Monthly Archives: January 2021

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Movie Review – Possessor

Category : Movie Review

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh

Year: 2020

If you were to ask me to make a list of everything I enjoy about sci-fi movies, Possessor would check almost every box off the list.  Some cool distortion of reality, a new technology, bizarre mind games, a little sex, a little violence, a little confusion & delay, Thomas.  It just seems like this film would be completely up my alley, and yet the result is almost the complete opposite, like some director made me a movie of things I like but completely forgot about taste level.  Possessor is backward to my taste, the antithesis to my aesthetic, and that’s so shockingly disappointing, because this film should have been awesome, but it somehow accidentally arrived inside out.

Tasya has an unusual job.  She’s not really an assassin, but that’s the closest thing to what she does; she’s more like a very talented actress who ends each performance by killing her audience.  Using a secret technology, the company she works for takes contracts out on the lives of very important people and then implants Tasya into the mind of a key player, where she then gets that person to murder the target.  Afterward, she kills “herself” and returns to her natural body; no suspects, no motives, just a crime of passion that can’t be explained, a dead millionaire, and a very happy player somewhere who got a death they wished for.  But on her latest mission, Tasya’s mind starts to meld with the host body, the pair of them competing for control of his actions, until it’s hard to tell where she beings and he ends.

Of course, you could simple say that the movie didn’t resonate with me, that it simply missed me, which is my problem, not the filmmaker’s.  But I’m not alone here, there’s a taste thing going on, like the film was made with a horrible ingredient that most people just can’t like.  It goes too far, honestly, it goes way too far, and it doesn’t hold itself back in conventional ways when a little convention could have saved the entire, messy thing.  Because the pieces were there: intrigue, death, science, the absence of reality, the terror of losing control.  The story was really cool, and the actors were really great, that wasn’t the problem at all.  The issue was the artistic outlook, the visual portrayals, the mood and the music and the gore and the gross.  It just landed like a lump in the stomach that threatened to make us sick, like a cheap roller coaster that looked nice on the outside but then shook us until we left heaving.  Possessor is not something I’d recommend to anyone but those few who enjoy horror/sci-fi done in this peculiar, particular, poor-taste way, which I guess can be fun on occasion, but just wasn’t for me this time around.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Goodfellas

Category : Movie Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci

Year: 1990

Scorsese’s legacy is written in stone, and Goodfellas is etched right in there as one of his very best, one of the films that made him the king of crass crime.  American audiences are obsessed with the mob, New York Italian crime families, organized chaos, and we feel cool watching the action go down, for whatever morbid reason we have to feel that way.  Scorsese knows how to push the exact right buttons when it comes to the sweeping, downhill, shoot-em-up, fuck-em-up genre, and we eat up his features like candy, even though we maybe shouldn’t love the blood as much as we do.  But, whatever, Goodfellas is a good time, a great time, the best time, and it’s never not the right time for a revisit.

This is the true story of Henry Hill, the wannabe mobster turned informant who lived a life of luxury behind the might of organized crime, interspersed with stints in jail and ending in the witness protection program.  His story gives us insight into the workings of the big mob bosses; how they lead, how they operate, how they silence loud mouths, and how they ultimately end up losing control.  Henry worked with two close allies, Irishman Jimmy Conway and Italian Tommy DeVito, and they all paid homage to the head honcho, Paulie Cicero.  Together, and bribing half the police force, they ran cons and schemes and theft rings that made them all very wealthy, very dangerous, very volatile men.

Scorsese knows what he’s doing, this is his patented style, if just one of his films can be called that, and perhaps never have gangsters been portrayed so realistically.  The Godfather is legendary, of course, but Goodfellas is gritty, modern, messy, high on its own supply, and levels audiences with its quick speed and brutal content.  And it really happened, which only adds to the excitement, morbid as that excitement may be, as I mentioned earlier.  But that’s a different debate; that this movie is an icon above most other icons is not up for argument.  It’s funny, it’s dirty, its characters are incredible, its actors are top of the line, and it all works all the way through.  Goodfellas is as solid as they come, a real immovable rock of cinema.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – News of the World

