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O Homem que Virou Suco (1980)
Timeless motif, in a Brazilian setting
HIstorical context: between the 1950s and 1980s, with industrialization, millions of Brazilians migrated from the impoverished, rural Northeast, to the big cities in the Southeast, specially Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. They found diverse blue collar and menial jobs, suffered discrimination, but ultimately settled for a better life in the cities, even though they missed their roots, small town life, and the family values of their regions of origin.
The theme of the contrast between a dehumanisizing life in the big cities devoid of the humanity and the "authentiticy" of life in the countryside goes back to the ancient times, but became more common with the industrial revolution. After all, it is not only the city life that homogenizes people, but also the machine-like jobs they perform. The filmmaker here took this perennial motif and used a clever title, that became semi-proverbial in Brazil "The Man Who Became Juice". It refers simply to migrants from the poor, rural, Brazilian northeast, who come to Sao Paulo searching for a better living, and end up in the "dehumanizing" works in factories or construction. As the protagonist says, it is like an orange becoming orange juice.
The fact that the motif is not so original does not mean it is not cleverly treated. We expect the protagonist to be the one who "becomes juice", but his stubborn personality saves him from his fate. It is his highly obedient look-alike (the striking similarity is never explained) that suffers this fate. In the beginning, the protagonist's doppelganger is portrayed as evil, but in the end he becomes a tragic figure, and the protagonist, who is a skilled writer of "cordel" (narrative poems typical of the Brazilian Norheast) becomes his chronicler. It is fitting - and in my opinion intentional - that the "double" is named Severino, while the protagonist has a less usual name. As anyone in Brazil will tell you, Severino is the name of choice for someone who stands for all the Northeasterners.
Intentionally or not, the movie shows that not all is hopeless. There is an alternative to "becoming juice" or being crushed by the system. The protagonist is defiant and clever, and through a lot of struggles he walks the fine line between being a rebel who tells his employers where to shove their jobs and being an outright criminal. In the end he toes the line and is able to live from his art, which is what he intended. It is implied that this would be impossible in his famished home state.
Cobra Kai: No Mercy (2019)
A much better finale then you would expect
Someone said you this episode makes the audience shocked and morally confused. That's true, but I also think that is the point. The bad blood accumulated among students of the two dojos, combined with the truly dangerous skills they acquired, was a recipe for bad things to happen. After a long timing training, the kids end up applying karate to personal feuds, romantic jealousy and settling of scores. Even with the most Myagi-like lessons, that will tend to lead to grave outcomes when all the tensions that escalated through the season climax in a chaotic confrontation between teens that don't know when to stop, are not aware of their own strenght, don't know how to use their skills responsibly, and control their emotions.
Both Johnny and Daniel will have to live now with the consequences of their actions. Unfortunately, that is a recipe for a season 3 that starts slowly, as people will need to find a new relationship with karate before going back to training. I hope they will pull it off, because after the awesome climax and all the cliffhangers, there will be protests outside youtube if there is no season 3.
Incredibles 2 (2018)
More thrilling then the first!
This review will be buried under 800+ others, but I just had to put my homage to the movie here. I lost count of how many amazing set pieces. Yes, there is little character developement, but we already know those folks. The movie puts them in new roles, and that is enough. We already know the universe they inhabit, and frankly exploring social themes would be a waste of computer power. I could get through even the overbearing feminism, but that is probably because with so much netflix, PC stuff has beaten me into submission. Also, because the elastic woman is so well used. So I ended up enjoying Mr. Incredible trying to be a stay at home dad (and relatively succeding, giving the utterly impossible circunstances). Yes, the plot is predictable, but this is kind of expected in such an action-oriented flick. Jack-Jack gives enough surprises.
Incredibles 1 was good, but it dragged at times, specially in the 1st half. This one will not let you down, it really puts everything into the action scenes, and there is never less then 10 minutes between them. The chasing of the Screenslaver in the building and the Violet/Voyd fight were my favorites. Introducing new people with new powers was a smart idea, and it works better here then in the overcrowded X-Men sequels. The ending is overdone, but in the age of Marvel movies, ending battles have to be overdone, it's kind of a rule. I just took this movie like a Mission Impossible sequel: give me nonstop thrills, without being overbearing, and that is enough.
