Also known as: Mucho mucho amor: La leyenda de Walter Mercado (Spanish title) Release Date: January 24th, 2020 (Sundance) Directed by: Cristina Costantini, Kareem Tabsch Music by: Jeff Morrow Cast: Walter Mercado, various
Muck Media, Key Rat, Topic Studios, Netflix, 96 Minutes
“Walter Mercado is a force of nature without beginnings and endings. He used to be a star, but now, Walter is a constellation.” – Walter Mercado
This was a pleasant surprise and a much more interesting and fun documentary than I had anticipated.
Full disclosure, I’ve always loved the hell out of Walter Mercado. While I don’t believe in astrology and am an atheist, he always seemed well-meaning and he also meant a lot to millions of people that felt uplifted by his woo woo messages of positivity.
As a teenager, I discovered him on television at one of my best friends’ houses. This Honduran family that I’d often times eat dinner with always had Walter on in the evening and even if I didn’t understand Spanish enough to know what he was saying in full detail, it was impossible not to be captivated by him.
What I never knew was his actual story between his early life, the genesis of his public persona and all the hardships he faced over the years. Watching this, I felt like I got to know Walter on a genuine level and I’ve got to say, all razzle dazzle aside, I really like the guy.
The best thing about this documentary is that it wasn’t made about Walter, it was made with his involvement and he stars in it, giving you a peek into his life now. He also tells his own stories, giving great first-person accounts of the key events in his life.
This also features interviews with people that have worked with Walter over the years and one guy that pretty much screwed him over and preyed on Walter’s good, trusting nature to steal the famous man’s name and “brand”.
For those who don’t know who Walter Mercado is, I still think that this would be a worthwhile documentary to check out, as he’s just an interesting person that lived an incredibly unique life and still has a lot to say to the world.
Rating: 7/10 Pairs well with: other recent pop culture biographical documentaries.
Release Date: January 22nd, 2007 (Sundance) Directed by: Lincoln Ruchti Cast: various
Men At Work Pictures LLC, 90 Minutes
After revisiting The King of Kong for the first time in years, I wanted to also revisit this, as it’s a very similar documentary that came out just before that more famous one.
While this isn’t the near masterpiece that The King of Kong is, it ties directly to it and its story and frankly, this plays like a prelude or a setup to that movie.
This goes through the history of arcade gaming and also covers the legends that rose up in the early days, their records, their effect on pop culture, as well as the creation of Twin Galaxies, the organization that records and maintains world records in arcade gaming. I believe they also keep records for console and PC gaming but it’s the arcade side of things that inspired them to exist in the first place.
There is a lot in this documentary about Billy Mitchell, who was pretty much the villain in The King of Kong story. It also features nearly all of the key people and legends that played a part in that film.
While this isn’t as good as The King of Kong it does feel like a necessary companion piece to it, allowing the viewer to have a deeper, richer experience in getting to know these people and their interesting, competitive and sometimes cutthroat subculture.
Rating: 8/10 Pairs well with:The King of Kong, which this truly plays as a preface to.
Release Date: January 21st, 2000 (Sundance) Directed by: Mary Harron Written by: Mary Harron, Guinevere Turner Based on:American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis Music by: John Cale Cast: Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe, Jared Leto, Josh Lucas, Samantha Mathis, Matt Ross, Bill Sage, Chloe Sevigny, Cara Seymour, Justin Theroux, Guinevere Turner, Reg E. Cathey, Reese Witherspoon, Krista Sutton
Am Psycho Productions, Edward R. Pressman Film, Lions Gate Films, 101 Minutes
“I like to dissect girls. Did you know I’m utterly insane?” – Patrick Bateman
I used to dig the hell out of this movie back when it was still fairly new. But I was also in my early twenties and just coming out of the edgy boi ’90s. Also, I hadn’t read the book before I saw the film.
Having now read the book, this motion picture adaptation is a real disappointment. I guess the book was so edgy and gruesome that a lot of it had to be left out but honestly, why make the movie at all then?
Now I am a fan of the acting in this, which is really solid from top-to-bottom, and this helped solidify Christian Bale as one of my favorite actors of the ’00s. I especially liked Willem Dafoe in this, as he worked well being only one of two characters grounded in any sort of reality.
