Film Diaries: A Film A Day

Hustler Banner 1

Film Diaries: A Film A Day is a new series of daily film reviews & capsule reviews by Step On Magazine Co-founder and Editor Jacqueline Howell which looks at noteworthy, often under-looked or off the radar films (both older and newer) viewed across multiple platforms or in cinemas, including documentaries, feature films, and selected serials or Limited TV Series. Rather than favour highbrow films I’d like to be seen reviewing, or write only in-depth reviews about films I feel strongly about, this diary is, in general, deliberately brief, honest and unvarnished, though with some context and reflection of backstory at times, and is influenced as much by insomnia and the dark pull of crummy movies that calls during down times as it is by recommendations and my constant list of must-sees from across genres and periods, as well required visits to my reliable, beautiful favourites. The project was initiated by a social media group where I began screening and reviewing a different film every day for a particular month, founded by an artist I really admire. I decided to share my own reviews and continue the short reviews and the film a day concept here. Some are just brief impressions or notes and may form the basis of future longer pieces or reviews of a particular actor, director, or genre.

Interested in contributing to Film Diaries? Do you want to write reviews/capsule reviews for films you’ve seen? Have suggestions for films we should review? Send us a message via comments to this article or email us at editors@steponmagazine.com

Jacqueline can most reliably be found on twitter @JacksStepOn and sometimes on Facebook here.

La-Nana
 “Her role is somewhere between pet, maid, co-mother and enforcer, and it’s a very draining one indeed.” (Read More)
qtjtla3xfs6gdkg9bunj
“See this film and be inspired to write, dress up, act, do improv, record scratch, or find your way to your own creative work. Or see it and just laugh and know that there’s hope for the world, and the world of popular film, yet.” (Read More)

Capsule reviews:

 

1) The Hustler 

12798838_531249343719854_6577679479536950559_n

This is one film that never seems to leave Netflix and I cannot stay away from: The Hustler. The 1961 film sees Paul Newman at his utter peak in a part that would define the Paul Newman we would know and love for decades to come: flawed, unafraid to show weakness, human, and so even more beautiful than at a glance, which is already impossible to quantify.

Beautifully shot, this film has a script that really stands up over the decades even if it’s got a bit of 1961 hamminess, with some beautiful turns of phrase and just a few really meaty parts for excellent actors: George C. Scott (excellent in only his third film as the devil himself) Jackie Gleason and Piper Laurie. It’s enormously satisfying as it sets up a tension /structure that has been followed in tons of films about competition and sports of all types- and we could not give a whit about pool but damn we love the metaphors. Because it’s about what makes a winner, a loser, a good gambler, a player, a pimp, an owner, all the questions we fight with about character, integrity and self-deception (the worst hustle of all) and it’s full of bourbon and scotch when you’re up, and beer when you’re down and out and living out of a bus station locker. There are many hustlers here, and the film explores much darkness through its multiple meanings. It’s also simply gorgeous.

Desert island stuff. On the once-a-year-rewatch list.

2) Spotlight

 

2016 Oscar nominee for Best Picture Spotlight (which it won in an upset victory), this film boasted acting nominations as well. Prior to awards season, I had heard very little about this project, the true story of the reporters who uncovered the decades long trail of abuses by priests against children in Boston. It’s done a little bit in the style of another big film this year, The Big Short, in that it’s a lot of explanation and exposition about a complex and troubling mess that needs to be unraveled.

Was not eager to watch a film which was bound to feature badly dressed actors (reporters) doing a lot of talking on benches and in ugly surroundings (newsrooms) in what is almost a non existent world (sadly, as the free press will always be needed). It was all those things, but it was actually very good and executed very close to true events. It’s not sensationalist or depressing despite the subject matter as it shows a beautiful form of dedicated work that exposed massive systemic corruption and a consipracy of silence that has since ricochet around the world.

