Blind Spot 33: Ikiru

Ikiru marks the 3rd film I have seen from acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa (I’ve previously seen Throne of Blood and Seven Samurai) and of the 3, it might be my favorite. In what feels like a Japanese version of Death of a Salesman, Ikiru paints a fascinating portrait of business life in Japan and how one man tries to stand out after learning of his imminent death.

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Ikiru is about a middle-aged man named Kanji Watanable. He has worked as a bureaucrat for 30 years and with a dead wife and selfish son/daughter-in-law he doesn’t have much to live for or be excited about. One day he finds out about a proposal to turn a cesspool into a community park and he thinks he might be able to make a difference.

Then he finds out he has stomach cancer and decides to make the building of the park his legacy. Unlike America, Japanese society often values group effort over individual accomplishment. This makes Watanabe’s subordination to get this park an extraordinary effort. His coworkers are shocked by his actions and after he dies they marvel at his boldness.

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Watanabe also receives inspiration from a young girl who he has drinks with. He asks her ‘how do you have such love of life?’ and she says she simply loves her job making toys because the toys make children happy; thereby, giving her life the value of making the children of Japan happy (you see more of a group rather than individual accomplishment).

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Like Death of a Salesman there is a melancholy to Ikiru because his accomplishment (especially to modern American eyes) is so small; however, I related to the emotions that Watanabe experiences. It reminds me of the great quote from You’ve Got Mail ‘I lead a small life. Valuable but small and I don’t know if I do it because I like or because I haven’t been brave?’ That is the question of Ikiru and to his credit Watanabe decides to be brave.

At the end of the movie his associates enthusiastically determine to follow his example and do bold things; however, upon returning to work they lose their conviction and life continues on as before. It’s sad how often the road more traveled, not less, is the choice of so many.

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The cinematography in Ikiru is stunning. The way Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai use the black and white to capture loneliness and melancholy is breathtaking. I loved the way rain and snow looks in contrast to the black sky. Beautiful.

I also thought all of the acting was strong especially from the lead Takashi Shimura. Again, he has a Willy Loman quality to him with his shoulders slumped over at all times except when he is swinging in his park.

As for downsides, the film does lose steam when Watanabe dies and becomes a little repetitive. Also I wasn’t crazy about the music, which seemed a bit too bubbly for the sober story. Other than that, it was a great film! I definitely recommend it!

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Life Itself Review

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As someone who watches 95 Hallmark movies a year I enjoy a sentimental tearjerker. I’m a notoriously easy cry and can put up with a lot of cheese if the cast is charismatic and can sell the emotion. So I was hoping I would enjoy the new film Life Itself more than most critics. Unfortunately, even for me, this attempt at showing multiple generations of love and tragedy didn’t work for me.

In the interest of full disclosure I must confess I fell asleep for a decent chunk of the beginning of this movie. That is partly due to the movie being sluggishly paced but also because I am sick and fighting a post- comicon cold. So take this review with a grain of salt as I may have missed some parts of the film.

What surprised me the most about Life Itself is how cynical it was. I recently enjoyed the multi-narrative film Dog Days which was a sweet movie about people and their dogs. Where that film worked in being warm-hearted, Life Itself left me feeling cold. Nearly every character either dies, gives up or settles for convenient love.

I think director Dan Fogelman was trying to talk about the unpredictability of life and how we all react to trauma differently but all the characters made the same choices so it just ends up feeling unpleasant. In a movie like Love Actually there are all kinds of reactions to love and so it works. Here it was basically the same which made it feel boring and unpleasant.

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I’ve never seen Fogelman’s hit show This is Us but the promos make it look optimistic and inspiring. Not the case here. This miscalculation is hammered home by the terrible narration throughout telling you how to feel; thereby exposing the plots poor job at bringing forth authentic emotion.

The main plus with Life Itself is the incredible cast. People like Oscar Isaac, Olivia Wilde, Mandy Patinkin, and Olivia Cooke all try and elevate the material but it just falls so flat.

