Film Review: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

  • BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM:  DELIVERY OF PRODIGIOUBRIBE TO AMERICAN REGIME FOR MAKE BENEFIT ONCE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN  (whew!) 
  • Starring:  Sacha Baron Cohen, Maria Bakalova and Rudy Giuliani
  • Directed by: Jason Woliner
  • Rated:  R
  • Running time:  1 hr 35 mins
  • AMAZON Studios

2006 was definitely the year of BORAT.  The film, featuring the amazing Sacha Baron Cohen as a foreign journalist sent to America to report on what the country is like, was like nothing ever seen before.  As the presumed “fish out of water” Borat was invited into some very unusual places in our society, sadly (for those caught on camera) revealing the darker, prejudiced side of America.  The questions is:  could he (and, more importantly) should he try it again?

We find Borat (Cohen) doing hard labor, his punishment for having embarrassed his beloved country of Kasakhstan.  However, many things have changed since Borat’s last trip.  There is a new “premier” in charge of America.  One that has the ability of making friends with presumed enemies.  Borat is given his freedom if he will agree to take the country’s most famous celebrity, Johnny the Monkey, to the states and offer him as a bribe to President Trump.  Borat agrees but a wrench is thrown into his plans when, after opening the crate that was supposed to contain Johnny the Money he instead finds his long neglected 15 year old daughter (Bakalova) who claims that Johnny sadly ate himself during the voyage.  The girl has spent many years in her cage watching the animated fairy tale of the refugee woman Melania, who is now a princess.  Deciding to offer his daughter to Trump, Borat begins his journey.  And the hijinks begin!

You would think that EVERYONE in America would recognize Cohen/Borat as he makes his way across the country.  In 2006 you couldn’t go anywhere without anyone mimicking “That nice,” his best known catch-phrase.  And, in the beginning, that is true.  People stop him on the street stop him or try to high five him.  Which means Borat must disguise himself in order to set his plans in motion.  Along the way he learns about Qanon, spends some time with some good old boys – during their time together they write a song about Barack Obama with the chorus “Inject him with the Wuhan Flu” – and infiltrates a conference where Vice President Mike Pence is the featured speaker.  And then there’s Rudy Giuliani.  More about him later. 

  The film also has a sub-plot, where Borat’s daughter, who he introduces as Sandra Jessica Parker Drummond, is taught how to be a lady in our society.  She also is encouraged to get breast implants and constantly refers to a Kazakhstanian “handbook” that informs her of life’s lessons, including one that maintains her “vagine” has teeth and will eat her arm if she ever touches herself “down there.” 

Where I felt the first film was mostly spontaneous, this one is about 50/50 spontaneous and scripted.  Both versions are hilarious, though one is rather disturbing.  You may have seen the many reports detailing Rudy Giuliani’s interaction with Sandra Jessica Parker Drummond, who poses as a journalist (her life dream) and somehow finagles an interview with the former NYC mayor.  If you’ve seen Cohen’s work as Ali G or in various guises on his Showtime show “Who is America,” you know that there will be some questions asked to which the interviewer will reveal his ill-suited answers.  However, things go from whacky to creepy when Giuliani becomes overly friendly with the girl.  That’s all I’m going to say here.  I don’t want to spoil the “big reveal” but I will say that the first thing I asked Alexa after the film was “is Rudy Giuliani married?”

At this time in history the entire world can use a good laugh.  And there are plenty to go around here.  And, with the US Presidential Election less than three weeks away, a lot of food for thought.

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” – the truncated title – premieres October 23 exclusively on Amazon Prime Video. 

Streaming Review: “Welcome to the Blumhouse Presents ‘Evil Eye'”

  • EVIL EYE
  • Starring: stars Sunita Mani, Sarita Choudhury, Omar Maskati
  • Directed by: Elan Dassani , Rajeev Dassani
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Running time: 1hr 30 mins
  • Blumhouse Productions

Rounding out the initial four films released at part of Amazon’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” package is twin-brothers Elan and Rajeev Dassani directed “Evil Eye.” Blumhouse once again delivering projects supporting diverse creators with inclusive casts, “Evil Eye” explores a culturally specific thriller that at first glance might seem centered around a practice that a majority of audiences won’t be able to identify with: arranged marriages – but the deeper theme here is one that unfortunately all too many will have experience with… making “Evil Eye” a film that feminists may champion

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Exploring spiritual concepts of reincarnation and karma inject fascinating albeit culturally specific supernatural elements into what’s basically a story of an overprotective mother constantly attempting to virtually connect and intervene in her daughter’s love life in efforts to redirect her perceived fate. Pallavi (Sunita Mani) is a young Indian woman living a modern Americanized lifestyle after her parents return to their home in Delhi, India.  Her superstitious and paranoid mother, Usha (Sarita Choudhury) is in frequent contact and constantly in need of status updates on her daughter’s love life. Concerned that if she doesn’t find a husband before thirty her daughter will be alone forever, Usha goes to great lengths and frequent astrological consultations to attempt matchmaking for Pallavi. When Pallavi finally meets a promising young Indian man, Usha’s husband and family feels she should finally be content but we quickly learn that Usha’s past has forecasted the return of evil doing, taken form in Pallavi’s new love interest, Sandeep (Omar Maskati). 

