my Movie
DVRfest 2020 (12.09.20 - 12.12.20, 20 movies)
Date Viewed Movie Director Notes
12.09.20 MankDavid FincherIt's a tough thing to make a new movie about an old movie and try to make the new movie look and feel about as old as the old movie that the new movie is about. Normally I'd say that particular exercise always comes off as masturbatory on the part of the filmmaker and not of particular concern to most everyone else (except the film geeks who are eager to join the circle). However, as one of those horny film geeks I usually participate anyway because I love movies and it seems like a select few filmmakers also love movies so why not revel in what it is that both the film -maker and -geek love.

Along those lines, Mank is maybe the ultimate move about movies since it's about a movie that only film geeks love. It's not even about the making of the movie (like the HBO film RKO 281) but the writing of it, and not about the star of said movie but the writer. If anything could make this enjoyable to anyone outside the circle jerk however, it might just be that distinction. Maybe they watch it not because they love Citizen Kane or like Orson Welles but because it's David Fincher's version of Trumbo or Gary Oldman's follow-up after playing Churchill. But again, how am I to know because I'm fully in the circle.

So, How was it? I thought it was pretty good! In terms of the facade I'd say it was remarkably well done. You'd never guess it was shot on a RED, edited in Premiere, and scored by Trent Reznor / Atticus Ross. All the little touches like the title cards and key lighting and cigarette burns make it feel pretty evocative. The script also seems in that style with much witty dialogue and generally following the same narrative structure as Kane. As usual, Oldman is great. It manages homage without caring more about the period than the story (which is what I was afraid of).

I was also surprised to find something in the story that spoke to what's going on today. It seems like politics were always dirty and those with the power of a following often abuse it for their own gain, both in terms of movie studios and newspapers. It's a message that both works because of Mayer / Hearst and Fox / CNN.

All in all it was fun to watch. A perfectly fine film. Selfishly, would I rather have season 3 of Mindhunter? Absolutely. But Fincher's not a robot nor a slave to my whims and... like I proved earlier this week, Zodiac still exists and I can watch it whenever I want.

Oh, and for you imaginary reader who noticed that mid-November came and went without a DVRfest, this is it right now. I delayed it for a month because of several reasons, most notably that it's my festival and I can do what I want with it. A month ago things were pretty busy but now I'm off work for the rest of the year and several big movies have become available and I have a solid 4-day line-up that I am perhaps the most excited for of any year's schedule. So it's happening now. A month late but that's 2020 for ya.

And, as seems to be DVRfest tradition, distractions have popped up all day. It's already 9pm and I've just finished my first movie. I don't think I'm making it through all 5 films but then again, I've been staying up pretty goddamn late lately so let's see how many I can churn through before I pass out.

Next up is... a sequel. Will it be 'vrrry niice' or 'my wiiife'?
12.09.20 Borat Subsequent MoviefilmJason WolinerI originally also had a doc called 'Totally Under Control' on the schedule for this fest but decided I'd probably get enough of the 'for the mother of god and all that is holy please vote trump out of office so we don't descend further into hell' genre that seemed to pop up around September of this year. On the one hand, I guess it was a motivating factor for several artists to do something (like the surprisingly evocative West Wing filmed play) but on the other it seems like all these projects wind up saying the same thing. And maybe it needs to be said, so I'm not bashing them for having a message or anything... but I do wonder what audiences who watch movies like 10 years from now this will think when every project ends with messages like "GO VOTE!" or "PLEASE VOTE!" or "VOTE OR I WILL BE EXECUTED!"

For me, the topicality hung over the whole movie for me. There were parts that were kinda funny (i laughed during the debutant ball dance scene) but it had a lot of factors working against it. I'm not sure why this was a Borat movie at all since he was so recognizable on the street that he had to use other costumes, and a lot of the comedy/story came from the actress playing his daughter. It feels like it might've been better suited as a different project entirely... except Sacha Baron Cohen knew more people would watch a Borat movie.

I did kind of appreciate the ending though. And while I was never sure who was an actor and who wasn't, it seems like the film tries to show that while we are in a fucked up place in terms of education and media manipulation, Americans can still be nice people individually. But mostly this felt too topical to stand the test of time for me. Hopefully.