Category : Movie Review

Director: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Tom Hanks, Helena Zengel

Year: 2020

There’s a reason you haven’t heard of this Tom Hanks Western, and it’s not COVID.  It’s because it’s a sub-par Oscar contender, it’s discount-grocery Hanks, it’s a nice idea executed with the precision of a helicopter flying low, tilting down, and chopping up zombies.  Basically, it’s a mess, a blunt bludgeon when a defter hand could/should have crafted something much finer, especially with Tom as a leading man and a story that’s hard not to fall deep into.  News of the World is only OK, with a few nice parts and a few glaring mistakes, a film that would have been much better had someone more talented been given the opportunity to bring what could have been excellence to life.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, formerly of the Texas Infantry fighting for the South in the Civil War, was also once a printer of the news, but that business failed along with the Secession.  Now, Captain Kidd travels from Texas town to Texas town reading the latest newspapers, sharing the current, revolving history of the modern world with local folk who can’t read or simply don’t have the time to.  He helps educate those whose lives are too hard for such pursuits, and he’s relatively happy with his role.  A chance encounter on the road between towns finds Kidd responsible for a little girl who needs returned to her home; her family were German immigrants, she was captured by the Kiowa, and is now set to be taken to kinfolk.  But the journey will be hard, the country is rough, and Kidd, though he knows a lot about national politics, has a lot to learn about making friends.

Tom Hanks is an American treasure and I’ll hear no argument on that fact.  That he would shine in this role was a given, and he delivers up to all expectations; Hanks in Western gear is just a neater form of the Hanks we already thought was neat.  And the girl, Helena Zengel, plays her part well too, the pair of them forcing the feels, drawing audiences in, making the story work, at least for the most part.  But it was the story itself that was the problem, so they were always fighting against the awkward script and the poor production of the film, and they were often on the losing end.  The plot is meandering, the action sequences are terribly directed/shot/constructed/CGIed, and the Odyssey-style journey with adventures in between chapters becomes laughably bad.  And, weirdly, there never seems to be a real point, beyond the obvious morals that the film is trying to shovel, like, “yeah I got it, but you’re telling me there’s nothing more?”  News of the World is bumpy at best, and it’s not like I hated it, it’s more that I was angry that the director wasn’t able to maneuver his way around what I’m sure was a tricky narrative, but also one that the truly gifted could have handled, which, in theory, would have resulted in a movie that we truly liked.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2020, Divisional

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Divisional picks

(2-4 for the postseason, 163-92-1 for the regular season)

Bye teams: none

 

LAR @ GB

Bal @ Buf

Cle @ KC

TB @ NO

 


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Movie Review – New Order

Category : Movie Review

Director: Michel Franco

Starring: Naian Gonzalez Norvind

Year: 2020

It might be flippant to say, but New Order is just Roma meets The Purge, a film that’s trying to teach us a lesson on Mexican class warfare while also trying to appeal to our sense of entertainment with a chaotic dystopian feel.  But I don’t think the result was exactly what the filmmakers were intending; mixing relevant with irreverent, morals with nihilism, until the entire theme becomes as messy as the paint splatters that feature only for a hot minute, then are discarded like a bad idea.  Director Michel Franco didn’t have a strong hold on this film, it got away from him, and what it ultimately turned into I doubt was his intention.

At a wedding party, Marian celebrates her new life in her parents’ home, surrounded by opulence and loved ones, without a care in the world.  Meanwhile, the city is in growing upheaval, with a violent group of troublemakers preying upon the wealthy, the powerful, the system.  Their symbol is lime green, their anger is real, but hey, life goes on, weddings need attended, and the police will take care of the city’s problem children.  But the threat soon grows and is now at the door, as the party turns deadly and the city burns.  Marian is taken hostage and negotiations begin, but the real war is between the normal and the new, the old world and the potential for something different, but perhaps no less deadly.