Top of the Lake (2013)
People are missing something....
After finishing season 1, I was surprised to see such a high rating combined with lots and lots angry reviews. The rage reviews can be divided in 2 types: the ones that thought the plot was full of pointless parts, like the women's community; and the ones that focused in the misandry.
I am the first to roll my eyes at in-your-face identity politics. I can't stand it. And perhaps this series would be a misandry fest... if not for the women's community. Yes, men in the series are vicious, with a few exceptions, but the series balances that by showing women without men as a complete mess. Even the protagonist often seems to be kept sane by her boyfriend. So the writer strikes hard at both sexes. They each have their insufficiencies, vices and dangerous tendencies, and humankind has not figured out how to perfectly deal with them. In the end, if you pay attention, hope lies in a man and a woman helping each other and bonding. They complete each other, and it will not be perfect, but it is better then one sex having its way. Is this uber-feminism? Only if you missed something.
An extra word about the women's community. Holly Hunter's character is a delightful subversion of a spiritual guide. She has genuine wisdom (I will let aside the misguided dialogues where she seems to have powers), and does identify correctly what the people who come to her are doing wrong. When she tells it to their face, it is funny because she is rude, but also because she is right. The extra irony is that she is unable to make anyone better. The best lines in the series belong to G.J.
I will watch season 2, which may lose its balance and fall into the misandry trap, so don't take this review as appying to the whole series. But season 1 has been sadly misunderstood.
The Handmaid's Tale (2017)
Crackpot idea saved by execution
The series takes place in a dystopian future. We get the basic framework at the beginning and then the numerous details are filled in throughout the series. At practically every reveal of how this world works, my wife and I were scratching our heads and going "THIS doesn't fit with what this society should be all about". The fault is in the faithfulness to the flawed source material, one which tells more about the author and feminist paranoia then about the direction society is heading. Only the most obvious and generic elements of the "cautionary" part seemed relevant.
That said, the series is highly watchable and even compelling because it is good drama. The protagonist is given her due character development and Elizabeth Moss's performance knocks it out of the ballpark. We are occasionally involved with supporting characters like Nick and Serena, though they are not extraordinary. Minor characters get there place in the sun mainly by shock value.
A striking feature is the masterful photography. Very expressive use of colors, creative camera angles and supberb use of foreground/background composition. The directing is uneven, as you would expect from a series with so many directors, but for the most part it delivers the emotional impact.
You have to give up any hope of taking Margaret Wood's dystopia seriously, but that should not stop you for feeling a part of Offred's intense pathos.
O Mecanismo (2018)
Padilha scores again
Jose Padilha shows his opportunistic skills again. "Elite Squad" was an instant hit that led to two sequels despite the haphazard structure due to last-minute changes. "Narcos" is going to have a 4th season even though the main character is long gone. Now he releases a series about Brazil's vast corruption investigation. At first I thought it was foolish to make a series that sticks so close to real live about an event that has not been completed. But after watching season 1 I understand that Padilha is good at sniffing opportunity. It is so hard not to watch if you are one of those who rooted to see the Worker's Party demise.
The early results bring no doubt the series is a hit. Netflix's other series in Brazilian Portuguese, "3%" got less viewers in almost a year then O Mecanismo in 4 working days, if number of rating in Netflix is a good proxy for viewership. By the pace of the plot, it would take three seasons to get where the investigation is today. But by the time season 3 finishes, more will have happened, so the material will last 4 or 5 seasons.
Almost every character has a real-life equivalent, and the Brazilian viewers know who most of them are. There is enough hoopla in Brazil about this series to make it a hit even if it does not garner a single international viewer. I see very little interest for non-Brazilians, to be true. There is enough interest around the main characters and enough tension to qualify it as a competent police procedural, but I think the stakes will be too low for people who have not lived under Lula and Dilma as Presidents and who have not seen the Lava-Jato in the headlines and TV news for years.
