Archive for 2018|Yearly archive page

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


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 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. 

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


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.

Tex Shelters

“The Terror”: Imperialist Insanity at its Most Artistic

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2018 at 00:27

“The Terror” is an AMC show (10 episodes) about a 1845 British expedition in search of a Northwest passage from England to China and India through the Arctic. It is a fictionalized account of a historical trip into the Arctic of the British vessels the Erebus and Terror. Following incomplete charts from previous missions into the Arctic, they travel into the frozen north. Sounds dull, right? Wrong. The Terror lives up to its title and then some. 

The Terror new

The Terror features an obsessed captain, John Franklin, that Captain Ahab might tell to chill out. He is so insecure that he risks the lives of two ships full of seamen just to prove he’s worthy of a favorable position in the naval hierarchy. The British Empire of the 19th Century didn’t worry about sending men off to die if it meant glory for the crown, and the ventures of the ships Erebus and Terror is no different. 

The cast is excellent and the dialogue is some of the best I have heard on TV since “The Wire.” Like ‘The Wire’, ‘The Terror’ uses colloquial language specific to the time and culture, 1840s British naval vessels in the Arctic. The language is effective in setting tone and creating character. 

The actors who play the three captains are varied and compelling in their own way. Each captain is unique and that leads to his demise or survival on the journey. However, they aren’t the only characters that make the show work. Cornelius Hickey,  Lady Silence, and Harry Goodsir are some of the most compelling characters among many that inhabit the show. 

The three directors for the ten episodes of season one (I have no idea if there will be a season two, and there is no need for one) make spectacular use of the Arctic back drop, the ships (inside and out) and the campsites to create a stunning backdrop for the terror that ensues. 

There is plenty of foreshadowing in The Terror, but how it plays out is fascinating. The darkness, the cold, the stark landscapes, makes the crew mad and ill with unknown ailments. Like all good horror shows, we are never certain what will happen to the characters, even though we assume it’s not going to be good. 

The Terror is a tale of desperation and hope, of death and glory, of obsession and survival. It shows how far a nation will go, England, and how many lives they will risk for money and fame. The brutality of the British in ‘The Terror’ should be a lesson to all of the people in the U.S. who support conquest and torture and venturing where we aren’t wanted into hostile and unknown territory. 

Rating: Pay Full Price
It’s compelling and if you like horror and history, doubly so. 

Tex Shelters

“You Were Never Really Here”: a review.

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2018 at 20:09

you were never really here

“You Were Never Really Here” is an entertaining film by by Lynne Ramsay about a vigilante named Joe, no last name. From the cinematography to the editing, the script to the acting, it is well done. Except the sound editing. That was a disappointment in an otherwise well put together film. 

The music in some scenes was too loud. Why do many sound editors insist on pinning the needle on the music when the drama increases? Was sound man Paul Davis reacting to the shock of the scene and accidentally pushing the volume up to eleven? A deaf audience would have complained about the volume in at least two scenes. Gratefully, the over-loud music was less evident after the first third of the film. 

The film makes great use of flashbacks. Many films hold flashbacks too long so they aren’t flashbacks as much as they are daydreams. Some films use bizarre music that doesn’t match the film or uses smokey filters. Director Ramsey eschews all the gimmicks in the film’s flashbacks and cuts them in so as to develop Joe’s character without being a distraction. 

The film has one star: Joaquin Phoenix as Joe. He is entertaining portraying a troubled veteran hired to rescue lost children. I assume Joe does other jobs as well or there is a bigger demand for rescuing children than one might assume. Actress Ekaterina Samsonov plays Nina adeptly and is especially compelling at the end of the film. 

The film is reminiscent of “Taxi Driver” and “Taken.” There are two major surprises in the film that increase the tension and drama for the viewer. The film ends well with just the right amount of finality without giving us pat answers. 

Rating: Pay Full Price.
Hammer out a few minutes for this Lynne Ramsay gem. 

Tex Shelters 

‘The Master’ Fails to Enlighten 

In Uncategorized on May 2, 2018 at 22:41

The Master Fails to Enlighten 

‘The Master’, a 2012 film by director Paul Thomas Anderson, is an unintentionally messy jumble of ideas with no coherent direction. Like with his overrated Boogie Nights, the director assumes the audience is going to care about the film because Mr. Anderson is clever.

The master sneer

The film tries to carry two strong male leads. However, it fails to make either The Master or his protegé, Freddie Quell played by Joaquin Phoenix, compelling. Both characters are angry buffoons, The Master being the more clever of the two. A little more history of The Master and his cult might have helped us care. 

