Who Am I?

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Title: Jim & Andy

Rating: 4 Stars

This is a documentary following Jim Carrey as he is making the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon.

I remember when the film came out. There was substantial word of mouth that Carrey had gone all in on the part. On the set, he would only answer to Andy, or if he was in the Tony Clifton character, as Tony.

What I didn’t know is that at the time he allowed a film crew to follow him on set during its filming. I also don’t know why it took nearly twenty years for someone to decide to make a documentary out of the footage.

Perhaps the time was required to allow Carrey to gain some perspective. The film is interspersed between an interview that took place recently and footage from his time on the set. In his current interview, he is heavily bearded, looks at the camera with calmness, and speaks with great serenity and self-understanding. This is in stark contrast to his near manic stage presence that he usually exhibited at the height of his fame in the ’90s.

It appears clear that at some point over the last decade or so, he’s seemed to have achieved some peace and has resolved some of the demons that were chasing him. The levels of depth that he reached filming Man on the Moon seemed helpful to him in this pursuit. Good for him, but reconciling his known anti-vaxxer stance with this great guru wisdom and serenity that he appears to have now caused me some cognitive dissonance.

What made this film rise substantially in my estimation is how it explores identity, especially in the context of acting.

Let’s start with Andy Kaufman. His own life was essentially an act. He completely sold himself on his characters, specifically foreign man, Tony Clifton, and his wrestling persona. He never broke character. An argument can be made that he was forever the little boy playacting in his bedroom. It was there that he could imagine being happy and so it was there that he insisted living. I once read a biography of Kaufman (and this scene is also in Man on the Moon), where he announces to his closest friends that he has cancer. None of them believe him and specifically Bob Zmuda (who was his partner in crime on most of his escapades) begins to plot how they can use the cancer for effect. It takes him some time to convince everyone that he actually is seriously sick. What kind of life are you living and how many secrets are you keeping when your closest friends don’t believe you when you say that you’re dying?

Into this comes Jim Carrey, who himself has clearly has some identity issues. He’s fiercely proud and protective of his father, who was a larger than life figure that sacrificed for his family. He then fails his family by losing his job while in his 50’s. For a time, they’re homeless. Out of that environment comes Carrey, desperate for fame, fortune, and some kind of validation or acceptance.

Carrey tells the story that before he starting filming, he went down to the ocean and quietly meditated. There, he felt Andy Kaufman enter his body and basically tell him, I’ve got this.

From that point forward, Carrey no longer believes he’s acting. He’s actually channeling the spirit of Kaufman. That is why he insists that everyone on set refer to him as Andy (or Tony). This includes even the much renowned, elderly director, Milos Forman, who is perplexed and frustrated by Carrey’s (er, Kaufman’s antics).

At one point Forman calls Carrey when he is off set. Forman tells Carrey that this is not working for him. Carrey tells him that Forman can formally fire Kaufman/Clifton and then Carrey would be willing to still do the movie as an impersonation of Kaufman/Clifton. There is a short pause and Forman agrees to continue on as before.

There are other striking scenes. There is the scene where Carrey, as Tony Clifton, storms out of the daily screening room, criticizing the performance of Carrey to Forman. Years later, Carrey admits that the criticism was valid.

There is the scene in the makeup trailer between Carrey (getting ready as Kaufman) and the actor playing Kaufman’s father. The father comes into the trailer to tell Andy that he’s proud of him. Andy, who had a conflicted relationship with his father, would have been overcome by this sentiment, and Carrey, as Andy, is. The scene is so touching that makeup artists (not actors) break into tears. This is some serious hard core method acting.

In the final scenes, where Andy is clearly dying of cancer, even off camera Carrey is feeble, gentle, and accepting of death. At all times, he is pushed around in a wheelchair and has to be helped when he stands.

Although not filmed, Andy’s daughter (that he apparently never met) came to visit the set. There, Carrey and the daughter had a private conversation and apparently this gave the daughter some measure of peace.

What to make of all of this? We have an actor completely caught up in the portrayal of an actor that himself was always in role. Is getting consumed by a part an occupational hazard of actors? I think of Daniel Day Lewis in pretty much any role, but specifically as Christy Brown, the cerebral palsy artist, in My Left Foot. I think of Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in The Doors.