OK. Next up is a movie that I'm excited to see although I suspect I might not like it. Let's see.
12.09.20 TenetChristopher NolanHuh. Well, I liked it more than I thought I would, but I still kind of feel how I thought I would about it. First off, the criticisms are totally valid about this being a music video with dialogue in the background. I watched in a quiet house with headphones on and still couldn't hear some of the dialogue. The music is mixed so goddamn loud that I had to twiddle the volume knob for half the movie. While wearing headphones! If this was a different kind of movie I wouldn't say it was such a big deal, but as a viewer i needed to hear and understand every goddamn word spoken to keep up with what the hell was happening and still there were moments where I had to stop trying to figure out what was going on and just go with it. So making it hard to hear what little explanations were there felt like watching this movie on hard mode. There has to reach a point where, if the entire audience says a thing then they are not wrong. The battle of winterfell was too dark. The dialogue in this movie is mixed too low. These are no longer subjective feelings on the part of the individual.

My fear going into this was that this is Christopher Nolan unhinged. He's had one too many hits and is feeling like he can do no wrong and his opinions about what film is and how it should be made have become more than just tenets for himself as an artist but an agenda to be enforced. And since he's the savior of cinema or whatever, Warner Brothers gave him a blank check. That was my fear.

I do find some of that to be true, like why was this shot in IMAX? The sweeping grandeur of some of his previous work is largely missing here and the one big sequence where I thought it would pay off was mostly cut too quickly to take in any fine detail of the frame. But while I did find the story very complicated and difficult to follow in some parts, I don't think it's like a "Lady in the Water" level of self-indulgence. This story certain fits in the same cannon as Inception, Interstellar, and Memento. While I wasn't blown away with it like I was Dunkirk, it's still certainly an interesting and engaging take on an action film along the lines of Miami Vice with a sci-fi premise. I don't think it's a bad movie by any means.

I thought I saw John David Washington backwards-running a little bit but either most of it was seamlessly done or I wish it was more showcased. The fight scene in the hallway was interesting if not quite perfectly executed like a similar hallway fight in Inception, but still pretty dang cool. But I do think I saw the tower that explodes at the end wobble, betraying its miniature status. I think a lot of these effects, as hard as they were to shoot practically because Nolan didn't want to use visual effects, would probably be more effective and cheaper with some digital help.

And of course, the message at the end. Gotta have that message. It's never enough to leave some mystery unless it's perfectly packaged like the spinning top. We gotta hear about WHY. ugh.

So... in the end, I liked it. It's not my favorite Nolan, but neither is it my least favorite (Am i unfairly shitting all over the Insomnia re-make in my mind? Do i need to watch that again?).

Lastly, I do have to state my one major point of confusion for the record, so... spoilers for this paragraph. The end fight sequence, with the red team and the blue team. The blue team was inverted, right? So why was stuff happening backward for the red team? And who were they fighting exactly? I'm not sure who either team was shooting at, but were there inverted enemy troops as well? I just don't understand that whole sequence very well at all. I was with it up till then, but I didn't even know what the tall russian guy was trying to do. Bury the algorithm? So the future could find it? So they needed to get it but still let the bomb go off... so the future would think it's there? But the future obviously wouldn't find it there so...

OK spoiler alert for this paragraph too. I guess I'm also confused about Kenneth Branagh's timeline. If he was going to commit suicide on that boat... isn't that like ten days before he meets the protagonist? Did he invert himself to go back to the yacht? why would he do that? Why wouldn't time be going forward once he got all 9 pieces? I dunno...

Alright. So it's already 2am. I'm definitely not gonna get all five films today, but that's ok. Hopefully I can slip an extra one in on another day. Instead, it looks like it's going to be a Robert Pattinson double feature because I refuse to let this next one slip through the cracks of another DVRfest.
12.09.20 Good TimeBenny Safdie, Josh SafdieThis was very good. It also very much puts Uncut Gems into context, and it's different from what I thought it would be. I thought this would be kind of more like Pattinson's character is super desperate and running for his life like Sweet Smell of Success or Training Day but instead it's all about Pattinson's relentless and resourceful will to make things work out. So it's less about watching the rat in the cage and more about admiring his ingenuity even as he does terrible things. I felt like the ending of the movie was more a sigh of relief than a tragedy. I'm glad I finally got around to watching this.

And now it's very late. Today will have to be 4 movies instead of 5. And tomorrow... I'm not sure how many we'll get to because some are quite long and it's up to fate to decide what I watch. Yep, it's another round of Criterion Random Roll... coming tomorrow.
12.10.20Le Deuxieme SouffleJean-Pierre Melvilleroll: 9

This year I've got spine numbers between 109 and 1057 to choose from, but after several years of this exercise I'm finally starting to winnow these blind buys down. However, it's also tradition around these parts to sprinkle in 1 move that I've seen before along with all the new-to-me films that I'm catching up on, so this year I've filled out the d20 with select criterion discs of movies I wouldn't mind watching again (it seems like the only physical purchases I make any more are criterion blus of movies I already like), so we'll leave that up to fate as well. There are still a few heavy investments in this stack like a silent film and a 4-hour opus so we'll see what we get and how many we can get through before the night is through.

