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Showing posts with label written-reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label written-reviews. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Malcolm & Marie (2021)

This film is an acute study of...Malcolm and Marie, and from there it branches out to cover the bases of relationships, film criticism, filmmaking, the "woke" versions of film criticism and filmmaking, and everything under the sun. It would be exhausting to write about this kind of movie "properly," according to Malcolm, but it was very interesting to watch...even if watching itself is exhausting. So the best way I can write about it is probably in a disjointed fashion. The synopsis, as always, is still a strong start.

Malcolm and Marie

The title characters, played by John David Washington and Zendaya | Copyright 2021 Netflix

Direct from Netflix's menu of endless browsing, "As a filmmaker (John David Washington) and his girlfriend (Zendaya) return home from his movie premiere, smoldering tensions and painful relations push them toward a romantic reckoning." It is written and directed by Sam Levinson, and he is also behind the HBO show Euphoria, which also stars Zendaya, and the movie Assassination Nation. I'm probably never going to do a full write up of Euphoria, so let's give it a few words here, since I already promised something disjointed. 

Euphoria is about high schoolers navigating their everyday life. Everything is a little bit heightened and exaggerated, but it comes from a very real place of millennials and younger struggling in a world designed to disenfranchise and drive them to vices. The best way to make extreme vices palatable, especially when their part of a self-destructive path, is to make the visuals and colors pop. It gave Euphoria a beauty and identity that drew people in to the little details of the characters' lives, while the big picture was sometimes given through narration. Malcolm & Marie is in black and white, and it makes a lot of sense, in the context of the show, because it's all about slowly discovering the intricacies of these two characters...That's just me reading into things though, and we'll get back to that.

John David Washington's performance is pretty great, as he makes an insufferable, and at times cruel and downright abusive, character fun to watch. It helps that the opening of the movie is him dancing, singing, and doing everything he can to set himself apart from his father. His energy is positively infectious. Unfortunately, it's not always channeled well, but that's not John David Washington's fault. When Malcolm is presenting some of his arguments about film criticism to Marie, the ratcheting up to eleven makes him come off like a cartoon character. This is also because Levinson writes him as some kind of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" libertarian. He spouts occasional crap about hard work, not realizing that his work would be a lot easier, and possibly better, if he collaborated with people more. I think a conversation of different men comparing themselves to Malcolm could be incredibly eye-opening. With all that said, Malcolm's commitment to his point-of-view and learning more about what makes him tick made his insufferable and cruel moments, and his narcissistic personality, and the overall movie, more engaging, personally.

Zendaya gives one of the best performances of the year. It pains me to say that as someone who was absolutely floored by Promising Young Woman and Carey Mulligan. Speaking of which, to hear more about that movie and Mulligan, please check out the site Next Best Picture. They did a great podcast episode on it...I was too intimidated by the movie to review it, but it's one of my favorites of the year.

Back to this, Zendaya had a more "showy" performance and role, but there are plenty of smaller moments in it that stood out, too. It's in the ways she tilts her head and has to take on the form of a statuesque goddess for Marie to keep, or stop, wrapping Malcolm up in knots throughout the night. It's in the toe tapping to Dionne Warwick's "Get Rid of Him," which is just one of a few great music cues. She's also very funny. Her imaginary trajectory of her boyfriend's career paints a real picture of how people like me consume and talk about media, for better and worse. There's a lot of moments like that from both of them, but at least she's tongue-in-cheek about it instead of taking the stick-up-ass approach.

Between the two, Levinson is even-handed enough with everything he's trying to say, which is pretty much a stream of consciousness put onscreen...and on stream, since it's Netflix. And it's mostly just to get people talking in general, and I like that approach...or I miss talking to people about this stuff in-person. Either way works. As good as time as any to mention this was made, start to finish, during the pandemic.

So, the problem with reading into things is it's not how a movie is supposed to be reviewed, maybe? At least according to Malcolm, context and different directions the filmmaker could've gone with aren't supposed to be brought up, just what is presented should be. I haven't looked into it yet, but the movie is getting a lot of heat for a pretentious view of critics. Levinson, luckily, may not share these views. He said in an interview with Landmark Theatres that it's about presenting all sides of a subject or argument through Malcolm and Marie. If he keeps in mind that he can't control the discourse after the movie is out, then we're good. 

Levinson also said black and white was chosen because a lot of the visual references he and his cinematographer, Marcell Rév, used were from black and white movies, but "by the time black actors got the opportunity to be leads in film, black and white had sort of fallen out of fashion," and this was a way to immortalize these characters in a piece of that era, even if the movie takes place around now.  

The third major player in the movie, apart from Levinson, would be the film's composer Labrinth. His score is very jazzy and fits this 40s-era look incredibly well. Also, it makes the romance, and just general connection, between the two characters feel earned, in the moments where it plays. 

A few little touches that add to the look and sound are that it was shot on 35mm film and has the full set of credits at the beginning of the movie. There's so much about it that screams classic, and I just love that. No surprise here if Netflix sent screeners of this and Mank as a double-feature for critics and award voters. 

4/5

It's certainly not for everyone Still, I especially hope those guys share their thoughts on the film.

Finally, three little things are what put it over 3.5 for me. The first, was a little reference to BlacKkKlansman that extends to Sorry to Bother You (reviewed here). The second is this idea, does having a character you can point to as going through the same struggles as you rob you of your story? Is there a point where deep, personal relatability becomes a problem? The last was this line, "Thank you for being a drug addict. Thank you for being clean." The way it was said, that's the sign of a better world, and it's just one of a million little things people may get out of this movie. So, definitely write your own review of this one because we're all going to have to work together to touch on everything in it. This is especially needed because Zendaya's contributions are being sidelined in some reviews. 

Update: According to the podcast Black Men Can't Jump [In Hollywood],which is excellent, it's likely he didn't keep this in mind when some reviews for Assassination Nation said that the movie needed a female writer and more of a female perspective. That's what initially inspired this movie, along with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Of course, like everything else about Malcolm & Marie, how people feel he used this criticism and addressed it through this movie and the characters will vary person-to-person. If it results in growth or not will really be shown through future projects. Hopefully it does.

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

White Lie (2021)

White Lie is about a student who fakes a cancer diagnosis for the attention and financial gain, and then struggles to keep up with that lie. It stars, among others, Kacey Rohl, Amber Anderson, Martin Donovan, Thomas Olajide, Connor Jessup, and Sharon Lewis. It is written and directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas, and Thomas also acted as cinematographer. The music is by Lev Lewis, and that's as good a place as any to start things. 

After an opening of Katie Arenson (Rohl) shaving her head and giving the audience an idea of what this movie might be, the music kicks things off with a quick pace that mostly confirms it. That pace is accompanied by the opening credits and Katie hugging students, accepting donations, and living the lie with ease and grace. Within that all that though, there are this drum beat and guitar riff hinting at the pressure of maintaining everything. That, maintaining everything, and Katie's character is where the movie could fall apart at a moment's notice, but it remarkably doesn't. 

