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Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

The Miseducation of Cameron Post only scratches the surface 

In Uncategorized on September 8, 2018 at 00:05

moretzmcp

The ‘Miseducation of Cameron’ (MCP) tackles gay conversion therapy head on in a sometimes funny, often deadly serious, manner. 

Homophobia is more pernicious and covert than the movie presents. We don’t learn about what brought characters to “God’s Promise”, but we do learn how they feel about it in the film. Their stories come across as genuine. 

The goal of counselors at the camp is to convert the teens into being straight and stop thoughts of “same sex attraction.” One outrageous example is when Cameron, clearly a teenage girl, says, “Call me Cam.” Councilor Dr. Lydia Marsh, played deliciously by Jennifer Ehle, says to Cam’s request, “No, Cameron is already gender ambiguous enough.”  Reverend Rick, a “former gay” played by John Gallagher Jr., is the more passive of the two heads of God’s Promise. They are both excellent. 

The actors playing the residents of God’s Promise are adequate with a flat affect most of the time. Sure, they are troubled by their circumstances, but a wider range of emotion would have been more realistic.

Due to constraints of a film’s approximate two hour run time, we don’t get enough of a backstory that I assume we would get in the novel. We don’t know the real motives of Cameron’s family sending her to a gay conversion camp, God’s Promise, other than she was caught fooling around with her girlfriend. Her girlfriend wasn’t sent to a camp, why Cameron? Treating Cam’s appearance at the camp as a given without motive weakens the story. 

What I do appreciate is that Cameron’s main problem in the film is how people react to her normal urges, not that she is somehow damaged. The problems are with the camp and the world’s homophobia, not the campers and their sexuality.  

The music, the edits, and the angles are by the book. Kudos to the location scouts, however. The camp was near perfect. 

The ambiguous ending to film doesn’t impress. It could have gone deeper to address the issues at the camp but decided to end without writing a resolution. It’s become the trend in writing, and it doesn’t make a film more amazing that filmmakers don’t know how to end it.  

Rating: Matinee

It’s a good film, but not spectacular. It’s too self aware and by the numbers, but still worth a view. 

Peace,
Tex Shelters

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Search and you will find ‘Searching’ a drama well worth watching

In Uncategorized on September 1, 2018 at 23:16
aneesh-chaganty-john-cho

from nbcnews.com

Searching starts off as a banal mystery of an abducted child. But instead of turning into a revenge drama with David Kim (John Cho) going all Bourne on people with his special set of skills he goes into full computer tech mode and finds clues on his daughters computer, her phone and elsewhere. Sounds boring, right? I thought the same thing and I was SO wrong. 

Cho plays the grieving father with the right amount of grief, anger, and determination that not once feels false. Debra Messing, who I am no fan of, does a decent job as the head investigator on the case. No doubt her time on Law and Order, SVU helped her manage the role. The daughter is daughter-like and empathetic and mom, who died near the beginning of the film but appears in flashbacks, is realistic in her role. Bonus points for not making one of the family members White or near White. That would have just been stupid. 

About halfway through the film, I thought that I was an episode of Another 48 Hours, but then two twists amp up the pleasure in the third act to make it work as a well crafted and contained drama. I knew something more must be coming as the film moves toward the end. It gives you a false ending, but I was surprised by what it was. There were many other false leads in the film and directions the movie could have taken. The one it took worked due to the script and Cho’s acting. Props to the man once best known for a trip to White Castle. Also kudos are deserved for writer Aneesh Chaganty on his first feature length directorial credit. As I oft repeat, writing can make or break a film. The film won’t win any awards for sound, editing, or costuming, but the script and Cho both deserve nods. 

One thing I found disturbing about the way the film was shot was the constant advertising for technology companies during the film. Then again, technology wasn’t always seen in the best light. 

Rating: Pay Full Price
It’s not the Rashomon or Seventh Seal of crime dramas, but it could fit on the shelf with Pincher’s Seven though it is less graphic and not so overtly clever.