Even larger, what is identity? If someone is always playing a role, does that basically become his identity?

And how does that play into our lives? Do we even have a true identity? Or is our identity just the roles that we consciously play in our lives?

Is there no there there?

At one point, late in the movie, Carrey as Andy is talking to Bob Zmuda (the real Zmuda) and Bob is talking to Carrey as if he’s actually talking to Andy. For a moment, you can actually see that Bob thinks that he’s truly talking to Andy. Bob then takes a hard look at Jim and realizes that Jim is just actually fucking with him.

In that moment, you have Bob Zmuda, who was the key person that enabled Andy Kaufman to channel his roles, realize that he’s being played by Jim Carrey, who Zmuda is helping to channel Kaufman as his fictional Kaufman in turn channels the characters that Zmuda originally helped Kaufman channel.

You got all of that?

 

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Coma Rom Com

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Title: The Big Sick

Rating: 4 Stars

Yes, this is that rarely executed romantic comedy where one of the two in love spends the large majority of the movie in a coma.

Based on a real story, the struggling Pakistani comedian, Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani), has a typical meets-cute Emily (Zoe Kazan) when she heckles him during his act. They’re both reluctant to fall in love, but as is typical with romantic comedies, they inevitably do. As such things go in romantic comedies, hurdles crop up in their pursuit of true love. In Kumail’s case, he comes from a traditional Pakistani family that not only refuses to accept a non Pakistani girlfriend but is trying to force an arranged marriage.

Therefore, Kumail never introduces Emily to his family. Ultimately, she finds out the truth and angrily breaks up with him. Shortly thereafter, she gets very sick, and since all of her friends are deep into finals, Kumail is drafted to check up on her when she goes to the emergency room. At once, she becomes so sick that she lapses into a coma.

Kumail notifies her parents, and the three of them, after an awkward start, sit in vigil for Emily waiting for her to wake up. When she wakes up, will she take Kumail back? Will Kumail ever come clean to his parents about his true love?

If this is your first rom-com, then the answer might not be obvious. Otherwise, I’m guessing that you know where this movie is going to end up.

So yes, it is a very traditional romantic comedy. Even so, it is a well executed one.

What lifts it even higher is the subject matter behind it. Here you have the struggles of an Americanized Pakistani man.

His family is very traditional and clearly has sacrificed much for him, for which he feels much obligation. However, clearly being immersed in American culture, it is difficult for him to reconcile himself to the traditional ways. He only pretends to pray. He dates white women. Given the overwhelming influence of American culture, I’d imagine that this is a common experience to children of immigrants that were raised immersed in this culture.

In these times where the followers of Islam are actively demonized, it’s refreshing to see a normalized portrait of what I’d imagine is a much more typical example of a Muslim family. Struggling to adjust to such a radically different culture must be a struggle, and I enjoyed seeing this struggle displayed on the screen.

Watching Kumail’s relationship slowly bloom with Emily’s parents, Beth (Holly Hunter) and Terry (Ray Romano), was also well done. Initially suspicious of him, as they get to know him and understand the true depth of his feelings for Emily, their feelings begin to thaw. They also themselves have conflicts that they need to work out between them.

All, in all, it was a refreshing, funny, and ultimately heart warming movie showing a slice of America not often shown.

Not only that, it had the best 9/11 joke that I’ve ever heard (even though it’s over 15 years later, not a tremendously popular category, I must admit).

Justice Unrequited

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Title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Rating: 5 Stars

Mildred (Frances McDormand) is consumed with grief, rage, and guilt over the violent rape and murder of her daughter some seven months ago. Infuriated that the police are apparently making no progress, she rents three billboards near the town goading the local chief of police (Woody Harrelson) to spur him into action. The police chief, Willoughby, is embarrassed by the signs and is frustrated over his lack of progress. On top of that, he’s dying of cancer, a fact of which Mildred is well aware but posts the signs anyway. His deputy, Dixon (Sam Rockwell), is racist, homophobic, and not very bright. He is infuriated that Mildred is defying the chief’s authority by posting the signs.