The agenda of the film is twofold, to remind us of the importance of real independent media, and to tell the story in question. The film was carried, ably by Mark Ruffalo, Liev Shreiber and Michael Keaton in excellent turns as newsmen, as well as an honourable mention for a rock solid Stanley Tucci and Rachel McAdams, who had to provide the film’s only element of female perspective all on her own.

 

3) The Revenant

 

Just in time for The Oscars, I caught The Revenant. The film finished minutes before the Oscars ceremony began. We fly the flag high for Tom Hardy around here, so even though he’s the baddie, I rather enjoyed him. The film is beautifully shot, making the most of Canada’s own natural wilderness (Alberta) for the most part shooting outdoors in natural light. Leo DiCaprio was very good, and for once was rather unrecognizable which helped to not see a celebrity. While a lot of the film’s action is “situational acting” – people not really acting as they are reacting to real conditions- except they are ignoring a film crew and reciting lines- the story and filmic elements as well as the acting were enjoyable. The fur trading life was no joke. Interesting take on an adventure / vengeance story.

It was decided then and there at Step On Magazine HQ that he deserved the award. The Revenant is every bit as good as Braveheart or Gladiator was in that very different cultural time of just 15 years ago- but younger audiences are so snarky and cynical (and watch on their phones- which is no way to really experience or review a real film) that it maybe didn’t “hit” the way those films did. Also, the Leo award campaign and the reveals about all the suffering during the filming might have actually hurt the film’s image/value.

 

4) The Woodmans

 

I’m still hooked on www.docclub.com which is the Sundance Now site. This was the best accidental discovery so far. The Woodmans is a fascinating documentary about a family of American artists whose young daughter, Francesca, became a photographer in her teens and created an impressive body of work in a very short life. Her legacy and output has dwarfed her parents’ fame, prestige and it seems, their own artwork’s perceived value and their job in recent years has been largely to manage their daughter’s artistic legacy and archives. Their art continues, and it was forever changed by the brutal loss of their daughter in poignant ways that are really moving and express their emotions in ways they clearly cannot articulate verbally.

There’s some controversy as most of her work has never been seen (before this documentary) and yet Francesca has become a major figure in modern art photography as well as a subject of fascination for generations of girls who idolize her. In some ways she prefigured the “selfie” generation and was also early to fine art photography as something taken seriously (early 80’s) but as a viewer I really respond to her work and love it. Francesca Woodman’s art is heavy, sad, dark, feminine, and unexplained enough that people can give it their own readings or often project themselves onto it. There’s such a weird and interesting sad dynamic within the family surrounding art and life/death, it’s a must see for documentary fans and artists. See a young woman/artist suspended in time in conversation/debate with her parents, eternally.

 

5) Deadpool

 

Actually ventured out to the cinema to see Deadpool. It was very good and just as the trailers and buzz are saying. Ticket takers are clearly looking the other way and kids are definitely determined to get in. The most 18+ thing is the humour/language and the tone as it’s “anti-hero” rather than goody-goody. Lord knows it’s time for such a film not for kiddos.
Loved it, was a good time out, and fulfilled a movie’s ultimate brief to us “to forget your troubles for two hours”.

It was kind of a marvel really to see something break out of political correctness to this degree, good on the filmmakers and star Ryan Reynolds, one of our own Canadian lads made good.

 

6) The Staircase

 

Pretty embarrassed about the uncinematic and inglorious pull of TV “murder mysteries” I’ve been prone to lately, but that’s winter’s hibernation (at its worst) for you. We try to stick to real films and documentaries that are worthy but fell into a dark hole called The Staircase that is about an open and shut murder case that has a lot of intrigue to it due to the high profile and wealth of the accused and the victim. It’s an interesting play-by-play of just what you would be getting if you committed murder and then had 1 million or more to plow into the best defense you could. It’s sleazy and leaves a dirty residue behind. But we did it and there went a lot of time (8hrs) but on the upside got a trial for the Sundance Doc channel where there are ways to raise the brow with perseverance…

If you liked The Jinx, Serial, Making a Murderer you may enjoy but it is very slow and procedural (but can be engrossing if you like that pace). Michael Peterson is as big of an oddball curiosity/ scary as The Jinx.