White Lie's greatest strength, aside from an exceptional cast, is in its script. Lewis and Thomas have thought of every aspect of what goes into not just performing fraud like this, but also how many different parties it can involve, all the costs, the different avenues it can take, and most importantly the best way to confront someone who's faking an illness and how someone's who's faking can deflect that confrontation. So, an as example, Katie has a medical resident, Dr. Jabari Jordan (Olajide)  help her forge medical records from the ground up, so a complete medical history starting from her diagnosis is necessary. In most movies, this stops at "what kind of cancer do you have?" White Lie keeps this moment going, "what type of melanoma do you have?" And they use someone else's actual records that can match up with the chemotherapy regimen she told people she had. 

Still from White Lie
Crowdfunding and cash donations each play a significant role in maintaining the illusion | Property of Rock Salt Releasing

Lewis and Thomas were interviewed by Karen Benardello at the Toronto International Film Festival during the film's release. They said "When you start doing research into people who fake cancer, a lot of the stories are pretty carbon copy...We did do a lot of research with lawyers and doctors, to help make the story feel real..." Even with a clear roadmap, it's not an easy thing to depict in a movie, especially one that doesn't show that roadmap ahead of time and has the audience as in-the-moment as the main character. 

Keeping scenes going a little longer than expected and keeping everything in the moment are a very naturalistic approach to filmmaking and letting this story unfold, and that's what really stuck with me during the movie. An example of this would be how someone who doubts the story comes into play. It's the big third act bombshell in front of a crowd or even a couple people. It's a Facebook post on the fundraiser/event page. As true to life as it gets, with all the right follow-through to a plot like that.  A result of this is there's so much we don't know because the filmmakers don't waste their runtime or want to force exposition dumps on us or their actors. This leads to some notable moments like when Katie's father, Doug (Martin Donovan), gets the name of Katie's partner, Jennifer (Amber Anderson), wrong and is quickly corrected. It may have been intentional, it may have been something that just worked out on-screen, but either way it works and fits this tone. There's only one moment when the movie isn't like this, and it's more noticeable than it would be in any other film. It's just one cut during a "pivotal reveal." It seems like a better take just had to be used, but if the camera was still rolling, maybe that didn't have to be the case? It was just oddly jarring because of everything onscreen before and since. 

Jennifer (Amber Anderson) | Property of Rock Salt Releasing

Finally, I want to talk about the character of Katie herself. She is where it's easy to step away from the technical aspects of the movie and get into something more. It seems like the filmmakers researched people as thoroughly as the intricacies of their actions. At least up to a point, I didn't not feel forced to judge her, and that's a surprising feeling others may encounter, too. There's sympathy somewhere in her story, and it is what sets the movie apart from anything else like it, although it's possible, based on a different interview "no one had made a film about faking cancer for personal gain." That's as far as they know. So that's another reason why research was key. Something everyone involved really seemed to nail is how people react to this pressure. Katie is able to deflect, project, and think fast, but in the end there's are still some signs, still some missteps. It was something I heard on a podcast. Now please, please take this with a grain of salt because everyone is different, and this is highly subjective. It just happens to fit this piece of fiction well. When accused, those who are telling the truth get angry, and the liars will cry and double down with these "convincing statements." She's not a master manipulator, she just is lucky that a lot of people need to hold on to what they believe. It's all incredibly well shown through Rohl, as she portrays confidence, that in this situation hints at someone mentally and/or emotionally unbalanced. It's a really tough role to pull off, especially with the genuine warmth trapped behind the lie.  

So, with all that said, this is an incredibly engaging film. Please give it a shot. 

4/5

A screener of this movie was provided to me by TriCoast and Rock Salt Releasing. I was not compensated for this review. 

White Lie will be available for pre-order on 12/20 and Rock Salt Releasing will release it on various digital streaming platforms on 1/5/2021 (DirecTV, Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, FlixFling, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, Fandango & Google Play).
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Sunday, December 27, 2020

Harley Quinn: Season 2 (2020)

One complaint I had about the first season of Harley Quinn is that "some episode endings seemed a little rushed so that they could save pieces of an arc for the rest of the season." With the show established that's no longer an issue, and it's able to go into the second season expanding on what it does best. Story arcs are written tighter, many characters from the year before are given additional depth, some new ones are given fantastic introductions, and the jokes just keep coming. Unfortunately, some characters feel sidelined at best, and at worst others are just painfully underwritten. The action and animation is still largely the same and feels like it's on the lower-end, but that's not a real problem. It's a mixed bag, if you dig through it too much, but odds are you're going to really like what you see. 

This season is cleanly divided into a couple neat stories. There's Harley (Kayley Cuoco) taking control of a divided Gotham, one villain-controlled territory at a time, and then there's the fallout from the volatile shifts in power. The first part is pretty clear roadmap to get people back into the swing of things, as each villain takedown gets an episode. Personally, I really needed this since binging shows can leave the details of the previous season a little fuzzy. A season recap, even as a bonus extra on the show page, would've been even better, but we're all just counting our blessings this year.

Harley Quinn Season 2 Promo Image
Harley's Progress (Season 2 Promo Image) | Copyright 2020 Warner Media

Old characters are fleshed out, new ones get proper intros, and the show is able to experiment even more with just about everyone. It's not everyday that Nora Fries (Rachel Dratch) is given the opportunity to have character outside of her husband (Alfred Molina), let alone...move or talk. In fact, the "additional story," in Arkham Knight may be the only other example. Other great examples include Christopher Meloni's Jim Gordon. As much as I loved him last season "flipping the Bat Signal on-and-off [for emotional support]," seeing him actually get some of that support through his daughter (Brianna Cuoco, Kayley's sister) was even better. He even cleans himself up, albeit too quickly, "in a montage where we skip past the hard parts of beating an alcohol addiction." Taking a little more time with Jim's journey would've been great, but still, it honestly was unexpected either way, since characters outside of the main ensemble are not treated seriously all that much in the first place. It may be growth from the creators, and it holds a lot of promise of things to come. I still believe this particular Gordon and Batman (Diedrich Bader) should have more time to shine, but Harley Quinn isn't the place for it. Some characters have a long way to go, in this regard. This version of Two Face (Andy Daly) is a serious letdown, thanks to shallow characterization in a mostly filler episode. 