If it was Franco’s intention to make this exact movie, then I guess he just has bad taste and/or a bad eye.  But I think it more likely that he simply had a clumsy hand with what was an interesting story to build upon, it just needed a little more care lest it crumble into anarchy.  That was the problem; it all came crashing down so quick, and it wasn’t the set up that was the issue, it was the continuation of the plot, like no one had any idea where/when/why to end up.  I thought there was some good momentum growing, but by the end I really couldn’t tell you what it was that exactly happened.  Maybe that was the point?  Maybe there was a message about our enemies in there, that those in charge want to set us against ourselves, rich poor, black white, east west, whatever, and that their factions are all part of the same death machine that only wants to eat us up, and it won’t be clear to us what’s happening at all.  I don’t know, and I don’t really care, which is not the sentiment that I should have after watching something like New Order, it should have forced me to be invested in the answers to the questions, which simply did not happen.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Minari

Category : Movie Review

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Starring: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Youn Yuh-jung

Year: 2020

I don’t understand how Minari could be so incredibly specific, so very personal, and yet speak to me like it was telling the story of my life; that just doesn’t make sense.  I guess that’s simply good storytelling, great storytelling, to be able to convince your audiences that they also lived this tale, even though it has nothing to do with them.  We find pieces of our own origins in this film, small connections that seem to make all the difference, and that’s how Minari works its unique magic.  It’s one of the very best films of the year, a subtle tale of struggle and endurance, and one that we can all relate to in weird, wonderful ways.

A Korean family moves to Arkansas for work, land, and opportunity, but finds struggles that may break their fragile family bond.  Working in California is a chicken sexing factory, where the females are placed in one box and the males are separated and destroyed, Jacob & Monica move their family across the country to have more space, more chance to advance, and a larger piece of the American Dream.  Their children, Anne & David, try to adjust to the backwoods culture there, and things really become a family affair when their grandmother, Soonja, comes to live with them as well.  This is the story of their fight to stay together and to control their own destinies, a look at growing up within an immigrant experience that is both very common and always one-of-a-kind.

Lee Isaac Chung tells a very personal narrative in Minari, but at the same time he graciously invites us all to share in the memory, and in so doing we all see a bit of ourselves within one or more of the characters, experience one or more of the events like it was happening to us.  How he struck such a balance between his history and our own is a mystery, but perhaps that’s just pure talent shining through.  And beyond then, he was also able to pit tragedy and comedy against one another like Shakespeare himself knew was key to good entertainment, making the lows seem lower and the highs seem towering.  Minari is funny, it’s cute, it’s moving, it’s so sad, and all the while it’s just moving forward, not tricking us into liking it, just bringing us along for the ride.  Alan Kim, who plays David, and Youn Yuh-jung, who plays the grandmother, are such a remarkable pair, they make the film, stealing every scene, even while the passion of the family storyline plays out in the background.  And, of course, Steven Yeun is a rising star, he’s going to be legendary, you can just see it in his eyes and feel it in every role he inhabits.  Minari is Top 5 of 2020 easy, a film of sweeping sentiment and lovely scenery, one to remember for while.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – Nomadland

Category : Movie Review

Director: Chloe Zhao

Starring: Frances McDormand

Year 2020

Nomadland is the best documentary you will ever see, partly because it isn’t a documentary, which I guess isn’t really fair to real documentaries; does that make sense?  It’s technically a drama and Frances McDormand is the main character, but in most ways that count it’s not and she isn’t; this is a film about the people it exhibits, the lifestyle it introduces us to, and the wind of the open road, which is essentially a breath of fresh air that you have to be a little damaged, a little cracked, in order to let seep in.  Whatever you want to call it, Nomadland is special, and might just be the film of the year.

Since her husband died, the mine he worked at closed, and the town the mine supported boarded up, even eliminating its zip code, Fern has struggled to find where she belongs.  She has people who care about her: a sister who’s well off, friends who have been with her for years, friends she’s just met but has a strong connection with.  But in so many ways she’s all alone, and the more lonely she gets the more she turns inward, until her day-to-day existence is all that matters.  Fern moves into her van and travels the country as a migrant worker, or, perhaps more accurately, a modern nomad, cruising the road, seeing the country, knowing its people, and searching for something that might not be out there.