Usha’s paranoia is soon understood by audiences: she was the victim of long term emotional and physical domestic abuse. Secretly responsible for bringing her abuser to his death, Usha suggests that he has returned, reincarnated as Sandeep.  Observing from across the ocean how he uses his charms, passively controlling and using his resources to convince Pallavi to relocate and quit her job, Usha sees must act quickly to save her daughter when no one believes in her visions.

“Evil Eye” is another installment of “Welcome to the Blumhouse” that’s hard to quantify as horror. While the heart of this film is assuredly one of the greatest horrors for so many people, especially females and parents of females, it is better to go in with appropriate genre expectations for this thriller which has only momentary touches of the supernatural but still succeeds in entertaining as tense and relevant horror-adjacent storytelling.

Streaming Review: “Welcome to the Blumhouse Presents ‘Nocturne'”

  • NOCTURNE
  • Starring: stars Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon
  • Directed by: Zu Quirke
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Running time: 1hr 30 mins
  • Blumhouse Productions

After tragedy strikes the student body of a prestigious boarding school, a pair of talented twin musicians return home to visit their parents. Whilst entertaining guests you learn that one of their classmates has died by suicide and, via their parents’ snobby friends inquiries,  that the twins will be going separate ways the following school year. Shy and inexperienced Juliet (Sydney Sweeney) has to hustle to keep up with her more accomplished sister Vivian (Madison Iseman), whom everything seems to come naturally and more abundantly for — multiple suitors, praise from family and teaching staff and, most importantly, a coveted spot at Juilliard. 

When the girls return to school, it is announced that the recently deceased student has opened a highly contested slot at the Senior Concert. Rumors fly that perhaps Juilliard will send scouts and both sisters decide to audition but during her preparation, Juliet finds a notebook left behind by their former classmate, billowing with dark scrawlings and chilling sketches. 

After taking ownership of the notebook, a series of highly uncharacteristic social misadventures reveals that Juliet has seemingly made somewhat of a Faustian deal to propel her musical career towards stardom.

 With a backdrop of unlikable adult figures insisting on managing expectations, railing against the social media narratives of achievable stardom for all, Juliet retorts that she doesn’t even have social media and should be removed from being lumped in with her generation’s  sense of entitlement. But will she be able to resist the temptation as the world starts coming to her oh-so-much more freely?Sydney Sweeney shines here, giving a truly emotional performance.

Despite the supernatural elements at play, there is still very much a reminder of the pain and traumas that so many young girls have to survive while navigating the social hierarchy of high school. Even amongst a very specialized niche population, that “Mean Girls” chapter plays a hard hand between these sisters. I very much enjoyed Nocturne and won’t do it the disservice of suggesting anyone seriously compare it Argento’s “Suspiria” or Luca Guadagnino’s reimagining of it but horror fans would be hard pressed to not notice some at least basic themes pulled from there and I can easily offer it up as a modern companion to the 70s giallo classic.

Win Passes to the Virtual Premiere of “Welcome to the Blumhouse – ‘Nocturne'”

Media Mikes has teamed up with their friends at Amazon Studios to give (5) random readers and a guest the chance to attend the virtual premiere of the latest film in the WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE series – “Nocturne.”

The premiere will be held on Monday, October 12th.

To win, just let us know in the comments below that you would like to “attend” the premiere. (5) random comments will be chosen and will receive (2) passes to the virtual premiere. GOOD LUCK!

NOCTURNE

Premieres on Amazon Prime October 13, 2020

Synopsis:

When a virtuoso music student commits suicide days before an important concert, her death unleashes a supernatural force in Nocturne, an unsettling tale of sibling rivalry set at a prestigious arts academy. Having grown up in the shadow of her more talented twin sister, shy piano student Juliet Lowe (Sydney Sweeney) is used to always being second-best when it comes to music. But when she finds a mysterious notebook that belonged to the school’s recently deceased star soloist,her playing miraculously begins to improve and she soon eclipses her sister Vivian (Madison Iseman) as the academy’s top student. Along with her newfound abilities, however, comes a series of frightening premonitions. As Juliet’s visions grow more nightmarish, she discovers the true cost of achieving artistic perfection. 

Written and directed by: Zu Quirke

Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon, and Ivan Shaw

Executive produced by: Jason Blum, Lisa Bruce, Marci Wiseman, Jeremy Gold, Matthew Myers and Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly.