La Casa de Papel: Bella ciao (2017)
Not a "blow your mind" season finale
Episode 13 is about average for the series, maybe a notch above the other episodes. Even though there is an important development in the "outside the heist" part of the story, the series could continue in a way that the discovery is not going to change the whole game. As for the "inside the heist", there is just a subplot added that is not too different from the comings and goings of the relationship between hostages and captors. One may even argue episode 12, with the escape, was more climatic.
There is a limited revelation about the background of the Professor and Berlin that could be a great whetting of our appetites for season 2. The problem is, it makes one previous decision by the Professor even more hard to swallow then it already was. And besides, in a flashback scene, the two solve a crucial impasse between them by... singing a song (the one that gives the title of the episode). That will do it. Remember their previous moment of tension, mid-season? They solved by launching "Plan Valencia", which was not only pointless in itself, but unrelated to the sticking point.
Another scene between the Professor and an old woman is well executed, and could be thrilling... if we did not know exactly how it would turn out from the beginning.
We are left with a craving for season 2, as we should, but not because the season finale gave us so much, but because the series has a lot more to give, and I trust it will!
Does nuclear power creep you out?
Some people are calling Dark the "German Stranger Things", and with good reason. The setting is the same: a small, sleepy town with bizarre, perhaps supernatural things going on that affect the whole community. We have an ensemble of common folk as our heroes, and there is this nearby big, mysterious facility that seems to be the center of the oddities - in the original, another dimension, in "Dark", some kind of time travel.
In Stranger Things, the facility is a secretive Government complex, which is fitting. Who is not paranoid that the American Government is up to secret unsavory stuff? The whole world can relate to that, not only Americans. But in "Dark" we have at the center a... nuclear power plant. What's so intriguing about that? Nuclear power plants even allow kids to visit, at least in my country. Seriously, in 2017 who is freaked out about nuclear power? It seems that Germans are. They made a commitment to phase out all nuclear while drastically reducing their carbon emissions. Which makes as much sense as deciding to shed 50 pounds while increasing your caloric intake. Doable with a lot of exercise, but not exactly the most practical plan.
Of course fans of Stranger Things who are anxiously awaiting season 3 will not mind watching an European quasi-remake in the meanwhile. And there is a lot going on for "Dark": mood, photography, soundtrack, acting, characters, nothing falls short of its American matrix. It doesn't surpass Stranger, but matches. You just have to find a way to be scared of nuclear power. I've only watched the first 2 episodes, and frankly the series will have to try harder from now on.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
A companion piece for visiting UBL's compound
I've lived in the Muslim world for years and in Pakistan for a few months. Now some friends came to stay and the one place they decided they HAD to see was the empty plot of land where once stood Osama Bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad. Three hours to go, three hours back, some pictures and a story to tell (the movie says the city is 45 minutes drive from Islamabad, but that was back in 2010 - not now!).
Once we came back we were so involved with the story of the raid that we had to see Zero Dark Thirty (for the 2nd time for me, 1st for them). The killing of UBL is meticulously reconstructed, but only covers the last 30 minutes of the movie. Most of the story involves a CIA semi-fictional agent who by sheer determination and luck convinces the Agency that Bin Laden can be reached, and that they have a good idea of what men is the key to his whereabouts: Ibrahim Sayed, AKA Abu Ahmed Al-Kuwaiti. Information from detainees suggests Sayed is UBL's courier. Our hero figures that, wherever in Central Asia UBL is, the one thing he is sure to have is a courier. Track him, you get the big Kahuna.
The Agency is initially unlucky to believe erroneous intelligence saying Sayed is dead. And then they are lucky to find out he is not dead. With a lot of push from our hero, they allot the resources to find him. It is no easy task. That's my favorite part of the movie. Surveillance technology can find out from where he is calling his family (busy districts in the Punjab), but it is a lot more tricky to follow him in the middle of the crowd to the place where he lives.
After tracking Sayed to a VERY suspicious compound in a city the CIA never expected Bin Laden to be, it is time to decide if this is really UBL's residence. But the mysterious inhabitant never shows his face. I don't think he was hiding from CIA cameras, he just knows he is so recognizable. So the decision is left to the higher-ups, to bomb the place, raid it, or just keep waiting for more definitive intel.