The plot unfolds from that starting point. Since it is a new release, it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the plot further.

This was just a well crafted film. The acting was excellent. McDormand, stripped of all glamour, is an open wound of pain. Harrelson portrays an well meaning, earnest man trying to do the right thing but is running out of time. Rockwell is a dim, raging brute that is cowed by his mother. All of the other actors also did fine work in their smaller roles.

In all of their portrayals there is an undercurrent of dark humor. Mildred, despite being lost in grief, has a ruthless rapier wit. She effortlessly destroys a priest that tries to pass judgment on her. Willoughby is grimly resigned to his fate and looks for moments of light in his remaining days. Dixon’s dim naivete is a nice counterpoint to his extreme violence (eg his acts of “persons of color torture”).

Throughout the entire film, the script walks a fine line between bathos and pathos, and it does so with perfect balance.

The movie ends with no resolution. Perhaps Mildred and Dixon will grow, learn, and possibly even heal from this experience, but that is certainly no foregone conclusion.

Perhaps they’ll choose violence that will not resolve anything. Perhaps they’ll come to better terms with their grief and pain. Ultimately, the film leaves that decision to the viewer.

How Do You Kill A God?

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Movie: Thor Ragnarok

Rating: 4 Stars

The plot, such as it is, starts with Thor captured and learning that his homeland, Asgard, is foretold to be destroyed by Ragnarok. Seemingly, he thwarts this.

Discovering that Loki has exiled his father, Odin, to Earth and is impersonating him back on Asgard, Thor exposes Loki and forces him to return to Earth to rescue Odin. However, Odin understands that his time has reached the end and he dies.

His death frees his daughter, Hela, the Goddess of death. She proves stronger than both Thor and Loki, eventually overpowers them, casts them to their apparent death, and returns to take over Asgard, destroy its subjects, and lead an army to conquer other worlds.

Thor and Loki do not die but end up on what can only be described as a garbage planet, where Thor must figure out a way to get out, get back to Asgard, and reclaim it back from Hela.

There’s much more plot than that, but guess what? None of it really fucking matters. Unless you’re a hardcore canonical Marvel universe fan and connecting all of the dots is vitally important to you, really the plot exists only to show relationships between characters, have some famous actors chew some scenery, and ginormous special effects.

With that consideration, Ragnarok is a good film. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a likable enough superhero. I liked him better in the original Thor movie where he was much more brash and hubristic. As he’s maturing, he’s becoming the wise, benevolent god that is his destiny. That makes him less interesting, but he’s still fun to watch.

Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is still, as always, the trickster god of Nordic mythology. He can’t help his nature. Even though he truly, granted in his own way, loves Thor as a brother, he just can’t seem to abandon his mischievous ways. This, of course, makes him the more interesting brother and it does give a good counterpoint to the sometimes boring goodness that is Thor.

Speaking of famous actors chewing scenery, there is Cate Blanchett as Hela and Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster. Goldblum especially as the smarmy leader / emcee of the garbage planet is clearly having fun and making full use of all of his lines. Tessa Thompson is also in the film as the last Valkyrie, who is a drunk bounty hunter on the garbage planet.

And we can’t forget The Hulk (and he is The Hulk in most of the movie). The Hulk is continuing to be almost a comic figure in the universe. Considering the previous failed attempts at more serious Jekyll / Hyde variations of this character, this is welcome.

So, a lot of characters here and the characters in this universe just keep growing. It’ll be interesting to see if at some point there is saturation point where the movie audience shouts enough.

At this point, they haven’t, and it’s still (again, within its bounds) an enjoyable movie. The relationships between Thor and Loki, Thor and Valkyrie, and Thor and The Hulk were all predictable but predictable in a well done, warm, and humorous manner.

I definitely enjoyed it more than the more serious movies in the Marvel universe (are you listening to me Captain America: Civil War?).

I’ve talked about this before (several times now), but I’ve resigned myself that there really isn’t much dramatic tension in the Marvel universe. No main character ever really dies. How do you even kill a god like Thor?