The first roll selected this Melville movie. I've really liked almost every other Melville movie that I've seen and it's been quite a while since I've watched a French noir so I'm excited. It also carries a typical Melville running time though so we'll see how that goes.

Well that was long. I think that Melville at his best shows these deliberate nuanced portrayals of criminals and their procedure that slowly build to a very satisfying climax that pays off how deliberately paced the rest of the movie is. This one gets there but it's a bit shaggy... just shy of being perfectly focused. Maybe the adaptation from the novel was too faithful? Like, you kind of don't need the first hour of this film. Then 90 minutes in I thought "why is there an hour left in this movie?" But then the last hour is really pretty good. The last 90 minutes were really pretty good, but it's a formula that I believe Melville pulls off better with Le Cercle Rouge. Maybe had I seen this first I would've been more blown away since there is quite a lot of good stuff here.

One thing I liked was how quaint and civilized all of the criminals were. I suspect this movie stands out because the character of police inspector Blot was maybe one of the first the play in the gray area between law and the criminals he's out to catch. It's a character that's basically in every crime movie these days and I think it might be illegal to make a Yakuza film without one, but here there's even a preface saying something about how Blot's actions are not indicative of all police. And it's funny to think that a taped voice recording is not enough to incriminate someone but a random scribbled note can somehow exonerate someone? This movie is filled with little touches of etiquette between criminals that I suppose created a fantasy of the honorable criminal that stuck around for quite a while.

You can definitely tell it's 55 years old though. Much of the movie is very slow and very quiet, but it's still a Melville movie where sooner or later stuff happens and by then you've been watching these people for long enough to be invested with them. Having sat through his first film in a past DVRfest, I know this technique is something he had to find and hone. So if Le Cercle Rouge is an A+, this is the B+ precursor.

Ok, Next.
12.10.20 StalkerAndrei TarkovskyRoll: 18

Man, I'm pulling some long movies today. It's for the best though, since this is probably the only way to force me to watch these supposedly amazing movies that i only know as being long and slow. This is a perfect example. It's... probably? my first Tarkovsky movie? Other than a 15-minute clip I saw in a video game once. I've heard nothing but amazing things about this movie. Let's see how I like it.

...I watched it.

My immediate reaction is that I didn't get much out of it. I recognize that a lot of what the three people talk about... the whole time... made no sense to me, really. And even for a movie this "relaxed" in pace, there didn't seem to be much of a point... to anything, which really made it feel like time well spent. But I'm also maybe a little cognizant of the fact that this is my first taste of anything like this. I mean, I only have the Soderbergh Solaris remake and a 15-minute segment of Nostalgia to go on here... so Tarkovsky's cinematic lexicon is unfamiliar to me. So maybe I shouldn't be too put out that I found this impenetrable in much the same way that I find Satyajit Ray's work or Ozu. But still, it wasn't much fun to sit through.

I will say that a lot of the scenery and compositions were striking. It made me wonder where it was shot so I looked it up and found out that Tenet shot in the same city, which is coincidental and cool. I still wonder how dressed these sets were... if they were found like how 1990 Bronx Warriors used Queens as-is to represent a post apocalyptic wasteland, or if they were meticulously constructed to have some soviet symbolic representation that I'm not aware of. I could really use a 90-minute doc explaining the movie... but I'm also ready to move on. Maybe some day.

Ok, Next. and I have to say... after these two I'm really ready for something with pep. Looking at the possibilities, there are more land mines than ever.
12.10.20The UnderneathSteven Soderberghroll: 10

This is technically a bonus feature on the King of the Hill blu but I've never seen it so I left the disc in the pool after watching that film. I'm fine with this choice. I'm not expecting anything to blow me away but at least it's less than 2 hours and in english.

Well there are a few nice surprises here. It was shot in Austin about ten years before I got here so there's some nice pre-boom shots of downtown and even a few of Fonda San Miguel (a mexican restaurant here in town). Rick Linklater has a cameo for some reason, along with a few other friendly 90s faces like Andy from Twin Peaks and Joe Don Baker (and Shelley Duvall in a head-scratching appearance). It's also based on the novel that Burt Lancaster noir Criss-Cross was adapted from, which makes it fits nicely in that mid-90s neo-noir moment along with movies like Red Rock West and The Last Seduction.

It's not as good as any of those movies, but I guess it fits in with them. In the 20-minute interview about this film in the disc's special features, Soderbergh hits the nail on the head when he says the movie is too sleepy. It's like Peter Gallagher's been drugged for the whole thing... the movie is a collection of first takes by a distracted filmmaker, and all that's left is color filters and split diopters. I don't remember loving Lancaster's version but at least there he played up the sap. Here, I don't know what Gallagher is doing. Of course when you're given lines like "I love gambling!" you might be facing an uphill battle.