The character of The Master is a combination of Ernest Hemingway and L. Ron Hubbard. Sounds interesting, right? Nope. We start off with an enigmatic macho man at the beginning of the film, but his bragging has no base in reality and fails to live up its billing. He is cruel, and while charismatic leaders can be cruel, there is little reason to follow The Master. However, I don’t blame the cast as much as Anderson’s script. He assumes that his ideas are inherently interesting, and therefore, it is unnecessary for him to do the work of writing in a back story or compelling motives for his characters.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quill, WWII vet, Schizophrenic, PTSD victim and guinea pig for The Master’s therapeutic technique. Mr. Phoenix (with an assist from Anderson’s script) is obviously reaching for the Oscar by playing a mentally challenged character, but he misses. Perhaps the academy will give him the nod as they did the main characters in Rain Man, Forrest Gump, Sling Blade and A Beautiful Mind. But his performance is not worthy of a top award and neither is this cinematic drudgery.

The Master’s technique is a kind of regression therapy into this and past lives, but it’s not very dramatic. Even the first therapy encounter between The Master and Freddie leaves us dissatisfied. Certainly, it touches on some tragedy in Freddie’s past, but it’s all surface and leaves us wanting, like drinking salt water in the desert. 

The film keeps us at a distance and we don’t care enough about what happens to the characters nor what they do. I am not suggesting we need to like the characters in a movie to enjoy them, but we do need to be moved by them emotionally as we were with the despicable oil man in Anderson’s last movie, “There Shall be Blood.” 

Like one of the songs featured in the movie, The Master is a “slow boat to China”, except the company you are keeping only makes the journey seem longer and more tedious. If you were stuck on a boat with only this movie, you would be compelled to jump overboard.   

The movie tries to do too much and accomplishes little. I kept hoping after the beginning of the third act that each scene would be the end of the movie. Hoping a movie will end while watching it in a theater is never a good sign.

Rating: Rental

Those interested in psychological drama and the acting of Hoffman or Phoenix, or Amy Adams for that matter, will find something enjoyable in this film. For everyone else, rent Anderson’s better film, There Will Be Blood.  

Tex Shelters

“Boyhood” Hits all the Marks and Still Misses

In Uncategorized on April 26, 2018 at 14:37

Boyhood” Hits all the Marks and Still Misses

Boyhood is still being touting as a grand achievement nearly four years after its release. It did achieve something most films don’t: it was touted as a great film by many who seem to think taking twelve years to make a film is AMAZING! One wonders in a time of Black Lives Matter and identity politics if a film that shows one Latino and zero Blacks in Texas of all places would still be cheered as great cinema. 

So I am reposting my review of ‘Boyhood’ if for no other reason but to entertain the woke people who know how bad this film is. 

It's the Moments Boyhood“It’s constant, the moments.”

“Boyhood” is a critical darling, and that’s putting it mildly. It has a nice, non-controversial family, and it presents every “coming of age” childhood milestone at least once. Thus, it has no focus. The technique, filming the movie over 12 years with the same actors, is an interesting experiment in film. However, its technique gets in the way of quality story telling and substance. Trying something innovative does not mean the film should get a pass and automatically get raves. 

In the film there’s one bullying event, one break up, one drunken night with the guys, one of everything, like a sample platter at Golden Corral. There was even one non-white character in the film. Moreover, there is no follow-up on any of the events. What is so masterful about that? The film has a series of disconnected events in a boy’s life that had no focus. “Growing up” is not a plot, no matter how many people are fooled into believing it is. 

The dialogue was contrived. It’s as if every line from teenage Mason was taken from a Smith’s song. As I was watching, I couldn’t help thinking, “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now…” At least the film didn’t have an out-of-place tragedy like a “Girlfriend in a Coma.” Yes, I wanted to stop him, for I had heard it all before. Morrissey does pathos better, and with him we don’t have to suffer through two hours of pretentiousness.  

Honest trailers nails it!

Mason was too confident about his misery. His dialogue we pre-packaged, as if he was reciting a script, not living in the moment. The film features a series of moments, a few interesting ones, but mostly tiresome first world problems from an uninteresting boy and family. As a film buddy of mine stated, “the film could have been called ‘The Discreet Charm of the Petite Bourgeoisie.’ ” However, it wasn’t charming, nor funny, nor revelatory or original like the Buñuel classic. 