This movie is so very beautiful, like a cross-country trip that you go on for free, like a life experience where someone else does all the work for you.  It’s a documentary in the sense that these are real people and this is their real lifestyle, McDormund is just there to listen.  She’s not even the storyteller, that’s Zhao, and she does a tremendous job, mostly by letting the nomads and their travels speak for themselves.  It’s honest, it’s dirty, it’s lovely, it’s sad; this is a chance to see something and to understand something that you may not have even imagined before.  And wow is it gorgeous; the cinematography, the landscape, the mood, the music.  There are reasons to watch coming out the ears; it’s almost like your mind becomes unstopped just by volunteering to sit and learn, to watch and see.  If this isn’t the best film of the year it’s pretty damned close, a physical happening that feels stronger than mere cinema, and lasts longer than simple story.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Sports – NFL Picks 2020, Wild Card

Category : Sports

Here are my NFL Wild Card picks

(12-4 last week, 163-92-1 for the season)

Bye teams: Chiefs, Packers

 

Ind @ Buf

LAR @ Sea

TB @ Was

Bal @ Ten

Chi @ NO

Cle @ Pit

 


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Thought – Trump vs. Democracy

Category : Thought

An ill-advised gathering of clownish MAGA morons who temporarily forced a pause in the electoral process is the perfect metaphor for Trumpism, and how its flash in the pan may have seemed destructive, but it did not permanently destroy anything.  It feels like a lifetime ago, but Trump’s specific movement isn’t very old, it’s new and dumb and violent and unpredictable, an unstable organism that we don’t fully understand.  Perhaps that’s why it was able to take control so quickly and so fully; we simply didn’t see it coming.  We should have, though; Republicans have been marching toward this point since the Bush Era, using fear and ignorance as weapons once they realized how potent those element were, and how easy they were to control.  So we watched the death of Reagan Republicans, witnessed the rise of the Tea Party, and then were introduced to Trumpism, a new version of the same blind racism and voluntary insanity that has haunted this country since its foundation, but perhaps had never found quite the modern, mainstream foothold that Trump and his cronies offered.

The good news is, in a larger sense than one presidential term, it didn’t last long.  It was more passing gas than a mighty wind, a child’s fancy more than a serious strategy, and we can all sleep well at night knowing that Democracy won out.  That’s not to say that the racism that Trumpism was built upon is dead, or that our country hasn’t faced awful problems and won’t face them again, of course not.  Rather, it’s hopeful to look at how quickly “MAGA” came and went, and how weakly it was supported at its base; it’s already crumbling as we speak.  Republican lawmakers are jumping ship in droves, voters have already shown their lack of support by allowing losses in the House, the Senate, and the Presidency itself, and soon the evil that crept up into the light because it finally found support there will fall back into darkness, not dying out but at least laying low, which is something.

I’m confident that we withstood something terrible, I’m confident that this was a temporary step back, or a push back to our multiple steps forward, and I choose to be hopeful that Democracy will prevail in the end, because I think we saw it happen in real time on January 6th.  Trump supporters rallied, they grew angry, for a moment they broke through the barriers, their fervor was something unplanned for, they entered the sacred rooms of our Republic, they temporarily took control, paused the process, forced patriots to retreat, and seemed to have found a purchase to lay their ridiculous groundwork.

But then they were removed.  They were arrested.  They will be found and charged.  And they realized that they hadn’t stopped the wheels from turning at all, that the Capitol wasn’t a castle, but just a building, that Democracy simply pivoted, moved aside, regrouped, and came back with more resolve.  If that’s not a tight summary of Us against Trumpism I don’t know what is.  They attacked, they seemed strong for a moment, and then Republicans and Democrats as one denounced the movement and got the election back on track, not even waiting a day to reenter the rooms that were taken from them so easily, but without any real, lasting damage.  Trump didn’t really win anything, his mob didn’t really take anything, they were temporary, and they are already losing support across the country, as anyone with any sanity left distances themselves from a movement that was more goofy than groundbreaking.