I saw nothing encouraging or insightful about life in Life Itself. Instead I recommend watching the Roger Ebert documentary with the same title. Now there is an inspiring movie about life!

As far as content there is a lot of profanity which adds nothing to the story and is completely unnecessary. Some characters get hit by cars and there is mild sensuality but it’s mostly R for language

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A Simple Favor Review

It’s always an interesting experience when I go out of my comfort zone when viewing films. I normally love my animation and romcoms and don’t get out to see the thrillers and scary movies very often. However, occasionally I take risks and it’s so much fun when they pay off. This week I had the chance to see the sexy caper A Simple Favor and to my surprise I really enjoyed it!

ASF_D17_PI_04344.ARW A Simple Favor is directed by Paul Feig and stars Anna Kendrick as a Mom/youtuber named Stephanie who becomes friends with a sexy femme fatale Mom played by Blake Lively. Lively’s character Emily drinks strong martinis and seems the epitome of cool and mysterious. And the fact she seems to like hanging out with Stephanie makes her feel cool and empowered.

Then one day Emily asks Stephanie to do (as the title suggests) a simple favor and then disappears. The  rest of the movie is a slick murder mystery where we put the pieces together as each new clue is revealed. It kind of reminded me of something like Clue which has mystery but also some dark comedic banter.

Henry Golding continues to be the sexiest man alive as Emily’s husband and Blake Lively is so great in her role. Anna Kendrick was terrific in the sweet bubbly parts but not as  convincing when she had to be more cutthroat and calculated.

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A Simple Favor is filmed with a ton of style and panache and while I’m not sure all the plot devices hold up to deep scrutiny it is an enjoyable whodunit to watch. It’s funny because with Hallmark I’ve been watching all these murder mystery films lately and this kind of felt like a sexy version of those films. I hate to use the word but it was just fun.

As far as flaws, I didn’t really understand why they kept using french music and like I said Anna Kendrick didn’t quite work for me in some of the more devious scenes. It also could be maybe 15 minutes shorter.

All that said, I really enjoyed A Simple Favor. It’s a sexy mystery thriller that will keep you guessing and smiling as each new reveal unfolds

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As far as content, A Simple Favor is rated R for language, sensuality and violence. I would say is a medium level R rating and fine for adults.

Juliet, Naked Review

Every year there are a couple of movies that I love which somehow fly under the radar for most cinemafile. They are usually animated but sometimes a live action captures my fancy and I feel it my duty to tell everyone about. Well, one of this year’s entries is definitely the delightful Juliet, Naked.

Directed by Jesse Peretz, Juliet, Naked is based on the delightful novel by Nick Hornby (who is one of my favorite writers) and I just loved it. It’s about 3 people led by Rose Byrne as a British woman named Annie. She is in her mid to late 30s and is beginning to realize she let her life slip by for 15 years without really thinking about what she wanted. She has been in a committed relationship with a man named Duncan played by Chris O’Dowd. Duncan is obsessed with an American singer named Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke) who vanished after a very successful debut album. Now Duncan and a group of online friends hyper-analyze his songs, record cover albums and postulate theories on where Tucker may be and what he is doing.

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Through various contrivances Annie ends up getting an email from Tucker and the two start conversing and because she is so sick of everything Tucker Crowe she is honest with him in a way Duncan could never be. Surprisingly the two have a lot in common despite having taken very different paths in life (the main difference is Annie has no children and Tucker has 5 with different women). Tucker ends up going to England and when the 2 meet it is delightful especially with how Duncan reacts to Annie and Duncan’s friendship.

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This movie was just delightful. It was funny, warm-hearted and everyone had great chemistry. I liked they didn’t make Duncan out to be a fool but the script had something to say about obsession and how easy it is to go overboard when you are surrounded by other people also going overboard (also what ridiculous thing scan unite us and create friendships in this day and age). It’s not entirely predictable and the characters are all flawed but believable.

