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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Thoughts on The Witch

I enjoyed seeing The Witch last month. It is a slow burn of a movie, and is about an isolated 1630s English family falling victim to their own religious hysteria and being tormented by a shape shifting witch. I liked that the movie felt really uncomfortable to watch, with a lot of tension, still moments, growing sense of dread, and horror without jump scares, showing more horror with the family turning on each other than the witch being overexposed.

The acting was fantastic, and I liked seeing a story that combined folklore and witchcraft with a story of a family going insane in a faraway time, it felt like a story that could really happen, of a family destroying themselves due to religious delusions and fear of the supernatural. The witch only made sporadic appearances, in human and animal forms, and was genuinely disturbing.

I was impressed by how well the actors spoke the Old English dialogue, but sometimes I had trouble following what was being said, especially with all the "thou, thee, thy, dost" talk. Some conversations were difficult to understand (as well with the characters' thicker regional accents), and I had to read a plot summary afterwards to catch up on parts I missed or didn't understand.

Also, while I liked the slow pace of the film, the story felt like it was a lot of buildup, as things just kept getting worse for the family. It did have a major climatic moment (which a little boy really acted the hell out of), but it still felt like the story was just adding more creepy moments rather than having a powerful third act. I saw the movie more as telling a folk tale with horror elements rather than being a straight horror film, and liked the feeling of being taken far in time to a story that seemed terrifying in its depiction of religious hysteria and family abuse. I highly recommend the film.

Thoughts on Danny DeVito

I really enjoyed reading this NY Times article about Danny DeVito's Twitter presence. I think he is an underrated dramatic actor, and thought of as too comic because of his shortness, his brash Italian-American Jersey accent, and being widely known as the Penguin or Frank Reynolds or other over-the-top comic characters. I was amazed by how great he was in Living Out Loud, a wonderful movie in which he plays a lonely yet optimistic doorman grieving the death of his daughter and the los...s of his marriage, and trying to find his way in life. I found him extremely endearing and relatable, and it is one of my favorite roles of his.

I also thought he was great in Jack the Bear (another dramatic role in which he played a widower father struggling with grief and keeping his family together), and I like that he has a very dark sense of humor, illustrated by the films he has directed (Matilda, Throw Momma From the Train, The War of the Roses, Death to Smoochy, Duplex). He is just a great actor and personality.

Thoughts on 10 Cloverfield Lane

I really enjoyed seeing 10 Cloverfield Lane, a film directed by Dan Tratchenburg. I found it to be very intense and riveting. I went to see it because I saw that it was about a woman trying to escape from being held captive in a bomb shelter by a conspiracy theorist paranoid about a nuclear or alien attack above, and it starred two actors I really respect: John Goodman and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

The film was very tight and captivating to watch, as most of it takes place in... the bomb shelter, with three players, and there are a lot of mental gymnastics to play as to whether or not there is an attack, as well as the motivations of Goodman's character Howard. He can be a paranoid control freak with good intentions, trying to protect the younger people from danger. In other scenes, he is a calculating monster, intimidating his captives into showing him "respect" after the "kindness" that he has shown them after saving their lives. Goodman is a well-respected and versatile actor, but sometimes he gets taken for granted as a supporting actor, seen as just consistently good. He hasn't had an Oscar nomination, and though the Oscars don't honor horror films much for acting performances, I think Goodman deserves special recognition for this study in character acting, not just as a villain in a thriller. He was just great in this in a chilling performance.

I don't want to say a lot about it, because I don't want to spoil the film, but I liked how the film kept the audience guessing, and were in the head of Winstead's character Michelle, a woman who wakes up after a car accident chained up in the bomb shelter with an injured leg. She is immediately skeptical about Howard's claims about saving her life before the attack, and keeps trying for a way out, trying to read the scene and play calmly while using her wits and senses to plot an escape. Winstead is someone who is really talented at finding the humanity and realism in a character, and losing herself in a character to find its nuances (much like how Goodman does here to great effect). I liked that she just kept fighting and didn't give up, but one could still see her mental anguish and frustration, she wasn't infallible. I just related to her character a lot, and it was due to Winstead's stellar performance.

John Gallagher, Jr. played Emmet, the other captive in the house, and I liked trying to figure out his background and motivation, like to catch a tell or a twist. Though I ended up being wrong about my predictions, I still liked trying to figure him out, as he seemed too innocent and nice on the outside to be believed at first (not acting-wise, more his motivations).

I liked that the film was uncomfortable to watch. It is more of a thriller and less horror in the boo-scare sense, but I prefer horror movies that are psychological and have monsters that aren't who you expect, it is more interesting.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Thoughts on No Más Bebés

I highly recommend the documentary No Más Bebés, directed by Renee Tajima-Peña. It is streaming on PBS' website, and is about Mexican immigrant mothers in L.A. who were sterilized without their consent or knowledge after their childbirths in the 1960s and 1970s (due to eugenics about controlling the population of poor people) and a young Chicana feminist lawyer in the 1970s, who empowered the women to sue the hospitals & government and gain reproductive rights for all women.

The women, many of whom were Mexican immigrants who understood little English, were manipulated and coerced into signing documents in English (which they couldn't read or write), often times being told they were signing for a C-section or that it was for a critical surgical procedure post-birth that they would die from if they didn't sign the release. The women didn't know about the sterilizations until years later, and it had devastating effects on them and their marriages and families. The feminists who fought for their rights, as well as the women who made their stories public, were really brave and courageous to do this.