Streaming Review: “Welcome to the Blumhouse Presents ‘Black Box'”

  • BLACK BOX
  • Starring: Mamoudou Argue, Amanda Christine, Phylicia Rashad
  • Directed by: Emmanuel Osei-Kuff
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Running time: 1 hr 40 mins
  • Blumhouse Productions


Giving a solid swing into the horror universe as part of the first installment of WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE films streaming on Amazon Prime is Director Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour’s “Black Box.”  

When you meet Nolan (Mamoudou Athie) you immediately feel his struggle. He’s a young, widowed father who has lost not only his wife but a majority of crucial memories sustained from the car accident that killed her. It has also seemingly took his “eye” from his successful photography career… which has added just one more stressor to the pile of problems he’s facing in his new life. He routinely forgets to pick up his daughter, Ava (Amanda Christine), from school, traditions they have together and simply struggles to safely and efficiently navigate their daily schedule. 

Becoming emotionally exhausted and worried about the effect it’s having on Ava, Nolan is looking for help to fill in the missing pieces. When Ava’s school threatens to call Protective Services after he forgets to pick her up for a third time, Nolan’s search becomes, simply, an act of desperation.


Reluctantly volunteering to participate in an experimental treatment, Nolan comes to know Dr. Lillian Brooks (Phylicia Rashad). The experiment uses a device they call the Black Box which allows the patient to recapture lost memories by submersing themselves in their own memories of adjacent experiences, hoping they will allow the missing pieces to fill themselves in. The visual process in which you arrive to these adjacent memories will not be unfamiliar to horror fans. Very briefly pulling atmospheric vibes a la Get Out’s The Sunken Place, but to be clear… the similarities end there. Not surprisingly, Nolan’s procedure isn’t without negative side effects and conceptually, I think most adult viewers will have an understood fear of the notion of memory loss, the mechanics involved in medical science should doctors ever want to play around in your brain for who knows what selfish reasons and most of all, imagining the desperation required to make a choice to participate in the above willingly.

Simply put, Black Box feels like a high concept story that might have best been left as an episode of Black Mirror. Or maybe it would’ve faired better expanded into an anthology; Nolan’s story alone doesn’t feel like it properly fills out 100 minutes and simultaneously feels like maybe there’s more behind the lab that viewers would be interested in seeing. Still, the acting is solid, especially from Osei-Kuffour. Atmospherically, this will tick off several boxes if you’re looking for new October horror stories — most notably some amazing physical acting from contortionist Troy James. Remember that with theaters closed, it’s our responsibility as viewers to set the scene and let these films do their job. Phones put away, lights off. Let the quiet and darkness replicate the scares that a movie theater can enhance… for now, at home. 

Streaming Review: “Welcome to the Blumhouse Presents – ‘The Lie'”

  • THE LIE
  • Starring: Joey King, Mireille Enos, Peter Sarsgaard
  • Directed by: Veena Sud
  • Rated: R
  • Running time: 1 hr 37 mins
  • Blumhouse Productions


Amazon’s new series WELCOME TO THE BLUMHOUSE is dropping a series of genre films starting this week. Amongst them is the Parental Horror “The Lie” directed by Veena Sud. 

 
Carefully straddling the lines between horror/thriller and Lifetime drama, “The Lie” explores the limits that two parents push in order to protect their only child after she confesses to a horrible crime.


Recently divorced Rebecca (Mireille Enos) and Jay (Peter Sarsgaard) are trying to find peace and balance in their new separate lives co-parenting fifteen year old, Kayla (Joey King). When Rebecca insists that defiant Kayla attend a weekend ballet retreat, Jay agrees to make the trek through the icy, frigid terrain to get her there. En route, in the middle of nowhere, they find Kayla’s friend Brittany waiting at a bus stop who reveals she’s also headed to the retreat although her dad refused to drive her and has left her to wait for a ride in the  harsh winter air. 


Brittany asks Jay to drive her but almost immediately begins inappropriately flirting with him, causing the girls to reveal their true “frenemy” relationship. Brittany also immediately demands Jay pull over, still very much in the middle of nowhere, so she can pee in the woods. Kayla accompanies her and when they don’t return, Jay starts to become concerned and then hears a scream. 


After finding Kayla sitting alone on the railing of  a rapid-covering bridge, she reveals in a panic that the two had fought and she pushed Brittany over the ledge in a fit of rage. Jay searches the area with no success other than finding her phone and coaches Kayla through the beginning of series of lies that spiral quickly way out of their control.When they return to Rebecca’s she initially resists in corroborating their story but is roped in anyway when Brittany’s father comes over looking for her. 