I greatly related to the film because there are a ton of people that I bond with all over the world over things like Survivor, Disney, Hallmark movies etc and this movie speaks to both the seriousness and frivolity of those bonds. In some ways it reminded me of Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, which is also a romance built around fandoms and obsession. Both are funny and sweet and lovely!

Rottentomatoes consensus says Juliet, Naked has a “disappointingly ordinary story.” I guess that is what I liked about it. It was charming but also quite real and easy to relate with. I suppose some see that as a flaw but I didn’t. Check it out! I bet you will enjoy it

(Also the title sounds more racy than it actually is. It’s R for some language and mild sensuality. Fine for teens and adults imo)

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Crazy Rich Asians and Why Romances Matter

3 years ago I did a youtube video entitled ‘Is the Romantic Comedy Dead?’ and it is still one of the best videos I’ve ever made. It’s basically a video essay where I talk about why the romantic comedy matters and how so many of them get the genre wrong. Well, after 3 years of little else but Hallmark in the genre (which is amazing and I podcast about each week) we finally get a successful romantic comedy in Crazy Rich Asians, and I am thrilled about it! Naturally most people are cheering on the underrepresented Asian community that is featured in the film (and rightfully so!), but I want to take a second and cheer it on for being a great romantic comedy!

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Crazy Rich Asians is based on the very funny novel by Kevin Kwan about a girl named Rachel who goes to meet her boyfriend’s family in Singapore. When she arrives she discovers they are super rich and judgmental. This premise doesn’t reinvent the wheel but as I’ve said many times movies don’t need to be original to work. They just need to be executed well and this is. It is funny, romantic and has a nice heart to it. Also the Mother who is the ‘villain’ of the film has motivations that make sense when looked at from her life experience.

A lot of people will tell you romantic comedies like Crazy Rich Asians are too ‘cheesy’ or ‘unrealistic’ and therefore they shouldn’t be taken seriously. I would counter that nearly all film outside of documentaries (and even them sometimes) exist in a heightened reality. Very few films are truly realistic and when they are, with films like Boyhood, they are often decried for their lack of story.

I would contend that romantic comedies in their own unique way can actually be very realistic. Think about the couples in your life? Think about when you’ve heard their love stories? Is it not usually some variation on a meet-cute and then they fall in love and get married? Most human beings fall in love and have their own version of a cheesy love story. At least that is the hope…

And there’s the magic word- hope. Hope is something special romantic comedies (and dramas) can give us. If they are done well, they can give us hope that love is out there. That maybe someday we can find someone who will love us for who we are and despite whatever shenanigans happen he or she will make it work with us. There is a hope that love is real and that good things can happen to good people.

Then why you ask are so many romantic comedies lame? Well, I do think that male critics are often more likely to criticize films with a feminine energy as lacking in value. But the greater problem is when the films themselves loose that sense of positivity and hope. In an attempt to play into opposites attract the bad romantic comedies will often make the characters too mean spirited so we don’t really want them to fall in love or have a happy ending.

The other mistake they make is relying too much on a gimmick and forgetting about writing interesting characters. Going all the way back to The Taming of the Shrew, many romantic comedies have been built around a gimmick such as a bet, contest, or article that must be done etc. This type of premise is very difficult to pull off and requires great writing and engaging characters.

Crazy Rich Asians at its core is a simple movie of a boy introducing his girl to his judgmental family. The reason it works is because it is well written and the characters are likable. It’s not too different from other great romantic comedies like Notting Hill or My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I hope that Hollywood takes the right lessons from Crazy Rich Asians and in its eventual copycats remembers to give us romantic comedies that are as well done. I’m sure there will be clunkers, but I’m just excited to have a jolt in the romantic comedy genre because I’ve missed it!!

Welcome back romcoms!!! Let’s have some hopeful, romantic, enjoyable movies! Yay!!

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(And we won’t have to wait long! I’m so excited for Destination Wedding which comes out in just a few days!)