While this movie is bizarre and I imagine still entertaining on a first viewing, for me, it doesn’t hold up tremendously well. It kind of reminds me of David Lynch’s adaptation of Dune, in that it’s a collection of scenes from bigger, richer source material. Source material that needs to be read and understood to actually get the full effect of the story.
However, I guess, if one hasn’t read the book, they don’t really know what they’re missing, as was the case with myself back in 2000. And at least this is less complex than Dune.
The overall narrative of the film seems like it’s spotty and full of holes, though. You never really get to know anyone in the film but since they’re all superficial and inauthentic, seen through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, I guess it doesn’t break the picture. This really just feels like random scenes strung together and since it’s not clear what’s reality and what’s not, it works in its own weird way. The problem I have with it, though, is that it could’ve worked much better, as it did in the original novel.
It’s been years since I’ve seen this and it sucks that it didn’t live up to my memories of it but the bits I really like are still great when you cut them out of the larger body of work and just see them as scenes.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: other movies based on Bret Easton Ellis novels: The Rules of Attraction and Less Than Zero.
Release Date: January 30th, 2000 (Sundance) Directed by: Ben Younger Written by: Ben Younger Music by: The Angel Cast: Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel, Nia Long, Nicky Katt, Scott Caan, Ben Affleck, Ron Rifkin, Jamie Kennedy, Taylor Nichols, Bill Sage, Tom Everett Scott, Anson Mount, Kirk Acevado, Desmond Harrington (uncredited)
Team Todd, New Line Cinema, 120 Minutes
“[to the new recruits] And there is no such thing as a no sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way a sale is made, the only question is who is gonna close? You or him? Now be relentless, that’s it, I’m done.” – Jim Young
For years, until there was actually a second Wall Street movie, I saw this as that film’s spiritual successor. Which is also sort of fitting as the characters in this movie worship the Gordon Gekko character from Wall Street.
I actually still view this as a spiritual sequel, however, as it’s very apparent that it was strongly influenced by Wall Street and also because it is a motion picture of quality. While it might not live up to Wall Street or Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, it’s still damn good and at least in the same orbit as those movies.
The plot of the film is intriguing and it sucks you in from the get go. It’s about a smart, savvy college dropout who goes from running an illegal casino in his house to being one of the top brokers at a really young, lucrative and questionable brokerage firm.
Over the course of the movie, we see Giovanni Ribisi’s Seth Davis go from being a slightly timid rookie to a confident and smart salesman to being swarmed with immense guilt when he realizes that he has completely fucking people out of their life savings to reluctant antihero that tried to fix some of the damage he caused while taking the firm down.
I can’t quite call Seth Davis a hero, as it took his father disowning him and the FBI pinching him to get him to actually change his tune. It’s hard to tell if he would’ve arrived to a better place on his own but, at least he tried to undo some of his wreckage.
Beyond Ribisi, this is a film that is loaded with a lot of the up and coming male talent of the day. Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt really stick out and Ben Affleck’s performance is great, even if his scenes are few and his role feels more like a beefed up cameo.
I really loved the music in this film, as it’s full of east coast hip-hop of the early to mid-’90s, which has always been my favorite kind of hip-hop. It may be slightly dated for this 2000 film but it worked for me, as I started to ignore more mainstream rap music around 1998.
Anyway, this is a superb finance thriller. It has stood up to the test of time in the same way that Wall Street has. If you like these sort of movies but have slept on Boiler Room the last two decades, you should check it out.
Rating: 7.75/10 Pairs well with: other finance industry thrillers like Wall Street, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, The Big Short, Rogue Trader, etc.
I was pretty stoked to see this documentary when the trailer came out but honestly, it was really disappointing.
This seemed like such a wasted opportunity to tell a great story about the people and all the shenanigans around Biosphere2, including the people behind the project, its genesis and how everything panned out.
This was a story that was a big part of my life around middle school age, as I had a science teacher that was obsessed with it and gave us constant updates while also having her curriculum kind of tie to the Biosphere2 experiment.
