd, it appears that all you need to make it as some sort of "reporter," is to be convincing, to be a good speaker. It doesn't matter if you are spewing facts, the word fact has been lost, and we must work together to reclaim it.

Boys N The Hood
I will admit that I was hesitant to put this movie on the list, simply because I don't want to be a choice where people point at it and say "See? Right there! Black-on-Black crime!" As I said above, we need to be concerned about the Cause and the Effect in this country, and not so much concerned on the Effect. The film is simply a day in the life of a group of people living in South Central Los Angeles. But observe how cops handle situations in this movie. Observe the few white people that show up in this movie. Observe how outsiders to South Central react to being in the area of Los Angeles. That's the real thematic meat of the movie. Where it all comes together though, and where it goes from a very good movie to one of THE movies of the 90's...

I wish I could shrug that speech off as simple cynicism, but when you get into history not taught in our schools. When you look at the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO and the crack pandemic, its easier to make light of what Fishburne is talking about here. Which leads us into Straight Outta Compton, another movie on this list. Where I grew up, there was always a negative connotation associated with rap music. When in reality, they are really speaking about the lives they've shared and try to spread awareness of the lives they lead every day. They are using art in order to grant understanding.

Its amazing to see where privilege sneaks into, especially into fandom regarding franchises about fighting the system for all. There have been many disputes over where a person of colors' place is even in entertainment. "That Asian actress can't be in a Star Wars movie!" "That woman can't hold Thor's hammer!" "That actor can't hold Cap's shield.!" I swear to god, despite being black in the Ulimate Universe, I heard many people refer to Samuel L. Jackson as Affirmative Action Nick Fury. All throughout entertainment, for many decades, we had token black characters, and if they didn't die first, they were the comic relief. I grew up watching movies where the white men were always the heroes, and the characters of color were the background. Now in the 21st Century, when you are seeing the paradigm starting to shift, its making some people mad.

"Bamboozled" takes after "The Producers," Damon Wayans plays a TV executive who often gets heckled by his white boss because none of his TV ideas are "black enough." Angered and annoyed, he pitches "The New Millennium Minstrel Show," and telling by that title, I think you get the direction he's pushing for, he creates the most offensive show possible about black stereotype and instead of getting fired and ending his career, the show becomes a hit. Has anyone noticed that most dramas with all black casts often get cancelled? Growing up in the 90's, the most popular shows with predominately black casts were all comedies, is there something to that? Again, I acknowledge that things are starting to change for the better in this regard, but the more they change, the more people get mad because they feel "an agenda is being shoved down their throats." If we really have all these freedoms to express ourselves, why is the expression of other culture seen as an attack?

The Hate U Give
Do The Right Thing
These two movies are together  because they are both summations of all my thoughts. Each of these movies feature ideas on how the media fails us, white privilege, police brutality, and the tensions that come with races trying to share this country of ours. There is quite a bit on the minds of each of these movies, and if there are only two you pick from this list, I hope you choose these two.

And if that's not enough for you. Check out "All The President's Men," a movie about Watergate which very well explains how a portion of our society became jaded with our government. Check out "The Hunger Games" but specifically the last movie. There are a lot of people who love this franchise, but it doesn't seem they understand Katniss' actions in the final film. When you vote this November, and I hope you do, be sure we are voting for people based on policy. Not just because of the letters that follow their names. 

Most of these movies are directed, written, produced and starring black artists and performers, and now is a better time than ever to support black artists. 

If you are protesting, supporting, sharing, and educating yourself or others. Please stay safe.