There was a hint of an environmental message in the movie. The garbage planet is truly just a dumping ground. Garbage is dumped there around the clock. Out of the ruins of this, a civilization of primitive values (gladiatorial in nature) has arisen. Do these other planets that deposit their garbage know that this planet even exists? Do they care? Is this any different than our society having services in place to pick up our garbage weekly and deposited who knows where?

I also appreciate the diversity in casting that Marvel is increasingly embracing. There are strong female characters. There are strong minority characters. There are strong female minority characters. And hey, the movie is still entertaining and fun to watch. Go figure!

A Motion Oil Painting

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Title: Loving Vincent

Rating: 5 Stars

This is the story of Van Gogh’s last days. The story is set a year after his death. It’s framed around a letter to Theo (Vincent’s brother) from Vincent. A post master, who knew Vincent, has the letter and gives it to his son (Armand) to deliver to Theo. Theo, unfortunately, is already dead. Therefore, the son talks to various people, trying to understand Vincent’s last days, in order to determine who should receive the letter.

That’s the basic plot. What makes this somewhat interesting is the fact that this is an animated film. What makes it unique is that the animation was not done using computers or even accomplished using old school drawing cels. It was all done using oil paintings. Yes, each frame of the film is an oil painting. The film consisted of 853 shots and 65,000 frames. To represent movement in each shot, paint was scrapped off and then added in. Over 100 artists were involved in this project.

This gives the film a feel like no other film I’ve ever seen. There are basically two styles of painting here. Those that represents the postman’s son as he talks to people who knew Vincent, are painted in Van Gogh’s style. In fact, many of the scenes are based off Van Gogh’s most famous paintings (eg Portrait of Dr Gachet, Marguerite Gachet at the Piano, Bank of the Oise at Auvers). They are alive with color with thick brush strokes.

The second style is the flashback scenes to when Vincent was still alive. They are painted in black and white and are nearly photo realistic.

I found the film surprisingly engrossing. Armand talks to many people that knew Vincent. He talks to the innkeeper’s daughter where he stayed. He talks to Dr Gachet and his daughter. He talks to the local boatman.

From this, he attempts to derive the truth of Van Gogh’s death. Did he kill himself because of love for Dr Gachet’s daughter? Did he kill himself because he knew he was a burden to his brother Theo? Did he even kill himself? Some young men from the village were known to harass him and one was known to even have a gun. Not surprising, the mystery is not resolved by the end. Different people that Armand interviewed had completely different impressions of Van Gogh and his last days. However, by the end of the film, Armand has some deeper understanding of Van Gogh and the relationships that he had.

Although I did really enjoy the story, clearly it was the art work that was mesmerizing. As you can probably imagine, showing motion is a challenge when you’re painting a series of oil paintings. At times, the film makers allowed you to see the work. As a character moved (ie was scrapped off and then re-painted) you could see the tracks of movement across the canvas. In cases where there were many characters (as in a bar scene, for instance) there would be moments where you could see a background character freeze. In particular, there was a scene that involved a fight. Watching the complexity of a fight unfold as a series of oil painting movements was fascinating.

Considering the limited form of movement ultimately that oil painting provides, there was by necessity a lot of exposition. Normally, that would have bothered me, but as I was listening I was swept up by the art on the screen, so I did not find it distracting.

Considering that impressionism, at its root, was about bringing a level of true realism (what the eye actually sees) to painting, it was an interesting approach to filming Van Gogh’s last days.

Maybe we were actually seeing the world as Van Gogh actually saw it?

A Visually Stunning Ozymandias

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Title: Blade Runner 2049

Rating: 3 Stars

First, the good stuff. Blade Runner 2049 is visually stunning. I knew that this was the last weekend that it’d be playing at the Cinerama, which has the largest screen outside of IMAX around here.

I was not disappointed. The West Coast in the year 2049 is a ruined wreck. Los Angeles extends its squalid buildings for all the eye to see. San Diego, now a dump, is completely engulfed by mountains of garbage, with ever more pouring in. Flashy Las Vegas is now a contaminated dead zone, with shattered remnants of hotels, casinos, skyscrapers, and statues defiantly thrusting themselves up through the wasteland.