It is a really fascinating documentary, and I learned more about Chicana life, reproductive rights, feminism, and human rights.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Thoughts on A Time for Laughter

I enjoyed attending a discussion at the Museum of the Moving Image on Saturday called The Color of Comedy, about black and brown voices in comedy.

The discussion started with a screening of a 1967 TV special called A Time for Laughter, which was produced by Harry Belafonte and hosted by Sidney Poitier. It was an hour of sketches that was a showcase of black humor, satire, and self-parody, and was amazing to watch. The show features a great cast of legendary comedians like Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley, Richard Pryor, and Dick Gregory, and other names I didn't know like George Kirby, Pigmeat Markham, and Godfrey Cambridge.

The sketches were really ballsy and risky for their day, featuring a sketch with blackface (a white guy learns song & dance from a black man and performs in blackface); a suburban black couple pretend to be white and piss off their black maid (Mabley), a civil rights marcher (Gregory) cracks jokes about the police and racism while in jail with a lot of his fellow marchers; a nervous undertaker (Pryor) has to deliver the eulogy at a funeral when the priest doesn't show up; and a pool hustler (Foxx) talking about poverty and civil rights. I was amazed at how the show got away with showing blackface in a social commentary way, the n-word being said a lot, and a lot of risk-taking in being very blunt about racism and civil rights, while still presenting black humor not neutered for white folks.

I especially enjoyed Pryor's hilarious performance and his impeccable comic timing and nervous energy in the character; Redd Foxx for playing to the camera like it was someone's POV, being totally at ease as the camera moves with him around the pool table, and being an excellent storyteller; Dick Gregory bringing this down-to-earth realism as he was talking about Black Power; and Moms Mabley's comedic body language as she mocks her wannabe "white" black employers.

The panel discussion was fascinating, with a variety of mostly Black comedians (and one Indian man and one Dominican man) speaking about their history in comedy, facing racial setback, being inspired by their heroes and peers, and using comedy to both bring awareness to social issues as well as celebrating a variety of Black experiences.

I did ask a question, more because one of the sketches in the show seemed like an inspiration to Eddie Murphy (the barbershop scene in Coming to America with Murphy and Arsenio Hall as multiple characters), and they said Murphy was likely more inspired by Pryor from Any Which Way But Loose (Pryor played multiple characters in a scene), but that Pryor likely got his inspiration from George Kirby's barbershop scene, as well as his own storytelling style of talking about people he knew growing up in a brothel.

It was really great to see, and I liked just listening and learning a lot from hearing about their experiences and seeing the TV special of legendary comedians (which also included vintage commercials for Pepto-Bismol, cigarettes, aspirin, and Welch's grape juice).

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films - A Film Review

I really enjoyed watching the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. It is about The Cannon Group, a film company that made low-budget movies, which genres mostly comprised of action, exploitation, crime thrillers, sci-fi, and a children's division.

The company was run by two Israeli guys who were passionate about filmmaking, and totally outside the Hollywood system, more into pumping out low-quality movies with crazy amounts of sex and violence, that they saw as Oscar material. And throughout the documentary, the actors and directors just trash them constantly, for damaging their careers or ripping them off or being difficult to work with. One actress even burns a VHS copy of the movie she was in, to show how disgusted she was by it. The film producers had also often went over budget and didn't make their money back, ripped off investors, went into debt, and had burned many bridges due to their careless attitudes.

I still enjoy these movies, because I love that the filmmakers were ballsy and wild, made these ridiculous movies because of a genuine love of cinema, and just going for it. Some of the movies they made were films that I enjoyed in my childhood: Invaders from Mars and Missing in Action. And I enjoyed Runaway Train, Bloodsport, Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Kickboxer, and Over the Top. I did not like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace because it had a terrible villain and I didn't like the preachy, self-righteous attitude of the story, and the special effects were dreadful.

And I was glad that this movie pointed out the same reasons I had for not liking the Death Wish series. As a kid, I had seen a TV promo for the Death Wish movies being shown on WPIX all week, and seeing an old man gun down people at night in rundown neighborhoods was disturbing to me. I tried watching Death Wish II and III, but couldn't stand them. I hated seeing rape being depicted in an exploitative, titillating matter (with nudity and showing the rape in full view( or seeing an old white middle-class man go into rundown ghetto neighborhoods and gun down any minority who looked like a thug. It wasn't something to root for, the movies were just gross. So I was glad others felt the same.


Thoughts on The Last Five Years

I watched The Last Five Years yesterday. The story itself isn't too interesting (a romantic relationship falls apart, and the story is told out of chronological order with the leads singing solos about their relationship), but it was an adventurous step for a movie adapted from a stage musical.

Anna Kendrick is cute and charming, and has a high, melodic mezzo-soprano voice that is lovely to hear. I also liked seeing her performance in playing someone going through heartbreak, career disappointments, and trying to stay supportive as her man succeeds in life. Jeremy Jordan was affable, but I hated it whenever he sang loudly, it just hit my ears hard, like he was yelling. His acting performance was decent, his singing just got irritating to me because it sounded turned up to 11 frequently.

I initially had turned it off because the movie is pretty much all singing, and I am not into musicals. I gave it another chance, and the charm grew on me, but it can still feel like a lot to hear a lot singing with little speaking time in between.