The hours and days that follow are impossible to look away from. Kayla’s icy, sociopathic behavior is unnerving and infuriating, Jay and Rebecca’s frenzy of lies becomes the proverbial car wreck that you guiltily cannot take your eyes from. This familial trio guides you through the unbearable questions that no parent ever wants to have to ask themselves. 


“The Lie” offers no jump scares, gore or autumnal markings but the terror is very much present. This was a highly worthwhile welcoming to The Blumhouse that will resonate with the over thirty crowd, perhaps enough to question whether the present climate will allow you to handle the anxiety that it delivers.

Digital Review “You Should Have Left”

“You Should Have Left” had the chance to be epic. Kevin Bacon was reuniting with the writer/director David Koepp, they last teamed up on 1999’s “Stir of Echoes”. Throw in one of my Hollywood crushes, Amanda Seyfried (“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again“, “Les Misérables”), and you have a winner…right?! Sorry, this slow burn thriller-at best (not horror) doesn’t pay off in the end. Performances from Bacon and Seyfried were OK, no issues there. Well, maybe all except for Seyfried’s over-the-top orgasm (during an off-camera sex scene). The house in the film definitely interested me more than the movie itself.
 
Official Premise: In this psychological thriller from Blumhouse Productions and legendary screenwriter Koepp, Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried star as a couple seeking a restful vacation in a remote home in the Welsh countryside. What at first seems like a perfect retreat distorts into a terrifying nightmare when reality begins to unravel, dark episodes from the past resurface, and a sinister force in the house refuses to let them leave.

I give them credit for attempting to get to where they were trying to get to, since they never quite make it fully. The idea of the haunted house was kinda neat but I would have loved to seen it fleshed more. A little less mystery. Honestly, though if that house is on AirBNB someone tell me because its gorgeous! There are no extra content included with the digital code.

Film Review: “Fisherman’s Friends”

FISHERMAN’S FRIENDS
Directed By: Chris Foggin
Starring: Daniel Mays, James Purefoy, David Hayman, Sam Swainsbury, Tuppence Middleton
Runtime: 112 mins.
Samuel Goldwyn Films

A hot shot London music agent named Danny (Mays) becomes entangled with some seaside villagers when he is ditched by his stag party buddies in Chris Foggin’s Fisherman’s Friends. Loosely based on a true story, the Fisherman’s Friends are a group of local musicians that Danny discovers singing sea shanties. Under peer pressure from his pals, Danny decides to ingratiate himself with the band in order to secure a record deal to take home. Along the way, he strikes up a romance with one of the group’s daughters and entrenches himself in local politics. With its picturesque setting, its city folk-country folk clashes and its romcom meet cute, Fisherman’s Friends has all the hallmarks of well, a Hallmark movie! Without the pesky Christmas baggage. Whether you’re on board with this style depends upon whether you’re up to this level of coziness and predictability.

The flimsy setup to get city boy Danny stranded in Cornwall happens after his clique’s bachelor party yachting excursion falls through. Once it becomes clear they won’t be embraced by the locals after their drunken paddle boarding lands them in need of rescuing from the town’s fishermen, the trio of Londoners hightail it out of there leaving Danny stuck as a joke. It’s a pretty drastic prank but seeing as it passes the movie over from a carload of annoying bro caricatures and into the wonderfully capable and more weathered hands of cast like James Purefoy and David Hayman, the brevity is welcome.

There is a real warmth to the Cornwall setting and Foggin loads his soundtrack up with the Fisherman’s Friends sea shanties to keep everything pleasantly humming along. Sam Swainsbury as Rowan, the youngest member of the band, particularly shines in some of his solos as well as in playing the owner of the town’s financially struggling pub. His plot line gives the movie some needed stakes where the Fisherman’s Friends’ musical dealings are concerned. Meanwhile, the less defined village characters all manage to get their quippy jabs in at Danny in ways that are sure to wring a smile or pleasant chuckle from most viewers. It’s also nice to see Daniel Mays take a turn at a contemporary leading role seeing as I’m primarily used to seeing him pop in and out of so many period blockbusters.

When the film veers from the musical talent into Danny’s romantic relationship with Alwyn (Tuppence Middleton), the daughter of Purefoy’s character, you do lose some of that momentum while awaiting the fate of the titular band. Not least of all because one senses this movie will inevitably end happily so the requisite romcom roadblocks feel all the more rote. That said, even if you find yourself drifting somewhat, the kernel of the real life underdog musicians’ tale is compelling enough and the soundtrack is buoyant enough to keep it all afloat.

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30 – “Long Gone Summer’

On September 8, 1998 my son Phillip, his friend Bobby and I drove from Kansas City to St. Louis to take in that evening’s Cardinals/Cubs match-up. We witnessed baseball history when J.D. Drew hit his first career home run. I’ve told this story for over two decades.