And that is the part where the Director has to make a dramatic decision. Does she show the President and his top aides deliberating? I think putting Obama, Clinton and Biden in the movie would suck all the air out of the room to the detriment of the focus on the field agents. Leon Panneta shows up, but he is not even named. The final act wrote itself, because it is a documentary-like recreation of the raid.
Some reviewers pointed glaring mistakes: the Pakistanis seem to be speaking Arabic instead of Urdu. One part I had to laugh was when a mob stood outside the American Embassy in Islamabad. If you have been there, or anywhere in the diplomatic compound, you know it would never happen.
It is hard to make suspenseful a story that unfolds throughout 10 years and involves meticulous collection of intelligence and a lot of false starts. So the movie may feel like a "boring procedural" for people who are expecting normal Hollywood fare. In order to add a personal touch to the main character, she has a fried killed in a highly implausible scene. Otherwise, Maya just remains a stock character you have to fill in the gaps: lonely woman married to her job, always having to prove herself, obsessed with a task her superiors don't want to give priority.
Some people pointed out to a big lie of the movie: that torture gave crucial information. I'd point out that it is just a half-lie. Yes, nobody gave useful intel for the killing of UBL under torture. However, keeping terror suspects for years under dubious legal status (say with me - Guantanamo!) paid dividends.
A great number of "summaries" of World War II, as well as Hollywood movies like "The Pianist", prefer to omit Stalin's ruthless and calculated decision of letting the Poles fighting for their liberation in Warsaw be mercilessly slaughtered by the SS. I commend this show for telling the obvious: the Red Army did not "run out of steam" in their offensive just outside the Polish capital. They sat and waited for the massacre to be completed so that the Polish Home Army would not be a viable option against a Soviet puppet regime in post-War Poland. The Katyn massacre is also mentioned, just in case Stalin's plans for Poland are not clear enough.
Band of Brothers: Replacements (2001)
Downer but necessary episode
WW2 history buffs (maybe 60% of people watching this series) already know how the centerpiece battle of this episode ends, so it is a bit of an episode to suffer through, even though it is has as much quality as the rest of the series.
To make it even more uncomfortable, Market Garden was the moment when the airborne soldiers, the protagonists of this series, would have decided the war in Europe. But it was not meant to be. Thankfully, this was not the end of Easy Company's adventures.
Reign: All It Cost Her... (2017)
Something for everyone
How do you write a story with a message for feminist equality and women empowerment, but your target audience is women who want above all a beautiful princess/prince charming tale, and at the same time tie it all with real history?
The authors cleverly threw something for everyone, not allowing a final decision on "what this series is really about" - or perhaps letting different viewers decide. Throughout the episode, the queens of England and Scotland give thrilling speeches (in particular, some of Elizabeth's moments were quite compelling) about the stupidity of thinking women are unworthy of the highest duties, particularly without men around. In the final exchanges between Mary and John Knox you can always feel in your skin how the writers were burning with Clinton and Trump in their minds.
And the few spectators (like myself) who are interested in the real history are reminded we are watching unfold the union of Scotland and England for the first time, the formation of Great Britain, which lasts to this day.
BUUUUT... in the end this show is a Disney-like romance, and the final scene gives us back prince charming, Francis, who had been gone from the series since his death on season 3, but who is the love affair the mostly female audience most cares about (even though Mary loved other men after him). Since a montage recapitulating their moments is the last thing we see, we can know for sure the writers wanted to give this as a present to the girls who watched the series for the romantic fantasy of a beautiful princess and a gallant prince.
Last not least, there is also a head-scratching, out of the blue and mildly shocking last event involving Catherine and Narcisse. I would not dream to spoil it, nor speculate on why it is there. Just go along with it.
After a disastrous campaign in the 2004 national championship, Gremio - 2 time Brazilian Champion, 2 Time South American Champion, 1983 World Champion, 4-time winner of the Brazil Cup - had to play the 2nd division in 2005. After struggling throughout the 7 months, the team's fate boiled out to the last match, at the Northeastern city of Recife, against a club with a large crowd of supporters, and accustomed to moving up and down the 1st and 2nd division.