 

7) Mojave

 

Picked up for the underrated Garret Hedlund (Country Strong) and the everywhere-this-year Oscar Isaac, this is a weird little indie that is basically a throwback cat and mouse Thriller involving two men who meet in the desert. About the insider/outsiderness of Hollywood and full of the sort of enjoyable cliches that made the 80’s Thrillers so enjoyable, with some surprises and dark humour.

Very poorly rated online but a decent offbeat watch. Might be improved if you imagine it was “enhanced” with some “Fight Club” style character twists, but alas, that wasn’t the writer’s intention, it seems.

 

8) Trumbo

 

About the blacklisted Hollywood creators in 1940’s Red Panic, about one of its darker periods (though perhaps there’s still much darkness in the industry that has just moved underground) this movie starts out very formulaic, very Hollywood but then gets more interesting. Well acted by Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) and Oscar nominated this year, he’s deserving. Very nice period costumes, sets and production design (something I enjoy a lot and my dream career that never was…)

 

9) The Bourne Identity & 10) The Bourne Supremacy

 

The first in the series, The Bourne Identity, was massive and marked a new classic in the espionage /spy and man gone rogue genre that we know and love. Sorry to say, Bond fans, but at the time this arrived in 2002 my initial (over)reaction was “that’s it, we don’t need James Bond anymore!” In fact, Bourne (J.B.) is a bit of an anti-Bond, rough, gritty, not a tux or well made drink in sight, and not nearly enough sex, but fits within that Bond world which is forever essential to cinema. Bourne is, as you likely already know well, a vicarious thrill that sustains for two hours and is a marvelous creation that holds up and always will. A minimum of spy techie tricks are used, which enables Bourne’s on the margins quest assured longevity (as they go so quickly out of date now) and in fact, the way in which computers/phones/bugs etc. are used make Bourne’s foes look like silly pencil / key pushers which most of them are.

Bourne uses phone booths, paper maps & basic investigation tricks, which make his off the grid journey more satisfying and grounded.

No memory and a bag full of money and passports? Sign me up. Except for that little quibble about an army of others like you now hunting you. One is even code named “CHIMP”.

This film works well without analysis, but what strikes is the beauty in Bourne’s discovery of his “human weapon” skills alongside his newly discovered humanity- his strategies now include inconveniences such as regard for innocent human life, conversation, and not wacky torture conversation but real talk with his hunters (notably Clive Owen) who are just like him, alone and on the verge of extinction, and his human weaknesses (a woman in tow) which allow for new kinds of experiences and problem solving that are not in the playbook (the hotel scene, where Marie simply asks for an invoice using her female charm instead of paranoid spy shit, is very funny.)

There is a dreamlike/surreal quality to Bourne’s existence throughout this first film. Matt Damon is well cast as a kind of blank slate with generic charm that works for this role, where he sheds Will Hunting like a bad sweater, assuring A List & action hero status for as long as he wants.

The Bourne Supremacy (Bourne 2) carries on 2 years later, with Joan Allen as his new CIA adversary. She gets level 5 clearance for this case, hold on to your hats, gentlemen. The new director here gets it rather wrong in some big ways and yet has been kept on for the series- introducing the shaky cam blurry fight scenes we know and don’t love and a stupidly long chase scene that is infuriating and rather outrageous- smash up derby is a bit lowbrow for this.(ONE OF US GOES TO SLEEP WHEN THEY GO ON TOO LONG.) But the story is strong and enjoyable, and the Bourne world is now cemented in modern gritty cinema greatness with a flow that means rewatching #3 is inevitable.

And the success of these two films perhaps influenced the new Bond to come soon after: grittier, fighting dirtier, and while shorter on glamour, a lot more Bourne- like than his predecessors. Fortunately, Bond still finds time for elite casinos, beautiful cars and fine hotels though, we all need a bit of that.

(Need a little Bourne infusion?)