At ground level, there is no sun to be found. The city is always overcast and wet. Outside the city, all is barren and gritty in what appears to be a perpetual sandstorm.

Clearly some ecological disaster has occurred here. Despite the film taking place thirty years after the original Blade runner (which itself is interesting, we’re just two years away from 2019, where’s my fucking replicant?), clearly society is still kind of just hanging on here on Earth. This is very much a dystopian future.

Apparently, the new creators of the replicants tried to learn their lessons from their antecedents. The latest generation of replicants are designed to be obedient. The new blade runner, K (Ryan Gosling) is himself a replicant. As a replicant, his job is to retire older model replicants.

In so doing, he discovers a box full of bones. The bones are identified as being female and of having died in childbirth. What makes this a shocking discovery is that the female is proven to be a replicant.  Replicants are not designed to be able to become pregnant, so if this turns out to be true, then this could cause a revolution if not a war between replicants and humans. Replicants are essentially treated as slaves. The ability to give birth would give them the notion of having a soul.

K is given the orders to hunt down the child (if alive) and kill it. As he investigates he discovers that the dead woman is actually Rachael, the replicant from the original Blade Runner film that Deckard (Harrison Ford) falls in love with and eventually runs away with.

K then tracks down Deckard as part of his efforts to find the child. From here on out, spoilers abound, so watch the film yourself if you really want to see how it ends.

I guess the first question that comes to mind is, why was this film made (other than obvious profit motives)?

To me, what made the first Blade Runner so successful was the ambiguous behavior of the replicants vs the humans. The humans are all pretty much beat up and tired. On the other hand, Roy (Rutger Hauer) is vital and alive. In this dark world, it’s the replicants that are the most human. From characters like Roy, you can also see the desperate yearning to be human. They are so close yet they understand that they’re missing some fundamental essence that they’ll never have.

Here, K knows that he’s a replicant. He’s under no illusion. He blindly obeys his superior officer. It is only after it becomes clear that he might actually be Rachael’s long lost child that he begins to rebel. To the replicants being born implies the concept of a soul. The fact that he might actually possess a soul inspires him to behavior that he would normally never contemplate.

Also interesting is his relationship with his VR live in girlfriend, Joi (Ana de Armas). Their relationship is doubly synthetic. He’s a replicant and she is simply a VR illusion of a woman. Yet, even so, their relationship acquires a poignancy.

The film, as in the original, calls into question the nature of reality and of humanity. Does a natural born human possess a different essence than a bio-engineered human? Do natural born humans take our gift for granted and squander it?

So, why only three stars? First of all, I’m not sure if the philosophy of Blade Runner is really advanced that much in Blade Runner 2049. It still seems to be addressing the same questions and providing the same ambiguous answers.

The pace was, to say the least, languid. Clocking in at 2 1/2 hours, it could have been a much tighter movie. This seemed to be one of those films where they discovered so many cool effects that they just couldn’t help themselves and jammed them all in, even if not necessary for the story.

One of the drivers of the plot was Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) who is some genius who saved humanity from famine and has taken over development of the replicants. He needs to figure out to make replicants reproduce so that he can meet the future demands. Neither the character nor this plot was interesting or compelling.

And yes, women don’t fare too well in this movie. A number are murdered, another is a prostitute, another is a VR fantasy, and yet another is your standard female high kick murdering henchwoman. The VR Joi plays into the fantasy that somehow a fake perfect woman is better than a real woman with all of her complexities.

If they’d trimmed even 20 minutes out of the movie, it’d have been a much tighter movie.

Charming Rogue Death Dealer

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Title: American Made

Rating: 2 Stars

American Made is about Barry Seal, a drug smuggler turned DEA informant ultimately murdered by the Medellin Cartel.

I’m not going to spend too much time actually talking about the movie. It was pretty pedestrian. Tom Cruise has gotten to the point where it appears that all he can do is be Tom Cruise. He’s at the point in his career where he’s basically happy being a caricature of himself.

Actors seem to end up in that situation. This is not a knock on Cruise because many actors much more greatly respected than him end up there as well (ahem…Al Pacino or Robert De Niro).