Peace,
Tex Shelters

‘Puzzle’ is unique for what it isn’t

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2018 at 19:52

Puzzle

‘Puzzle’ is a unique film in many ways.  First, the film is about a jigsaw puzzle enthusiast. Second, the protagonist is a house wife, Agnes, played delightfully by Kelly Macdonald. Third, it features a Irrfan Khan, an India actor who is renowned throughout the subcontinent and elsewhere, who plays the puzzle obsessed inventor, Robert. And the film doesn’t make an issue about him being from Asia. He just is.

What are they thinking having an Asia man making puzzles with a White women from a suburbs of New York City and not having a big racial dust up! 

The film is about Agnes discovering who she is after twenty years of marriage to Louie, played with restraint by Dan Denman. And the writer and director shows restraint by not making Louie a complete loser, asshole, abuser. He’s a traditional man who has limited choices and vision while his wife is talented and charming. Circumstances lead Agnes to realize she has a less than satisfying marriage and the plot goes from there. 

The actors do great job with the limited challenges they have. McDonald shows the transformation in Agnes in subtle and some less than subtle ways. Robert also goes through a transformation of sorts. It is Louie who is stuck in a rut, though even he bends to winds of fortune. 

Rating: Matinee  ‘Puzzle’ is pleasant film with some low impact surprises. However, nothing about the filming, the music, the editing, or the production is ground breaking. 

Peace,
Tex Shelters 

Mission Impossible: Fallout Asks the Question, Who Needs Bond?

In Uncategorized on August 5, 2018 at 22:23

Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise, is your everyman-spy, action hero. While he is impossibly lucky and athletic, there is an approachable quality to Cruise. I am not the biggest Cruise fan, but his ability to be a regular guy while fighting villains is remarkable. Even his love interests are down to earth and approachable unlike the impossibly glamorous women in Bond films. 

Tom-Cruise-in-Mission-Impossible-Fallout-cliffhttps://screenrant.com/mission-impossible-6-filming-wrap/

Rebecca Ferguson plays the latest love interest and action heroine Ilsa Faust, and Michelle Monaghan (probably happy to forget her role in Pixels) plays hunt’s ex-wife, Dr. Julia Meade-Hunt. She is a humanitarian and world saver in her own right. Monaghan’s role is a small reprise from earlier films and Ferguson has a major, if at times poorly written, role that is also a return for her. Both are good actresses and their characters hold their own though MI: 6 is clearly focused on Ethan Hunt and the male villains.

The first half an hour of Fallout was the most implausible and much of film is predictable. There were few surprises, exciting action scenes and some good, villainous behavior. Again, we don’t know whom to trust except Hunt, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Vinge Rames). While there is no scene that reaches the action level of the Dubai skyscraper climb (MI: 4) for tension and originality, the helicopter stunts were spectacular in their own right even if I have seen helicopter stunts before. 

Don’t see the film for the plot. It’s pretty stupid and just another excuse for action. Again, we have a thumb drive, arms dealing, and nuclear material. Isn’t there another way to threaten the world? Then we have the “White Widow”, a super criminal, weapons dealer played like a vapid super model by the Queen’s sister (Princess Margaret in The Crown), Vanessa Kirby. Kirby is the one thing Bond definitely would have had in his film, except he would have had sex with her. IMF Agent Ethan Hunt might not have qualms about throwing people out of helicopters who get in his way, but having an affair is beneath him. 

Henry Cavill playing August Walker is quite a sight. I have not seen Cavill as Superman, so I had no idea what a physical specimen he is. And he uses his physicality well while punching Hunt and other’s that get in his way to make the world suffer for some reason I don’t remember because the plot was so stupid. And the way Cavill shoots that machine gun? Hot! And his mustache! 

HENRY-CAVILL-1210043
http://www.express.co.uk

Mission Impossible: Fallout  is an action-packed cliche fest that doesn’t break any grounds with the plot but has action scenes worthy of a summer block-buster. 

Rating: Matinee. There are better films around, but for the price, there is more action per dollar and minute in MI: 6 that we soon forget how insipid the plot is. 