What happened was a sports epic. Something stranger than fiction
The documentary is very one-sided. The target audience is Gremio supporters. But boy, do they get what they are looking for. If you are a "gremista", enjoy! If you are not, you should become one during this 70 minutes in order to enjoy this documentary. But it should not be hard. The feeling of triumph is pretty contagious.
The Siege at Ruby Ridge (1996)
Better than it deserved to be
What's the best way to bring the tragedy of Ruby Ridge to the screen? A two-part TV mini-series doesn't sound like an exciting prospect. Low- budget, less than stellar leads, a long run-time...
But it turned out much better than you would expect. Laura Dern is a so- so name, but her acting skills are tremendously underrated, and they are what is needed for a powerful and complex personality like Vicky Weaver. And the producers got lucky to get Kirsten Dunst before she became too expensive. As for Randy Quaid, of course he doesn't have a big dramatic range, but he happens to strike the right note as Randy Weaver. And decent character actors play the more one-dimensional characters. How can Joe Don Baker not be right for a buffoon like Gerry Spence?
More importantly, the screenplay gets it right. The siege itself is a paint-by-numbers task for the screenwriters, since the source material gives detailed minute-to-minute description of the events. But the set- up is more of a challenge. You have to induce pity and discomfort towards the Weavers while making them your heroes - and at the same time follow the real story faithfully. Mission accomplished. We spend a good hour with this odd family and are totally involved with the gradual escalation of both their beliefs and of the set of circumstances that let to the tragedy, even though much of the development has to be done through telling of mundane events.
Good historical lesson, yes. But also good drama.
Where's the jump serve?
I was born in 1977. I remember very well the times when the 3 protagonists of this documentary, William, Renan and Montanaro (alongside with their teammates Bernard and Xando) were household names and almost national heroes. So it was exciting to recall the age where Brazil began its love affair with volleyball. We as a country felt so close to that national team, perhaps as much as to the football squad. And the effects last to this day - just yesterday Brazil clinched its 3rd gold medal.
The disappointment with the documentary comes from the title. Of the 26 minutes, only 60 seconds or so are about the jump serve, and we do not get the info we wanted. How did they come up with it? When? How hard was it to develop and perfect the technique? Were coaches involved? If you are going to do a piece about the 1980s generation, just name your documentary "the Silver Generation - how it all started" or something like that, instead of promising something you don't deliver. They could have given just 5 more minutes to the jump serve and use the rest of the run time to reminisce about the 1984 Olympics, and we would be both delighted and informed.
Since the 3 players themselves do not talk much about the jump serve, I strongly suspect that it was initially a documentary with the trio reminiscing about the 1984 Olympics, and only after seeing the footage the producers decided to change the focus. Maybe it was supposed to be a celebration of the 30 years of Brazil's first medal, but was released earlier. So they rushed to get interviews with other people talking vaguely about the jump serve - "oh, yeah, I remember that" and renamed the movie. A bit of a mess in the end.
As it is, the documentary is enjoyable for Brazilians my age or older, but it does not give much for other volleyball fans.
South Park: Grounded Vindaloop (2014)
Absolutely the best episode ever
I had stopped watching South Park some years ago after watching the entire 12 or 13 first seasons. I felt the series was relying too much on toilet humor and just became exhausting.
But the other day I decided to download and binge watch the past few seasons. Good stuff alternating with lame stuff, all normal. If you watch one after the other, on average you will be entertained, since the very good ones cancel out the so-so.
But then this episode came and blew my mind. It's the best I've seen, and the IMDb community seems to feel the same way, given the 9.2 rating. I could not stop laughing from beginning to end.
The quotas episode!
We've had some wonderful magic stuff this season, but none tonight. It's like they decided to lump all the lame tricks (although presented in an entertaining way) in the same episode.
But there may have been another purpose. To make a "diversity" episode.