 

11) The Bourne Ultimatum (“Bourne 3”)

 

These movies don’t lend themselves well to binge watching, I’ve found. Every couple of years, on the big screen, with great big visuals, they work. They are exciting popcorn films and Bourne as a character is terrific.

Having just reviewed Bourne part 1 and 2 in recent days, we knew hyper-kinetic hand-held camera obsessed and not chases, not just implausible car crashes, but out and out smash up derby afficionado director (and my arch-nemesis) Greengrass was back again to tear a few fine feathers off the original which stands up today 13 years later as a pulpy, violent, original masterpiece.

It feels like retread rewatching these too close together, it’s like gorging on good chocolate or wine.

Bourne ends up as he began in part 1, in the water, but we don’t doubt for even a nanosecond he’ll survive even though the Hudson River’s pollution quality is rather concerning. And so we cheer through the irritation of this lesser sequel and look ahead to the next Bourne later this year.

Hopefully with a new direction for Bourne now that he’s uncovered his past and recovered his memories. Not sure his playground scuffle memories would be AS thrilling as the dirty deeds of the CIA. Also one wonders, is there not one good memory kicking around in there?

 

12) Unbreakable

 

Rewatched a beloved movie from 2000: Unbreakable – Curious to see if it has stood up to time amid growing curmudgeonly ways.

M. Night Shyamalan was on top at this point, as was Bruce Willis enjoying a deepening career thanks to this director and it was a good collaboration. On reflection, I wonder if we were projecting a depth to Willis that maybe wasn’t there (we liked him a lotthen) as it seems Samuel Jackson steals the film from the first scene he’s in, and also the reveal seems to be hammered from scene one, but back in 2000 we were utterly blown away by the surprise ending and the rather poignant execution of the films themes which were rather earnest.

Even though we were a whole lot more optimistic and naive in 2000- a lot changed forever after September 11th, 2001 which spread deeply to film making – this film still holds up. There is some very nice directing and a few annoying as hell choices but Shyamalan’s originality, ambition and love of film (which would burn out in the 2000s) was well executed in this highly original and deeply reverent take on comic book and superhero lore, something quite out of fashion at that time. It was widely seen and must have influenced future writers.

Shyamalan brought the best out of Willis (and later, Mel Gibson) and especially child actors, and had a real Spielbergian way about filming the everyday domestic world gone screwy, as well as a better than average Hitchcockian way with suspense and “shots” at this point. He was worth the hype, then.

The film asks the question What is a Superhero? and What would it look like if one existed in the regular world today (along with his necessary arch-rival?) The iconic image of an everyday rain poncho as a stand in for a superhero’s cape, as well as message about the brutally important need for such heroes in the world, is still very moving.

Would still like to see a sequel happen.

 

13) Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

 

A film that probably can’t and maybe shouldn’t be separated from the context of its time: Paul Newman, the absolute A-List star at the height of his clout in Hollywood, plays against Robert Redford (then a relatively obscure actor- impossible for me to imagine) in a prototype buddy comedy that is notable most of all for the easy chemistry between the two who are believable as long time friends and outlaws. Based loosely on true American lore, the two head to Bolivia at the end of a very successful run of bank and train robberies as the century turns (1900) and law enforcement finally starts to match skills with these two having formed itself a “Super posse”.

There is a sustained chase scene type of tension throughout the film that sags badly in the middle and one fears the whole film will be our heroes hiding in boring dusty rocks and “who ARE those guys?” but it picks back up. Paul Newman is a consummate star in this film, which shines most when his Butch reveals himself to be mostly talk,albeit very very good talk, about many outlaw skills he’s never needed to use before now, most hilariously as he goes blank when he’s spoken to in Spanish, or has “Bolivia” in mind as an ideal hideout without any real idea of the landscape. Newman despite his king-like looks and charm, is never afraid and indeed, often runs toward characters that reveal human frailty and foolishness like a regular joe, which makes him even more perfect to me. The bicycle riding scene, where Newman did delightful real stunts, is a thing of beauty.