Peace,
Tex Shelters

Eighth Grade: An Endearing Look at the Oft Hated Time

In Uncategorized on August 3, 2018 at 21:09

eighthgrade-elsiefisher-dad-car

from: https://www.slashfilm.com/eighth-grade-trailer/

Sometimes we need others to mirror our qualities to us. Luckily, Kayla, played with natural realism by Elsie Fisher, has a dad Mark Day played by Josh Hamilton, to remind her how ‘cool’ she is. Kayla has a video channel where she shares life advice. We quickly learn that her advice is as much for herself as it is other kids her age. And we see scenes where she takes, and fails to take, the advice she doles out. 

Kayla is a regular kid. There is nothing remarkable about her. She has the insecurities, fears, faults, and problems most kids that age have. Sure, she’s a white kid in a mainly economically secure situation, but not all kids grow up questioning their sexual preferrence (she clearly likes boys), or have to deal with gangs, or drug addled parents. And before you get started, my favorite film of 2016 was Moonlight. It was naturalistic in the same way Eighth Grade is. 

Eighth Grade shows how middle school is a struggle for everyone, and how the kids who act cool, are faking it. Kayla’s attempts to be cool, i.e. not genuine, fall flat and she eventually learns from the failure with the popular kids. 

What is also endearing about Eighth Grade is that Kayla, unlike Lady Bird, is not stereotypically attractive. So her insecurities around boys holds more weight than some films. She’s also not misshappen, a genius, popular, she doesn’t find a dead body, she doesn’t see a creepy clown. She’s a decent girl with a good heart whom we sympathize with. 

Eighth Grade is well crafted and has the perfect scope for a film. And it didn’t take them twelve years to make! Amazing it could be so much better than that other film that took so long. 

Rating: Pay Full Price!
If only director and writer Bo Burnham had thrown in a younger brother with brain tumor, a mentally unstable parent, or more bullying, I could have rated it higher. Go see it.

Peace,
Tex Shelters

‘Sorry to Bother You’ is a clever and timely film 

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2018 at 17:19

‘Sorry to Bother You’ is a dark satire about labor, race, and class in the near future. It has some clever scenes and near misses. Unfortunately, too many story lines and scenes add nothing to the major themes, characters, or moral of the story. 

Lakeith Stanfield plays Cassius Green, a desperate unemployed man in Oakland, CA who needs to pay his back rent and help his uncle keep his house. Sadly, the only work he can get is at a telemarketing firm.  With a little help from a co-worker played by Danny Glover, Cassius becomes a ‘power caller’ and that leads him to a moral conflict between his own needs and the needs of his coworkers he has left behind to go ‘upstairs.’ 

The film wants us to see how horrible the future is and how desperate workers are. It succeeds, but then tacks on scenes that are abusive and add nothing to the film and are in fact, off-putting. In one recurring vignette, we see people slapped, punched and beaten in a future game show. In another, we watch as people in an audience throw blood and cell phones at Tessa Thompson’s character Detroit. The scenes aren’t revelatory, edgy, or clever. The adage, “It’s best not to become the monsters we criticize” comes to mind here. 

These scenes are abusive in a way that Riley is trying to point out society is. The “using abuse to point out abuse” is far too often a replacement for good writing. It is reminiscent of “Natural Born Killers.” After the Oliver Stone film is nearly over and the audience already gets that the media is fueling the violence, he had to do one more over the top scene to nail it down. It’s an insult to, and an assault on, the audience. Fortunately, Director Riley doesn’t quite get to this level, but it’s still a waste of the audience’s time, especially since the film had already made its point in an interesting manner. 

The acting is good from top to bottom, including Armie Hammer as a megalomaniacal high-tech industrialist. Combine Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Bezos (Amazon) into one psychopathic capitalist and you get close to Steve Lift, the owner of the employment agency, ‘Worry Free.’  Tessa Thompson plays the activist girlfriend of Cassius, Detroit. She is a force of her own and Tessa Thompson lives up to her billing here. Lakeith Stanfield is good as Cassius, but too often his expressions are one dimensional. He is a compelling comedic talent, however, and is often hilarious in the film. 

The story is interesting, but the film looks unprofessional, like a college project. From the sets to the camera work, to the edits and lighting, it looks flat and doesn’t match the visual quality of other indie films in the past year. Still, it’s entertaining and clever and a decent directorial debut, and the soundtrack is worth a listen. 