When a kid in his early teens opened the show and a woman magician followed, I just thought, OK, these people were selected just because the show is dominated by grown up white males, so there need to be some balance. The next one might just well be an African American, I told myself jokingly. And to my utter astonishment, it was! All the presentations passed and we knew 100% the guys did not get even close to fooling.
The last one was an aging magic legend who long ago created dozens of tricks many people use today, but does not have new stuff to show anymore. So he just gave a good performance of his stuff and got a condescending "FU" prize out of respect, since he did not fool the stars (P&T even knew the movements because of the book he himself wrote!). So three quotas and one homage.
The P&T piece at the end was one of those they show how its done, so it's not about the trick, but about the theatrical presentation. In this case, a statement on their patriotic beliefs.
No thrills, just mild entertainment. Barely rises above the level of fluff. But I like the show's format so much that even the weak episodes are a delight to watch.
Sorry I doubted you, season 2!
After a sluggish 3 and a half episodes, I thought this season would be a big flop. I could relate to Bezzerides and Velcoro, but nothing else - no other characters, no subplot and certainly not the main plot. The only reason I kept watching is because my stepson insisted - hey, it's True Detective, we can't miss it. So I went along.
But since the shootout at the end of episode 4, things really picked up. The plot is becoming tighter and some sense of urgency is coming about. Most importantly, things are finally becoming interesting with Frank. The uninteresting subplots were either abandoned, reached a solution or were at last incorporated to the main plot. Episodes 5-7, plus the set piece in episode 4, made this second season more than worthwhile. If the final episode tops last year's finale (in which the showdown was less exciting then expected), I think season 2 will be almost on par with season 1, lacking the tour de force of Rust Cohle's iconic character, but not being a big letdown in terms of storytelling. Needless to say, episode 7 was the best so far, and an excellent pre-finale buildup. Not many critics agree with me that the series really picked up in the second half, but IMDb users sure do - just look at the marks.
The best way to cut the problems that plagued BOTH seasons is to reduce the number of episodes from 8 to 6 next time. It is not that we have to withstand "filler" episodes, but the fact is that seasons 1 and 2 were plagued with too many uninteresting subplots and characters. A shorter season will tighten up things. But we know it is not going to happen, since a longer season is more profitable, and the fans sure like to see more hours of TD.
Not exactly original, but has its own personality
"May", is pretty good. Too bad I had already seen a 2011 rip-off called "Alyce Kills", so I knew exactly what was going to happen. But I guess in 2002 it was fresh and surprising.
What really did for me was a bunch of surprising lines. "Want to watch me file?"; "I don't think she could have bit the whole finger in just one bite, that part was far- fetched"; "That was sweet" (after seeing something bizarre); "reading about amputation just for fun"; "my dog had for legs, and when I came back from vacation one of them was missing".
Just as in Alyce Kills, the movie has two very different halves. It is very tricky to keep both exciting, since they appeal to the viewer in such different ways - some people would wish the first half just got to the point already, while others will say the movie went downhill after the midpoint. I guess you can't help it, with this structure. The writer tried to solve this problem filling the first half with lots and lots of foreshadowing, but that resulted in predictability, now unity.
I suppose you can make a sub-genre out of "May", but it needs some twists and new elements.
Maybe one good element that can be pushed farther is more freakishness in the characters around May? There is already something here, that can be more explored. I like the idea of sickos surrounded by other sickos from which you don't know what to expect, like "House on the Edge of the Park", by Deodato. A twist near the end would help a lot. But it only came in the last 10 seconds. Though excellent, it wasn't enough. Also, a director that can create more mood. The movie is based on cringe, but it needs more.
I obviously liked the movie. I hope someone can create something even creepier, more deranged and more unpredictable from this structure. I just want even more of what worked.
Part-time magicians? Just a filler episode.
They must have spent all the good material in the last episode, one of the best in the series. The only thing relatively interesting was Mac King "swallowing" the Guinea Pig. Wow, what an effect!! I think I figured out how it was done, but it is still surprising and impressive.