With the exception of Ethan Hawke, who, to be fair, had the best dialogue in the film, the acting was mediocre. Perhaps filming the movie over 12 years made it hard for the actors to stay sharp and focused on their characters, so the acting was uneven throughout. There was nothing of note in the music, other than the cliche’ of highlighting the passage of time with a hit song from the era in the scene. It was cute at first, then it became tiresome. 

Rating: Rent it

If your sister, mother, brother or friend wants to see it, you can watch it together and not upset anyone with confusing events like actual poverty and unexpected occurrences like Black people appearing on the screen. Moreover, you can talk during the film because there is no need to really pay close attention while it is playing. You won’t miss anything. Otherwise, see the infinitely better “The Way Way Back” if you want to see a cute coming of age movie. 

This movie had already risen into the pantheon of overrated movies, even before it won some undeserved Oscars, BAFTAS, Golden Globes and other awards. It is style over substance. If I had to describe this film in one word, other than overrated, it would be “trite.”

Tex Shelters

P.S.: Even the official trailer is pretentious. 

“The Party” celebrates life. Just kidding. 

In Entertainment, Movies on March 18, 2018 at 16:39

Patricia Clarkson shines in “The Party.” Or is it Bruno Ganz? Maybe it’s Kristen Scott Thomas or Timothy Spall?  “The Party” is a dark comedy about a series of events, disclosures really,  that could ruin any get together. One thing that makes the film so funny is that the people are so full of themselves and lack self awareness that we like to see them suffer. Well, mostly. And the all star cast makes the absurdity work. 

One scene I could watch again and again is when Bruno Ganz, playing mystical philosopher Gottfried to the hilt, discusses life, love, and loss with Tom, played by Cillian Murphy. Ganz looses himself in the role and Murphy plays Tom the angry wealth manager with aplomb. Tom has lost it, and by the time we learn why, it’s too late to go back.  It’s another in a complicated mix of betrayals and misunderstandings.  

“The Party” is a movie that ended too soon for me. Unlike the guest that won’t leave, “The Party” leaves us in the third act without a forwarding address. We want more, but we don’t. Is it good? Well, it’s brilliant. Is it entertaining? Well, that depends on what the experts say. Isn’t how we feel about life based on our outlook? Well, Gottfried would say that. 

The movie unfolds like a stage play. It’s not grandiose, there are no inventive angles or shots or fabulous edits. It’s in black and white, and that makes the stark dialogue work. It won’t change film forever nor will it kick off a genre, like I hope “Get Out!” will. 

It’s funny, but I wouldn’t recommend if for everyone. You have to be ready to pay attention, and you must have your wits about you. If you want generic entertainment, don’t watch. How ready are you to go to “The Party.”

Rating: Pay full price. 

It great to see Ganz have fun on the screen again after years of suffering from Downfall where he played Hitler. Yep, real upbeat film that. And Clarkson has great comedic timing.

Tex Shelters

Una Mujer Fantástica: Una Pelicula Maravillosa!  

In Uncategorized on March 16, 2018 at 16:41

A Fantastic Woman is a Chilean film about the challenges of being transexual in a heterosexual male dominated world. Marina, played by Daniela Vega, confronts the tragic end of her partner Orlando. What ensues are a series of indignities that are a hallmark of life as a transexual. 

Few people in the film use her real name, Marina. They either call her names like Magdelina, a similar female name, or like the police and medical professionals, insist on using her birth name, Daniel. Most of the people she interacts with can’t accept that she is female and the name confusion is emblematic of their resistance. Her relationship with Orlando is invalidated, for they are unwilling to accept that their dad or husband could have loved a transexual woman like Marina. 

One of the amazing accomplishments of the film is showing how attractive Marina is to the audience while keeping the repulsion others feel about her from being cartoonish. Moreover, not all of Orlando’s relatives are bigots. Gabo, Orlando’s brother, accepts Marina as she is and is understanding. Of all the characters in the film, Marina has the most dignity. Even though we might not like them all, siding with Marina as the audience does, the characters are true to their nature and the dialogue and acting make it work. 

The look of Una Mujer Fantástica reminds me of some Italian Neorealism. For example, when Marina is wandering through the streets of Santiago it is reminiscent of scenes from La Strada, Fellini’s classic. The use of rain and wind is an element that helped Kurosawa, one of Japan’s master filmmakers, become an international phenom. The weather is used to great effect in Una Mujer Fantástica as a stand in for society pushing against Marina. She triumphs, for now. 

Rating: Pay Full Price

Una Mujer Fantástica works as a drama and as social commentary. Though it is slow at times and the romance in the beginning of the film is awkward, the film triumphs like Marina does.