Oh well. Next.
12.10.20 Ghost Dog: The Way of the SamuraiJim JarmuschRoll: 16

Sweet! Not only have I seen this before but I just bought this blu during the last 50%-off sale. I believe I've only seen this once and that was way back when it was released, but I have fond memories, listened to the soundtrack a bunch, and have since seen a bunch of movies where the actors playing gangsters here were much more tough and less funny, so I'm really ready to see an easy-to-watch good movie right now and this totally fits the bill. See you on the other side.

It's born-born, young lord, raise your swords.

Loved it this time around, being able to enjoy the moments and not have to worry about plot (however little there is). In comparison to Tenet, this movie features a French-speaking character who you don't really need subtitles for since Ghost Dog doesn't understand him either. Of course, there's not some dense plot with sci-fi elements and global espionage going on either... just some dinosaur gangsters clashing against an even older code. Some of the gangster scenes are legit very funny. The music's great, the vibe is super unique and interesting. There's no other gangster film like it, no other samurai film like it, and no other hitman film like it (although The Professional comes close).

There's even a pre-The Wire Marlo sighting at one point, which was surprising and cool.

Funny how I don't have as much to say about the movies I like. Granted, I've also sat with the memory of this one for 20 years so it's pretty well ingested.

Ok. It's 2am. The die has been downgraded to a d12. Let's give this sucker one more roll and hope it's not a 4-hour film like Che that one year.
12.11.20 World on a WireRainer Werner Fassbenderroll: 9

Goddamn it. Totally jinxed. Technically, this is a three and a half hour tv mini-series, not a movie... but it feels pretty cheap to roll again. I knew full well what it meant to include (I also have Oliver Assayas' Carlos but chose not to include that due to it being five and a half hours), I want to watch it, time has proven that I never will unless forced to through some exercise like this... I'm just going to start it and watch as much as I can then finish the rest tomorrow. I think it's split into two parts so hopefully I can make it through half before passing out, and I guess if I rolled this earlier I wouldn't have gotten to see Ghost Dog. All day it's felt like this would come up. I think I watched the one before this in the list and the one after. So be it. The dice gods have spoken, let's dive in.

Yep, had to watch the second half in the morning. Which is a shame because the first half is pretty much all set-up and the second half is where things get really good. Really good in a 70s sci-fi way, but augmented by several factors. For one, the story (which I think was adapted from a book) is very similar to the Westworld TV show (specifically the show's second season onward, with the first mostly taking inspiration from Michael Crichton's movie) and the Alex Garland show Devs. Like suspiciously so... although I guess once you get in this domain certain ideas are universal. Still, this is almost 50 years ago doing the same stuff as cutting edge sci-fi shows today.

Another huge factor is its director. This is only the second Fassbinder thing that I've seen, but I'm totally getting why people hold this guy up so high. There's a real paradox going on with this movie in that certain aspects very much make it feel like a TV mini-series (which it was). It's shot on 16mm with dirty gates in many shots, many of the sets look kinda cheap and thrown together, there's not much action to speak of, and it's largely just a lot of scenes of people talking to one another. It feels like they churned out the production very quickly, yet every scene is so meticulously staged and photographed. Nearly every scene feels like it has at least one crazy set-up where the camera pans, zooms, and dollies to get two, three, four angles on the actors. It reminded me very much of some of Max Ophuls' work in films like Lola Montes. The scenes are made more interesting by these puzzling moves to frame people in mirrors or revolve around them to keep others in frame or even to rotate in 360 degrees as an actor walks through an entire house all in one shot. I can't imagine these orchestrations being easy or quick to set up... so I'm left kind of astounded at what went on during the making of this.

Furthermore, Fassbinder's career is pretty famous for being a case of burning the candle at both ends. Something like 44 films in 20 years, dead at 37, work all day party all night. He made this when he was less than 30 yet less than 10 years before his death. It's also a 4-hour miniseries the same year he wrote and directed another 5-episode series and a movie. And all of this were his 'early years' before Ali: Fear Eats the Soul earned any sort of international acclaim. So the dude must have been a genius and a machine to have this output.

So... since I'm relatively new to this Fassbinder style, the first half of the film seems very unreal. Yes it's people talking but the staging and acting is often so stilted and bizarre. I couldn't tell if that's this film or his style in general. People do weird things like spin around in chairs or dive into pools very poorly, all while we're in this ever-moving camera's eye that surrounds and gets into everyone's faces. It's very disorienting at first. Plus I'm not sure if the sets are meant to be a cheap version of the future or just how early 70s Germany looked. It's nowhere near as overt as 2001 or Logan's Run, but there are still touches like the amazing video phones and computer room set that were clearly not normal.