Most people know Todd MacFarlane as the creator of the popular SPAWN comics and his amazing toys. He is also a huge baseball fan. We learn that as the film begins with McFarlane bidding almost $3 million to purchase a baseball. But not any baseball. This is the ball hit by Mark McGwire for his 70th home run, at the time a new record. The summer of 1998 was a big one for baseball. After the players strike in 1994 caused the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in history, the game began to draw fans back in 1995 when Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2131st consecutive game. But the summer of 1998 is the one that drew fans, old and new, to the game. It was the summer McGwire and Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa swung their way into the history books.

“Long Gone Summer” not only chronicles both players assault on Roger Maris’ then-record of 61 home runs in a season, but the effect the challenge had on America. People that had sworn off baseball after the strike left a bitter taste in their mouth began to pay attention to the game again, while people who had never shown interest began to watch. Having been in Camden Yards when Ripken set his milestone I was already a fan so I followed the exploits of McGwire and Sosa daily, ensuring that ESPN’s SPORTCENTER was a must-see every night.

As the film follows McGwire, Sosa and, for a time, Ken Griffey, Jr, it also talks with some baseball fans who are household names, among them Bob Costas and George Will. Also interviewed are Roger Maris’ sons, as well as Cardinal’s broadcasters Jack Buck (though archival footage) and Mike Shannon. The race had a personal feel to Shannon, who had been a Cardinal teammate of Roger Maris in the mid 1960s.

But the big voices here belong to the two players themselves. McGwire explains his lifelong desire to hit the ball far while Sosa talks about the fun he had. What they don’t talk about are the accusations that both were using performance enhancing drugs. In fact, in a show that runs almost 1 3/4 hours, PED’s are not mentioned until the 45 minute mark, when a container of Androstenedione is spotted in McGwire’s locker. He brushes the questions off, noting that Andro is available over the counter. It’s almost another 45 minutes before the subject comes up again.

Of the two players, McGwire comes off the best. He is insightful in looking back at what he describes as both the best, and worst, time of his life. Sosa, speaking perfect English – when he testified before Congress he had to have his attorney read his statement, as he felt his English wasn’t strong -is more concerned with relaying the fun times he had that summer. Archival interviews with both – again with Sosa speaking English like a native – gives a look into the love and respect Big Mac and Slammin’ Sammy had for each other. As the season ends, McGwire finishes with 70 home runs, Sosa with 66. Sosa would hit 63 the next year and Baroid Bonds would hit 73 in 2001. By then, the PED cat was out of the bag and, in the almost 20 years since Bonds, no one has hit 60 home runs in a season.

Given an opportunity to confirm whether or not he juiced, Sosa will only say that “Everybody was doing them.” After years of denial, in 2010 McGwire admitted to using PED’s. His admission and apology seemed sincere to me. So much so that I can tell you that, on September 8, 1998, my son Phillip, his friend Bobby and I drove from Kansas City to St. Louis to take in that evening’s Cardinals/Cubs match-up. We witnessed baseball history when Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run of the season over the left field fence, directly below where we were sitting. No disrespect to J.D. Drew, but this story is more exciting.

“Long Gone Summer” airs this Sunday night at 8:00 pm EST on ESPN and will stream directly afterwards on ESPN+.

Streaming Review: “You Don’t Nomi”

YOU DON’T NOMI
Directed By: Jeffrey McHale
Starring: Elizabeth Berkley, Paul Verhoeven, Adam Nayman, April Kidwell
Runtime: 92 mins.
RLJE Films

My introduction to Paul Verhoeven’s Showgirls was definitely by accident on some random childhood afternoon on a local network because my memories are of a hazy mishmash of ‘why does Jesse-from-Saved by the Bell looked Like That?’ and laughing at the crude 90s tech that they used to ‘paint’ dodgy cgi bras over very naked chests. So in tackling McHale’s documentary You Don’t Nomi, I knew I’d have to take another look. I don’t regret it as such but I was not converted into the cult that this doc’s trailer alluded to. That doesn’t mean You Don’t Nomi isn’t worth a look for the uninitiated. On its surface, You Don’t Nomi may appear a puff piece on something so-bad-it’s-good but it puts in a surprising amount of work to show not only Showgirls’s second life as a camp crowdpleaser but also how a critically reviled film evolves over time–even in the eyes of its filmmakers.

There is no better way to describe the 1995 critical reception to Showgirls than dog pile. It was brutal in that way that it becomes a sport unto itself to find the snarkiest pull quotes. It tanked Elizabeth Berkley’s transition from sitcom actress to the big screen and took the sexual thriller momentum that Verhoeven had in the US off of 1992’s Basic Instinct and sent him back to the more marketable sci-fi with Starship Troopers (Instinct was preceded by Total Recall and Robocop). The doc delves deep into Verhoeven’s career and finds parallels and themes that connect Showgirls back into his work in Europe before he escaped to Hollywood. Unfortunately the documentary did not manage to include modern interviews with any of the creative forces on the film but again, in diving into archived footage, the documentary exposes how Verhoeven and Berkeley in particular have decided over time to try and sell that they knew all along that their film was camp. As one of the speakers in the doc says, camp is “failed seriousness,” so I don’t really buy their attempt to control that narrative but as a storyline in the documentary, it’s very amusing.