I say none of this to lessen the evil that was done in Trump’s name, the policies that were enacted during his time that will have to be reversed, the voice he gave to those who were progressively being removed from our country’s narrative because they represented the worst in us: the KKK, the NRA, the Proud Boys, QAnon, all the “Karens”, your average racist grandpa.  That hurt us, having these people reemerge, having Trump and his people in charge, having the world take a step away from us because we had lost control of our rational government.  But what I’m saying is this; Donald’s accidental four years are up, his own supporters are slinking away, this latest outrage has shaken even his bat-shit base, and Democracy prevailed because we fought for it, and partially because they weren’t very good at being fascists.  After all, it was their first takeover, they couldn’t be expected to be perfect at it, and, both in practice at the Capitol building and in a greater sense in America, real patriotism simply side-stepped and came back with a left hook, knocking out an attempt at extreme populism that only seemed to work for a time because we were slightly unprepared.

We won’t be caught off guard next time.  We will see it coming.  The Democratic Party now has control of the House, the Senate, and the Presidency, and there’s a reason for that; the American people don’t want Trumpism any more or ever again.  We simply said no, and although we will remember every Representative, Senator, staff member, and voter who allowed this to happen by supporting the madness of a man who never should have been in charge in the first place, we at least recognize that when our Democracy was in danger the vast majority of sane Americans realized that it was time to say goodbye to the MAGA mindset.  What do we do now?  Keep fighting.  Because while Trump may become a shell off his former self, while the Republican Party might splinter into factions, while the racists might start hiding their faces again, not every villain has fled the scene.  Trump’s useless children still have political aspirations, seven Coup Caucus Senators voted against counting electoral votes for a new President, and countless rural Republicans are still out there ready to vote for the next politician who points at someone with dark skin and swears that *they* are the reason for all your woes.  This cycle isn’t new, the U.S. didn’t invent it, but I think we licked it this time around, and soon our kids’ textbooks will associate the name ‘Trump’ with the term ‘sedition’, and that will be a good lesson learned.


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Movie Review – Palm Springs

Category : Movie Review

Director: Max Barbakow

Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti

Year: 2020

Palm Springs is a combination of Happy Death Day and This Is the End, a comedic sci-fi loop track that may look to focus on sex, drugs, and rock&roll, but ultimately has much more to tell us about ourselves than we might imagine.  The metaphors are a bit clunky, what else would you expect from Mr. “Hot Rod” Kimble himself; this isn’t Daniel Day-Lewis, this is SNL-level talent and intellect.  But for a first-time director working with c-level comedians, the result was pretty fantastic, a complete surprise and then some.  Palm Springs is one of the better movies you’ll see this year, keeping in mind how much it borrows from others and how relatively few films it’s competing with; still, it works, and that’s what matters.

Nyles is at a California wedding with his girlfriend Misty; it’s her group, not his, he’s just along for the free booze.  Actually, he hates weddings, doesn’t really like Misty, and probably shouldn’t have come, but hey, make the best of it, have a beer or five.  But here’s the worst part; Nyles is stuck at this wedding for all eternity, looped into some sort of time warp he doesn’t understand, doomed to repeat the same day every day until all days feel the same.  One time out of countless, the bride’s sister Sarah gets stuck in the loop as well, meaning that she & Nyles will now be spending eternity together, which sounds awful at first, becomes sorta fun, and then gets complicated, as love in the time of chrono-cluster is no picnic.

Pam Springs is the best rom-com I’ve seen since Sleeping With Other People, which was a film that earned so much respect from me for the way it handled a stupid genre, how it made that style relevant, interesting, actually sexy, and somehow good.  Palm Springs nearly does the same, if standing on the backs of too many others to really get full credit for a job still greatly done.  It’s funny, it’s pretty touching, it’s simply enjoyable, and the little pieces that work add up to a solid full feature that performs much better than I could possibly have expected.  I put off watching this movie, I didn’t want to watch Andy Samberg get drunk, I thought it would be bad; boy was I wrong.  Samberg was great, Milioti was complex, and, randomly, Meredith Hagner as Misty stole the show with her perfect performance of a girl we all feel like we know personally.  The film had a good pace, touched on a lot, saved room for a ton of jokes, and still got a bit of a message out; not many can say the same and yet tried way harder than this wacky entertainment piece.  The pleasant surprise of the season, Palm Springs is both delightful and audacious, which apparently is a cool combination.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