One thing I liked about both this and Stalker is that they manage to tell pretty esoteric sci-fi stories without any visual effects or space-suits. They both deal with concepts more than aliens but still manage to transport the viewer to a different place entirely. This is a technique that Primer would get a lot of credit for much later.

Anyway, once the second part starts, it becomes clear that all of these choices with the sets and mirrors and framing and acting are intentional thematic choices. They may also be Fassbinder's style but they happen to thematically fit the story perfectly. From there, it's a whole second movie's worth of unravelling and all the stuff we've seen in 3 seasons of a hit HBO show.

By the time it's all said and done, it's a remarkable piece of filmmaking that is somehow at odds with itself and in perfect harmony. I still don't understand the environment that produced this, but I'm really impressed that it exists. I also suspect this will be the Fassbinder film I like most, since it seems like all of his other stuff are pretty intense social dramas. This is his only sci-fi film which is what engrossed me on a story level while he did all his genius stuff behind the camera. I do have another film in the random pool but that will have to wait for another roll.

And that ends this year's Criterion Random Roll. Decent films for the most part but pretty brutal on run-times. I'm glad I watched all of them though.
12.11.20 ProspectChristopher Caldwell, Zeek EarlDay 3 "starts" with this low-budget sci-fi film starring Pedro Pascal. It's another in the theme of a sci-fi film that's not filled with action, this one more of a survival thriller, almost post-apocalyptic bent where they are on a toxic forest planet (pacific northwest) sent to harvest gems from gross alien tuber sacks. I liked it for sure. It reminded me a lot of the Lovecraft story In the Walls of Eryx although I'm sure there are many more sources along the same lines that I'm not familiar with.

Although this does deal with space-suits and alien worlds, there's still a retro vibe to the sets since it's all meant to feel used and lived in a la Alien. There are other nice touches too though like the foreign written language and slang terms and different styles of suits communicating different manufacturers, different purposes, etc. Plus it's got a few familiar faces (and voices) from The Wire which is always a plus. This is a great example of good modern-day sci-fi told without the benefit of gigantic budgets like Raised by Wolves.

This was meant to have a Saturday Matinee type vibe but my days are running so late that it's already dark. I'm hoping the rest of the schedule tonight is filled with tight 90-minute gems to get me back on track, but on the other hand... who am I late for? I'm having fun, let's just keep it rolling. Next up is the first doc of the fest, about a theme park I've already heard much about.
12.11.20 Class Action ParkSeth Porges, Chris Charles Scott IIIDocumentary about infamously dangerous Action Park in New Jersey. This was really good. I didn't grow up in that area but I do remember Rikki Rachtman and Alice in Chains shooting there for a Headbanger's Ball and have since discovered it via random internet blogs and whatnot. I think there's even another mini-doc that this used for the owner's son's interview footage that I found somewhere... maybe a vice thing or something? Anyway, I think the allure of a storied local amusement park with zero safety regulations is correctly extrapolated here by the filmmakers and Chris Gethard's interview in particular, and that's that it kind of personified a childhood that I don't believe exists any more. My generation, growing up in the 80s, was maybe the last of the independent, "go outside and play" comings of age. And even then we were already hearing about razor blades in the halloween candy and rashes of serial killers, child abductions, AIDS, gang violence, and other sources of fear clamping down... but those of us who grew up in suburban or relatively safe neighborhoods still had that experience of being on your own, getting up to nonsense that you probably shouldn't have gotten up to, just a little too much freedom at just a little too young an age that I think Action Park distills. It was a place with outlandish rides designed by a guy with more sense of fun than common sense that let kids rule the kingdom. Kind of like the idea of Huck Finn Island but for realsies. The doc does a great job of laying out all the ways in which this place was crazy, letting us laugh at the absurdity, then reminding us of the actual human cost that resulted. While the death rate was undoubtedly very low compared to how many kids had great times there, it's still higher than 0 which is unacceptable.

I thought I already knew "the deal" on this subject due to those previous google rabbit holes but this doc filled in all the details and did it in an entertaining way. Can't ask for more than that.
12.11.20The Trial of the Chicago 7Aaron SorkinAaron Sorkin writing a courtroom drama should be a no-brainer, especially with a cast as packed as this. I didn't know much about this particular moment in history and had heard a little about Abbie Hoffman but wasn't really familiar with his "deal." I wound up liking this quite a bit; I thought it was really well structured and paced to deliver so much context and information while still being fun to watch.