Despite the box office flopping, Showgirls found a second life in midnight screenings, drag shows and an off-broadway musical. For me, Nomi hits its stride by zeroing in on the experience that the actress who played Nomi in the musical parody had and the difference it made in her life. Watching her account, as well as those of the drag hosts of sold out midnight showings I kept thinking about that speech from Pixar’s Ratatouille where critic Anton Ego says “the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” -Hey if McHale can take a campy stripper movie seriously, I can defer to the wisdom of the cartoon rat movie. Even though I couldn’t relate to their obsession, I can certainly pinpoint pop culture hills I will die on and on that level I enjoyed hearing from such a well researched niche.

You Don’t Nomi is now streaming On Demand and digital, an additional review by Mike Gencarelli was posted earlier here

TFF 2020 Shorts: Animated

Note: Though the 2020 Festival was officially postponed due to ongoing pandemic precautions, online screeners and the fest’s press library meant we could still offer coverage of this year’s selections. Tribeca is also participating in the We Are One global film festival, whose streams are being uploaded through June 7th.

Every year the Tribeca Film Festival showcases a wealth of short films from across the globe in all different mediums. Where animation is concerned, the fest turns to acting legend Whoopi Goldberg to curate their lineup. Due to the unprecedented postponement of the festival in New York, I screened this collection from the comfort of my home and would like to highlight my favorites of Goldberg’s picks.

Personal Favorite: Beyond Noh

Beyond Noh

Patrick Smith’s 4 minute foray into every mask you could think of is mesmerizing. The setup is a simple black space with masks from every culture and time around the world rapid-fire shuffling through to a rhythmic drum beat. It’s so simple but so deftly made. This short doesn’t stick to just the fine arts either with detours through American Halloween masks, and the quite topical medical field to boot, it covers all the faces–err, bases.

Award Winner: Friends

Friends

Florian Grolig’s deceptively simple Friends took home the prize for Best Animated Short from the Tribeca Film Festival’s jury and it was well-deserved. It’s just two characters–one very small and one so large we only see its massive hand or foot for most of the runtime– interacting despite the challenges of their massive gap in size. For me, it’s the one that most celebrates the medium of animation. With its simplistic line work morphing through a blank white void accompanied by perfectly pitched breathing from its giant, the scope is clearly conveyed.

Most Star-Studded: The Tiger Who Came to Tea

The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Clocking in at 24 mins, Robin Shaw’s adaptation of Judith Kerr’s story is the longest of the program and starts very slow before evolving into something much more fanciful. We watch the cute morning routine of a British family ending with sending the father (Benedict Cumberbatch) off to work for the day while mother (Tamsin Grieg) and daughter (Clara Ross) are home to receive an unusual visitor. The titular tiger voiced by David Oyelowo politely invites himself to their afternoon tea and proceeds to scarf down the whole pantry. The animation on the tiger is utterly charming.

Historic and Beautiful: Kapaemahu

Directors Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Dean Hame and Joe Wilson delve deep into Hawaiian history to tell the tale of transgender healing spirits that are behind a landmark often passed by in Waikiki Beach. The use of native voices and music bolsters some gorgeous and warm animation as the tale transcends across time.

Kapaemahu

Additional program titles included “Umbrella” and “Grandad was a Romantic”, which both mine true stories for some lovely animation, and “Bathwell in Clerkentime” which is third in a series whose bouncy black and white animation couples with a soundtrack that may drive you as cuckoo as the birds it follows. (Note: “To Gerard” from Dreamworks artist Taylor Meacham was also selected however was not available to me in the press library at the time of the festival)

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30: BE WATER

I’m old enough to remember watching Bruce Lee as Kato on television’s “The Green Hornet” when it originally aired on ABC. T o me he was just a cool guy who wore a mask and kicked ass. But there was a lot more to Lee, as both an actor and a person, and those remarkable qualities are revealed in the latest ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, BE WATER.

We first meet Lee as he is completing a screen test in 1964. He is quite and soft spoken but, when he is asked to demonstrate some of his martial arts skills, he is a tornado. Even in these few minutes of film, you can see the legend that lie ahead.