Rating: Matinee

‘Sorry to Bother You’ is a good debut. I hope to see more from Mr. Riley and the rest of the cast.

Peace,
Tex Shelters

Between a Roar and a Purr: American Animals

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2018 at 16:59

American Animals image

American Animals, written and directed by Bart Layton, takes the heist film into unchartered territory. First of all, the conspirators aren’t suave criminals, they are mainly bored kids. Second, the plot isn’t unrealistically complicated with eight or more criminals: it’s a four-person job. And lastly, these criminals are amateurs in all senses of the word. They are clueless and not heroic. All those elements make for an interesting, if not always compelling, film. 

It’s filmed well, the soundtrack is timeless, and the casting is spot on. The use of the real-life criminals as they are today is good touch. The former co-conspirators make it clear that some of their memories might be less than accurate, and they add a layer of emotional context that keeps the film interesting. The real criminals end up being more interesting than the characters in the film.  

The pacing and inability to make the heist an urgent plot element in a weakness in the film. Another problem is that while I learn about the characters, I don’t care about them or their struggles. They are boring. Moreover, the crime is tacked on to the characters, an afterthought. 

Rating: Matinee
It’s not a great heist film, it’s a moderate successful character study. American Animals is more realistic than most heist movies. I recommend this film, but for contrast also see Hell or High Water where the motivations of the brothers are more compelling and their characters are more completely flushed out than in American Animals. 

Won’t you be my Neighbor?

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2018 at 23:24

Mister-Rogers-Neighborhood-Fred-Rogers

Mr. Rogers Converts this Cynic: A Review of ‘Won’t you be my Neighbor?’

As a kid, I never like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. It was too cloying for me, even in my youth. I was more of a Bugs Bunny fan. I loved that smart-alecky wascally wabbit. The thing is, Mr. Rogers would have been totally okay with that. He would have sat with me for a real conversation and made it clear that he liked me just the way I was. He would have even learned why I liked the rabbit, just by listening. I liked Bugs because he stood up for himself and used his smarts. Mr. Rogers did that too in his own, quiet way.  

If the film industry wants a cure for what ails them, they don’t have to look further than documentaries. ‘Notorious RGB’ about the life of Ruth Bader Ginsberg has already grossed $10 million in theaters on a $6 million-dollar budget. By the time the film goes to streaming and online sales, that will be large profit margin indeed. Last year’s outstanding ‘I am not your Negro.’ It garnered $7.7 million dollars for a film about a far more controversial figure, James Baldwin, on a budget of $1 million dollars. ‘Won’t you be my Neighbor’ was release two weeks ago and has over $4 million in sales. Wait until those that grew up with Mr. Rogers Neighborhood get a chance to buy the DVD or the digital download. That will push it over the top. 

 

In all seriousness, fans of the Neighborhood will not be disappointed. The documentary uses the standard techniques of interviews with people who survived Fred Rogers and archival footage of his show, appearances in interviews, and during speeches. Like the show itself, the film deals with hard issues, but leaves us optimistic. 

On Roger’s show, he dealt the assassination of RFK. He did a whole week on death. He also addressed racism by making his Neighborhood diverse as a matter of course. When whites in certain communities were kicking out black kids from their white’s only pools, Rogers had his black friend, Officer Clemmons, share a foot bath with him in a child’s wading pool. Any white kids who liked Mr. Rogers had a chance to learn by example that it was okay to be in a pool with black people. 

Mr. Rogers sincerely recognized that everyone is special, and that enraged some conservative. They attack the idea of the innate value of all humans, believing that promoted the idea that “people should get something for nothing.” That wasn’t what he was saying. He was telling us to love thy neighbor, and conservatives who pretend to be Christians couldn’t be bothered to act like one or have compassion for others. By the way, Rogers was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. 

After seeing the film, this cynic is left wondering during these troubled times, WWFRD. 

Rating: Pay Full Price
Even if you weren’t a fan of his show or never heard of him, this film is a revelation. You might learn something and be less cynical. 