Also I did this post on my other blog on recent romcoms you might have missed that are worth checking out

https://smilingldsgirl.com/2018/08/10/recent-romcoms-worth-checking-out/

Current Mini Reviews

So the last few weeks of movie-going have certainly had their ups and big time downs! Make sure you are following me on my youtube channel because some films I review there and some here (just some content speaks more to writing an essay and others to a video LOL). Also make sure you are following me at smilingldsgirl on Stardust and Letterboxd to have these mini reviews sooner.

I did a full review for Sorry to Bother You so I won’t include that here but there are still 11 films I have seen since my last update. There were some highs and some definite lows!

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again

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The first Mamma Mia is a bit of a guilty pleasure. It’s not a good movie but it’s effervescent vacation porn with some catchy songs sung terribly. In the sequel, we get catchy effervescent vacation porn but sung well so I’m on board! I really liked the entire cast and thought Lily James was great as a young Meryl. The movie didn’t judge her character but just presented her life and gave us happy energetic songs. That’s all I needed. A little more Meryl would have been nice but that’s the only problem I had with it. I have been listening to the soundtrack all summer!

Smile Worthy

Three Identical Strangers

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I’m not normally someone who decries spoilers (in fact, I find that super annoying) but in the case of Three Identical Strangers try to go in spoiler free. The twist blew me away! This is an incredibly engaging film. It starts out funny and light and then becomes something much darker. I was moved and amazed. If it wasn’t a documentary you wouldn’t believe it could be true.

Smile Worthy

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies

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I have never seen an episode of Teen Titans Go but have heard nothing but how terrible the show is and how it is an affront to the original Teen Titans. I also was not impressed with the trailers, so you can imagine my surprise when I walked away having had a great time! I laughed harder at Teen Titans Go! To the Movies than I have at any other film this year except for Game Night. It was a hilarious satire on superhero movies and tropes.

I also enjoyed the 2D animation with its comic book aesthetic and the voice cast from the original show were great. Nicholas Cage also gets some good laughs at Superman. I just really enjoyed it!

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Mission Impossible: Fallout

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While not as well written as some of the best of this franchise, Mission Impossible: Fallout is a great action film. The action set pieces are above reproach and they happen so much and so quickly that I never had time to think about the story or be bored while watching.

The cast is all great including Tom Cruise who is evidently willing to do anything to get a compelling action scene. I still think Ghost Protocol is the best of the franchise because of its story but this is darn good. I wish the women had been used a little bit better but that’s a small nitpick.

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The Spy Who Dumped Me

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The Spy Who Dumped Me is a frustrating film of unmet potential. Kate McKinnon and Mila Kunis have good chemistry and the action is shot well but its tonal shifts were jarring making the movie unpleasant and long. It had some silly moments but then mixed with brutal violence, nudity and other harsh content it was off-putting. The tone was just all over the place and it felt like McKinnon was the only one trying to make things work but even that got old after a while.

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Breaking In

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I’m not the biggest horror/thriller fan but I do love Gabrielle Union so I thought I would give Breaking In a shot. Unfortunately it ended up being a pretty mediocre film. It’s not terrible and there are some entertaining moments but as a whole it didn’t work. I liked the kid actors and Gabrielle Union is great as usual but it’s all extremely by the numbers and generic. They also obviously decided to make this PG-13 at the last-minute so there are tons of ‘freakin’ where obviously the f word was intended which is distracting.

Frown Worthy

Christopher Robin

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It’s no secret I haven’t been a big fan of these Disney live action remakes, but I was actually excited for Christopher Robin. My hope was it would feel fresh and sweet like the great Pete’s Dragon remake. Unfortunately I was disappointed. The entire premise didn’t work for me with Christopher forgetting his promise to Pooh and becoming the tired evil man of business. This left the 100 Acre Woods as kind of gloomy and sad with the characters waiting for Christopher to return.