I guess Frank Langella only plays infuriating villains these days. He is pretty good at it so I guess that's ok. I think this is the first role I've seen Sacha Baron Cohen in where I wasn't continuously taken out of the movie by memories of his characters (or him saying "Ricky Bobby" in whatever crazy french accent he used in Talladega Nights). I was also pleasantly surprised to see John Carroll Lynch ("gooodbyyeeeee") sitting along all these other heavyweights. Jeremy Strong also killed it in an unexpected way now that I know him from Succession. I guess all these great actors gravitate to a Sorkin script like moths to a flame. Sorkin will never be some cinematic maestro with the camera but if he keeps doing projects like this he doesn't have to be. I never felt a moment where the story or performances hit a false note and intercutting (presumably) real news footage and crime scene photographs gave the historical nature of the piece some grounding. Definitely a good one... it kinda makes me want to go back to some previous Sorkin stuff and give it a re-watch. Or finally watch the goddamn Steve Jobs movie. Maybe next year.

Lastly, can't go without shouting out a Lt. Rawls (in the guise of AG John Mitchell) cameo. The Wire alums continue to represent!

Next up is something musical.
12.11.20 David Byrne's American UtopiaSpike LeeI'm a reasonably big fan of Talking Heads but I don't really follow Byrne's solo career. Still, something about the presentation and photography of this show made me want to watch it and I figured this would be a nice musical interlude in the fest to lean back and let wash over me. It filled that purpose very well. I appreciate how they managed having all of the instruments hooked up wirelessly (however they did it. I feel like I saw mics on each of their shoulders? But at the very end they looked more like sensors?) It created a nice dynamic set-up where they could really play with the staging of each song. The music wasn't bad either.

Now it's very very late, but I'm going to try and make it through one more...
12.11.20 Between Two Ferns: The MovieScott AukermanWhen this came out I wondered what a Between Two Ferns movie could possibly be. I like the funny or die sketches pretty good but... a movie? Even during this fest I was more or less thinking I'd put this on late at night so it didn't have to make much sense and I could maybe get a laugh or two. But then I saw Lauren Lapkus (Pete Holmes' ex in Crashing) and Edi Patterson (who absolutely killed it in Vice Principals and Righteous Gemstones) and though "oh, this could actually be good."

It wound up just ok. There were a couple good laughs but the story's pretty tired and the actual Fern content is some of the weakest I think. More than anything I think it showed that the Ferns joke is kinda old at this point. Definitely one of those kinds of movies where the outtakes are funnier than the script.

I wish there was more Edi Patterson though. She's funny as hell.
12.12.20 ViceAdam McKayAs we move into the fourth and final day of the fest, the programming takes an even more political tone. In this case, I figured this would be a good movie but the whole comedic-take-on-serious-matters genre of movies like Big Short, Recount, Too Big to Fail... they are all pretty similar in format and ultimately depressing because they point out weak moments in our near past. I suppose the reason for doing so is valid but I also think it's mostly preaching to the choir and they never result in any actual change. I'm sure there will be a Trump movie at some point, either in serious Oliver Stone or comedic Adam McKay style that points out how crazy things were but I also suspect it'll fall into the same bin as all these movies. Pessimistically, I fear that the problems we've made for ourselves will not go away any time soon and an entertaining movie will not fix them.

But leaving all of that behind, this movie was pretty good. It is kinda like a melding between The Big Short and W, but in a well-done way. I like the few 4th-wall-ish jokes that they put in there like the Shakespearean scene and the fake ending and, as usual in this type of movie, the case is great and deep. It's fun to see so many good actors and actresses in the same project. I do feel like Amy Adams, Elizabeth Banks, and Joan Allen all have basically the same exact role in their respective movies, but I guess that's just what happens when you're playing the wife of the biopic's subject.

This does paint a particularly bleak portrait of the guy and lays an awful lot of blame on his shoulders for just the sake of power. The brief direct address at the end (a la Goodfellas) wasn't enough for me to get any sense of his agenda or point of view. I suspect that was the hardest thing to find in their research (and the point of the previously-mentioned Shakespearean scene) so I can understand where they're coming from... but it's still a bummer that the best guess anyone has is that he's always been a piece of shit and just got very good at it.

One final comment here. Where was the scene with Cheney slapping his belly? I guess that was the one piece of footage really selling how much weight Bale put on? But they didn't leave it in the final cut? I feel like they didn't just use it in the trailers but also whenever the movie was mentioned during award season? It's like the one shot I remembered about this movie going into it. I hate that.

