Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Love trumps hate


The second time I got choked up during a movie this past weekend, this time to a far less demonstrative extent than the first, was during Kubo and the Two Strings, a more likely candidate for such behavior than The Purge: Election Year.

But it wasn't a moment you'd think might choke me up, or perhaps what the filmmakers wanted to choke me up. (Though it did occur very near the end, so it was probably part of their nefarious plan after all.)

Warning! Kubo spoilers ahead.

It wasn't anything related to the loss of either of Kubo's parents, or the deceased relatives of any of the other characters, who "come to life" for a moment in a pretty magical sequence involving floating lanterns that transform into the spirits of lost loved ones. In fact, many of the story's narrative beats kept me a bit at arm's length.

No, it was how the townspeople in Kubo's village treated his grandfather, who, in the film's climax, awakens without any memory of his years upon decades of evil scheming and ruining of lives.

And it was probably only because I had to give voice to the theme by explaining it to my son that a hitch caught my words.

My son had agreed to watch the movie (despite not being excited by many movies I'd offered him lately) and had survived a number of fairly intense/scary moments -- I myself even got the chills at the first appearance of the evil sisters -- so here we found ourselves, somewhat miraculously, at the end of the movie.

And my son was understandably curious as to why the townspeople, instead of casting out this man who had brought them only pain, misery and death, tried to fill his wiped memory with false stories of all the many ways he'd demonstrated his generosity to them.

I said, "Instead of telling him he was mean, they told him he was good."

I'm glad there were no more words in that sentence because I wouldn't have gotten them out clearly.

A purer act of kindness I could not imagine.

Monday, December 5, 2016

A Nasty surprise


Warning: I'm going to spoil the hell out of Sebastian Silva's Nasty Baby

There was a poster for Nasty Baby I could have chosen that features just the three leads on it, looking jovial. 

But the one with the tongue sticking out is far, far more appropriate for the post I'm about to write.

I had wanted to direct my wife toward a 2016 release for Saturday night's viewing, because it's "that time of the year." However, the fact that it's "that time of the year" has recently taken on its annual status as a joke about my obsessive-compulsive year-end tendencies, which my wife only partly thinks are funny. Part of her thinks she loses me to the movies around this time of the year, my mind assuming only a single track toward the goal of seeing everything I "need" to see. (Just wait until I'm in the U.S. and want to get to the theater anywhere from three to a half-dozen times.)

So I showed how reasonable I can be by allowing her to choose the movie, irrespective of release year. I mean, I still had veto power, as the other person always does, but I agreed to open myself up to the great unwashed masses of all the movies available on our three streaming services. Twenty sixteen would need to wait for another night.

Kristen Wiig is enough of a common favorite that I imagine we are going to eventually see all of her movies, and at this point, there are only a scarce few we haven't seen. In fact, there are few enough that I can list them: Despicable Me 2, Masterminds, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (one of my great regrets that I clearly should have gotten to before now) and a couple back from her early days on SNL, like Unaccompanied Minors and Meet Bill. 

So Nasty Baby was easy enough for me to agree to. And it was easy enough for me to watch after a slow start in which I complained, after less than five minutes, that it was oddly hard to pay attention to. The movie is nothing if not low key as it charts the very mumblecore concerns of a gay New York couple (played by the director and TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe) as they try to get Wiig's character pregnant, planning to share custody of the child. Since Silva's character is firing blanks, it falls to Adebimpe's to do the deed, though he is reluctant for reasons the film tries to explore.

I slowly got up to speed with the movie, an effort that is not usually required for me with mumblecore because that's a form I naturally enjoy. But I got there eventually with this one, and can say I was pretty much enjoying it when BAM! They kill someone.

What?

That's what we said too.

I mean, it wasn't like it wasn't foreshadowed. The gay couple, particularly Silva's Freddy, has several run-ins with a crazy neighbor (The Wire's Reg E. Cathey) who insists on using his leafblower at 7 a.m. and harassing Wiig's Polly in a way that's going beyond the level of "harmless," as another gay neighbor (Mark Margolis) initially interprets it to be. The movie wouldn't keep including these interactions with the neighbor if it weren't going to go somewhere with that subplot.

But killing him? I don't think so.

The last 15 minutes of the movie, then, are about covering up the fact that Freddy initially knocked over this man (known as The Bishop), causing him to develop a head wound, before stabbing him in the neck as a defensive measure when The Bishop attacks him in his house. Freddy was being a good samaritan by bringing him upstairs, you see.

When it's clear the man is probably going to die, Freddy and his husband (Mo by name) smother him with a bag, ending his struggle.

They then carry him down to the car, drive him out to the country and bury him, while three other characters who get ensnared in the situation clean up after them.

Huh?

Oh but you haven't heard the weirdest part yet. The weirdest part is that after the movie ends on a fittingly somber note, the credits begin with an up-tempo song and the strangest sight of the whole movie: the three main characters having the time of their life at a roller disco.

___________.

Speechless was what we were too. Not only did the movie do this incredibly awkward tonal shift to something it had never been about, thus entirely short-circuiting all the narrative drive of the pregnancy plot, but then it does another tonal shift that seems to say: "And then they forgot about it and moved on with their lives." That's assuming this joyous roller disco credits sequence is meant to occur after these other events, chronologically, but even if it isn't, the effect is the same for the viewer so the difference is meaningless. 

Yeah, this movie feels like Sebastian Silva sticking his tongue out at us indeed.