I actually had no idea how interesting the story actually was until seeing this and learning about the group and how they came together, a quarter of a century before being locked up together in the world’s first biodome.
Sadly, the documentary doesn’t seem to dig deep enough in its nearly two-hour running time. It just scratches the surface and gives you some insight. It even has the real people in the film giving their accounts of events. However, this really needed more meat and because of that, should have probably been expanded into a multipart series.
I left this feeling like I knew the story but the real details were glossed over and I didn’t get to feel like I really knew these people, as much as I should.
Still, this was interesting enough to justify its existence and it was a decent way to spend two hours but I know that there is a lot more to the story that we didn’t get and that left me unfulfilled and underwhelmed.
Release Date: January 19th, 2001 (Sundance) Directed by: Richard Kelly Written by: Richard Kelly Music by: Michael Andrews Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Duval, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Daveigh Chase, Arthur Taxier, David St. James, Jazzie Mahannah, Jolene Purdy, Stuart Stone, Gary Lundy, Alex Greenwald, Seth Rogen, Beth Grant, David Moreland, Ashley Tisdale, Jerry Trainor
“I hope that when the world comes to an end, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because there will be so much to look forward to.” – Donnie
This movie had a profound effect on me when I saw it in a movie theater, alone, in 2001. Once it was released on VHS and DVD, I had a copy of both. In fact, I had a version of the VHS that was released in blue plastic, as opposed to the traditional black.
Once I owned the movie, I watched it a lot. Mainly because it was so damn good and I was so damn intrigued by the vague concepts and ideas in it. There was this whole deep, mystical yet science-y mystery, which captivated my psyche.
Beyond that, the film connected with me in a way no other film has. I think that has a lot to do with my age, at the time, and because the title character and myself had similar issues. I liked seeing this character and how he was portrayed, as it felt genuine as hell and like it came from a real place from someone with similar experiences. I’m not saying that Richard Kelly is as “fucked up” as Donnie Darko but it’s clear that he knew what he was writing quite well.
I also liked how this sort of critiqued the Americana lifestyle and was set in the late ’80s, a time where American ideals seemed like they were winning and the middle class were relishing in a time of affordable opulence. Not that any of that is specifically negative, I just thought that this film looked at and examined it in an interesting way.
This is the first time I have watched the movie in probably a decade. I used to watch it so much, it was pretty much burned into my brain. Having that much time away from it, though, allowed me to see it with somewhat fresh eyes and in fact, I was a bit apprehensive about it, as I thought it might not stand up to the test of time and play as well.
Luckily, that apprehension was quickly absolved because this was just as good as I remembered it. Also, in some way, it was like rediscovering it because there were some neat details and nuance that I had forgotten about. I mean, I am starting to get old.
The film is pretty close to perfect and it is so well acted that you get ensnared by it. It’s beautiful visually and narratively and it certainly deserves more recognition than it gets, even if it did establish cult status and a slew of fans over time.
In recent years, though, it feels like it’s being forgotten, as new generations come along and prefer movies with less heart and simplistic, rapid storytelling that deliver constant gratification while moving so fast that nothing in a film older than fifteen minutes seems to matter. Look at the ninth Star Wars saga film and you’ll see what I mean.
It’s sad that Donnie Darko sort of feels like a relic now. At the time, I had hoped it was a bright beacon at the beginning of a new millennium that would help inspire smarter, more original movies but the Michael Bays and J. J. Abramses won out.
And sadly, Richard Kelly tried but was never able to capture the magic he had here with his feature length debut.
Rating: 9.75/10 Pairs well with: this is pretty unusual but I’d say Richard Kelly’s other films: Southland Tales and The Box.
