Film Review: Cuties (2020)

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

Review:

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.

Film Review: Summer of ’84 (2018)

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

Gunpowder & Sky, Brightlight Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“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.

Rating: 8.75/10

Film Review: Heathers (1989)

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

Review:

“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.

Film Review: Freeway (1996)

Release Date: January, 1996 (Sundance)
Directed by: Matthew Bright
Written by: Matthew Bright
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Reese Witherspoon, Wolfgang Bodison, Dan Hedaya, Amanda Plummer, Brooke Shields, Michael T. Weiss, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy, Conchata Ferrell

The Kushner-Locke Company, August Entertainment, Davis-Films, 104 Minutes (uncut), 102 Minutes (cut)

Review:

“Holy shit! Look who got beaten with the ugly stick! Is that you, Bob? I can’t believe such a teeny weeny little gun made such a big mess out of someone! You are so ugly, Bob! And, hey, I heard you have one of those big poop bags that’s like attached to where the shit comes out the side, you’re just a big old shitbag ain’t you, Bob! You just think of me every time you empty that motherfucking thing, motherfucker!” – Vanessa Lutz

Freeway is a batshit crazy movie. I’m not a massive fan of it as many others are and honestly, I wasn’t even sure what to think about it when it came out back in 1996. I was in high school at the time but I found it hard to grasp, as it feels more like a sequence of ideas wedged into a singular film. It also has a disjointed tone and a weird narrative structure.

I never hated the film but it wasn’t my cup of tea when it came out. I’m able to enjoy it more now but that’s also because an extra two and a half decades of life experience and film watching has made me more open to experimental and nontraditional filmmaking.

I mostly liked the film now, seeing it for the first time since it hit VHS. I never had much urge to revisit it but I figured I’d check it out because it’s been so long and my tastes have changed. Plus, I like Reese Witherspoon when she’s not in romantic comedies and I’ve always dug Kiefer Sutherland.

Additionally, this boasts a strong cast that wouldn’t have meant as much to me as a teenager. We’ve got Dan Hedaya, Brooke Shields, Bokeem Woodbine, Guillermo Diaz, Brittany Murphy and Conchata Ferrell.

The story is a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It’s vastly different, though, as Witherspoon plays a trashy teen brought up by a speed addicted prostitute and pedophile stepfather. She’s essentially Little Red Riding Hood while Kiefer Sutherland plays the Big Bad Wolf, trying to hunt her down on the way to grandma’s house. The Wolf in this case is a famous (and still at large) Interstate serial killer.

Along the way, Sutherland’s Bob picks up Witherspoon’s Vanessa, after the car she stole broke down. They spend some time together but things get weird as the trip rolls on. Eventually, Vanessa discovers that Bob is the I-5 Killer. She is able to escape and puts several bullets into him. Vanessa ends up getting arrested and Bob survives, although he is severely disfigured.

In the second half of the movie, Vanessa is locked up in juvenile jail while the media makes Bob out to be a victim and heroic survivor. Vanessa eventually escapes juvie and makes her way to her grandma’s house where Bob is waiting for her, disguised as her grandma in bed ala the Big Bad Wolf.

While the film is tapping into the famous Brothers Grimm story, it definitely takes tremendous liberties and only seems to channel Little Red Riding Hood where it is convenient. In a lot of ways, the films plot is all over the place. It’s not hard to follow but it doesn’t follow any sort of structure. Frankly, there really isn’t a three act structure, either. You can break it out into four parts. I’m also not saying that this is a bad thing as it makes for a film that isn’t formulaic or predictable and in some regard, that’s refreshing. I’m actually glad that I forgot most of the plot details over the years since first seeing this.

Furthermore, Reese Witherspoon and Kiefer Sutherland are both tremendous in this. Witherspoon, in only her fifth film, shows that she’s got real chops. Sutherland also brings his A-game and he’s so nuts in this that he really makes the movie better than it should have been on paper. He does crazy well and this may be the most bonkers role he’s ever played.

I’ve also got to point out the musical score by Danny Elfman. I dug the hell out of it and it’s one of the most unique Elfman scores of all-time. While it has the Elfman aesthetic, it’s different and unusual enough that had I not seen his name in the credits, I might not have realized it was him.