Christopher is supposed to be a terrible parent but in reality he is working to save his entire team their jobs. He’s the hero! They should have had his daughter Madeline find Pooh. That would have made way more sense since she is being sent to boarding school. Her interacting with the friends of the 100 Acre Woods might actually been magical. Here it is just a weak version of Hook and Paddington without either’s whimsy and charm (especially compared to Paddington). The only things I liked were the overall aesthetic, a scene at a train station where Pooh gets a balloon and a bonus credit song by Richard Sherman! Other than that this movie was an Eeyore!

Check out the podcast my friend Conrado and I did about the live action remakes and Christopher Robin

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Crazy Rich Asians

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Everyone knows I love a good romance but the cinemas have been alarmingly short of them in recent years. (If you like romances check out my podcast on Hallmark films Hallmarkies Podcast). Before seeing Crazy Rich Asians I read the book by Kevin Kwan and for the most part the film does a good job adapting the novel. It stars Constance Wu and the super hot Henry Golding as a couple who are dating in America but things get rocky when he takes her to meet his ‘crazy rich’ family in Singapore.

For what it is trying to be Crazy Rich Asians is just about perfectly executed. It’s funny, romantic, sweet and big hearted. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The cast is great including Awkwafina who stole all her scenes. Michelle Yeow plays a convincing villain because her point of view makes sense. It might be a cold view but it comes from her life experience so it is reasonable. Overall it’s a movie that has it all!

Smile Worthy

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

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I know the title is a mouthful but I loved the book so was very disappointed to hear this was not going to go to theaters but only to Netflix. Sometimes that can be a sign of a poor film but not in this case. I really loved it! Lily James is wonderful as Juliet an author who starts conversing with a man from Guernsey and learning the story about his secret book club. This society or club helped them get through some tough tiems during the German occupation.

The entire cast is wonderful including a very dreamy Michael Huisman and Penelope Wilton who is always great in everything. Matthew Goode has a wonderful supporting role as Juliet’s publisher friend Sidney. It’s beautifully filmed by Mike Newell and will make you want to go to the Channel Islands. They do a good job mixing the light and fluffy with sincere and moving moments. I loved it! I wish we could at least get a fathom event to see it on the big screen for one night only. Come on Netflix!

Smile Worthy

Dog Days

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I’m normally not a big fan of these ensemble films like I hated Mother’s Day and New Years Eve. However, Dog Days proved to be a pleasant surprise. While it will be too cheesy for some, I found it really sweet and heartfelt. Pretty much every storyline worked for me.

My favorites were an elderly man and teenager trying to find his dog and a family with a newly adopted little girl bonding over a dog. I also liked a romance between 2 news anchors that grows because of their mutual love of dogs. It was sweet, funny and I teeared up a few times. Dog Days is a charmer!

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Duck Duck Goose

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And now for the movie that made me want to die. I had a feeling Duck Duck Goose would be a bad movie but as someone who loved Son of Bigfoot last year I always go into films with an open mind. Unfortunately Duck Duck Goose proved to be even worse than I could have imagined. It is right up there with Norm of the North for one of the worst animated films I have ever seen.

I hated the animation. I hated the characters. I hated the humor. I hated the weird attempts to appeal to a Chinese market. I hated the unearned sentimentality. I hated how mean spirited it was and just overall unpleasant I hated the villain cat. I am someone who liked The Nut Job 2 so I don’t just dismiss films like this but it was atrocious in every respect. Do not show it to your kids! There are plenty of other things to watch on Netflix.

Frown Worthy

Let me know what you think of these films if you have seen any of them in comments section. Thanks!

Blind Spot 32: Young Girls of Rochefort

I’m really glad I decided to make Jacques Demy’s classic The Young Girls of Rochefort  my August Blind Spot pick because it seems like such an interesting forebearer to films such as the recent Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again and certainly the Oscar winning La La Land. In fact, after seeing it, I almost feel like Damien Chazelle took the happy moments from Rochefort and the sad moments from Umbrellas of Cherbourg and birthed a movie. They are so similar it is weird- even the score sounds the same.