The story is your classic American rogue’s tale. As he’s importing tons of drugs in exchange for arming drug lords, you’re just supposed to just chuck him on the chin and say, that’s all right, you’re a decent boy at heart.

The film takes many liberties with Seal’s tale. It appears that they’ve taken every even scant rumor about him and thrown it into the film as fact. It has him getting recruited by the CIA while flying for TWA. It has him arming the Contras. Realizing that the Contras have no interest in the guns, he turns around and actually arms the Medellin cartel, whose cocaine he takes and brings to the US. In the middle of all this, he somehow ends up also bribing Noriega on the CIA’s behalf and setting up the Sandinistas in a drug sting (a plot apparently hatched by Oliver North). His name leaks from the drug sting, which leads the Medellin cartel to put out the hit on him.

Now, I don’t know what the truth of Seal is. In broad outlines, it does pretty accurately describe our meddling in Central America. The Reagan administration is terrified after the Sandinista revolution takes over Nicaragua. As Nicaragua goes, so goes the rest of Central America, with the ultimate domino being Mexico, which of course means that the Reds are now at our back door!

I’m really not exaggerating. In retrospect, it seems like the Cold War was some insane Kubrick bitter satire, but that was the reality. I was there. People legitimately thought that the desperately poor overthrowing their rich land owners in a tiny, impoverished Central American country was an existential threat to the United States.

Since this was taking place in ‘our’ hemisphere, this could not stand (kind of a reversed fucked up Monroe Doctrine). So, even if the movie threw way too much plot into Barry Seal’s life, it is certainly true that the President tried to arm the Contras to overthrow the Sandinistas, despite explicit direction from Congress not to provide any material to them (you know, the arm of our government that is supposed to control the purse strings). We did basically treat Noriega as a puppet, despite his known corruption.

Most shamefully, there is strong evidence that the CIA actually did aid drug running into the country as another means to fund the Contras and thus accidentally if not actively fostering the crack cocaine epidemic.

And, of course, the coup de grace, the administration that promised never to negotiate with terrorists proceeded to sell arms to Iran so that it could use its influence to free hostages in Beirut. The proceeds from the arms sales went to, …yes, the Contras.

All of those illegal deals, millions if not billions of dollars, immoral acts, and the loss of basically a generation of inner city youth to crack resulted in…the Contras being hounded out of Nicaragua and being forced to hide out in Honduras.

I’ve written about all of this now a couple of times (search for Iran or Contra and you’ll find it). I’m slightly obsessed with it because this was, in my lifetime, the clearest example of the American government just doing outright evil things with obvious grounds for impeachment. In addition, I’m not a tinfoil hat guy and generally speaking, large organizations (and you don’t get much larger than the American government) are way more likely to be incompetent than evil, but here was a case where a small cadre of people actually launched an absolutely bat shit insane conspiracy and got caught, so sometimes the tinfoil guys are right (which of course feeds them into even deeper conspiracies; to see this in action please check out exhibit A: The Octopus and Danny Casolaro).

So, I’m guessing that this was probably done intentionally, but all of this was basically glossed over in the film as some aw shucks good guy going about and doing these absolutely immoral things.

Was this film making a statement that America is so full of its self image as this beacon of goodness, freedom, and liberty that it literally does not have the self awareness of the consequences of its action? Is Tom Cruise, that eternally youthful movie star with the glamorous smile and twinkle in his eye, actually America itself?

Still Don’t Want To Relive The ’70s

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Title: Battle of the Sexes

Rating: 4 Stars

It’s interesting when a film covers events that I distinctly remember from my childhood. It forces me to look at events with fresh eyes. This film is about the so called battle of the sexes, in which a 55 year old Bobby Riggs took on 29 year old Billie Jean King in a $100,000 winner take all match.

Bobby Riggs had previously beaten Margaret Court rather handily, but it was generally accepted that Billie Jean King was the best woman’s player, so even though this was just an exhibition, there was a tremendous amount of hoopla over it.

The film did a good job describing the atmosphere and building up to the climatic match. It also covered King’s awakening sexuality in a sensitive manner.