Freeway is nowhere near a perfect film but it’s a damn interesting one that’s carried by two solid performances and a story that takes you on an unexpected and wild journey.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel, as well as two other ’90s Reese Witherspoon movies: S.F.W. and Fear.

Film Review: Fear of a Black Hat (1993)

Also known as: The Trial of N.W.H. (working title)
Release Date: January 24th, 1993 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rusty Cundieff
Written by: Rusty Cundieff
Music by: Jim Manzie, Larry Robinson, N.W.H.
Cast: Rusty Cundieff, Larry B. Scott, Mark Christopher Lawrence, Kasi Lemmons, Faizon Love, Deezer D, Kurt Loder, Lance Crouther, Monique Gabrielle (uncredited)

Incorporated Television Company (ITC), Oakwood Productions, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 88 Minutes

Review:

“The black man was the first sensitive man, long before Alan Alda.” – Tone Def

Fear of a Black Hat was a pretty critically acclaimed film when it came out but unfortunately, it bombed at the box office. But it also didn’t get into a lot of theaters.

I think part of the problem was that the story was very, very similar to Chris Rock’s CB4. And while CB4 beat Fear of a Black Hat to mainstream theaters, Fear was actually made first and was on the festival circuit when Rock’s comedy film hit cinemas.

Looking at the timeline, it’s actually possible that Chris Rock lifted the idea for his film from this one. But whether or not there was thievery involved or it’s just a crazy coincidence, I enjoy both movies and for very different reasons.

That being said, this is the better film of the two. The humor is smarter, I like the authentic documentary style of this one and this movie had more original music created for it, all of which was pretty fantastic even if this was parody.

It’s written and directed by Rusty Cundieff, who also starred as one of the three rappers in the film. He had success later with Tales From the Hood but he also worked on Chappelle’s Show and acted in the films Hollywood Shuffle and School Daze.

Cundieff is a witty writer though and he also had a knack for picking the right actors to star alongside him. Specifically, the other rappers, played by the underrated Larry B. Scott and Mark Christopher Lawrence. I also really enjoyed Kasi Lemmons as the documentary filmmaker that was chronicling the lives of the main characters.

The story is that this is a documentary about a notorious gangsta rap group that are an obvious parody of N.W.A. The film deconstructs what was the rap industry at the time and it’s honestly, a pretty brilliant critique on it. I feel like this hits more points than CB4, which is more of a standard comedy film. Both movies are fun but this one seems to cover more ground and is written in a way that just seems like it was better thought out. Plus, this feels more genuine and real. And I don’t want to sound like I’m knocking Chris Rock’s CB4, it’s just hard to talk about either film without comparing them and discussing, the strengths and weaknesses between them.

Fear of a Black Hat is certainly much more indie feeling and less polished but that is also why it feels more realistic and better in tune with the industry it was examining.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to watch one of these two films, you might as well check out both.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the film that possibly borrowed a lot from this one: CB4.

Film Review: Brick (2005)

Release Date: January, 2005 (Sundance)
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Music by: Nathan Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Nora Zehetner, Noah Fleiss, Matt O’Leary, Noah Segan, Meagan Good, Emilie de Ravin, Richard Roundtree, Lukas Haas

Bergman Lustig Productions, Focus Features, 110 Minutes

Review:

“Throw one at me if you want, hash head. I’ve got all five senses and I slept last night, that puts me six up on the lot of you.” – Brendan Frye

This reminds me of that 2017 neo-noir Gemini. Reason being, I saw the trailer for it, was lured in and captivated by the visuals and tone but then upon seeing the movie, realized that it had nothing much to offer other than atmosphere and shitbabble conversations from characters written to appear as cool but actually coming off as pretentious douchewads.

With Brick, everything starts to come undone and loses its luster, as soon as you hear the first bit of dialogue.

Additionally, a lot of this isn’t well shot or well lit. It doesn’t employ anything beyond early film school level cinematography. The visual allure of the trailer was obviously just a selection of the movie’s best shots, probably handpicked by the producers in an effort to at least get enough people to watch this just so that the film could break even. Because even though Brick is sort of a cult film now, no one really knew about it for years.