Release Date: January 26th, 2020 (Sundance) Directed by: Jeff Orlowski Written by: Davis Coombe, Vickie Curtis, Jeff Orlowski Music by: Mark A. Crawford Cast:Interviewees: Tristan Harris, Aza Raskin, Justin Rosenstein, Shoshana Zuboff, Jaron Lanier, Tim Kendall, Rashida Richardson, Renee DiResta, Anna Lembke, Roger McNamee, Guillaume Chaslot; Performances: Skyler Gisondo, Kara Hayward, Vincent Kartheiser, Sophia Hammons, Catalina Garayoa, Barbara Gehring, Chris Grundy
Exposure Labs, Argent Pictures, The Space Program, Netflix, 94 Minutes
“How do you wake up from the Matrix when you don’t know you’re in the Matrix?” – Self – Google, Former Design Ethicist
I watched this based off of a recommendation and honestly, I probably wouldn’t have, otherwise. I’m glad I did though, as it was really refreshing seeing some of the people who were instrumental in developing social media, kind of condemning certain parts of it, as it’s now being used in a way to create an addiction to it and to further divide the people using it.
Initially, it was created to bring people together, where they could interact with one another, all over the world. Where they could share ideas and more or less, come together in a positive, constructive way in an effort to shape a better planet.
In the last decade or so, all of that has started to take a turn for the worse.
This film breaks down how this happened and how it all works. Frankly, it’s kind of scary but it’s also not like most of us sane, rational people aren’t aware of it. There’s a reason why I stopped using Facebook, only occasionally touch Instagram and pretty much just use Twitter to promote this site and then shitpost.
This also has some bits in it where actors play characters being affected by all of this. It’s used to illustrate in an interesting way how social media can destroy relationships and human interaction. It also shows how these apps work and why they hone in on our different triggers to sell products and to keep us engaging with the app.
I can’t say that anything here was new information but it’s refreshing seeing the architects of the problem try to combat it and bring more awareness to it.
Rating: 8/10 Pairs well with: other recent tech documentaries.
Also known as: Mignonnes (original French title) Release Date: January 23rd, 2020 (Sundance) Directed by: Maïmouna Doucouré Written by: Maïmouna Doucouré Music by: Niko Noki Cast: Fathia Youssouf, Médina El Aidi-Azouni, Esther Gohourou, Ilanah Cami-Goursolas, Maïmouna Gueye
Bien Ou Bien Productions, France 3 Cinéma, BAC Films, Canal+, 96 Minutes
I normally wouldn’t have watched this or even cared about it. But since it’s the most controversial film of the fucking year, I couldn’t not watch it, review it and give my two cents.
That being said, I’ll probably piss off both sides of the debate because I’m not going to bash it as “pedo candy”, I’ll explain why, and I’m not going to pass it off like some sort of amazing motion picture that the world has been begging for and has desperately needed.
To start, this is controversial because the film is about a group of young girls who are trying to be a dance team; these girls are all about eleven years-old. They’re influenced by the provocative and highly sexual dance moves that they see all over the Internet from rap videos and other sources.
This, of course, makes people uncomfortable and it’s supposed to. However, these moments don’t make up the bulk of the movie and the film itself is really focused on one girl primarily.
This girl, Amy, comes from an immigrant family who have moved to France from Senegal. Her family is very religious and her actions in the film are a rebellion against the traditions of that strict religion and an exploration of the new things she’s found, culturally, in her new home. All the while, she’s also broken up by how changes in her family dynamic are emotionally effecting her mother and the structure of the family unit she’s used to.
Watching this as an American, I don’t know much about the culture of Senegal and how immigrants from that country would be effected by the socially liberal French that they would find themselves surrounded by. Honestly, I was kind of intrigued by this and would’ve liked to have seen it explored in a broader sense and not specifically from the viewpoint of one character. But maybe for those in France, where this film was made, it’s not as interesting, as other French films may have touched on it already.
But I feel like this film is pretty disjointed and it’s not all that coherent from a narrative standpoint. It plays more like a series of sequences with some connectivity but a lot of the film seems really random. Its like the director/writer is recalling actual moments from her own experience growing up and doesn’t realize that the audience might need some deeper context.
For instance, there’s a scene where Amy takes a picture of her private parts and uploads it to the Internet. It’s random as hell, really uncomfortable and isn’t really followed up on in any meaningful way, other than having some kid at school slap her ass. Did it need to be in the film? Was it just there for shock value?
Additionally, this is a coming-of-age story and it’s not really clear what the main character has learned or how she’s grown. Sure, she has an emotional breakdown and what appears to be a scary moment of clarity when she’s achieved her goal but the movie sort of ends and you’re sort of just left going, “Um… okay?”