Anyway, next up is a doc that I kinda don't want to see but feel like I've heard so so many great things about it that I really should. I've been putting it off for quite a while but that's what this festival is all about, so let's do it.
12.12.20The Act of KillingJoshua OppenheimerWell... I know one intended purpose of this movie journal is to capture my thoughts about a film every time I watch it. That includes immediate first thoughts so if I watch it again, I can track how my feelings toward it change. But in this case I'm finding it very hard to put my feelings toward this film into words. There's just so much going on, both in the subject matter and the filmmaking itself, that it's hard to organize in my brain.

Like, why did that one gangster dress in drag through most of the movie inside the movie?

And was the movie they made during the documentary actually finished and shown in Indonesia? It seemed like they went on tv to promote it?

And what kind of pick-up line is swearing you have a mole on your... never mind.

This is a really... what's even the word? haunting? scary? bizarre? amazing? unbelievable? all of those? Mostly I feel like I am still very sheltered in terms of my own life and worldview to not know or understand how this can go on in other countries.

There are so many scenes so laden with strata of emotion. The one that comes to mind was when the main guy's neighbor told the story of his dad while laughing, careful to explain that he wasn't criticizing... and the response he got was that his story was too complicated to make it into the movie? Then he became an unbelievable actor while playing a victim.

And why was the fat one such a good actor? No other gangster cried like that. What the fuck is going on!?

at least we got to see the main guy suffer the indignity of dry heaving on camera. no one wants to make those sounds, much less have them recorded onto film. Even if it took him 50 years to show a shard of empathy, his body physically betrayed his emotions like Robert Durst in The Jinx.

I suppose I will have to see the follow-up, The Look of Silence, but not today. I knew this would be the emotionally roughest point in the fest so hopefully the next one will lighten the mood a tiny bit. Jesus.
12.12.20 Bad EducationCory FinleyI don't know if it's just Jackman's performance or maybe it's after watching all the movies I've been watching but for whatever reason I really really wanted Hugh Jackman's character to be a good guy. I know the movie's about massive embezzlement in this school or whatever, but I still found myself hoping for the best. I think Jackman's performance, in addition to the solid script and competent direction, is what makes this movie pretty good instead of just another hbo film. Allison Janney is great as well of course as well as all the other supporting cast, but it's really Jackman's movie and he brings some real pathos to this character that's ultimate both good and bad. He saves and he rapes (that's a Dave Chappelle joke; there's no actual rape in this movie).

In light of other scandals involving America's educational system, the blame of this story is probably shared among all of us in the swirling cultural soup that is life. You can understand parents wanting good schools for their kids, a town liking the real estate prices that having a good school provides, and a school board willing to look the other way as the price of that. But Mr. Holland didn't go buying extra houses with stolen funds, Mr. Lean on Me or Mr. Stand and Deliver... not even Ms. Dangerous Minds took any off the top. Mr. One Eight Seven did kill that one kid though so I guess they're not all paragons of morality and ethics. I think I'm losing my own point, which is that the schools are yet another thing that seems to be getting practically worse while we all tell ourselves that they're getting better.

But anyway, this was a good movie. I enjoyed watching it. I guess the crime is what makes it interesting so why not.

Next, we're returning to documentary-land to learn about the dangers of talking shit in e-mails.
12.12.20The Perfect WeaponJohn MaggioUnfortunately for all the international kenpo star Jeff Speakman fans out there, this is not the 90s martial arts action film that leveraged the amazing jam by a band named Snap! for its trailer and opening credits (i loved that song back in the day... I got the power! duh-duh-duh Dat Dat Dat). This is also not the 2016 Steven Seagal / Johnny Messner vehicle about a... guy in the future who has amnesia? I dunno, that trailer doesn't make any sense. No, this particular perfect weapon is the vague ever-present existential threat of cyber attacks.

I initially saw a clip from this movie talking about the Sony hack and thought it would have much more to do with that, but instead that was just one segment in a catalog of sorts describing the escalation activity of hacking maneuvers made by government-sponsored groups. They don't talk about email addresses and credit card numbers being compromised but instead stuff like nuclear weapon sabotage, election tampering, and power grid stand-offs. Pretty chilling stuff.

What I find more chilling is the likelihood that the 75-year old white dudes running this country fully understand any of it. Hopefully I'm wrong about that in some respects... I have to think that the analysts who make up our workforce in that area are, to borrow a metaphor from someone in the film, "more West Wing than Veep," but judging from bits of hearing testimony that I've seen with tech leaders like Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey make them sound a lot like my dad when he asks me why his internet is slow.

So this was a pretty informative encapsulation of recent events that fits nicely in the category of HBO Documentary. It doesn't have enough frills or sensation to play theatrically, but it's still a solid piece of filmmaking that I found worth watching.