To put it bluntly, Brick is a fucking headache. It has some talented people in it but what could have been great performances and maybe even iconic ones, is undone by director and writer Rian Johnson’s middle school dialogue.

It’s like Johnson is a teen that just discovered classic film-noir and crime fiction and just lifted 1940s dialogue from those sources, applied it to teenagers in a contemporary setting and thought that it was some sort of genius that would make him the new millennium’s Fellini.

But Hollywood apparently loved this film and Johnson’s horrendously bad Looper because he went on to make a Star Wars picture. Granted, it was the worst Star Wars film ever made and pretty much derailed the franchise.

The point is, the warning signs of Rian Johnson’s inability to actually make a competent film were very apparent with Brick.

This tried so hard to be cool but it failed, just as Rian Johnson tries so hard to be a filmmaker but fails, time and time again.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other overly stylized and quippy, shitbabble movies that miss their mark because they can’t see their mark.

Documentary Review: Bad Reputation (2018)

Also known as: Joan Jett: Bad Reputation (poster title)
Release Date: January 22nd, 2018 (Sundance)
Directed by: Kevin Kerslake
Written by: Joel Marcus
Music by: The Runaways, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
Cast: Joan Jett, Kenny Laguna, Miley Cyrus, Iggy Pop, Michael J. Fox, Rodney Bingenheimer, Debbie Harry, Kristen Stewart, Pete Townsend, Dana White

BMG, Blackheart Films, Inaudible Films, Submarine, Magnolia Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

Joan Jett is awesome. If you disagree, you have horrible taste.

Now that that’s out of the way, I was glad to come across this documentary about her life and career. Because, frankly, outside of just enjoying her music whether with the Runaways or with the Blackhearts, I never knew much about her.

As a biographical music documentary, this is pretty standard fare. It goes into her personal life, her backstory and then talks about all the major points in her career.

It’s a well produced and edited piece though and it’s Joan, herself, that gives this thing its life. She’s just great to listen to and her passion comes through.

Additionally, there are a lot of talking head interviews with a slew of famous fans and other musicians. This had a good, solid cast of people with their own unique takes and stories about Joan.

This is definitely one of the more enjoyable rock and roll documentaries to come out in the last few years. The production quality is great, there isn’t a dull moment and it was a fantastic way to kill time on a cramped, cross country flight.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other recent rock and roll biopics: Gimme Danger, Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, Whiteny, A Band Called Death, Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’, Mayor of the Sunset Strip and David Bowie: The Last Five Years

Film Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

Release Date: January 19th, 2014 (Sundance)
Directed by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Written by: Ana Lily Amirpour
Music by: Bei Ru
Cast: Sheila Vand, Arash Marandi, Mozhan Marno, Marshall Manesh, Dominic Rains, Rome Shadanloo

Say Ahh Productions, SpectreVision, Logan Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t leave me. Don’t leave me alone.” – Arash

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a unique film.

First of all, it takes place in Iran but was filmed in the United States with all the actors speaking in Persian. Additionally, it considers itself to be the first Persian vampire western, which is an odd description.

In fact, I don’t know where the western genre comes into play other than one specific scene where the film’s composer is clearly borrowing from the style of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores.

Anyway, as bizarre as this thing is, it’s a really solid film. While it is full of immense darkness, it is also full of sweetness.

It’s also one of the coolest films of the last decade.

I think a lot of that has to do with some of the deliberate style choices in regards to the genre melding, the cinematography, the use of music and the personalities of the cast. But how many films have a skateboarding vampire?

At points, this is a slow moving picture but everything is presented in a way that lures you in. You don’t mind the slow build because the actors are able to convey a lot of emotion with pretty understated performances. But I also think that a lot of that credit has to go to the director, Ana Lily Amirpour, who employs a great understanding of mise-en-scène that it enhances the actors’ abilities. Amirpour crafted an impressive stylistic framework that brings everything together quite nicely, especially with the movie being carried by performance.