I get that this guy is not just a total idiot. He did this intentionally. He had a reason for screeching on the brakes once, then doing it a second time. The reason was that he wanted to provoke something in us. The reason was that he wanted us to question our genre assumptions and explode our expectations of where this movie would go.

Well, mission accomplished, Sebastian. Bravo.

The reason I don't give him any credit for such narrative anarchy is that it's cheap. Any person can make a movie that starts one way and then ends completely differently. It does not require a particular talent. It only requires a mischievous disregard for conventional viewer satisfaction, which he judged that a certain percentage of us would appreciate -- enough of a percentage for it to be worth doing. And I suppose he calculated correctly, as the film holds a frankly baffling 64 on Metacritic.

Look, sometimes this works. I can think of examples. I won't name them here. But just know, I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of it.

But this execution ... it's just head-scratching. When you are heading a film in an interesting direction -- how will a gay couple impregnate a woman when one of them can't and the other doesn't want to -- it's downright obnoxious to just stop that dead in its tracks, especially with something as anathema to the type of movie you're making as a murder. It's a complete middle finger at the notion that some of his viewers would have wanted to know how the compelling issues he was exploring would play themselves out.

And let's also talk about this murder -- it's of an older black character who is crazy. He's initially described to us as "harmless crazy," but he does indeed grab Wiig from behind at one point, making him actually dangerous. Is that what the movie really wants us to take away from it, that you should be afraid of crazy old black men on the street? I suppose it thought it had its political correctness perfectly in order by Freddy being a Latino and Mo being black and them both being gay, but something about the way that character is treated is just not right.

So at the end -- before the tasteless roller disco -- you are left trying to grapple with what this movie wants you to take away from it. It's singularly unsatisfying when a narrative thrust does not lead to logical conclusions about what you've spent the previous hour-plus watching. Yeah, that's like life -- three characters trying to make a baby together sometimes unwittingly kill a person, I'm sure. It's happened at least once, somewhere.

But there are plenty of other random sequences of incompatible events that have happened in the world, that do happen every day, and we don't see movies about those. We don't see movies about them because there is nothing useful we can glean from them. They are just shit that happened.

Nasty Baby is similar -- it happened, and it sure is shit. 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The exploitation horror that made me cry


They say timing is everything.

Those who watched The Purge: Election Year before November 8th, including everyone who saw it in the theater, would have seen quite a different movie from those of us who watched it since then.

Like me.

And I am still trying to grapple with the experience I had on Friday night, but mostly Saturday morning, watching this movie.

It was mostly Saturday morning because I had indeed been too ambitious trying to rent this to watch it on Friday night. As you may remember from yestereday's post, I picked up this movie as a substitute for Nerve, which had not been successfully reserved for me, in order to watch after I got home from drinks with work friends. I for some reason anticipated getting home by 10 and having plenty of time to watch it, expecting not to fall asleep even though I'd be tipsy if not out-and-out drunk. Instead, I walked in the door at 12:30 and still started watching the movie, as it would be due back at 9 p.m. the next night, and a dad with two kids doesn't have a lot of time to be watching Purge movies on a Saturday afternoon in early December.

Predictably, I made it through only 20 minutes, leaving another 70-some for the next morning. Which I managed to carve out, as I do usually have some time to myself after the kids wake up but before our day really gets going.

A more fortuitous turn of events could not have happened.

Simply put, I needed my mind engaged to have the profound experience with The Purge: Election Year that I ended up having, which is unlike any I can remember.

(And I just crossed 4,700 movies, so that's really saying something.)

Simply put, I cried.

Not once, but twice.

If you're wondering why the hell this movie would make me cry, I'll try to give you a little bit of an idea what it's about.

The original Purge, as you would likely know, is about a version of American society in the not-too-distant future in which there's a single night each year where all bets are off. Any crime is legal that night, including (and especially) murder. Me, I might try to steal a bunch of money instead, but most people are out to sink an axe into somebody's head.

The original Purge was shit, I thought. I gave it a star-and-a-half and did not come back for The Purge: Anarchy. I thought it was a dumb way to explore a smart concept.

The smart way to explore this concept apparently came in the third movie, according to me. In this third installment, it's an election year (duh), and the candidates for president are a demagogue minister representing the right (played by Homicide's Kyle Secor), whose party is responsible for the existence of Purge Night and has been in control for 25 years, and the liberal senator who wants to abolish it, who also happens to be a woman (Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell). Usually certain political officials and others are exempt from the lawlessness of Purge Night, but in a desperate attempt to hold onto power, the NFFA (New Founding Fathers of America) do away with this exemption pretty much expressly so they can make a play at the upstart liberal senator and try to end her presidental bid via assassination.

It's hard to say for sure whether the makers of The Purge: Election Year knew who exactly would be running for president in our real election year, but the similarities between Mitchell's Charlotte Roan and Hillary Clinton are not likely to be coincidental. Although Clinton has been referred to as Secretary Clinton because she held that office more recently, she too served as a senator, and shares a hair color with Mitchell. Secor's minister is different from Donald Trump in many ways, as even Trump would not stoop to the blatant falsehoods necessary to convince us he's been a saint. But something about the minister's dismissive manner is very Trumpian.

What struck me so much about the movie was not simply that it represented something like a real look at the combatants in the 2016 election, but it made them into almost literal combatants. There were times in the race when we imagined what Trump and Clinton might do to each other if they were trapped in a Thunderdome together, and Election Year almost literally gives us that scenario. There was an undercurrent of violence in this election like none I can remember, and it was carried out between supporters of the candidates if not the candidates themselves.