There are some very annoying stylistic things that are typical of 1969: a very very weird at least 10 minute long section of awful a cappela and no dialogue which seems like they lost their sound recording- this required a muting.

To a newcomer, more mileage is gained by reading up on background and by your current day love/appetite for these actors.

 

14) Trainwreck & 15) Sisters

 

Watched Trainwreck just to see if Amy Schumer, this year’s American comedian, is as funny/interesting as advertised – but really watched it for Tilda Swinton and it had some good moments mostly from Swinton and Bill Hader (SNL) who is sweet as a sports doc. The film also had some unlikely comedic help from LeBron James (in a major role as Hader’s character’s bestie) and Amar’ E Stoudemire (both are professional NBA players in real life) of all people. The star of the film is fairly uninspired and aggressively unlikeable (that’s supposed to be her shtick). This is from the Judd Apatow realm so if you like those films you may enjoy it. Both of these movies are what we would class as airplane movies to pass the time.

Obviously the only way forward is to now deliberately find beautiful, black and white prestige films staring beautiful people from a bygone era and written by geniuses whose thoughts were life changing pearls of wisdom…

 

16) The Martian 

 

Enjoyed this film as a good story of how an astronaut problem-solves his way out of the fear of dying alone on Mars. Nice acting from Matt Damon. Works best if you don’t know too much hard science or think about it too much. A quicky summary could be “Castaway in space”. Probably not worth all the awards hype but an enjoyable popcorn flick for those with a tolerance for American myths about itself, which always seem to underscore these stories. The more challenging and unappreciated Interstellar (2014) was a better film.

 

17) Whitey

 

This documentary deals with trial of notorious crime figure Black Mass is based on, James “Whitey” Bulger. Watched mainly because it was made by Joe Berlinger who’s done some great documentaries (Paradise Lost & Brother’s Keeperto name two). It’s sort of his style to just jump into an ongoing case but in this case, having been relatively unaware of the 80’s & 90’s backstory, the film required an awful lot (too much) follow up reading to get the backstory and context. Everyone on screen in this one has written at least one book off this story, there’s a 20 person body count, and it’s a story where everyone’s so icky that the defense lawyers come off as the most honest. (Will skip Black Mass now).

 

18) The Wolfpack

 

One of the past year’s new indie darlings (winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and other awards) this documentary stretches or tests the label of the genre in maybe not a good way. Critics loved it and the public seems quite divided. The value of the story hinges on truths about the tale of this family, as well as questions about filmmaker influence on the narrative which could always be sour grapes as its been a true hit. I don’t want to say more but it was highly watchable and the subjects, 6 young brothers and their creative way of dealing with their environment is interesting. Would love to hear from others who’ve seen it.

 

19) Legend (AKA The Most Disappointing Film of the Year)

 

Finally saw Legend with Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy as The Kray Twins. Just watch the trailer instead, it’s a much better film. What a GD mess of a film!

It’s like something that came out of a pinata after being battered by multiple writers, a “director”, and 4 editors who all hate each other, their job, and film itself. The person who cut the trailer deserves awards, including Nobel. This film is the death knell of the “spoofy” (cue trombones) ha ha ha ultraviolent British Gangster film genre.

It had an unfinished quality that would have been acceptable in a student film. I had been among those anxiously awaiting this film and planned a special occasion to see this in the cinema based on the trailer. My anticipation was doomed to be dashed in this case. Christopher Eccleston (Dr. Who for a minute, Shallow Grave, 28 Days later) is utterly wasted in 6 minutes of screen time. Paul Bettany shows up for 3 minutes as a rival ganglord. It seems like the script was written by writing down tweets.

Rated 2 out of 10 for nice period costumes and sets, and Tom Hardy for being a trooper as always. Make that  3/10 – an extra point for Tom Hardy as Reggie Kray letting himself clean up and look FINE for once in his career.

I know a few folks who could have written, directed, and edited this film better than what was produced. It was shockingly bad. Someone did a very good trailer though. I think Tom Hardy is one of the finest actors of this generation and is finally getting his due now, but perhaps stretched himself a little too thin around this period (even though he’s still/always good).