This is my main black mark on the season. "All the Best Inmates Have Daddy Issues" is midway through the season, and it's about Harley's time in Arkham as a psychiatrist, and it does something I had a problem with in Solo: A Star Wars Story. "Some of these references unnecessarily setup the original trilogy, or foreshadow it in a way that's more like fortune-telling." And with characters many know very well already from other media, it just doesn't feel like it's doing anything really new with them. All these interpretations may have just backed the writers into a corner, and that's understandable, but in that case a less-is-more approach would've done the trick. Joker, who is very well-crafted by Alan Tudyk, asks "You wanna know how I got these emotional scars?" It'll make people either chuckle or groan, but at least it's just one line. This unscarred Harvey Dent constantly refers to the citizens of Gotham as voters, and it gets old quick. Making him one dimensional is one thing, but at least give him some kind of creativity to go along with it. It's like that acid also kicked the vocabulary section of his brain into action, too. On the bright side, Poison Ivy (Lake Bell) revealing why she thinks so little of humanity does a lot for her as a character and propels her, Harley, and the show to a fantastic rest of the season. 

The action and animation could still use a touchup, and that might've actually happened in the last couple episodes. Starting out though, there's just stupid little errors I noticed, like someone drinking something, but then the same amount is in the glass in the next shot. Toward the end though, there are some fun arena-type fights. The GCPD taking on Darkseid's (Michael Ironside) parademons, for this show, is a matchup made in heaven. The highlight, however, has to be Batman getting his own version of Tony Stark's Extremis armor, complete with his own J.A.R.V.I. S-like companion. First, it gives Alfred (Tom Hollander...so, so close) a much-needed break from Bruce's shenanigans. Second, it leads to a fight with Bane (James Adomian) and some thugs that includes flight and lightning punches, and those are always great things. Still, even if that flash was throughout the season, it wouldn't compete with the show's humor. 

Harley and Ivy looking like regular people
Remember, they both had to put a ton of makeup on to achieve this look. It's a great detail | Copyright 2020 Warner Media

For last season, I said "the jokes had a certain South Park quality to them, and that's not just due to the MA rating of the series. It's in the little things, too." That actually might just be strong sitcom humor in general, since I ran across Josh Weinstein's study of Simpsons jokes, recently. Whatever the case, for me, that off-the-cuff clean humor feels like Harley's secret weapon. Stuff like Bane going for one of the open cushy office chairs, now that other villains are incapacitated, and then being shut down for "honorary purposes" and forced to sit on a crappy folding chair. Last time, I said it was just a good way to break up the more mature material. This time, with that joke sowing the seeds of Bane's rivalry with other villains, I'm calling it character-building. This quickly found its identity. With it knowing exactly what it is, and a confirmation of a third season, it feels like it can run straight ahead into what's next. There's just some tiny bumps along the way to smooth out. 

So, there's a lot that's not being covered in this review for plot reasons. Look forward to the shakeups that'll be explored further in the future.  Instead of that, and because the basic circumstances leading to this review. There's just a couple little things to add as a wrap-up. This character, and her associates, was one of the major pieces of fiction I kept coming back to during this horrible fucking year. There's three other posts here (1, also linked above) (2) (3), plus a little something just two paragraphs down. Maybe it's because of the (almost) guaranteed humor, because Birds of Prey might've been the last thing I saw in an (indoor) theatre, or because that movie helped me grow as a hobbyist video editor? It could be a combo of these things, but whatever the case, she and her cronies helped a lot. Knowing that this review is how I may have wanted to cap off 2020 was something to hold onto through quarantine and recovering from fucking heart surgery (valve replacement in March). 

4/5

Similar to last time, HBO Max may still be doing some kind of free trial or starting discount to help promote Wonder Woman 1984. So if you can watch the season, and Zendaya's show Euphoria because I just want to throw that out there, without a major financial commitment, definitely go for it. Finally, there's one last thing. Doing a full write up on it is a little tough because I have trouble smoothly jumping back and forth between all these interpretations of the characters sometimes, and reconciling them with each other, but if you love the character in general, please check out the graphic novel Harleen by Stjepan Sejic. This is a version of Dr. Quinzel, emphasis on doctor, and the clown you've probably never seen before, and the slow burn approach to Harley's transformation builds upon the wonderful introduction from character creators Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Hearing Harley in your head without the resonance of Cuoco, Strong, Sorkin, or Robbie may not sound "right," but I promise you the voice Sejic gives her is a long time in coming, and it doesn't take away from those wonderful portrayals in the slightest.

Harleen Graphic Novel
Harleen Cover | Copyright 2019-2020 Warner Media

And give Sejic's other work a shot too, but just keep in mind it's usually made with a mature audience in mind, and discretion is advised. 

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Young Adult (2011)


The first time I watched Young Adult, the ending was so frustrating that I went back to the box office to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a palate cleanser. While taking in a second show certainly wasn't a mistake, discounting more than Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt's phenomenal performances and the careful depiction of a disorder called Trichotillomania in Young Adult was.

It's better if this starts with what Trichotillomania (Trich) is because it's what prompted this review. So, Trich is a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) that causes people to compulsively pull out their hair. Other BFRBs include skin picking (Dermatillomania), nail biting (Onychophagia), lip and cheek biting, compulsive nose picking, compulsive hair cutting and shaving (Trichotemnomania), and hair eating (Trichophagia), among others. It's often triggered, as depicted in this movie, by stress or anxiety, but some people with Trich pull without realizing they're doing it. It's believed that 2-3% of people have it, and a significant percentage of those people are women. How that affects Young Adult's main character, Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), is more prominent than I even remember, but it's still subtle. Trich is clearly something that she has, not who she is. I'll go more into that toward the end.

The movie's summary from Vudu is "Charlize Theron stars as Mavis Gary, a 37-year old former prom queen, and current writer of young adult novels, who returns home to relive her glory days and win back her now-married high school sweetheart, Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson). When she finds her homecoming more challenging than expected, Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate, Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt), and both must face the harsh realities of growing up in this brilliant and bittersweet story." It is directed by Jason Reitman and written by Diabolo Cody.

I'm not sure there's anything that can be added about Theron and Oswalt that hasn't already been said. Still, on rewatch, what did stick out to me is the moments Theron has of vulnerability and clearheadedness as Mavis. In a way that works and feels rewarding, those moments feel so different from the character we get to know. So, when they quickly vanish toward the end of the movie, you may want to shout at the screen or, like I did, reach for silver-screen-colored mouthwash. That didn't happen this time around, and I may know why.

Anti-hero led tv shows are huge now, and it's not just The Sopranos anymore. The best comparison I can make to Mavis is Bojack Horseman. The worst comparison is to other YA authors, so let's get that out of the way first. YA is a diverse genre full of more than high school drama and romance, and even if it wasn't, and these writers have to become part of that world, a lot of them still know how to "turn it off" when it comes to business and just interacting with people. This movie reminded me of a video (here) about Twilight's Stephanie Meyers, and how she is in fact an adult, treats fans and non-fans with respect, is the exact opposite of Fifty Shades of Grey's E.L James and Harry Potter's J.K Rowling in that regard, and should at the bare minimum be recognized for not being a narcissist. Mavis, especially as a ghostwriter of a declining series, falls into this mix on a sliding scale. While she's an adult, she tends to slip down as she struggles at times to maintain that role. She's the type that would stir the pot if Twitter had been as prolific in 2011 as it is now.