But what brought me to tears was a moment that showed us what Senator Roan was fighting for, and a knowledge that the real world "Senator Roan" had already lost that fight.

Midway through the movie, Roan and her fiercely loyal bodyguard (Frank Grillo's Leo Barnes) make their way down to an underground bunker where a contingent of the opposition are caring for Purge victims and providing a safehouse for those dregs of society considered most likely to be targets. Around this room are a selection of tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free -- the kind America once welcomed with open arms, but now seems to want to shut out.

Someone observes, and I'm paraphrasing, "These are the people the NFFA want to purge because they don't want to have to care for them any longer."

Up to this point, I'd felt emotions welling up in me on a couple occasions, prompted by the visceral sense of outrage and the intensity of the violence. But something about this moment opened the floodgates.

And I wept.

I'm not just talking about a tear trickling down my cheek. I'm talking about heaving, convulsing tears, for somewhere on the order of 30 to 45 seconds. I wept openly, and possibly only silently because my kids were watching cartoons in the other room and I didn't want to give them anything to worry about. (Having already cried in front of them once on election night.)

I sunk my face into my palm and released a torrent of tears for more than a half a minute.

I purged myself of some rotten emotions that had been stuck inside me, I guess you could say.

This movie is called American Nightmare 3: Elections in some foreign countries, I just discovered today, and indeed, this election was a nightmare. Somehow, in some way, the wrong candidate, the candidate who should have been disqualified from contention dozens of times, won. Somehow, a happy ending that seemed like it was beyond question was lost into the void.

And in that moment, the moment when my tear ducts were overcome, I realized that we had voted in a man who wants to eliminate his enemies, not by actually killing them perhaps, but by depriving themselves of the services they need to live, which is effectively the same thing. All because he thinks he pulled himself up by his bootstraps, and believes others should do the same.

And because those people most in need might vote for his enemy.

I don't know if I really believe a person has been elected who will bring about a new dark age of fascism in America. In fact, I think it's pretty unlikely. But I do know that the bad guy won, and that was something I had mourned in tears only once before.

Suddenly, surprisingly, I was compelled to do it again. In part because I knew this movie was going to give us the happy ending that real life had not given us, and what a goddamn shame that was.

And that's why I hold this movie in what seems like a ridiculous level of regard right now. I can't remember the last time a movie made me sob. I mean, movies force a trickling tear down my cheek with some regularity, probably more so now that I'm a parent. But this movie wracked me with sobs, sobs I could not recover from for what seemed like an eternity.

The second time I cried was over the death of one of the characters we'd come to know and love in this movie. Know, yes, and love, yes. It's not easy for movies to do that, since they have so little time at their disposal. TV shows have a much easier task in that regard.

But what this movie also did was to give us a cross-section of heroes, representing multiple races and genders, all banding together to fight an oppressive right-wing force that believes in purging its enemies out of existence. This resistance felt like a metaphor for the coalition that voted for Hillary Clinton, unifying despite or perhaps because of their differences, ready to win this fight. It's a fight they should have won. It's a fight they must win, one day.

But I don't know if the obvious logic that Donald Trump will lose his 2020 reelection bid is something we can bank on. We've witnessed corruption in this election, from voter intimidation at home to the interference of foreign hackers abroad, which may yet entail the hacking of voting machines. The leader of the NFFA in this movie, played by Raymond J. Barry, snaps an order at an underling to do "whatever it fucking takes" to remain in power. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a real person with that real attitude in the American right, be it Steve Bannon or the Koch brothers or someone else.

And with that kind of murderously intense dedication, maybe the multi-racial coalition really does never have a shot.

The Purge: Election Year was undoubtedly made to earn a tidy profit on a small budget and give genre fans sleazy thrills. It does do that, too. In fact, some of the most gonzo shit plays a major contributing factor in why I liked the movie as much as I did.

But what's also there, whether it needed to be or not, is a real look at our real America, exaggerating real feelings and emotions only slightly for the purposes of satire. It's incredibly smart in some of the ways it captures the anger, the determination, and the naked corruption of both the politicians (of both parties) and the people they represent. And lest you think this movie is just a liberal polemic, think again. Groups traditionally protected by a purely liberal Hollywood are portrayed negatively (a group of young black girls, for example, are some of this movie's most despicable characters), and tellingly, the same "whatever it takes" slogan is also repeated by the left. When Senator Roan hears of a plot to kill her rival, she doesn't offer any hippie dippy "all human life is precious" argument as a reason to abort the assassination. She says, simply, "If you kill him, he becomes a martyr. I lose."

This movie, with apparent ambitions so modest, reminded me that both political parties take shady paths to get where they want to go, and do tend to believe that the ends justify those icky means.

Only one party, though, wants to save those same people the NFFA seeks to eliminate on Purge night.

And that party will not be in office for at least the next four years, maybe longer.

That's what made me cry.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Nerve of them


Might as well go for a second straight day of rental-dispensing mechanisms not working properly.

I was planning to go out drinking with three work friends on Friday night, only one of whom still works with me. I'm 43, so nowadays that's more likely to mean getting home around 10, rather than after midnight as it might once have meant. After 10 with anywhere from a few to a half-dozen drinks in me ... that might leave me in shape to watch a movie when I get home, but it couldn't be anything too demanding. And as the year is drawing to its close, I probably need to be filling these available time slots with movies whether I'm in shape for them or not.