The first two were people who admitted to be part-time magicians. What? I think this is the first time it happened. Both came with tricks that were half-interesting, but that Penn said they had seen before many times (that is, they are standard tricks). The mentalist that showed the "square", however, had a nice effect. I would love to be able to do it at a party.
The last one who "bent a fork" made a routine with too many "fishy moves" to be effective.
Finally, the P&T routine was just comedy, no magic. The kind of thing you would see sometimes in "The Strange world of Penn and Teller". So-so.
Almost a filler episode, with nothing amazing, except for the Guinea Pig. And even that one was only surprising, but not making a lot of people who are accustomed to the show wonder how he did it (I mean, the box must have been there for a reason...)
One of the best episodes so far
All the magicians were very entertaining this time, especially the first three, even if they did not quite rise to the level of "mind-blowing". The Penn & Teller trick at the end was their famous bullet catching routine, the highlight of their Vegas show. And the one magician that fooled them was not playing one of the stupid "meta-games" (doing a trick that can be performed in a number of ways so that P&T are left with a multiple choice). He took an old trick and did something special with it. So it is pretty much a near-perfect episode within the premise.
However, I feel there is a psychological element in play here. In all the previous episodes, when the camera cut to Penn during the presentation and right after it, he looked bored. Which is kind of contagious I guess. But in this episode he was laughing and having fun. I don't think it was a matter of the participants impressing him more, but of the producers telling him to quit being a party-pooper who sabotages his own show! If the main character of the show is not having fun, why should we?
Please keep up the positive attitude, Mr. Gillete!
True Detective: Other Lives (2015)
Series picks up
Best episode so far. The season is really picking up in the second half.
We are getting less tedious stuff about land deals and getting more about the sinister habits of the powerful guys. Velcoro is getting out of the gutter his life was, though his nasty side is seen in all its brutality - only this time with a purpose. Ironically, life seems to be punishing him more.
I love the scenes where Ani is involved with sexual harassment accusations. They always strike me as funny and somehow Kafkian. I hope they also tie up with the main plot later, with someone on top being behind the attempt to take her down. Also, she and Paul stumble into something that brings us closer to the mood of the first season.
Paul continues to be somehow irrelevant and uninteresting, though. As for Frank, the ending of the episode promises more interaction and conflicts with the other characters.
The plot is getting less convoluted and boring, while the action is getting more intense and sinister. The season is definitely improving.
The best thing that can happen is some mind-bending plot twists in the end, something the first season sadly lacked. But I don't quite see where they would come from. We essentially can discard the idea that the four main characters are hiding anything, since we get so many scenes from their point of view. Maybe Pizzolato has something in store somehow - Ani's father, perhaps? But so far it seems that the mystery will turn out to have a solution very close to where the story is leading. Big guys doing sick things, etc.
It's the drum set, stupid
Premise: a tough teacher with heterodox methods who manipulates and mistreats a promising protegé in order to make a triumph of him. The former gets away with psychological torture and even physical abuse in a manner that, in real life, would get him fired and banned from his profession in 15 seconds, and yet he succeeds... even when trying to undermine the poor kid. In another movie this would turn me off completely and make me snore for the whole 107 minutes.
Instead, it is one of the most thrilling flicks I have ever seen. It put me firmly in the edge of my seat.
That's because the "art" at stake is no McGuffin. The jazz drumming is a third, more powerful protagonist than either the bully or the victim, or their face-off - despite the undeniably excellent performances (JK Simmons is a slam dunk at the Oscar). The characters say what they are doing is all about the music, about becoming Charlie Parker, about being "one of the greats".
But in reality you could not pull off this story with any other jazz instrument - certainly not with Parker's saxophone.
I can't stress it enough. Damn the brass, the woodwinds, the bass. In the drums there is something visceral, at the same time primitive and sublime that comes through in a away music listeners perhaps never realized. The instrument forces the character to bleed, to suffer, to submit his mind to the beat, to the merciless tempo, to the task of commanding the band at the same time the player seems to be in the background. It demands his transfiguration into a brute who brings delight. It is much tougher than the sadistic, over-the-top teacher.