I love the cinematography, which is done in black and white and takes its chiaroscuro cues from classic film-noir and German Expressionism.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is an enchanting film and with that, is beautiful to look at. It delivers a sort of cinematic intimacy that most filmmakers, over the last decade, aren’t able to achieve. It feels like something from another era, even if it has things within the film that date it as modern.

However, like other vampire films, it has that one plot point that always bothers me with the genre. What I’m referring to is how a being that has existed for a few hundred years can fall in love with someone in their early twenties. It’s a plot device in vampire fiction that as all too common. I get the part about being attracted to youth and innocence but I’m now 40 years-old and I can’t go on a date with a 25 year-old and find anything to talk about. I can’t imagine how that date would go if I ever make it to 200. But at the same time, it’s a trope of vampire stories and I’m not going to come down on this picture too hard for it.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other arthouse vampire movies: Only Lovers Left Alive, Let the Right One In, Shadow of a Vampire, Near Dark and The Hunger.

Documentary Review: Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015)

Release Date: January 25th, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Alex Gibney
Written by: Alex Gibney
Based on: Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
Music by: Will Bates
Cast: Alex Gibney (narrator), Lawrence Wright, Mark Rathburn, Mike Rinder, Jason Beghe, Paul Haggis

HBO Documentary Films, Jigsaw Productions, Sky Atlantic, 119 Minutes

Review:

After recently watching the first season of Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath, I wanted to see something that delved more into Scientology in regards to their actual beliefs, their attraction to celebrities and all the other factors that I felt weren’t touched on enough in Leah’s show, as it focuses mainly on the personal stories of former Scientologists.

This documentary put out by HBO really provided me with the material that I was looking for. Also, this predates Leah’s show by a year or so, so maybe that’s why she didn’t rehash a lot of this stuff.

While this, like all documentaries, has an agenda, this doesn’t feel like it is trying to hammer you in the face with its condemnation of Scientology. Sure, it exposes it, reveals its twisted inner workings and allows those who were involved in it to speak out, but it’s presented in a good and clear way that sort of just lets the facts speak for themselves.

I found this to be informative and pretty engaging. It’s an entertaining film with a lot to absorb but it’s important with documentaries to not take everything at face value. But the more I look into Scientology, the more I find common threads and consistency within all its the criticism.

This was well produced, well organized and definitely worth a watch for anyone interested in the subject matter.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath

Film Review: El Mariachi (1992)

Release Date: September 4th, 1992 (Telluride Film Festival)
Directed by: Robert Rodriguez
Written by: Robert Rodriguez
Music by: Eric Guthrie, Chris Knudson, Álvaro Rodriguez, Cecilio Rodriguez, Mark Trujillo
Cast: Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gómez, Peter Marquardt

Los Hooligans Productions, Columbia Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“That morning was just like any other. No love. No luck. No ride. Nothing changes.” – El Mariachi (narration)

I’ve followed Robert Rodriguez’s career ever since first seeing Desperado. I had never seen this proto-Desperado film until now, however. But I liked experiencing this movie two and a half decades too late with fresh eyes and without nostalgia being a factor.

It’s an extremely low budget film. In fact, Rodriguez made this in Mexico with just $7000. That being said, the end result is incredibly impressive and I have to be accepting of certain flaws due to the immense limitations of the production.

The film has an incredibly gritty and grainy look to it but since this is kind of a throwback to grindhouse era cinema, it works to the movie’s benefit. Also, the action style and special effects, like the use of primitive squibs and blood splatter also works for the film’s style.

The acting is exactly what one should expect from a film like this but despite the limitations of the performers, the film’s star Carlos Gallardo is a pretty charming guy and it’s hard not to root for him, even if you’re not sure what the hell is going on.

Rodriguez also mixes in some solid humorous bits and the film is just as amusing as it is badass.

One flaw that’s hard to dismiss though is the film’s villain. That guy was just annoying as hell and delivered his lines like a coked up cartoon character. Maybe that was Rodriguez’s intention but it doesn’t work for me and it is distracting and pulls you out of the film.

Overall, this was fun to watch. It’s a short, cheap film and it will probably be enjoyed by those who like Desperado but it really just made me want to revisit that film.

For a first directorial effort, color me impressed.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: the two films that were born from this one: Desperado and Once Upon A Time In Mexico.