Back to the Bojack comparisons, whenever he tries to make big changes all at once, he backslides hard. Mavis is kind of the same way; a long week in her hometown isn't going to do much, if anything, as far making substantial changes. Plus, this isn't a Lifetime movie where the hometown is full of the nicest souls in the world. Mercury, Minnesota is just a regular, albeit fictitious, town. Which brings us to Buddy Slade, a regular guy in this regular town.

Patrick Wilson has gotten better with age and is sinking into more exciting roles, like Ocean Master in Aquaman. At the time though, he was taking these love interest roles that, to me, didn't seem right and needed an actor who was a little more eccentric in some way. Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl in Watchmen is kind of in-between because it's about finding that spark again. Anyway, Wilson is a great fit as Buddy Slade, playing the stable husband and new father perfectly. And it's not like it's a boring role either. It's easy to imagine him getting his dad jokes ready for after the baby's first words. His wife even has the drum set and rimshot he needs. The only issue with Buddy is that he seems a little too civil to Mavis and allows her to take her plans for him a little too far. He doesn't lead her on whatsoever, but he brushes off her reminiscing and going into intimate recollections a little too easily and often. She may be the same person, but he's not, and there are things I've seen floating around social media now that make that topic perfect to bring up.

One small thing about Oswalt's character that gets better with age is how they handle his high school bullying since the U.S. is taking bullying much more seriously these days. Honestly, the whole movie gets better with age, much like Matt's home-brewed bourbon. This is still Oswalt's best performance. He said that he consulted with an acting coach and physical therapist for the role, and it shows in more than just how his character walks. Here's hoping he returns to more dramatic roles, or at least collaborations with Theron, Reitman, or Cody, soon.

The recent expression online is something like "if you knew me in high school, no you didn't." Mavis didn't grow up, but most people around her did, at least to some extent. Matt may make action figures as a hobby, but he also does bookkeeping and accounts payable work for a bar. Meanwhile, Mavis is an author who regularly blows off her publisher.

Actions like that, social media in general, and the concept of "adulting" make Young Adult perfect for now. Although it’s not exactly social media, Mavis is borrowing lines she overhears from people in stores and restaurants and parroting them as dialogue and thoughts for characters in her book. And as far as "adulting" goes, she lives like a recent college grad who's just scraping by, and honestly there's nothing wrong with that even for a 37-year-old. It happens, especially in the real world in 2020. The problem is that she doesn’t have the emotional maturity she should at that age.

As I mentioned, Mercury is a fictional town, but it's very far from an unbelievable one. It's a place that's just starting to get some big name restaurants and stores, and Reitman and Cody's way of showing that is similar to how Theron is shown. Some people don't change, they just appear to change. The same thing goes for some old, rural towns. The place doesn't look great, but it's not supposed to. So, strictly visually, the best visuals come from the awesome opening credits and seeing the inner workings of a cassette player. Anyway, getting a combination KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza Hut isn't a real milestone (although it's a first lesson in corporate consolidation) if the school mascot is still a Native American and the school team is still called The Indians. Although, the movie does note that it's a step up from Injun, and that's true, and this was 2011. Baby steps can still be steps. And this movie was a big step forward when it comes to Trichotillomania.

Young Adult, Example of Trichotillomania from Mavis
Mavis (Charlize Theron), a fellow Tricher, and her parents, who are well-intentioned but uninformed on Trich | Copyright 2011 ViacomCBS 

When looking for other writers who covered that angle of the movie, there wasn't a lot, unfortunately, but something interesting did stick out. Mavis is the first character in a mainstream movie, that I've seen, to clearly have Trich. Based on what I’ve seen on forums, like here and Gender Focus, some people in the BFRB community take issue with that because they think others will think only people like her have it or that you can't recover from it. It's very clear though, that she just pulls when stressed or anxious, and it's separate from who she is. It's also clear from the clip-on hairpieces and hairstyles she wears that people involved in that aspect of the movie either did their research or have first-hand experience (we have no way of knowing which).

The first time I saw her pull and the glimpse of a bald spot felt like real milestones on their own. I’m a man, so I saw myself represented by someone who doesn’t look like me, and the impact of that is unexplainable. The moment her parents (Jill Eikenberry and Richard Bekins) brought up her pulling really brought it home. This is the clip, and it is EXACTLY what so many uninformed parents, close friends, significant others, or even teachers (who are some of the worst triggers just, at best, because of the nature of school and test taking) have said to so many kids and others with Trich and other BFRBs. "You're not still pulling it are you?" and "it's just that your hair is so beautiful." That scene is brief, but just imagine it over eighteen years, or a lifetime. Even people, usually men, who don't mind being bald, hear it sometimes, and they just want the constant badgering, guilt, and shame to stop. Add wanting to feel beautiful and being a woman on top of that, and it's unimaginable. So for a better perspective on that, I have some recommendations to share.

My friend Abby Andrew has a YouTube channel where she talks about, among other things, alopecia, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss. She's done some videos about how bald women are represented in popular media. Please check her stuff out, too. For more information on BFRBs, please go to The TLC Foundation for BFRBs and The Canadian BFRB Support Network. For Trichotillomania specifically, there are a lot of YouTubers out there now who are talking about it openly, and they're just a quick search away. There is also a wonderful documentary called Trichster on Amazon Prime and VHX. It is directed by Jillian Corsie and features one of the more prominent YouTubers with Trich, Rebecca Brown.

5/5

Even someone who's not approaching the movie that personally can find a lot to appreciate about it.

Note: This review was edited by Laura A. Barton of the Canadian BFRB Support Network (CBSN).








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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Devil All The Time (2020) | Short Review

The Devil All The Time is by Antonio and Paulo Campos, and IMDb’s summary of it is “Sinister characters converge around a young man (Tom Holland) devoted time protecting those he lives in a postwar backwoods town teeming with corruption and brutality.”

That’s really just one of several stories being told, actually. It’s great that everyone gets a complete follow-through, but if I was to write a headline for a (longer) review it’d be like “Choose your own adventure, and stick with your favorite.” This movie may have better presented as a miniseries. Every story and character reaches a satisfying conclusion, but it still doesn't feel like enough either. 

I liked the multifaceted takes on religion, good, bad, and ugly. The bad has a lot of dimensions, as we have people who are just misguided by their strong faith, and they’re much more than simply using God to fulfill acts of greed and lust. Some of that is present too, but seeing them all together keeps the movie’s voice at least somewhat new. That, along with the setting, gave me a There Will Be Blood vibe, in a good way. It probably helps that There Will Be Blood is actually (finally!) a recent watch.

The cast was very good. Robert Pattinson, of course, stood out. Sebastian Stan did too. Tom Holland was great, but Marvel is just really hard to shake off. This doesn’t help, but he’ll be fantastic in an “Alien Costume” adaptation, when the time comes. The biggest surprise is Harry Melling (Dudley in Harry Potter) as one of the preachers. His energy, similar to Pattinson’s in this, is absolutely infectious.