Nerve has recently arrived on video here, and that seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Under 100 minutes, probably best viewed late at night, and kinetic enough that I won't fall asleep.

So I planned it out on Friday morning. I was going to go out on my bike at lunch to run a couple errands, once of which would be stopping by the IGA in East Melbourne to pick up the movie. In order to give myself the greatest chance of my errands being completed successfully, I went on the Hoyts Kiosk website and reserved Nerve. A few minutes later I got the email confirming that they had checked the inventory of the machine in question and confirmed that the title would be waiting for me for the next six hours.

Well, it wasn't. However many copies they had of that movie, they were checked out when I got there.

This might not have been quite as annoying except that the first errand I had attempted, buying new sunglasses at a nearby 7-11, was also a failure, due to their total lack of sunglasses.

Refusing to come home empty-handed, I did my best to find a suitable substitute and ended up with The Purge: Election Year. I hated the original Purge and did not even see the second one, so I was never planning to see this for a number of reasons. You might say there's an additional reason not to watch it in that our real election year has gone so badly. But it did fit the bill for the type of content I could handle at that hour and in that state, and the minutes in my allotted lunch hour were rapidly ticking away, so I snatched it up and went on my way.

Back in the office and checking out my emailed receipt, I've discovered another annoying surprise: They've increased the rental price. Whereas rentals have previously been $3.50, now they are up to $3.99. Still a savings from an iTunes new release, I suppose, but creeping further and further away from the dollar and change I used to enjoy spending at Redbox kiosks in the U.S. Then again, with the rate set at $3.50 for the entire time I've been in Australia, they were due for a price hike.

Trying to figure out why they told me I had a movie reserved and then didn't have it for me is probably not worth the effort, though it does inspire me to quote Jerry Seinfeld: "You know how to take the reservation. You just don't know how to hold the reservation. And that's really the most important part of the reservation: the holding."

What very likely happened was that someone was standing in front of that kiosk, renting the final Nerve, at the exact moment the system was trying to confirm that a copy was available. Due to a lag in updating cached information, I imagine, the system was not aware of the movie's sudden lack of availability, nor could a prior claim by me deny an ongoing transaction in which someone already had the movie in their shopping cart but had not officially rented it yet. Anyway, doesn't matter.

I do have a joke explanation. The last time I used the Hoyts Kiosk website was to reserve a copy of Bad Moms last Saturday night. We were over at a friend's house for dinner, and stayed a lot later than we expected to. Having a car full of kids who were a good 90 minutes past their bedtimes, we skipped renting Bad Moms, so the reservation went unclaimed. Which also meant that it could not be rented to anyone else during those six hours I had it reserved -- a possible loss in revenue of $3.99. I figure this is Hoyts' way of giving me a dose of my own medicine.

By the time I post this, I will already know whether I liked The Purge: Election Year or not. But since I'm writing this a day ahead of time, I'll save any thoughts I may have on it for a subsequent post.

Friday, December 2, 2016

A plan to amass free movies


I've had a number of customer service needs from iTunes over the years, with downloads acting screwy and whatnot. And I'm pleased to say that their customer support has always reinforced the good name of Apple, making good in ways that always left me satisfied.

But before the past week I've never had a customer service case quite this complicated ... nor have I been left quite this satisfied with the way they've (ultmately) resolved it. (Or so I assume, as I am writing this before the final solution has been proven, nor the make good been realized.)

Let me rewind to last week. Actually, let me rewind to November 12th.

On the 12th of November, I rented the documentary Life, Animated as that week's 99-cent movie of the week. (Or perhaps it was the 99-cent independent movie. I can't remember.) Are you with me so far?

A week later on the 19th, I rented Maggie's Plan, which was definitely that week's 99-cent indie movie. This was where I first noticed something unusual. Life, Animated should have had 23 days left on the rental window, but its clock had been mysteriously reset to 30 days with Maggie's arrival. I thought it was peculiar, but the error was in my favor so I didn't think anything more of it.

As I told you in this post, I downloaded and watched Krisha on Thanksgiving, last Thursday. When I started watching it, another unexpected synchronization occurred -- this one not in my favor. When I started Krisha and launched its 24-hour viewing window before expiration, the clock started ticking on the other two movies as well. I closed and reopened iTunes, and same result. I checked again the next day and indeed the hours continued to dindle -- first 12, then 6, then expired. I had no intention of watching either movie before that 24 hours was up, nor should I have needed to. So I knew it would mean reporting the problem to iTunes.

I got off on the wrong foot in reporting the problem in two ways. First of all, it was Thanksgiving day in the U.S. when I reported it. If there's ever a time for something to slip through the cracks, it's when coming in on the first day of a four-day weekend. (I use the U.S. version of iTunes, after all.) But then I also reported it as a problem with Krisha rather than a problem with either Life, Animated or Maggie's Plan, in part because I could find the Report a Problem button with Krisha but couldn't figure out how to locate it for the other two. (Krisha was listed at the top, being my most recent purchase -- I had to drill down one level deeper for the other two, but did not immediately realize that.)

I was promised a response within 24 to 48 hours, but the entire four-day weekend elapsed in the U.S. without hearing anything. So on Tuesday (or was it Wednesday?) resubmitted the request for help. This time I submitted requests on both of the other two movies, referring back to the original case number I'd been given in the automated response to my Krisha request.

This time an agent did respond, apologetic for the delay, and to make up for it, credited my account with two $4.99 rental credits, in addition to restoring the two lost movies to my available downloads folder. Good deal.