I'm not knocking HBO docs by the way... they've aired a bunch of fantastic stuff over the years (Paradise Lost comes first to mind, along with a film i can't seem to track down but can't remember the name of. It was made by the friend of a guy who had committed suicide and it was such an intimate personal film where this friend bared his heart and soul to the camera while telling the story of his friend and his grand dreams and gambling addiction I think? The ending has stuck with me for years and years and years. I wish I could remember the name). I just mean to say they can afford a more specific subject matter at a lower budget to fit their programming.

Anyway, this succession of bummer movies has taken me to a very dark place. I guess I'm in the right mood for the next film.
12.12.20 I'm Thinking of Ending ThingsCharlie KaufmanOhhh the thing she's thinking about ending is a relationship!

That's the only thing that makes sense in this movie. The thing I'm currently going with is that this is mostly an anxiety dream about commitment and aging. It doesn't all fit that hypothesis but it mostly does and that's good enough, unless I want to read the book it's based on or something like that.

I do like the cast, especially the parents, but feel like the movie takes a little too long to get "weird," making the whole thing a bit too long. I was definitely ready for it to be over.

And I guess it goes without saying that the dog was my favorite part.

OK. It's... now very very late. I don't really want to end the fest with this though and I had one final film on the schedule. I figured a Charlie Kaufman movie would make me think pretty hard so I wanted to end with something where I wouldn't have to think at all.
12.12.20 Hubie HalloweenSteven BrillHere's where I'm at with Adam Sandler movies these days. They are somewhere between junk food and frozen tv dinners: They are very easy, in some cases enjoyable, and have their place in the cinematic landscape. And there's nothing wrong with them as long as they're not the only thing you eat.

This was a perfectly pleasant good time of a film... not particularly funny, not particularly original, not particularly anything except it's clear, as always, that everyone is having a good time and it's fun to hang out with these people. Not that anyone acted particularly well, but Julie Bowen could've used a lot more direction in a lot of her scenes. And why a cajun had 5 generations of ancestors in Salem, Mass. is a little strange... but really who cares. Halloween is fun, yabba-dabba gobbledy-goo Sandler is fun, all the usual suspects are fun, Steve Buscemi, as always, is the best part, and after sitting through a 130-minute Charlie Kaufman exercise this was both more than welcome and a fitting end to the fest. I'm glad I watched it.

And that's a wrap on the largest DVRfest to date, beating out the second one by one Hubie Halloween. And that's with a shit-ton of more-than-two-hour running times. It's almost comical how difficult it was to carve out this time though, and that's with being off work during a pandemic where we're not leaving the house. It seemed like every day would bring some new distraction that needed to be taken care of and I don't think there was a night where I got to my second film before 8:30. Of course, that's with sleping in till 2pm so... whatever. What I'm trying to say is that finding just 4 days once a year is difficult. That's not to say I don't have more free time than, say, anyone with kids... but it is still a far cry from the glory days of 2006.

I think maybe I'm also beating Peter Bogdanovich by this point? I no longer remember how long he kept his index cards but this marks my 16th year keeping this site. At this point, I doubt that I'll ever make a Last Picture Show, but I'm alright with that. I still love movies and love watching movies, even if I do far less of it these days.

Speaking of, without a Fantastic Fest to pad my numbers, I bet 2020 will be an all-time low in terms of stats. That's not all my fault though. I do think there is a trend that's happening with Hollywood where there just aren't as many attractive movies coming out for me. The Streaming/television landscape is booming and I'm watching 30-60 minutes of grade-A content every day during my lunch break. It's just TV which this journal doesn't cover. I do still have quite a pile of unwatched old DVDs and there's always a world of choices out there just waiting for me to want to watch them, but the ease, quantity, and quality of long-format options has gotten me out of that habit. Maybe the winds will blow a new direction in at some point and modern films will get more interesting again, but the studios are in a bit of dire straits in my opinion. Even huge tentpole franchises like Marvel and Star Wars are moving to streaming shows so studios can get that subscription money. It's like the movie industry is finally learning from the gaming industry and going toward its equivalent of micro-transactions now that the home dvd/blu market is dying out. There will always be the surprise hits every once in a while but I can't remember the last time average week-to-week releases had any consistent quality.

The numbers: 21 movies in the past week (3/day), 23 in the past month (0.77/day), 58 in the past year (ouch. 0.16/day), 3033 movies seen 3285 times since this site started (0.56/day). Two months (january & October(!)) had 0 films, 3 months only had 1. That's basically half the year I didn't watch movies. We are a long way away from the 2/day average I once held. Sobering.

But whatever... enough bumming out. This last four days was quite fun. I liked nearly everything I watched, and most of it was relatively new. Even if Fantastic Fest doesn't come back or I stop attending, DVRfest will always be here.