What’s even worse is that this film is really well acted from top-to-bottom but the performances feel wasted.
This had the makings of something that could’ve been interesting but it’s honestly a really boring and drab movie. Even though there’s a plot progression, it feels like not much happens apart from the uncomfortable finale and a few weird moments dropped in.
The thing that has people in an uproar are the scenes that have leaked out that feature these young girls dancing in an over-sexualized way. The thing is, if you know kids or remember when you were that age, kids didn’t know a damn thing about sex but they all talked about it. I remember girls in my middle school days emulating the dances they saw in 2 Live Crew videos. This is nothing knew but maybe I also grew up in a more urban area and I was exposed to things that middle America wasn’t. I can only speak from my own experiences and memories but I’m pretty sure kids this age, everywhere, weren’t too dissimilar.
What is bizarre and sort of counterproductive to the director’s stated intent, is how the dancing scenes are filmed. The movie is made to critique and expose the over-sexualization of kids, especially young girls, but in trying to speak out against that, the film does exactly that. So I have to conclude that the director is either lying to cover her ass or a moron.
You could’ve made your point without closeup shots of eleven year-olds crotches and booties. Once or twice, I might roll my eyes but it did feel gratuitous. And frankly, I think it would’ve been a lot more effective having them dance but having the camera looking out to the crowd, getting their reactions to seeing young girls dance in such a way. But I’m not the artist, here.
I can’t say that I’m offended by it, I just sort of got through these moments like, “Really, you had to go there?” And maybe this was deliberate and the director knew that it’d get attention and that the media and film industry being the way they are, would show support. I’m leaning more towards her being an idiot, though.
Additionally, what tune would Hollywood and the media be singing if this was made by a white dude? And since it’s not made by a white dude, is the director getting a free pass? Why do we have to even ask these questions in 2020?
While I think this isn’t “pedo candy” (or why it isn’t intended to be) is due to the fact that these moments don’t happen often in the overall running time of the picture. I highly doubt that the director had that intention. I think she wanted to make something personal but didn’t realize that she was doing the same thing she wanted to expose as a problem. You don’t clear a flood by hosing it down and someone else working on the picture or producing it should’ve stepped in.
It also doesn’t help how Netflix initially marketed this film. They’ve since apologized and removed their pedo-tastic poster but the damage was done and it makes you wonder about the suits at Netflix making these decisions. As you can see above, the film’s original poster wasn’t offensive or provocative.
So yeah, I get the pushback but I’ve never been a fan of puritans of any kind. While I’ve gone on Twitter to chime in on the film’s marketing in the US market, I didn’t feel like I had a right to comment on a film I hadn’t seen. But we live in a time where everyone is outraged about everything without actually having the full context. That’s the main reason I felt like I needed to watch the movie when I’m surrounded by those trashing it or talking it up without actually watching it.
Any critic that tells you that this is anything more than “meh” is a shill, however. While that’s my opinion, from my point-of-view, my opinion is fact.
In the end, without the controversy, this is a completely forgettable film. While I would’ve liked to have learned more about the Senegalese experience in France, I was left with a mostly boring movie that felt aimless and didn’t effectively make its point or develop its main character in any sort of meaningful way. In fact, this film does the opposite of what it set out to do.
Rating: 5/10 Pairs well with: other coming of age movies from Europe, I guess. I don’t watch a lot of those.
Release Date: January 22nd, 2018 (Sundance) Directed by: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell Written by: Matt Leslie, Stephen J. Smith Music by: Le Matos Cast: Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Tiera Skovbye, Rich Sommer
“You know you can get AIDS from looking through trash, right?” – Curtis Farraday, “Only way you’re ever getting AIDS.” – Tommy ‘Eats’ Eaton
*There be spoilers here! But not about plot details, more about expectations. It’s better if you go into this film blindly and ride it out.
I didn’t know much about this movie going into it, other than it was directed by the same trio that directed the fantastic Turbo Kid. Granted, this seemed to be very different but still also clinging on to some thick ’80s nostalgia.