Except when I went to check for available downloads, only Life, Animated started to download. This was in the morning before work yesterday. So I decided to let that movie download, then check back after I got home to see if Maggie's Plan would show up then.

It did not. But something else did happen: A second copy of Life, Animated began to download. Another email back to Apple.

This morning I've gotten another response from Apple that the issue should finally be cleared up now (only read it at work so I have yet to check) and that another two $4.99 credits have been assigned to my account as another apology for the inconvenience.

So now I should have $20 in iTunes credits in addition to the two movies I originally planned to watch, with fresh 30-day viewing windows, which I otherwise might have been pressing to get to before they expired.

At this point I can't assume that the issue is resolved once and for all, that there won't be another synchronization of viewing windows when I go to watch one of the movies, or even that Maggie's Plan will be available for download when I get home.

However, more errors by Apple will only mean more free movies for me.

And it couldn't come at a better time. This is the time of year when I'm trying to catch up with movies before my year-end list gets published six weeks from now, and iTunes is especially useful as it gives me access to movies that came out in the U.S. a while ago but may only just be getting released in Australia (like The Family Fang, which I talked about in this post.) I'd allocate the money for them anyway, but this year I can't really afford it as we're trying to watch our costs ahead of the trip to the U.S. three weeks from now.

So now I'll have $20 to spend on my next x number of movies, and won't have to be stingy and limit myself to the 99-cent rentals.

And perhaps more if my downloaded rentals keep going on the fritz.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Audio Audient: I Was Born, But ...


This is the penultimate installment of my 2016 series in which I am catching up with previously unseen silent movies.

For those of you coming here expecting Erich von Stroheim's Greed -- all none of you -- you're going to have to wait until December. There's a whole story that goes with why I didn't see Greed in November, full of twists and turns and developments that are interesting only to me, and maybe not even then. I'll save that for next month.

This month, it's all about my 11th hour substitute: I Was Born, But ... 

And it was literally almost an 11th hour substitute, as I began watching it at 10 p.m. on the last night in November my schedule would allow me to watch it.

The movie was on my Letterboxd list of potential candidates for this series, but I didn't imagine I'd get to it because I planned to watch Greed in November and then some silent Christmas movie (there must be some out there) in December. Well, the Greed debacle (I'm calling it a debacle now?) opened up an opportunity to go abroad for a silent movie for the second straight month after Sweden's The Phantom Carriage in October.

What surprised me most about I Was Born, But ... is how dissimilar it was to what I've come to think of as the style of the Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. I've only seen one of his films, sadly -- that's Tokyo Story -- but I saw it twice back in college and actually wrote an academic paper about it, so I feel like I know it well despite not having seen it in more than 20 years. On first viewing I was kind of bored to tears, but something compelled me to revisit it -- I don't know what came over me as I surely could have chosen an "easier" film to write the paper about. I'm glad I did, because I loved it on the second viewing when I started truly dissecting its themes. In fact, given that experience, it's kind of amazing I've never gotten back to Ozu, and it was something I had already intended to rectify when I got the chance to kick off that effort with this movie.

So yes, Ozu's style tends to be slow and deliberate, with many long takes and the camera almost never moving. No evidence of that style is present in I Was Born, But ..., which he directed in 1932, 21 years before Tokyo Story. (In fact, well into the sound era -- not sure why he was still making silent films.) This film is almost frenetic with its editing, and his camera has none of its future sedentary ways.

Probably time to tell you a bit about the movie. It's essentially a series of episodes involving children in suburban Tokyo of the time, which would look a bit more like the rural outskirts of Tokyo except for the single train cars passing in the background almost constantly, suggesting a higher population density than there would seem. Two of the children, who dress like twins but don't look exactly alike, are brothers who have just moved there due to the job requirements of their father, a lower-level executive type in a big firm. Many of the episodes are comical in nature, relating to such things as tussles with local bullies, contracting the help of other kids to assist with their integration into the community, and the tall tale that the consumption of a sparrow's egg gives you additional strength. As the twins (let's call them twins) have a habit of doing everything in unison, a real charming element to the performance of the two young boys, even events that might not ordinarily be comical have a comedic overtone. Simply put, this movie is breezy and fun.

What little plot it does have comes to relate to the shame the kids feel toward the way their father must prostrate himself in front of one of his superiors, who is also the father of one of their new school acquaintances. The last 20 minutes or so relate to the kids grappling with this and coming to accept it, as their father imparts lessons about social dynamics in the workplace and in the world. Here we see the real roots of Ozu's future concerns, as Tokyo Story (I know for a fact) and many of his other films (I'm led to believe) deal with the type of low-level, non-catastrophic family issues we see here, specifically failures to communicate between the generations.

To suggest that this film is heavy in any way, though, is to misunderstand its main reasons for existence. It is sweet through and through, frequently funny and always amusing. The packs of kids interacting with each other, daring each other to do things and establishing power dynamics, reminded me a bit of the Little Rascals or something. The film also establishes a real sense of place in the neighborhood where most of it takes place, as Ozu builds up a community of familiar faces over the course of the narrative. The regular appearance of the train going back and forth in the background seems to both suggest a sense of transience, and to more firmly establish the stability and specificity of this particular locale, if that makes any sense.

Okay! Just one month left to go in this series. And I've got Greed downloaded from iTunes now -- all four hours of it -- so at some point over the next month I'm going to figure out how to cram that in to the 24-hour viewing window allotted by iTunes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

May-December release


You've heard of a May-December romance. How about a May-December movie release?