Since some of us are starved for the theatre experience, that definitely is influencing things. I put this on without hesitation because I just turned in my laptop for repairs. This is being typed out on a goddamn phone. Still, The Devil All The Time will keep audiences engrossed in its story, as it seamlessly jumps back and forth in time, and I will be looking forward to the next project from The Campos.


3.75/5

And higher if it was a miniseries.


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Saturday, September 5, 2020

Filth (2013)

I want to say that a while ago I saw a big article, or message board post, about if it's okay to write a protagonist who doesn't change. The most immediate thought that works was that as long as the surrounding characters do change, go for it. There's a version of Filth that's an improvement if it followed this, in a way similar to how Bojack Horseman characters evolve, or don't, over the series. An ensemble makes a movie like Filth, and the cast is there, but the screen-time isn't.

Filth, from the movie's official site, is about "Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), a scheming, manipulative, misanthropic man who spends his time indulging in drugs, alcohol, sexually abusive relationships, and 'the games' – [manipulating] his coworkers and friends. While working on the murder case of a Japanese student, he starts coming unhinged, slowly losing his grip on reality and suffering from a series of increasingly severe hallucinations as he desperately tries to hold his life together." It is written and directed by Jon S. Baird, based on the Irvine Welsh novel. 

In my Babysitter review, I said that I'm pretty easy and a movie hitting hard personally starts it out at like 5/5, and a cover of Creep, in this case by Clint Mansell, definitely qualifies as hard-hitting. That and Jim Broadbent's performance as Robertson's psychiatrist, Verme Rossi, are what's been rattling around in my head since the first viewing of Filth years ago. Also, that cover dates the first viewing as after 2014, while attending New Paltz, learning to dance, and discovering many versions of Creep. So, with all those memories and warm feelings, it's a shame to have to knock the movie down a few notches. 

The best place to start with this one is the easy complaints. Watching this with captioning is advised because the Scottish accents can be hard to understand, and the dialogue didn't sound that crisp-and-clear in general. You still know what's going on but could miss some little details. During a trip Bruce takes to Germany, Baird and cinematographer Matthew Jensen switch to a handheld camera, and it doesn't make a big difference to the sequence, so it's slightly distracting. The use of 99 Luftballons and Sandstorm is great though. 

The larger issue is best explained during a scene where Robertson is finally called out on his crap by fellow officer Amanda Drummond (Imogen Poots). McAvoy's stellar performance is even better when his character can't simply steamroll over another. Something clicked, for me, when she gets him to break down for a moment. It's hard to nail down why, but it might be because of how sick "'the games'" he plays are against mostly innocent co-workers. From an acting standpoint, where going from a whole movie of McAvoy showing his range as the Anti-Xavier to revealing further layers of this character in just a couple moments. Anyway, if the movie was more about screwing over the people who murdered that exchange student, maybe that would improve things? I'm honestly not sure and will be looking into other takes on this movie because that uncertainty is throwing me off more than expected. Another possible reason might be that she seems like the best-developed side-character in Filth, so that's worth investigating and digging through other write-ups and reviews of the movie. 

The murder itself, on the bright side, does show Baird's great strength when it comes to style and expressing a love of Stanley Kubrick. This scene happens in a tunnel and looks similar to A Clockwork Orange's opening. Robertson's boss, Detective Inspector Bob Toal (John Sessions) has a 2001 poster in his office, and further influences and references are dying to be discovered. One possible example may be the score by Clint Mansell because at least one part of it sounded like The Sex Pistols. Deeper than that though Kubrick and Baird are looking at fairly dark and degrading characters who don't adapt to change well. At least Robertson occasionally better recognizes that need to change than Clockwork's Alex did, although those are very different circumstances. Robertson's visit to his psychiatrist explains a lot of the great visuals Baird treats the audience to, like characters having animal heads for a split second. Most commonly, a pig head for Robertson himself. Oppression, to put it lightly, by police is a touchy subject in the U.S. Similar stories of abuse of power from officers, but from a slightly different angle may help some people having trouble wrapping their heads around how horrible aspects of the system are. The movie isn't really about that though, so it'll mostly just go as far as Robertson's personal depravity...and how you take in that depravity is probably going to be the main factor in grading Filth

3/5

But I know I would've given it a higher rating if it was that first view and the shock was fresh.

Whether they make it onto the site or not, Unbreakable, Split, and Glass are the natural followups. Split can just be watched on its own, but we've still got nothing but time for the foreseeable future. Speaking of which, my mom and I liked the M. Night Shyamalan-produced show Servant. It was our first time seeing Rupert Grint in anything post-Potter, and just like Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson, he's doing great work.
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The Addams Family (2019)

When I reviewed Storks I said, "No one gets society like Warner Brothers Animation." To add to that, almost no one gets joke-a-second animation like MGM. Sony's Pictures Animation would be one of the other studios that gets this, since it animated Storks for WB, and they do the Hotel Transylvania and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs movies from start to finish. While the stretchiness and exaggerated expressions of those characters aren't in this, the spirit of the jokes, and movie as a whole, is a mix of 90s Addams Family and cartoons like Tex Avery's Red Hot Riding Hood.

The movie's plot is as standard as it gets, but it was used to deliver some great humor, so let's get into it. Summarized by IMDb, "The eccentrically macabre family moves to a bland suburb where Wednesday Addams' (Chloë Grace Moretz) friendship with the [normal] daughter (Elsie Fisher) of a hostile and conformist [HGTV-like personality (Allison Janney)] exacerbates conflict between [Wednesday and her mother Morticia (Charlize Theron)." Also, Gomez (Oscar Isaac) is preparing Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard) for his rite of passage ceremony, The Mazurka, which will be attended by their extended family. So, of course, it's parents letting kids be themselves and kids compromising. It's basic stuff. This plot, luckily, is elevated by a screenplay from Matt Lieberman, and Sausage Party directors Greg Tiernan and Conrad Vernon, who plays Lurch as well. 

Speaking of Sausage Party, their animation team at Nitrogen Studios was notably exploited. Nitrogen was acquired by Cinesite, and Cinesite's the credited animation studio on this project, so hopefully, the acquisition led to a change in corporate culture and better working conditions. What is clear is that the animation in The Addams Family is a lot more polished, even if there's a step backward in some design choices. The final shots in Sausage Party didn't look final but more like lighting and rendering were still being tested. It's not bad by any means, but there's certain student film feel to it that is just off the mark from the Pixar aesthetic they wanted. 