 

20) The Big Short

Nominated for best picture at this year’s Oscars (for what that’s worth to ya), this Hollywood comedy/drama is a 4th wall breaking/attempted Scorsese toned film about the US housing crash and the Outliers who saw it coming and bet against it (with voiceover reminiscent of The Wolf of Wall Street/Goodfellas).

Directed by newly “serious” powerhouse film director Adam McKay (of Will Ferrell bro-comedy fame- Stepbrothers,Talledega NightsAnchorman, The Other Guys)The Big Short gamely tackles a complex, depressing issue with no clear good guys (but with lots of gallows laughter) and Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling, and (particularly) Steve Carrell in Wall Street drag are more enjoyable than expected. Christian Bale is very good in outsider-doomsayer mode, and all play versions of real life players in the story.

But it would appear from this film that there were NO women in the universe of this story or America itself aside from one wife and strippers (who were splashing that cash rich stripper money on bad advice betting big on house flipping).

And the film tries to be high and low brow, pseudo documentary (shaky cam) and caper with mixed results. But we enjoyed the film and the ideals behind making it.

 

21) Mad Max 

 

This is it for me. This was, for me, the film of the year (and of a special, rare type, of many many years). This is a big movie that has it all. Spectacle. Drama. Tension. Insane pacing that does not get boring (as chase and fight scenes to, too often in my view).Unpredictability. Emotion. A message, even, one for the whole world. Beautiful acting. Tragedy and loss. Art and craft that is dazzling and fills you with wonder, like a kid again. Like a kid again. The one you watch 100, 200 mediocre films to find, that feeling that is like chasing that first high. So many films leave us addicts feeling shitty, depressed, bored, offended, ripped off, disappointed. This film redeemed the art form for me. It is of the calibre (and better than in many cases) of the ICONIC special event pictures that are now kind of gone: Gladiator. Braveheart. James Bond, sometimes. Jason Bourne. Star Wars (originals). Indiana Jones. Aliens. Terminator 2. Rocky. The Matrix, Blade Runner Batman 1988, and The Dark Knight (and the underrated greats Pacific Rim and District 12). Almost non stop action that doesn’t get boring. I love Hardy as Max and his ego-less acting. I just had tears spring to my eyes watching this.

22) Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer 23) Aileen Wuornus: Life and Death of a Serial Killer 24) Monster 25) CBGB 26) The Seven Five

 

Not sure what is more horrific, scarring and disappointing:
Continuing a mid month slide down the slippery slope of documentaries of varying quality about horrible people, acts and situations? or breaking a personal / professional vow never to let the CBGB film grace the eyeballs on principle as  its rot could be smelled from here (Toronto, Canada) since the day the real place was shuttered?
An ongoing flu situation is to blame for these decisions, and this mood. Some of these films had successfully & deliberately been avoided for over 20 years.

Nick Broomfield’s greatest filmic achievements were the Wuornos films/interviews. Early foray into his own particular bizarre gonzo style and way with interviewing oddballs and getting some interesting tales out of them.

CBGB (A mannequin would have been better as Goddess Debbie Harry), bad low budget little kid dress up movie…poor Alan Rickman. For Millenials only.

The Seven Five (about Michael Dowd, the “most corrupt cop in New York history”, who today enjoys consultant fees and is paid well for his expertise in corruption. EWW!) PS already had forgot the title, having watched it EARLIER TODAY.

Bonus (negative marks). Monster is also a terrible, pointless film. One of those redundant creations that assumes you’ve seen all the docs and read all the court reports and are a glutton for True Crime and depravity. It does no service to Wuornos even as it was part of a movement to re-adjust her image and lend empathy to her life. It’s not the horror show expected, it’s instead, patently silly. It’s somehow Oscar bait (it worked) and yet, a few short years later, strikes one as one of those Oscar fooling con jobs.