Born in San Francisco (his father was a popular Chinese actor and opera performer), Lee’s family returned to Hong Kong shortly after his birth. Like most children, Lee had a mischievous side and his father allowed him to begin acting in films as a child in hopes of curbing his rambunctious attitudes. Finding his idea unsuccessful, his father sends him to Seattle to attend college. It is there that he begins the journey that most fans know. But there is also a lot they don’t and that is revealed here in Lee’s own words. Using archival interviews and quoting his letters, read by his daughter, Shannon, we learn that Lee was a very philosophical man who yearned to bridge the racial prejudice felt in America. He wanted to be able to share and express his culture and was tired of seeing such actors as Mickey Rooney, Marlon Brando and John Wayne portraying Asian characters on screen, usually in ridiculous make up.

Lee’s short-lived small screen stardom begins to fade and he is hopeful for the lead in an upcoming program to be called “Kung Fu.” When he is passed over for the role in favor of David Carradine – we hear the show’s producer proclaim that he could not find an Asian actor he felt could handle the role, he takes his family to Hong Kong,, where he will soon make film history.

BE WATER gets it’s title from a philosophy that Lee often shared in interviews. Water, he notes, is the softest substance on Earth, yet it is strong enough to penetrate rock. It takes the shape of whatever vessel it finds itself in. The film is full of amazing archival footage and the story is told through conversations with not only Lee’s daughter and widow, Linda, but various friends and former students, including Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

On July 20, 1973, Bruce Lee died. 10 days later, “Enter the Dragon” was released, making him an international superstar, ironically a term Lee disliked. His impact on pop culture and racial acceptance is still being felt today. With the current situation the nation, and the world, finds itself in, we could use a man like him today.

BE WATER airs this Sunday night at 9:00 pm EST on ESPN. It will stream afterwards on ESPN+. Don’t miss it!

Film Review “You Don’t Nomi”

I remember wanting to see “Showgirls” back in 1995 but since it was rated NC-17, I couldn’t get in. I was only 13 years old at the time. But I do remember renting it at Blockbuster once it was on video and I remember falling in love. Yes, I know how bad the movie is but at the same time it is also so good. That is what this documentary, YOU DON’T NOMI, is about. It focuses on the legacy of “Showgirls” and how it has become a cult classic over the last 25 years. Yes, it’s crazy to think that it is 25 years old already.

Official Premise: In YOU DONT NOMI, a chorus of film critics and fervent devotees explore the complicated afterlife of 1995s biggest film flop, Paul Verhoeven’s SHOWGIRLS, from disastrous release to cult adoration and extraordinary redemption. The films features Adam Nayman (Vice Guide to Film), April Kidwell (I, Nomi) and Peaches Christ (Milk). 

Even though the main topic of “You Don’t Nomi” is “Showgirls”, the film is also a retrospective of Verhoeven’s directing career from “RoboCop”, “Total Recall”, “Basic Instinct”, “Starship Troopers” and “Elle”, among others. It showcases the themes that unite his films. Verhoeven definitely is a unique director as well as a controversial figure all at the same time. All of Verhoeven’s films have pushed the limits with sexuality and violence.

The documentary is extremely interesting to watch whether you are a fan of “Showgirls” and Verhoeven or not. It features great interviews discusses the fandom around “Showgirls” and how people love this film so much. What is cool about this documentary is that you don’t even need to be a fan of this film to enjoy it. It talks about how people actually have hated it but it grew on them over the years. Whether you believe it or no, this film despite being called trash during it’s release is a piece of art.

“You Don’t Nomi” will be available On Demand and Digital on June 9. I highly recommend checking it out to get an in depth look at the film that was a box office bomb but has since become a huge cult classic.

MediaMikes posted an additional review for the streaming release here!

Television/Streaming Review: ESPN 30 for 30 – LANCE

In 2008 I was driving through downtown Kansas City when I was amazed at the sight of a seven-story banner of Lance Armstrong hanging from the building where my wife worked.  I called her and asked about it and she informed me that her company – an investment management firm – had partnered with Armstrong to promote his LIVESTRONG investments.  Hearing this, I asked her “and what happens when it finally comes out that he was a cheater?”  “Hopefully that isn’t true,” she replied.

LANCE, the latest episode in ESPN’s brilliant “30 for 30” documentary series, is a two part look at the rise and the fall of one of the most celebrated athletes in American history.  Episode one begins with Armstrong telling director Marina Zenovich how he knows there are many people that, upon seeing him, just want to scream out “F**k you, Lance,” but seldom do.  He also recounts how, once when a group heading into a restaurant did just that, he called the restaurant, informed the manager that he would pay for their dinner and asked the manager to inform the party that “Lance loves you.”  Unfortunately, Lance also loves himself.