The Addams Family is brighter and prettier for the most part, but also that "bland suburb" lives up to its name and The Mazurka doesn't look as much fun as The Mamushka of the 90s. So, the townspeople look like stock characters from an Illumination movie. No actual offense intended toward Illumination's visuals, they're okay. It's just that creepiness and kookiness that Cinesite developed for the main characters, by very faithfully capturing how they've looked in comic strips, should've extended to the background characters a little bit. It would've made up for the suburbia plot being something of a rehash of the first Hotel Transylvania. A lot of effort did go into these visuals, but that $24m budget possibly stopped them from going all the way with it. Another possible example of this limitation is with the Mazurka itself. It has a spotlight lighting style like the big circus number in Madagascar 3, but it's not nearly as big as that, partly for story reasons, and it feels like a mismatch. Seeing more of the spectators throughout the whole thing may have helped. Mazurka to Mamushka, by the way, is going to be the only real point of direct comparison because it is the one place where this update should have been superior. 

Speaking of direct comparisons, all characters are brought to life well by the cast, but there's a surprising few who are worth mentioning: Pugsley, Grandmama (Bette Midler), Margaux Needler (Allison Janney), and Fester (Nick Kroll). Short and sweet, Pugsley and Grandmama are given a lot of personality that I haven't seen before in past interpretations, and it really gave the movie a reason to...well...exist. Janney has played a character like Needler before, as the kangaroo in Horton Hears a Who, but she's a lot less insufferable this time around. So, that's an improvement. I expected the worst from Kroll's Fester because Kroll has, with exceptions, a disgusting and crass filmography, but he was pretty restrained in this and the character had some great jokes. Gomez, Morticia, and Wednesday are as perfectly cast and played as expected, of course.

Finally, to wrap things up, I'm just going to pick out a couple of jokes that I liked. The opposite day dialogue and stuff that's been part of Addams Family can be confusing and hit-or-miss, and it is in this movie too, but the delight of newlywed Gomez and Morticia saying "we hit something" after crashing into Lurch with their car set a solid tone for the remaining eighty-ish minutes of movie left. Most of the humor won't be dated, except for the It joke in the trailer, and those that are still may bring a chuckle, like a devil character lighting his head on fire before proclaiming that the Mazurka is "gonna be lit." The Mazurka wasn't as lit as I wanted it to be, but the entire movie was more fun than I thought it would be. 


3.5/5

By default, that makes the 90s version and the sequel at least

4/5


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Monday, August 17, 2020

Under The Silver Lake (2019) | Short Review

Under The Silver Lake is almost explicitly a modern-day version of The Big Lebowski. The major difference is that Lebowski sacrificed the plot for humor, and Under The Silver Lake sacrificed the plot for tone and oddness. So, is there enough there to sustain the film? Barely.

Under The Silver Lake is an A24 movie starring Andrew Garfield and written & directed by David Robert Mitchell (It Follows). From the film's site, it's a "neo-noir [movie] about one man's (Andrew Garfield's) search for the truth behind [mysterious activities in Los Angeles, after his neighbor vanishes]."

Garfield is what pulled me into the movie, since I'm a huge fan of his portrayal of Spider-Man & Peter Parker, and the early nervousness and twitchiness he brought to that works well here. This time, it's just mixed with the deadbeat aspects of The Dude in Lebowski. That also means the main difference between the two is one is incredibly zen, and the other is more engaged with the story around him.

So, while Garfield's character (Sam) moves the plot along well, the movie is still about 20 minutes too long and has a lot of loose ends. A moving plot that doesn't matter...still doesn't matter, so it's going to leave a lot of people frustrated. Those who get something out of Under The Silver Lake will probably point to the score, which has some tunes straight out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Garfield's performance (the entire cast is solid and along for whatever Mitchell throws at them), and the philosophical angst that comes from chasing ghosts.

My favorite scene is when Sam meets a songwriter (Jeremy Bobb) who may have made all the hit songs in the world, and may have put secret messages in them. Certainly not a new idea, but the revelatory angle taken with it, when mixed with a character as lost Sam becomes a standout moment of the film. If nothing else, look at that scene, gaze at the other beautiful shots of L.A, including the Griffith Observatory, and listen to the score. If you want more context for the great moments in Under The Silver Lake, you may not get it, but the full movie is available to watch as well. 

3/5

For a much more engaging take on the movie, and everything Garfield brings to it outside of his rock solid performance, please watch the channel Full Fat's video on Under The Silver Lake.

Also, what are your favorite Noir and Neo-Noir movies?

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Superman vs The Elite (2012)

Note: Thank you to Russell Hartman for previewing this review for accuracy.
 

The classic version of Superman is hard to come by, especially on-screen. Now, my stance on the DCEU is that Snyder was going on a journey to the blend of Clark and Kal-El that we’re familiar with and love, and his cut of the Justice League should prove that. If I’m wrong about that though, or you feel the damage has already been done with the snapping of Zod’s neck, then I recommend Superman vs The Elite.


Superman vs The Elite pits Superman (Justice League's George Newbern) against a team of vigilantes intent on acting as judge, jury, and executioner. What makes this a challenge isn’t just that they’re at times more than evenly matched for The Man of Steel, but their methods quickly become not just accepted but popular with the public. Even as understandable as that may be for some, seeing it through Clark’s eyes is scary and depressing. The Elite’s championing of chaos and anarchy comes at the expense not just of due process, but humanity. This movie is directed by Michael Chang, adapted by Joe Kelly, and based on his Action Comics #775 issue "What So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way.”

 

So, what sticks out about this movie immediately, especially during the first viewing is the art style. It’s pretty cartoony-looking, especially for a DC animated movie. It’s similar to the original comic but pushed a little more. Once you get used to it, it’s great. It makes Superman look older than he probably is, like in his 40s or 50s, and that’s very fitting for a story where he feels a bit out of place with the rest of the world. Zack Snyder makes him feel out of place by making him more of an alien, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but Chang does it by making him feel more human. The style, by the way, allows for fluid animation, and great fight scenes (describe some fights), on top of some already interesting visuals. 

 

Superman's full strength and range of powers are taken advantage of in ways that are a bit unexpected, like a sonic scream, but it's one of the Elite members, who steals that show. Menagerie (Melissa Disney) is a mixed bag of a character. Her hitting on Superman comes across as overly off-putting, since this version of Clark is so wholesome and has a great relationship with Lois (Pauley Perrette), but her powers help make up for that. She has these Medusa-like snakes, or eels or leeches, that she can shoot out of her body, but she also uses them as hearing aids and binoculars. She felt like a more powerful and creative version of Poison Ivy. While that's probably not true if they faced off, the movie makes a good case in the moment. 


Superman and Lois
Superman, Lois Lane, and the Strong, Stan Smith-ish, Jawline of Justice | Warner Brothers, 2012


Besides Menagerie's forwardness, the only other problem with the movie is just how fast the Elite are applauded for their actions. People who watch these direct-to-video movies regularly are probably used to the fast-pace needed to cram everything into about ninety minutes, but the movie actually has a good buildup scene that just plays a moment too late. To give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, the swept-up nature of how people treat The Elite is necessary to bring out the film's themes. So, how do those play out?