From what I remember from 1973, when I was 10 years old, there were a large number of people actively rooting for Bobby Riggs. There was a general feeling that women should  know their role, stick to it, and be appreciative for the morsels that they were given. Those ‘women libbers’ might have had a point when they started but now they’ve gone too far. Why should they demand equal pay when everyone knows that men are the breadwinners?

Obviously there are people who still think that today but in the 1970s it was blatantly overt and mainstream. It wasn’t unusual on the television for some self satisfied old white guy to sanctimoniously give advice to girls about their place. Looking back, I can only imagine how much that steamed those women looking for more than just life outside of the kitchen and the bedroom.

In hindsight, it seems kind of insane that somehow the establishment decided to put itself behind Riggs, an, even at that time, known gambler, self-promoter, and hustler, in contrast to the hardworking and earnest King. His character fits the rogue narrative that main stream America mostly just chuckles at and lovingly calls a knucklehead. Barnum would have been proud.

This was the same time when Title IX passed, which mandated that women should have equal access to participating in college sports. Before it passed, one percent of college athletic budgets went to women. Athletic scholarships were given exclusively to men.

I remember when it passed. There was much gnashing of teeth. Who would want to see a woman play sports? There’s no money to be made with women’s sports! It was taking money from deserving men! Women don’t really even want to play sports, right?

Interesting enough, this happened during Nixon’s second term. Even though he probably wasn’t in love with it, he directed the executive branch to execute it, and to their credit, they did. Can you imagine a Republican administration in today’s climate doing this?

In fact, I’m surprised that Title IX hasn’t been targeted yet. There seems to be a movement that thinks that somehow making America great again involves removing hard won equal rights from those that previously were lacking them. (otherwise known as ‘special rights’).

All of this backdrop makes the film’s message all that much more important. The battle was won (OK, maybe not won but substantial progress was made) but the war is not over.

 

This film is an example of how to make an engaging film that also has an important message. In this case, the message is equality and acceptance. In the year 2017, it’s pretty sad that this message is still important to champion, but it definitely is, so kudos to the film for making it.

Holy Mother

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Title: mother!

Rating: 4 Stars

Um…wow.

mother! starts off pretty conventionally. You have a older successful writer (Javier Bardem) (actually a poet) and his young wife (Jennifer Lawrence). The house they have been living in has burned down and the wife is slowly but surely restoring it to its original glory. Meanwhile, the poet is trying to write again but has been blocked, apparently for some time.

An unexpected visitor (Ed Harris) drops in. The wife is clearly discomforted by his appearance, but her husband encourages him to stay. The next day the visitor’s wife turns up (Michelle Pfeiffer). The visitor admits to the poet that he’s dying and that he intentionally dropped in on the poet to pay his respects. Meanwhile, the visitor’s wife intrudes upon the poet’s wife and generally makes a mess in the house.

Later the younger and older sons of the visitor show up. The younger son is infuriated with his planned inheritance, and in the ensuing argument, strikes and kills his brother.

Having nowhere else to hold it, the wake for the son is held at the house. Many people attend, the poet’s wife becomes increasingly distraught as people willfully damage the house. Finally, the poet’s wife goes off on everyone and chases them away. Afterwards, the poet and the wife fight but then passionately make love.

The next morning, the poet’s wife announces that she’s pregnant (because that’s how that works). With the previous night’s carnage in mind as well as the news of his now pregnant wife, the poet is inspired to write.

He finishes his poetry. His work is so powerful that it immediately sells out (again, because that’s how poetry sales work). He is immediately overcome with exuberant fans that over time treat his words as cultish wisdom and that over some more time form dangerous, violent, conflicting sects at war with each other.

And then it gets weird.

And when you think it’s done being weird, it gets weirder.

And when you think it’s about as weird as it can get, it gets fucked up.

So, what’s going on here?

First of all, from the name of the characters (Him, mother, Man, Woman, Younger Brother, Oldest Son, um…Cupbearer), it’s pretty clearly some form of religious parable (think Christian traveling from City of Destruction to the Celestial City in Pilgrim’s Progress).