Anyway, it’s easy to see why filmmakers like Chazelle would be inspired by Jacques Demy as both Umbrellas and Rochefort are incredible films. Rochefort like Mamma Mia 2 is an effervescent bubbly celebration of love, and I kind of loved it! (Obviously Mamma Mia 2 isn’t near as good but it does have a similar tone)

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The story isn’t very important to Rochefort but it follows twin sisters Delphine and Solange (Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac who are real life sisters) as they meet 2 carnies Etienne and Bill (George Chakiris and Grover Dale) and have a romantic adventure for the weekend.

We also learn about their mother Yvonne (Danielle Darrieux) who had a love that she foolishly let go as a young woman because she didn’t want to have his last name. She meets her former love Simon (Michel Piccoli) and his American colleague Andy (Gene Kelly) and has her own romantic adventure.

And that’s about it. The movie isn’t about the story. It’s about the continual singing, great choreography and an overall feeling of joy. Just look at the opening ballet number and how much fun it is (and how much La La Land used for its opening number!)

I love that this movie took real care to make the singing and dancing great. It does not feel half-baked at all.  They dubbed all the singers so that the singing would be good. They have very impressive dancing throughout and all the costumes and colors are so dazzling.

Look at this effervescent delightful scene with Gene Kelly. The tap dancing at the end is perfection

I probably still like Umbrellas of Cherboug a little better because it is so moving but The Young Girls of Rochefort has definitely taken a place in my heart. I can watch Cherboug when I want something deep and watch Rochefort when I want to smile. Well done Jacques Demy!!

The Young Girls of Rochefort is definitely smile worthy!

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My Problem with Sorry to Bother You (Spoilers)

Recently I heard great praise for an indie film called Sorry to Bother You and so I decided to check it out. It is directed by Boots Riley and stars Lakeith Stanfield in the lead role. I had been told this movie was very creative, and as I like creative things, I was hoping to love it. Unfortunately, I left feeling disappointed. What I got was creative but it wasn’t executed in an effective or appealing way. Let me explain…

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Sorry to Bother You tells the story of a man named Cash who gets a job working for a telemarketing company called Regal View. While there, he finds out that by speaking in “white voice” he can make more sales and move his way up the company ladder. All of this was effective and quite biting satire (that unfortunately is lost by the madness of the last act of the movie). The more white Cash sounds the higher he can get at Regal View, until he is the top position of “power caller”

This gets the attention of a CEO of a company called WorryFree played by Armie Hammer. He invites Cash to his headquarters to court him to his “innovative” business. The only catch is there is a strike at Regal View, and Cash will have to break the strike as a “power caller”. His girlfriend, an experimental artist named Detroit, is shocked by his behavior, as our his co-workers.

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All of this seems fairly straight-forward and the set up is pretty engaging. The problem is once the movie gets going we have so many ideas that it becomes overwhelming. We have workplace satire, anti-capitalism, a media commentary, racial satire/commentary, experimental art, surrealism, drug abuse, partying, fantasy sequences, and characters being turned into horses (yes you read right).

It sometimes felt like Boots Riley was scared he could never make another movie again so he had to throw every cinematic thought he had into this one. I’m sure some will say the chaos is part of the message but the world being in chaos is a hardly revolutionary or interesting thought. It’s certainly a way less interesting message than the “white voice” satire message that the film started with. By the end of the movie, I had forgotten that in favor of horse people and experimental art with sheeps blood.

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Creativity in film is not an inherent good. A great example of this is Jean-Luc Godard’s Film Socialisme (a much worse film than Sorry to Bother You). You could easily make the argument Godard’s film is creative but it presents this creativity in such a chaotic way that it becomes exhausting for the viewer making whatever he was trying to say a moot point.

Roger Ebert wrote about Film Socialisme:

“This film is an affront. It is incoherent, maddening, deliberately opaque and heedless of the ways in which people watch movies. All of that is part of the Godardian method, I am aware, but I feel a bargain of some sort must be struck. We enter the cinema with open minds and goodwill, expecting Godard to engage us in at least a vaguely penetrable way. But in “Film Socialisme,” he expects us to do all the heavy lifting.