 

While this came out well after September 11th, and issue #775 came out six months before, the response to terrorism is central to the story. What tips Superman over the edge is when The Elite kill the leaders of two warring nations during, albeit highly likely to break down, peace talks.

 

Their leader, Manchester Black's (Robin Atkins Downes) philosophy is "The only logical thing to do is slot the whole McGill and start over." In some ways, it's the Adrian Veidt/Utilitarian approach from Watchmen, but this movie makes that less of an abstract concept. The Elite aren't monsters, but they still did this in an up-close and personal manner, as opposed to Veidt's method of flipping a switch half a world away. Adding violence, pain, and suffering, at least as much as possible in a movie aimed at teens and pre-teens, the consequences become more real. The need for more than just the No-Kill rule, but a standard of humanity even when faced against the worst of it, becomes more real. That's what this Superman embodies. That's why some still look at a punishing Batman, even with that rule firmly in place, with a raised eyebrow.

 

So, that's why this is one of the best Superman movies out there. The way to make someone as overpowered and genuinely good at heart as Superman interesting is to find a way to challenge that, and Superman vs The Elite may provide a clear answer for the hero's situation, but that doesn't make it an easy one. I honestly believe that's what Zack Snyder was going for in that aforementioned pivotal scene of Man of Steel, but something got lost in translation, and that version of the character hasn't fully recovered, despite Henry Cavill showing incredible range as the character in the cape and in "Kansas Plaid." 

 

Back to Elite, it's an incredibly human story. That’s most clear in the moments between Clark and Lois, and him and his dad (Paul Elding). He’s able to be his most (Kryptonite-free) vulnerable, doubting, and scared version of himself. It's in some ways like back to when he was a kid and still figuring everything out. I hope DC's animated branch continues to give us more films like this, especially from Clark...although not necessarily this Clark. If you haven't read or heard of Superman: Secret Identity, I highly encourage everyone to check it out.

 

I plan to return to this movie at some point soon because the original plan was to compare it to Captain America: Winter Soldier. While the extreme of Elite is anarchy, the extreme of Winter Soldier is national security, but with both characters championing similar ideals, so there's definitely more to say on the topic.

 

Anyway, I'd love to hear what others think of this movie and other pieces of Superman, or superhero, media. So, if you have something to say, leave a comment, or better yet, write or film your own review/essay and put it up on your own platform.


4.5/5


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Friday, May 29, 2020

Polar (2019)

We're in the age of the John Wick clones now, with movies like it, PolarExtraction, and Atomic Blonde seemingly popping up left and right on Netflix. I haven't seen John Wick yet, but I've seen those other three, and I'm a Tarantino fan. I'll explain where he fits into this in a minute.

From IMDb, "A retiring assassin, Duncan Vizla (Mads Mikkelsen) suddenly finds himself on the receiving end of a hit, contracted by none other than his own employer, Mr. Blut (Matt Lucas), seeking to cash in on the pensions of aging employees." It is directed by Jonas Åkerlund, written by Jason Rothwell, and based on a graphic novel by Victor Santos

So, let's start with the Tarantino thing. When Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Django Unchained, Calvin Candie,  is introduced, he's mugging for the camera. It's clearly directed and intended by Tarantino, and he probably gave DiCaprio some idea how a fast zoom in and sweeping sound effect would be used in the finished film. It feels like what Åkerlund was doing on set, which is good work, and what he was doing in the editing room, which is also good work, are from pretty different movies. The editing, from the cuts, to the coloring, to the title cards, can be very stylized at times. This can be really fun, engaging, and is a great tool for character development because it can show what's in their head without telling us through clunky dialogue. I think for it to work well, the characters have to match that stylized tone, or at least a character does, and they don't in this. They're not toneless, though.

Polar has a very morbid sense of humor. Gunshots and kills, especially early on, are played like a punchline. The movie opens with one of Mr. Blut's employees (Johnny Knoxville) being assassinated after taking a little blue pill and enjoying the day with someone who's actually part of Blut's crew. The scene feels a little too gross to enjoy. Still, Knoxville needing one of those pills feels like a reference to his painful career, and that's pretty funny. The cruelty doesn't end there, as he's just the first on a long list of kills, but what makes many of the other ones worse is they're usually collateral damage. It's a little better when Mikkelsen is the one pulling the trigger though.

The movie has a lot of character and a lot going on in the little things. One of those things being Mikkelsen's performance and the people he interacts with. Besides the action, which is usually less about speed and more precision-based, he's asked a lot. Most notably would be torture similar to what his character put Daniel Craig's Bond through years ago. However, this movie's R-rating means Mikkelsen had to give a little more to the performance and be covered in fake blood and makeup to help pull it off. He takes some warming up to, but he's the best part of the movie.

As for those people he interacts with, it might just be stuff that clicked for me. After a doctor's appointment, the doctor goes to the microwave near the exam table, pulls out a dessert, and they casually talk about his physical results. It's definitely because of quarantine and the rise of phone/webcam appointments right now, but it just stuck out as this nice moment. On the subject, the fact that this whole plot revolves around some basic accounting, which is explicitly brought up (killing his retiring employees lowers Blut's company's liabilities), also got my ears earring. 

Mr. Blut himself was actually another bright spot. Matt Lucas is much more entertaining to watch when he's eccentric than when he's just creepy. It's a shame that his character is an idiot and highlights the worst of the script. 

That torture scene mentioned earlier takes place over four days. Vizla's suffering is drawn out because "this is personal." Vizla, while he's very competent, gets lucky throughout the movie because a gun isn't drawn on him the second he's seen. Aside from the "personal" reason, there usually isn't a good explanation. The mix-and-match style of the movie's writing and tone don't really have an explanation either. 

Polar is inconsistent in a really bad way. I can handle tone shifts like when Hancock went from comedy to drama, but that's because every element of the movie shifted. Polar, instead, clashes with itself in some of the same moments. Still, I enjoyed Mikkelsen and the bright spots the movie offered. So, if you're already subscribed to Netflix and running out of other shows and movies, give it a try.

3/5
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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Bad Education (2020)

Variety
called Bad Education "Hugh Jackman's best work of his career," and they're right. It's shocking how just visually slicked-back hair, a suit, and a clean shave can get people to forget about Logan... and Logan. On top of that, this movie was also competing against, at least to me, similar outlandish scandal movies like Adam McKay's The Big Short. Again, it succeeded, but it did it by staying connected to the consequences of what these people did and the viewer's own curiosity about the mechanics of the scandal.