Hereditary: A Maladapted Mutation

In Uncategorized on June 17, 2018 at 21:53

hereditary-sundance-review

Hereditary is a mess of a film. The beginning looks great. Then the plot starts, and it goes down downhill from there. It briefly picks up with some scares and hope comes back that it might be a good horror film. But alas, the film quickly becomes a litany of horror film tropes and becomes laughable. People were actually laughing at the film in the theater at one point. They were laughs of derision, not laughs of uncomfortable fear or humor. In my mind, I tried to defend the film from the audience laughing. However, I knew they were right. The film was often ridiculous. 

Hereditary is a mish-match of Biblical, occult, and B horror flick. I can’t even write that good performances are wasted. None of the performances were noteworthy. They could have used cardboard cutouts with proximity censors that made noises as you past instead of actors and you wouldn’t have missed much. 

There is little to redeem the film except that there were a couple of actual scares and it wasn’t too long. Oh yeah, the dioramas in the film were spectacular, but they were underutilized. The music was unobtrusive, mostly, and it was shot competently. That’s as high as the praise goes. 

The tone of the film changed so rapidly that it felt like it was authored by two or more writers. It had some great scares, some of the stupidest plot elements, and poorly done action scenes. The fetishism with heads in the film was at first shocking and then it became ridiculous. 

The plot was a patchwork of elements that didn’t had no unifying theme. The foreshadowing in the film didn’t pan out and there were elements that were featured briefly and were dropped. It didn’t know what kind of horror film it wanted to be and several times made the wrong choices. 

Rating: Stream it. If it’s Halloween and you want two and a half genuine scares, see Hereditary. Otherwise, rewatch Get Out!, a film that only increases in quality with each lesser horror film I see. 

Peace,
Tex Shelters

Notorious RBG is a Notorious Advertisement for a Failed United States Democracy

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2018 at 22:09

Notorious RBG is a Notorious Advertisement for a Failed United States Democracy

SWEARING-IN OF RUTH BADER GINSBURG

Ruth Baden-Ginsberg (RBG) is currently the most important dissenting voice on the Supreme Court of the United States. That is because the rest of the court reads the Constitution like a document that is supposed to protect the well off and their property and not foment popular democracy, and that is exactly what it does.  Ginsberg is also the only Supreme Court Justice with a documentary about them in circulation the United States, “Notorious RBG.”

The highest court interprets the Constitution, a legal document that protects the rights of some of the people some of the time. Ultimately, the Constitution protects the status quo

Only 27 of over 11,000 proposed amendments have passed, and ten were in the Bill of Rights. None of the economic Bill of Rights proposed by President Franklin Roosevelt have ever been added to the supreme law of the land. In fact, the Constitution guarantees little access to governing or decision making to the proletariat at all. It allows those with money to buy speech, to buy better legal defense, to buy and control our mass media, and pay for politicians that pass laws to protect and increase their profit. Most of the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, in fact, are more useful to people the more money you have.  

Justice Ginsberg is usually on the progressive, humanitarian side of court arguments. But why are some of these issues arguments at all? Why do people believe it’s okay to control women’s reproduction, why is it okay that women make less than men for the same work, why is money free speech, why did the court select the president at all in 2000? These have all been arguments in the court Justice Ginsberg has considered. By representing these issues in the court and the way RBG defends her side, it legitimizes a political system that works for the powerful to the detriment of the most vulnerable in the United States. 

On a court of mainly conservative white men, she is a standout, but the system in which she must argue for humanity against corporate, elitist, sexist power, is broken. The film, Notorious RBG, works to legitimize that system by showing that what happens in the halls of power is normal.

If we want real change, we need to stop saluting tepid resistance to a system that is killing us and the planet. Has Ginsberg stood up for the rights of many in this nation? Certainly. But her friendship with the anti-woman, racist Justice Scalia puts her allegiances in question. Ultimately, she works for system that propagates economic inequality using the law.  

Rating: Matinee
The film is well done, and if you want to learn about Justice Ginsberg, it is a good film. Don’t see it for much history of the struggles behind the search for justice.  Certainly, don’t bother seeing it for a critique of our flawed system. See ‘Manufacturing Consent’ instead.

Peace,
Tex Shelters