And like I said Sorry to Bother You is not as bad as Film Socialisme, but I think the heart of what Ebert is saying applies here. You can have interesting ideas and creative storytelling methods but if it is presented in a maddening, chaotic way than we leave feeling frustrated more than inspired. At least that was my experience. 

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An allegorical movie about the company who turns black people into horse people could have been interesting, or a film about a strike by low level employees, or about workplace racism, or a film about experimental art, or corporate excess and partying, or modern media and consumerism, all could have worked but combined together it was exhausting.

So I did not like Sorry to Bother You. I hope the talent involves continues to do creative things, and I applaud them for their ambitions but let’s hope next time they will remember the old wisdom of Coco Chanel “before you walk out the door everyday take one thing off”. Same holds true for movies!

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Blind Spot 31: The Last Emperor

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This month for my blind spot pick I decided to take a look at a film that took home 9 Oscars including Best Picture and Director: 1987’s The Last Emperor. I didn’t know much about it going into the film except that it was a long and sumptuously mounted production. After viewing it, I agree it is long and sumptuously mounted but aside from those qualities, I wasn’t very impressed by it.

The Last Emperor was helmed by Italian director Bernardo Berlotucci and it feels European in its grand scope and leisurely pacing. It was the first Western film authorized by the PROC to be filmed in the Forbidden City in Beijing, so naturally all of the sets and locations are authentic and grand. It is completely understandable why it won Oscars for art direction, cinematography and especially costume design. The music by Ryuichi Sakamoto is also very strong.

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However, in many ways it felt like a foreigner telling a Chinese story. The Last Emperor is about the life of Puyi, the last Emperor of China. Evidently they based the screenplay off of Puyi’s autobiography, which is odd because so much of it rang flat and false.

To begin with, having all the characters speak English feels like an almost mocking choice. It takes you out of the scenes because this is supposed to be a serious movie and they are so obviously not speaking the right language. It’s one thing for an Indiana Jones movie to have accents but an epic masterpiece like The Last Emperor? Not so much. I guess you could make the argument it is in the traditions of old school epics like The Ten Commandments but those movies had stronger narratives to make up for the cultural awkwardness.

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Speaking of story, it boggles my mind that The Last Emperor won Best Adapted Screenplay because the narrative is very weak. We see many events happen to Puyi but I never felt sorry for him or invested in his character. For most of the movie he came across as a spoiled brat without much nuance or introspection. Towards the end he grows as a person as he is incarcerated by the communists, but I still felt distant and like I never truly understood him. We are told Puyi is the “loneliest boy on earth” but he just felt like the blandest.

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Some of the side characters are more interesting like his main wife Wanrong. She kind of has a lesbian relationship yet does seem to love Puyi and want him to succeed, which could have been interesting but it isn’t really explored in a satisfactory way. She’s a lonely character and I wish we got to know her better and have more time with her. Peter O’Toole is good as Puyi’s British tutor Reginald Johnston. He both kowtows and challenges the Chinese royal establishment, but even he could have been used more effectively and challenged more as a character.

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The frustrating thing is I can tell Puyi’s story is fascinating having gone from opulence to a puppet emperor to a prisoner and a common man all in one life. But the screenplay in The Last Emperor delivers that compelling story without any tension or emotional heft. It all landed like a thud and was really quite boring. I didn’t care about his character and the interesting parts were more like reading a textbook than watching a compelling narrative. It needed a Steven Spielberg type voice to come in with sweeping moments of drama and tension to sell the soapy dialogue and characters. That might have worked better.

I kind of wish they would remake The Last Emperor. I don’t think many are too attached to this version and there is a good story in there to tell. A modern filmmaker could have all the good qualities of this film but make it in Mandarin with a better, more compelling script and it could be an amazing film.

I can see why other people like The Last Emperor, and I do commend it for its production design, costumes, cinematography and music but it didn’t work for me as a movie. It was bland, culturally awkward and plodding. I’m glad I checked it off my blind spot list but it is definitely one I will never watch again.

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