The movie is about taming an instrument more than Karate Kid is about karate, or the first half of Full Metal Jacket is about making soldiers. More than any sports movie are about a sport. You never cared so much about the activity that supposedly is there only to provide the plot, without even noticing it.
And you don't realize it, because the characters never discuss the particularities of the dreaded sticks, snares and cymbals. Not for one second. Maybe that is the brilliancy of Whiplash. People talk about the drum set as if it was any other jazz instrument. It is not! Instead, they just show and show and show challenge of the drumming. You live it, you suffer it, and you are enchanted by it. There is a reason the first and last shots of the movie, both abrupt, have Andrew at the stool, hitting the cymbals with all his energy and skill. In the end you don't know why you loved the movie, despite the stock characters, weak plot twist, and clichéd situations that stretch credulity. You are swept, and wonder what is there that you never seen before. The drum set is omnipresent yet and nearly unmentioned. It's alive. The drum set is the real appeal of Whiplash. It IS Whiplash.
The piece that gives the movie its title and is played over and over has a heterodox, challenging time signature. Seven beats per measure. Maybe this strangeness contributes, but I don't know jazz enough to say for sure. The direction is above par, stylish and discreet at the same time. The actors are brilliant. But who cares? Just hit the notes, Andy, until you bleed, get beaten up by the instrument until your brain turns into mush, and ultimately produce pure art.
Mibu gishi den (2002)
Note to directors: extending the length does not necessarily expand the message.
The last days of an era are a common motif in Japanese samurai movies. Apparently there is something regarded as especially tragic in that process, and many movies try to show that. So there is nothing very particular about this movie, in terms of theme. The appeal is mostly in the peculiar main character.
The problem is, the movie tries for too much. In the first 50 minutes we are totally engaged by Yoshimura, by his tensions with the samurai group he has joined, the curiosity about his motives, and the prospect of the civil war engulfing their lives. It is a fine drama, with the required sword-fighting on top. Yoshimura is a great character.
But the last hour is just incredibly overlong and sentimental. The story goes in the right direction, and the fate of the characters seem a natural development of what was set up. So why make it so long and melodramatic?
I think the director thought of this movie as more than another drama/adventure samurai. He wanted an epic. It does not work that way. There are only enough characters and plot for the drama of one man and his friends, not of the entire Japan. Thematically, nothing was added because of the long second half. No great insight about humanity, just a bunch of tears, snow, flowing water, and redundant sad speeches. The very same themes and plot resolution could have been done in 20 minutes instead of 60, and the film could wrap up in a nice 100 minutes, losing nothing. What a shame. In aiming for greatness, what could be a great movie was spoiled. Maybe you could watch it on DVD and play everything after the battle in 2x speed...
Several movies in one
Odd little flick. Other reviewers have noticed how you have several movies in one, though not at the same time. First drama, then psychological horror, then out-and-out splatter-fest. Those who were expecting just the latter will be annoyed at the time it takes to get there. Those, like me, who did not know what sub-genre it was, may be thrown off-guard by the last 20 minutes, a killing orgy that is more typical of low-budget exploitation flicks (except that those have cardboard characters, while this one has some character development). And the gore starts very, very suddenly. Maybe if the order of the killings were reversed (first the less gory gun killings, then the more gory), it would work better. A continuous descent into violence.
The use of humor is also peculiar. When human misery begins in the second act, it is taken seriously. When hell breaks loose in the third, the movie tries - with some success, I admit - to be funny.
So the three movies seem to not fit together, but the thing is, they are *all* effective on their own. The relationship of the two girls in the beginning is something you can relate; the protagonist's self-inflicted humiliation in the middle is touching; and the gorefest in the end satisfies the fans of the sub-genre.
The last scene, by the way, was funny and quite ingenious. Probably the only of its kind in revenge/exploitation stories.
A minor complaint: there is zero female nudity, even though one particular scene demanded it. The protagonist is having sex with her nightgown on for no particular reason. It is clearly a matter of the actress refusing to do it, and the viewer is too aware of that (yes, I am actually saying the absence of breasts is distracting).
So you may want check it out on netflix stream, but only if you are very much into horror. Not quite worth a rental.