There is indeed a considerable age difference between the release of Jason Bateman's The Family Fang in the U.S. and in Australia.

The movie came out on May 6th in the U.S. It came out on April 29th in New York, actually, but that ruins my title for this post.

In Australia, it comes out on Thursday, which is the first of December.

The Australian release date of The Family Fang is something I've been tracking for a while, because I needed to remind myself to send the review I wrote of it to my editor at ReelGood.

Why had I already reviewed this movie if it hasn't even come out in Australia? Well that's the other funny way to measure the delay between its U.S. and Australian release dates.

The Family Fang had been out for so long in the U.S. that it had already popped up as the 99-cent rental on the U.S. iTunes store, where I still have access to pick up rentals. That means that it had already been available for rent at the normal $5.99, and then probably $3.99, before dropping down to 99 cents (though just for that one week). I may be wrong about this, but I think of Apple as using its 99-centals as a last ditch effort to capture some of the remaining buzz about a movie and move a few more units of it before it becomes just an old release like everything else in their library.

We watched it a month ago, and The Family Fang was actually on the verge of its 30-day window expiring when we got to it.

So I wrote a review, and even then had to wait a month before it could post on the site in order to be timely for the release. Which it has just done last night.

Now you get some sense of the agony of seeing movies like Moonlight released in October in the U.S. and having to wait until Februrary for them here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

All my reviews, all together!


Have you ever thought "I'd really like to see all of Vance's reviews together, rather than just the most recent three that he links to down to the right?" Vance being the name I used to go by before I lifted my veil of anonymity, and still a way to casually refer to myself on this blog.

Well, it's happened. I'm searchable.

And I don't just mean if you google me and the name of my website you'll find a bunch of individual reviews scattered across the search results. I mean there's now an easy place to come find all my review work packaged together in one convenient location. (All my work for ReelGood, anyway, which means the past two years' worth.)

That's right, part of the recent redesign of ReelGood (www.reelgood.com.au, come and check it out!) was to give each writer a warehouse for his or her own work. You can find my particular warehouse here, topped by my most recent review of Morgan. (Or some other movie, depending on when you read this post.)

It's pretty cool for me as this was never possible for the approximately 11 years I wrote for my previous website, Allmovie.com. In fact, I would sometimes send people a list of all the reviews I'd ever written as a way to allow them to decide which ones they wanted to look up individually on the site. (Bet they were sorry they asked.)

Now, it's much easier.

I mightn't have otherwise devoted a whole post to this, but I've been lacking inspiration the last few days and was kind of tired of the stern face of Krisha Fairchild staring out confrontingly at my readers every time you come to my site.

Anyway, come give it a squizz, if you want. (Translation: Come take a look.)

Back soon with new content, both here and there.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Everybody's worst Thanksgiving


And now for a little tonal shift from yesterday's message of hope ...

If you just can't get into a head space to give thanks this year, and just want to tear it all down, just want to watch a movie that languishes in the apocalyptic misery of everybody's worst family Thanksgiving, you could do far worse than Krisha, the film I watched last night as a Thanksgiving-themed viewing. ("Thanksgiving"  was yesterday in Australia -- meaning it was Thursday, November 24th, otherwise known as one of the last days of spring. We did eat turkey, but it was a turkey dish I invented that features ground turkey, grilled onions, grilled peppers, Tabasco, chilli powder, canned tomatoes, tomato paste and a layer of broiled cheese over the top.)

Any number of Thanksgiving films look into the disasters that result from long-estranged family members reuniting, possibly against their will, for a late November feast, and maybe also an olive branch. But Krisha has a special caustic edge to it, an unwillingness to compromise its vision of the most pessimistic possible incarnation of that Thanksgiving gathering. And it doesn't accomplish this with ridiculous, over-the-top set pieces, like you might see in National Lampoon's Thanksgiving Vacation. No, this is just straight up human misery.

A lot of liberals are probably calling this their worst Thanksgiving ever. But at least it's not as bad as the one Krisha has in this movie.

I won't go too much into what happens, but I will warn you: Watch out. This is not some happy Thanksgiving viewing for the family. As the poster would probably suggest to you anyway.

One thing I did want to point out: The filmmaker, Trey Edward Shults, has cast almost entirely members of his family to play ... well, members of his family. He plays a central figure in the movie, and Krisha is played by his real aunt, named Krisha Fairchild. Strikingly, none of them really comes off as an amateur, and there's some real heavy lifting in the acting department, especially by Fairchild. I don't want to contemplate how closely this may have been inspired by something that really happened in his family, and whether any of these people are actually playing a version of themselves that's similar to the real version. More likely, he just wanted/needed to make the movie on the cheap, so he cast actors he could get to work for almost nothing. Whatever the case, their status as actual family members works in a number of ways, from the less important (they actually look like each other) to the more important (they have a preexisting relationship that informs their performances).

Don't think there's much chance you'll feel more hopeful about the world after watching this movie, but maybe that's the Thanksgiving you want to have -- despairing, and reveling in it.

If that's the case, boy have I got a movie for you.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving thanks to the movies


A couple days ago, I had a day when I didn't think about Donald Trump once.

It seems impossible to imagine. The wounds are still too fresh, the news still too prevalent, both in the media and on my Facebook news feed.

But as I was getting in to bed that night, I nonetheless said to my wife, "You know, I don't think I thought about Donald Trump once today." Hence ruining the unblemished Trump-free day I was having, but that's beside the point.