The filmmakers point to the poet’s wife as being symbolic of mother earth and the poet being God. The visitors are the human race coming to worship God and despoiling (in an almost casual manner) mother earth in the process. There’s obviously a Cain and Abel thing going on there. Without going into too much detail (since it’s still in theaters and I don’t want to ruin the experience of the millions of my readers), there is a sacrificed son aspect to the movie (which, by the way, is heads and shoulders the most fucked up part of the movie, caveat emptor).

Pretty clearly, if this is a religious allegory, it’s a pretty bleak one. The process moves shockingly fast from exuberant fans to worshipful fans to cult like fans to reckless/raucous fans to mass organized violence, chaos, and anarchy. If the message here is that this is the cycle that all successful religions ultimately pass through, then it’s a pretty grim one (although sometimes possibly hard to argue with).

I also think that there was a fame message to it as well. Once a person becomes famous, then his/her personal life effectively ceases to exist. The poet’s wife has basically built her life around providing a refuge for the poet to feel safe and secure to write in. Once he reaches a certain level of fame, despite his obvious love for him, he has no choice but to turn his back on her to feed his ravenous public. The poet, willing to sacrifice literally everything for his creativity, regretfully but greedily takes everything that his wife has to offer.

The Goonies Fight Krusty

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Title: It

Rating: 2 Stars

This had come in with so much positive buzz that I had a lot of high hopes for it. Unfortunately, I left the theater disappointed. It was OK, but it certainly did not meet expectations.

Most of my issues with the film surround trying to distill a very dense, plot thick novel into a movie. It looks like it’s going to be at least two movies. Even so, this film involved the initial appearance of Pennywise in the children’s lives, which is still a pretty big story in of itself to tell.

The main challenge is that there are too many characters that each had some kind of plot arc. Stephen King is the master of weaving characters in and out of a complex plot. However, King has a thousand pages to accomplish this. A movie has about 135 minutes.

Under that constraint, you have to cut characters. Here, the filmmakers don’t. There are seven (count them, seven) child actors that are all in mortal danger. Not only that, but they all have personalities that need to be developed. One is an overweight budding architect. Another is a gifted mimic. Yet another is a hypochondriac. And so on. In the limited time frame, there just isn’t enough time to define and then create space for each character to develop.

I’m in the midst of reading It when I went to the film, so I know the characters. Even with that background, there were moments where I was confused. Wait, is that the kid who can’t stop talking or is he the hypochondriac?

I would have much preferred for characters to be excised from the plot than to have these one dimensional characters with carefully parceled out lines and scenes. Everybody had to have their special moment or two, which left the overarching plot a bit of a mess.

My second issue with it might come from the fact that maybe I’ve become somewhat inured to horror. Yes, the special effects were amazing and the transformation of Pennywise from creepy clown to flesh-eating hellion was impressive, but there were actually relatively few moments in the film where I actually jumped.

It might actually be an age thing as well. Perhaps I just can’t relate any more to the child in danger motif. I’ve long sense lost the innocence of youth. The perils of walking down the street and being tormented by bullies perhaps just doesn’t resonate with me anymore. If so, I’m assuming that the next chapter, if this chapter is successful, will take place the usual 27 years later, at which point the children would then be adults. Perhaps this type of horror will resonate more with me?

In the book, the setting for the children’s horror is 1958. From a pure American folklore point of view, 1958 is probably the better setting for the children’s section. Derry is presented as this typical small town with a dark shadow hanging over it. Setting it in 1958 makes this dichotomy even more apparent. The myth of the 1950’s is that of a time of bucolic innocence (well, if you’re white, anyways). Moving it into the 1980’s, while maybe will make the next chapter (ie 27 years later) a little easier to film and more relevant to our current time, caused the larger issue of lost innocence to be lost.

Finally, I wasn’t that impressed with the CGI. If anything, it was just a little too CGI-y as Pennywise seamlessly transformed into impossible shapes. Sure, from a technical point of view it was impressive, but again, maybe this is me, but horror is more effective when it’s simpler. Just last month or so I re-watched the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was I’m sure literally made for less than this film spent on catering.  Re-watching the shock and horror of that film and seeing how effective that was makes this one seem tamer, even though it clearly had way better pedigree / production values.

So, not a horrible movie, but clearly a disappointment.