 

27) American Psycho

 

I was terrified of this (book and film) as it was a favourite of my country’s then most notorious serial rapist and killer. But eventually I bucked up to watch and it became a favourite. Aided greatly by a woman director (Mary Harron) American Psycho is  done very well as a pitch black comedy about American/80’s culture. A great satire. Still many people’s favourite Bale, I think?

 

28) Requiem for a Dream

 

A brilliant film. This is an aside, but goes to the particular issues and strange dark beauty of this film: I watched this with someone older and notoriously difficult to please who also had lifelong issues with chronic pain, who eventually abused medications to try to manage pain and also had a lot of depression and she really enjoyed this film in a way that I think only people who know true darkness and suffering (of various kinds) may do. One of my happier memories with her. Film at its best can offer strange consolation and empathy, though I’m finding that experience is getting more rare.

 

29) Pink Ribbons, Inc.

 

Based upon a very well researched book, the first of its kind to blend academic research with a layman’s feel for issues a culture has been grappling with for a while, a sense that somethin’ ain’t right, Pink Ribbons, Inc. exposes the “pinkwashing” of corporations and advertisers in the last decade or so as breast cancer fundraising has become a socio-cultural movement, one very different from the women’s rights marches of the 1970’s or before, and one that frames women’s “survivor” stories in a specific way, often ignoring narratives that don’t sell and women who don’t feel represented by the current level of discourse (and commercialization).

Very pertinent questions are raised about Who benefits? Where does the money go? What of prevention (vs. The Cure)? and the very different origins of the pink ribbon that has evolved to be the sometimes blinged-out status symbol it is today. A must see featuring some of the most interesting minds in feminist and health debates today, the film has the right mix of scary truths and empowering options that a documentary of this nature ought to have.

 

30) Joy

 

An excellent and fairly light hearted look at life for anyone in a quarter-life or mid-life crisis, Jennifer Laurence and David O. Russell (and Bradley Cooper) are back together again with a highbrow-ish tale of the true life Joy Mangano, who became a self made millionare and eventually, mogul beginning with her “necessity is the mother of invention” ingenious and straightforward design for one “Miracle Mop”.

This is an enjoyable film that draws a line between four generations of women in a family, with excellent supporting turns from Diane Ladd, Robert DeNiro, and Isabella Rossellini. In some ways this film is reminiscent of another wacky family drama, Running With Scissors (based on the fine book by Augusten Burroughs) and it’s a bit voyeuristic and ultra-American with its window into a family who is both more outwardly strange than yours, but ultimately much more successful, too.

Will make you want a Miracle Mop. Or at least some velvet space-saving hangers.

 

31) The Island

 

A revisit to The Island after just about a decade is shocking in that the movie seems much older. We’ve simply seen so many of these films in the intervening years that it feels a little dusty, like a Western, although it’s a Western as envisioned by Michael Bay, with a peak Michael Bay budget. Rife with product placement (it would seem) the film also cost a staggering amount of money, the kind you can see all over the dangerous stunts and incredible toys Bay is known for. Amid all this bio-horror/cloning/fuzzy fake science fuckery and sub-1984 (with athletic wear by Puma) shenanigans, Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson have good chemistry and appear to be having a good time in this circus. We may never know why McGregor’s character had a recurring dream that was both fantasy and nightmare, that included trace memories of a very lux life from a man he was cloned from and was mixed with sexy fantasies of Johansson’s character all while they’ve apparently been designed to be innocent (because it’s less complicated for their handlers) but suffice it to say, the junk science which worked as good as God, still, utterly failed; a TON of KY Jelly was spilled; and Bay kept Baying along to the very last explosion.

32) What Happened, Miss Simone?

 

Been putting off watching the Nina Simone doc “What Happened, Miss Simone?” On Netflix for ages because the music itself has always affected me so and is heavy and I know her life was too. But it’s a great doc with wonderful archival footage of a thrilling true artist in a pivotal time in culture, didn’t know Simone had worked so closely with Civil Rights leaders & writers of the time. It’s respectful, first-person stuff. Really good.