There's life after Trump, or there could be. There is, or there can be, or there will be more days when we don't even give the man a single passing thought.

And I don't know why I'm choosing to credit movies with that, except that it's a movie blog and I can't rightly write a Thanksgiving post on a movie blog unless it in some way incorporates movies.

So here's my way to incorporate it: Movies are my normal, and they have allowed me to keep a sense of normalcy during a two-plus-week period that has been anything but.

I'm thankful that whatever happens during a day full of head-shaking cabinet appointments, childish Twitter rants, revelations about ways the election might have been stolen by foreign interests, and reports of hate crimes against minority groups, at least by night, I still have the movies to whisk me away to another world.

"But Vance," you say, "just two weeks ago you said that movies were no escape. I'll save you the trouble and link to the post right here. How am I inserting a hyperlink into a question I am asking you verbally? Don't worry about it. You're missing the point."

Yes, I did say that. And yes, as hard as it was to believe that I would ever have a moment free from thinking about the orange menace we elected president (well, not "we" -- a bunch of crazy people that I hope does not include you), that hypothetical scenario has indeed transpired. Especially helpful in that regard was a movie like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, cinematic escapism in its purest form. And indeed, on Sunday, escape myself away into it I did.

That wasn't the day I didn't think about Trump. I think it was Tuesday.

Most people of my political persuasion won't consider there to be much to be thankful about this Thanksgiving. A perfectly timed news story about a Jill Stein-prompted recount might give us a little hope, but in reality, we'll still know that nothing is likely to change the fact that Donald Trump is our next president. Blog posts giving thanks will be in shorter supply this year than usual, or at least, will carry a different tone to them, one that willfully tries to scrub away the horrors of the entire election season.

For me, though, I do see genuine reasons to be thankful -- good friends, loving family, health, the inspiration of good people intending to fight evil for a better world -- as well as more frivolous reasons, like the fact that I have movies.

Movies serve many functions for me, but one of their most positive is that they create a condition of ongoing optimism. As human beings, we thrive on what we have to look forward to next. If you're a political junkie, one that leans liberally, you may feel like you have nothing to look forward to. Or maybe you look forward to the challenge of ousting our new Republican overlords from office. But either way, your outlook, and what you have to look forward to, is conditional.

Movies, on the other hand, give us an unconditional sort of ongoing optimism. Even if you see a string of movies in a row you don't like, that doesn't tarnish that optimism. Even if you are dissatisfied with the trend of sequels and reboots, that doesn't tarnish that optimism. Each movies is a distinct case unto itself, and if you love movies, you know that there are hundreds and thousands of movies out there that you haven't yet seen and that you will love. The task is just to find the next one, and it's a task that you're forever on the verge of potentially accomplishing.

So thank you, movies, for giving me a sense of normalcy that involves a constant and ever-replenishing state of hope. I can apply that to my outlook on the rest of the world, even when it feels at its darkest.

And why did I include a picture of Barack Obama pardoning a turkey with this post?

Because that is my president, and I like to look at him, and I intend to cherish him as much I can while he still holds the title.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Breaching the unbreachable barrier


If you think the "unbreachable barrier" in the title of this post is the Underworld series reaching an unlikely fifth feature -- with one short thrown in there for good measure -- you'd have an excellent point. But that's not actually what I want to talk about today.

Rather, it's that this consummate January release is actually getting released in time for the holidays in other parts of the world.

Underworld: Blood Wars is, in fact, opening in Australia a week from Thursday, a fact I learned about because the editor at ReelGood is going to an advanced screening of it on Monday.

I guess a January release isn't what it once was, or at least, isn't what it once was everywhere around the world.

Even the early Underworld movies came out during the dead zones of the movie calendar, indicating the studio's lack of belief in them. The first one came out in September of 2003, and even though it was successful enough to spawn a 2006 sequel, the sequel was dumped on the 20th of January. The two subsequent sequels were nestled within days of January 20th in their respective years (2009 and 2012), and Screen Gems has shown even one less degree of confidence in the fifth movie, probably with good reason, moving its release all the way up to January 6th of 2017.

In the U.S., that is.

In others parts of the world, though -- like mine -- this Underworld movie is being accorded the same level of respect as, I don't know, Star Wars: Rogue One, coming out only two weeks before the movie that has a decent shot to be this year's box office champion. Underworld: Blood Wars shouldn't even be competing with Star Wars in the same box office year, but in some parts of the world -- a lot of parts of the world, actually -- it is.

I don't really know how to account for it. I suppose it's just a continuation of a recent philosophy to open a movie overseas before you open it domestically, to collect up some good box office numbers and, potentially, good word of mouth (foreign audiences tend to be less discrening toward/more forgiving of genre movies) prior to the U.S. release, which could create a more profitable release.

But the weird thing is it creates a situation where Underworld: Blood Wars is classified as a 2016 release on IMDB. That's the unbreachable barrier I'm talking about. January releases are typically branded with their release year, forever after amen, and though this doesn't mean anything in the abstract, it carries some meaning at a time of year when you are trying to discern what belongs where. Now there's the potential to confuse Underworld 5 with the awards contenders that receive a pre-Christmas release in New York and Los Angeles but stagger out to the rest of the country across the month of January. Now people will look at IMDB in future years and think that Underworld 5 might have come out in January of 2016, not January of 2017.

And that matters because ...

Well, it doesn't really matter. It's just something interesting to note. In part because it's another indication of a marketplace that is changing around us, muddying the meaning of previous assumptions and leaving us a new economy to puzzle over.