At first glance, one might easily dismiss this as another one of many things trying to emulate the vibe (and success) of Netflix’s Stranger Things. However, the only real similarities is that this takes place in the same era, features kids as the main characters and also delves into the realm of horror. This is a very different kind of horror, however, and it stays grounded in reality without being swept away into a fantastical supernatural world.
Everything in this film feels like it could be real and very plausible. It’s well thought out, well written and meticulously constructed in how it builds suspense, genuine dread and a real sense of fear.
Also, it initially feels fairly predictable and like with all horror films that have some mystery to them, you’re waiting for a big swerve or for the obvious red herring to reveal itself as such, making you feel like the smartest viewer in the theater because you saw it coming.
However, this movie doesn’t quite do that. In fact, it subverts expectations. And that’s a term and concept I’ve grown to hate, as it’s often used to justify terrible creative choices in terrible movies. But in this film, it does it right! It really punches you in the gut and this film ends in a way that you probably won’t expect.
That’s why I ended up loving this film. It became a much better picture than I thought it could be, as I was watching it. The final twenty or so minutes will stick with me for a long time. And while I don’t know if the effect will still be there on repeated viewings, the ending did shock me and jar my senses in a similar way to the ending of Sleepaway Camp.
It’s worth pointing out that I don’t think this movie could’ve worked as well as it did without the cast. These kids were great. The lead kid was especially good, as was the girl he was crushing on. In fact, she was charismatic and genuine and she’s an actress that has that rare “it” factor. I hope she gets to do a lot more in the future.
This is the type of film that I see becoming a cult classic. A lot of people still don’t know about it but I think it’s legend will grow, as more people see it and tell their friends about it.
Also known as: Fatal Game, Lethal Attraction, Westerberg High (working titles) Release Date: January, 1989 (Sundance) Directed by: Michael Lehmann Written by: Daniel Waters Music by: David Newman Cast: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford, Glenn Shadix, Renee Estevez
Cinemarque Entertainment, New World Pictures, 103 Minutes
“Well, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. Do I look like Mother Teresa?” – Heather Chandler
When I saw this around 1990, when it hit VHS for the first time, I was pretty blown away by it. I was also eleven years-old and this was some pretty heavy stuff. But by that point, I already saw Christian Slater and Winona Ryder as two of the coolest young actors in Hollywood.
I probably watched Heathers a half dozen times in my youth but it’s now been decades since I’ve revisited it.
Seeing it with pretty fresh eyes, I think the film has aged really well and it is still effective, even if it was made as a sort of “fuck you” to the overly positive and cliche high school movies of the ’80s, specifically the John Hughes ones.
I can’t quite say that this is as good as my memory’s impression of it but I definitely enjoyed it and thought that it was a really well executed black comedy about teen angst in a decade that tried to gloss over some of the real issues young people faced at the time. But it is also a critique on the young yuppie lifestyle that was promoted in lots of the teen films of the era.
That’s not to say that this film was an original concept. These ideas have been explored before its existence but Heathers does it so well that it is the one film people seem to remember the most when it comes to expressing these ideas.
The first act of the film is damn near perfection. However, the second act is a bit of a slog and it seems to lose some of its momentum.
As an adult, you also see Winona Ryder’s character much differently. Where I found her relatable in my youth, you kind of see that she’s pretty much just an evil asshole like her boyfriend. She could’ve gone to the cops, she could’ve stopped him pretty early on in the story. However, she goes along for the ride and somehow turns out to be the hero in the end. Additionally, a lot of the moral dilemmas weren’t things I really dwelled on as much at eleven years-old when watching an edgy movie that felt cool.
The finale was decent but I feel like the climax sort of doesn’t live up to the amount of chaos this picture tried to build up. However, I don’t know how keen ’80s audiences would’ve been on a film that blows up a school with all the kids still inside.
Heathers is really good though, despite my more adult take on it, thirty-ish years later. It resonated with its fans for a reason and even if it bombed in the theater, it definitely deserves the cult status it quickly achieved after it came out on VHS and the word spread.
Rating: 8.25/10 Pairs well with: things that ripped it off like Jawbreaker and Mean Girls.