Bad Education is directed by Corley Finley, written by Mike Makowsky, and it's an adaptation of the New York Magazine article by Robert Kokler about school administrators who stole millions from their district. If the theft alone wasn't newsworthy, this being a top district in the country certainly pushed the story to national attention at the time, back in the early 2000s. The administrators are superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney)

It's rare to see school administrators cast in a positive light onscreen, just look at most 80s movies, but this one starts out with Tassone preparing to greet an adoring, thankful community. Michael Abels's score opens with music that's literally angelic. I'm surprised his name didn't pop into my head, after what he did with Jordan Peele's Us (reviewed here). Anyway, Tassone's work life and personal life slowly are revealed to be increasingly more complex than initially believed, and Jackman realizes every moment. A lot of the performance is non-verbal and comes across thanks to his face and his height. On top of that, he's able to go from courteous, and a student or teacher's best friend, to something else entirely, but not in the way you'd expect from Jackman. Maybe I'm off-base because I'm not an actor, but it's like this, calm to wronged and violent (Logan) is easy. Calm to angry, underhanded, but controlled (Tassone) is very hard. And it happens in seconds, successfully.

With Allison Janney, I'd compare her performance in this to the one she gave in I, Tonya. Both great, but I liked this one more. She's playing a much worse person this time around, but she doesn't come off that way. It's probably because Gluckin is a less wound-up person, and that gave Janney more room to breathe. A lot of the funny moments come from her, like when she's teasing Tassone about his diet, with a sandwich. Her chemistry with Jackman is excellent, and it's felt even when they're not in the same scene together, but that's to be expected when they have their own kinder, schoolhouse version of The Devil Wears Prada relationship. It's what makes the movie feel re-watchable, and the writing and directing are complementing that.

So, people going into this movie expecting a tone similar to The Big Short or Vice may have to put something else on right after to get their fix, but they shouldn't walk away disappointed. The scandal itself and the people involved are every bit as engaging as McKay's non-linear storytelling. This, for those who haven't heard of the Roslyn School District before, is the first great mystery movie of 2020. The investigation scenes, led by high school journalist Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan) are a lot of fun...although, it helps that a lot of the investigating involves forensic accounting, and I'm also a bookkeeper. If that doesn't do it, the dialogue can. One speech about a chained up race car, chained like school officials are to the demands of students and teachers, has a way of pulling the whole experience together and showcasing Bad Education's greatest strengths.

So, whether you come for the characters or want to follow the money, you're sure to enjoy Bad Education.

4/5

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Sunday, April 12, 2020

Harley Quinn: Season 1 (2019-2020)

So I don't write show/season reviews because that can be a lot to watch and keep track of. Harley Quinn was doable though because even with the relatively high amount of episodes, the show never really spreads itself too thin, and it's much more consistent than I think most people would expect. This is the easiest kind of show to screw up because the easiest way to do it is for Harley (Kayley Cuoco, in arguably her best role since 8 Simple Rules) and company to never, never change, and just wreak havoc on Gotham with no clear plan week-to-week. Instead, Harley and her team are a real ensemble, characters are depicted with fresh approaches, and the show's humor is varied in a way that reminds me of the best moments of South Park. It's not perfect, but it's another deep breath of fresh air from DC that Marvel and other publishers should keep an eye on.

So first, that ensemble and those characters. The main plot of the season is that Harley has broken up with Joker (Alan Tudyk), so part of making a name for herself involves putting together a crew and pulling off some big scores of her own design. That crew is Poison Ivy (Lake Bell), King Shark (Ron Funches), Dr. Psycho (an unrecognizable Tony Hale), the classically-trained, Shakspearean-style Clayface (Alan Tudyk), and occasionally Ivy's plant Frank (J.B Smoove) and Ivy's landlord Sy Borgman (Jason Alexander). With the title character, Cuoco said "I didn’t want to force an accent or try to be someone I’m not. I’m ‘Kaley as Harley,’ and accepting that early on enabled me to be free and very authentic." That seems to be true of all the actors and characters. It leads to things that possibly have never been attempted before with these icons in any medium.

For instance, Batman (Diedrich Bader) and Gordon's (Christopher Meloni) relationship feels similar to how Batman and Joker's has been on the screen since The Dark Knight. It's explored and parodied at the same time. So, we get Gordon flipping the Bat Signal on-and-off because he needs to talk about his marriage with his closest confidant. To anyone familiar with Meloni's other work, the extra-level of meta-ness is a bonus. If they got their own spin-off, or even their own comic, it would be a lot of fun.


Harley Quinn Season One PromoHarley's Crew (Minus Frank) | Copyright 2019-2020 Warner Media

Even though this isn't their movies, this style fits neatly with the DC's and WB's post-Batman vs Superman and Justice League strategy of not trying to copy Marvel and just letting their creators do their own thing, and that's really the last thing I expected from Harley Quinn. This could've been an animated Deadpool clone that was all off-the-wall humor but no substance. Instead, there's an actual story throughout the season and a long arc that takes like four episodes. And Harley and Ivy's relationship especially shines. They banter well together and look out for each other. Ivy calling Harley out on her crap when it comes to Joker is especially welcome. It's one thing for the new movies to bring up the toxicity, but having a voice of reason spell the consequences of that relationship is a much needed and appreciated extra mile. It's a friendship that makes people with some familiarity with them want to seek out the comics and fan-cast a Pamela Isley that would have great chemistry with Margot Robbie. Also, a small but impactful change for Ivy is she's less of an eco-terrorist. She has a line she doesn't want to cross, and it's incredibly humanizing. That demonstrates real effort on the part of the writers and directors. Speaking of them,' the scripts and dialogue should definitely be addressed a little.

Like I said, the jokes had a certain South Park quality to them, and that's not just due to the MA rating of the series. It's in the little things, too. South Park will have these jokes that could fit in on The Simpsons. One was Emmanuelle Lewis appearing as a "Dictionary Official" when the boys get a word redefined. When he shows up, Stan just says "Oh, it all makes sense now." They're probably just there because it's the funniest line Stone and Parker could come up with, but I think it's also another way to show that there's more beneath the surface, especially early on with a new series. In Harley's case, one such joke is about the young age of a tree monster, as shown by the rings. It's a good laugh, in the middle of a lot of chaos toward the end of the season.

Finally, one problem with the show is that some episode endings seemed a little rushed so that they could save pieces of an arc for the rest of the season, but that's better than dropping storylines entirely. Another is that the animation and action could be better. With a higher budget, it could definitely take inspiration from Birds of Prey's (reviewed here) fight scenes and look as fluid as Spectacular Spider-Man.

So, as mentioned, DC appears to be expanding in ways that Marvel and other publishers aren't yet. On top of other MCU shows that Marvel has planned, there's also a What If series that could be their approach to being something like Harley Quinn. After the perfect stopping point with their movies, I hope it is because this is the best time for them to start something new. The same goes for Image, Valiant, which just had a rocky start with Bloodshot, and other competitors. DC tried to learn from Marvel, copy them, and failed. Now, everyone can learn from DC, experiment, and succeed. 

The series can be viewed with a subscription to DC Universe. The second season is coming out now, so you might want to try waiting until that ends to get the 7-day trial, and then binge the show along with anything else you have time for. The first season is also being sold digitally wherever you regularly buy shows.

4/5


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