It also probably explains the existence of the movie itself. American audiences are probably done with the Underworld series -- and Lord knows Kate Beckinsale can't want to keep doing these movies -- but "they make money overseas," is how some studio exec justifies it. And when a studio's bottom line is the topic, little justification for making money is needed.

So yeah, Americans could well see an Underworld 6, an Underworld 7 and an Underworld 8 in 2019, 2022 and 2024 ... and the rest of the world, the year before that.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Something unexpected


In among all the umpteen sequels and prequels and reboots and preboots and re-quels we've gotten in the past ten years, most of us just humbly request for something, anything, to take us by surprise.

We recognize the need to reboot and preboot and sequelize. We've given up pressing the position that we should expect and demand new content involving unproven commodities. (Well, the realists among us have given up that fight, anyway.) But it is too much to ask just to get something a little unexpected?

In many cases, it is, as studios tend to err on the side of safety. But not always. And sometimes, just something small that's unexpected is enough to feel invigorating.

Warner Brothers is probably erring on the side of safety as well in its resumption of the Harry Potter series with a prequel set in the 1920s. (I guess it's not technically a Harry Potter movie -- it's "from J.K. Rowling's Wizarding World.") A lot of what's there is to cater to our comfort zone.

But there was also something unexpected that I found delightful.

That is the character of Jacob Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler.

Some mild spoilers to follow. 

When I first saw Fogler on-screen in the movie -- waiting in a bank to have a loan approved for opening a bakery -- I figured the character was likely to appear in one scene. A husky Polish baker with a thick working class accent is simply not likely to play a very prominent role in a Harry Potter movie.

Not only does Fogler end up playing a prominent role, but it kind of becomes his story, in a way.

Fogler is along for this entire ride, which I found quite magical in spots. And he is almost never used as I expected him to be. And he is almost always a joy to behold.

He's our surrogate, a guy taking a peek behind the curtain at a world of wands and wizards and witches that he never knew existed. Having been exposed to magic accidentally, upon picking up an egg that the absent-minded Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) left on the seat next to him, and then watching that egg hatch into a little blue snake, but more importantly, also being whisked across a bank hallway and through a wall just with a wave of Scarmander's wand, Kowalski is meant to be "obliviated." Fans of Men in Black will be familiar with the concept -- it's a way of making people forget the weird thing they just saw so they won't tell others about it. (And actually, it may have appeared in the previous Potter books and movies as well, though I don't recall.)

But for various reasons and at various different times, Kowalski avoids obliviation. He goes deeper down this rabbit hole, and a guy who seems like he would have been brought on for one scene -- even if he stole that scene -- is on board for the whole movie.

And so he doesn't just steal that scene, he steals the whole movie.

The things I love about his character are numerous. For one, the filmmakers didn't look at his portly frame and decide to play it for laughs. Yeah, there's the scene where he struggles to stuff himself into a suitcase (don't ponder that too closely until you've seen the movie) because his midsection catches on the sides of the case. But generally, this movie has no interest in turning him into a figure of fun. There's a moment when Scamander discusses the symptoms of being bitten by one of the creatures that escaped his case -- a creature that bit Kowalski -- and he mentions that among the first is fire coming out of his anus. I fully expected to see fire come out of Dan Fogler's anus at some point in this movie, because it was teased. But that never happened, and the movie was all the better for it.

Not only that, but this actually becomes a love story between Kowalski and the equally adorable Queenie, a gifted woman who can read thoughts. Alison Sudol plays Queenie, and she just makes your toes curl. They don't make for a logical couple, but they each amaze each other -- she's never met a Muggle (they call them Non-Majes in America) and he's never met, well, someone so beautful, but also someone who practices magic. A cute and, gosh darn it, believable mutual attraction develops between them.

But mostly I just like how Fogler plays this character. He's appropriately amazed at the sights that are being unveiled to him, but he doesn't waste more than the requisite amount of time asking whether he's dreaming or not believing his eyes. He incorporates himself into the wizarding world effectively and thoroughly. He's not the cowardly comic relief who is constantly afraid of what thing he never knew existed might try to get him next. He's a lover and a fighter, a man confident in what he brings to the table and how he can contribute.

Now a bit of a more significant spoiler.

But I think my favorite scene involving the character was his last one, or really, his second-to-last one (was it third-to-last? one of his final scenes, anyway). Having eluded being obliviated for the whole movie, Kowalski, under orders from the wizarding president, agrees to step out into the rain that's falling on New York, which has obliviated all the witnesses to what took place during the film's admittedly sort of comic book movie cataclysm finale. He desperately doesn't want to forget what he's seen or a woman he may love, but he's learned enough to know that these are the rules and he must abide by them.

And what does he do?

He cries.

Not big, blubbery tears, the kind that would stick him back in that category of hefty comic relief. No, just quiet, dignified, earnest tears, the tears that represent both his bravery and a recognition that he's losing something valuable to him. They're the tears of someone who doesn't want to let go of something great, but realizes he must.

As Jacob Kowalski kept surprising us up until the very end of the movie, and that meant the movie itself did as well, I kind of wanted to shed my own tears. I didn't, but the emotion of the moment was enough that I might have, under other circumstances.

So when someone tells you the new Harry Potter movie is yet another money-grubbing sequel made only for the profit of the studio, and lacks any sense of soul or wonder, don't believe them. Just go see the movie yourself.

You might be surprised.