We are introduced to the young man that would go on to “win” seven consecutive Tour de France bicycle races, the most prestigious race in the world.  He played several sports as a kid but didn’t excel in any of them.  He tried swimming and developed a passion.  Entering triathlons introduced him to competitive cycling, which is where he found his calling.  Then, his life was dealt a blow when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  Beating major odds, Armstrong not only survived his ordeal but returned to competitive cycling.  He also returned to a dark secret he had been hiding – taking performance enhancing doses of such banned (in competitive sports) substances as EPO and Andrial.  He admits this rather non-chalantly, falling back often on the old “everyone else was doing it” excuse.

However, in Episode two, which airs this Sunday night on ESPN (and will be available afterwards on ESPN+) the true Armstrong comes through.  Like many athletes, Armstrong was set on winning at any cost, allegedly going so far as to inform the anti-doping agency that a rival cyclist was juicing.  Like many people in denial, Armstrong was like a pit bull in his defense of his reputation.  Whether using his cancer as a sympathy ploy or slandering his accusers (while testifying in an inquiry he calls one woman who filed a deposition alleging his cheating a whore) or using his status and power to destroy other riders, he comes off as a man who still feels that he’s done nothing wrong.

Part two also looks at Armstrong’s effect on those close to him.  His son, who played college football, is asked if he would ever use performance drugs.  His reply – that he only wants to succeed through his own hard work – is heartfelt and honest.  That’s what all athletes want to do.  Asked if he still considers himself relevant, Armstrong declares, “I AM relevant.”  He also refers to former U.S. Postal Service team mate Floyd Landis – who was the rider that finally outed Armstrong’s doping – as a “piece of s**t.”  Other team members relate that Lance was fine with them as long as they kept his secret but, at the slightest hint of disloyalty they were gone.

On the positive side, the film also takes a look at the magnificent work that the Lance Armstrong Foundation and LIVESTRONG have done in support of cancer patients everywhere.  Thanks to Armstrong’s popularity hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised for these organizations (I’ll admit that I bought a LIVESTRONG bracelet when they came out).  And this achievement allows Armstrong to ask if the ends justify the means.  Would this money have been raised if not for him?

In the end, you come away with a man who still doesn’t accept responsibility for anything (except his divorce).  He also laments the hardship he endured having to date such celebrities as Cheryl Crow and Kate Hudson.  Wahh!

I’m not sure if I’ll ever run into Lance Armstrong on the street so let me just say here, for the record, “Hey Lance – F**k you!”

TFF 2020 Shorts: LOL

Among the sections I most look forward to each year at the Tribeca Film Festival are the comedy shorts. This year the lineup, titled collectively under “LOL” were presented online in lieu of the postponed festival. Here are my thoughts on this year’s program:

Personal Favorite: I Can Change!

Jim Jenkins’s plays with time travel creatively and with perfect deployment of brief special effects. John Hoogenakker stars as a groom who is gifted the ability to stop time and uses it ostensibly to “better” himself for his bride-to-bride. How? Well he freezes his bride and their friends in time at their wedding chapel while he disappears to the outside world for a blink of an eye and returns a whole new man having spent the time, for example, training to be a doctor. The simplistic way the “time travel” is achieved recalls some of the clever shortcuts something like Bill & Ted used–ie just stating their time travel intent means we immediately get to the consequences, sparing us the time trip. The pacing of the escalation in Hoogenakker’s jumps until the film taps into a big sci-fi finale is really fun.

Second Fave: Query

Jay and Alex spend nine minutes mulling over sexuality–both their own and its larger place in society–as they hang out. It’s nothing Earth shattering, but the natural rapport between the two leads (Justice Smith and Graham Patrick Martin) is really charming and it’s nice to see a pair of young guys just delving into their thoughts on the matter not in some overwrought or homophobic manner, but just chilling, and with enough friendly mocking to keep things funny. And to bolster this strong duo, you also get a brief run in with Call Me By Your Name’s Armie Hammer!

Overlong: John Bronco

Walton Goggins stars as a disgraced cowboy car pitchman John Bronco in a star-studded, but overlong mockumentary. I was excited for this one, generally always glad to see Goggins get to play over the top, but the film gets to the core of what the joke is with John Bronco relatively early and hammers on it over and over instead of advancing the plot. It’s 36 minute runtime could have been halved and achieve the same beats, though I understand why the filmmakers may have been reticent to cut any of the big cameos they got. Kudos for getting the MicroMachines pitchman (John Moschitta Jr) back on screen with his rapid-fire speech patterns though!

Additional program titles included the clever meet cute of One Last Heist–a romcom wrapped in a robbery from Canada, A Piece of Cake starring “Glow’s” Rich Sommer as a desperate dad and Egg which takes viewers from a simple diner and spirals it into a grand adventure.

Note: Though the 2020 Festival was officially postponed due to ongoing pandemic precautions, online screeners and the fest’s press library mean we can still offer coverage of this year’s selections while looking forward to getting back to the fest in the future!
Check out all our TFF 2020 coverage HERE

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